It’s been a long off-season, but we still have some systems to preview. So today, I get back on the horse and dig into a talented Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. For years now the Pirates have done an excellent job of drafting, scouting, and developing talent. Unfortunately this post comes a few days before I attend some extended spring work down in Bradenton, Florida, the off-season home of the Pirates. Annually I’m down in the Bradenton area for a week or two to see my in-laws, and I always sneak away and catch a couple of Bradenton games, or at least make it to the Pirates facility about 5 miles down the road from LECOM Park. So all this to say, I get a decent amount of looks every year at the Pirates talent in the lower levels. Last year I got first hand looks at top pitching prospect Mitch Keller, underrated speedster Cole Tucker, draft-bust Will Craig, and 2015 first rounder Ke’Bryan Hayes. This year I’m hoping to get some looks at some of the members of the Pirates strong 2017 draft class, as well as J2 standouts like Sherten Apostel. Once I have more info on Apostel, I’ll share it, but info is limited. Today we focus more on the bigger names in the system, and those with shorter ETAs. Regardless of your flavor of prospect, there’s something for everyone in this Pittsburgh system. It’s the Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects for 2018 Fantasy Baseball.

 

1) Austin Meadows, OF | Age: 22 | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: .261/.323/.384, 5 HR, 46 RBI, 11 SB

I’m not going to lie, ranking Meadows number one overall after his poor 2017 is a tough pill to swallow. As I said in my top 100 post, “The skills put him in the top three entering last season, but a injury riddled season, including his third consecutive year with a hamstring injury have me doubting the upside I once dreamed on.” There in lies the rub with Meadows. He’s always hurt! At some point that’s going to begin to sap his upside. Meadows at his best combines plus hitting, running, and plate discipline with untapped raw power. There’s still superstar upside here. ETA: 2018

2) Mitch Keller, RHP  | Age: 21 | Level: AA | 2017 Stats: 7-4, 104.1 IP, 3.02 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 98 K, 30 B

If this were a “real baseball” list, Keller might be in my top 20, as he’s one of the safer pitching prospects in the game. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s devoid of upside. The righty hits 97 with ease, mixes in a plus loopy curveball with 11-5 shape, and an inconsistent, but projectable changeup. If he can find the feel for his changeup that he demonstrates on his fastball and curve, Keller could take a step into the next stratosphere. Lance thinks I’m too low, and he might be right. ETA: 2019

3) Colin Moran, 1B/3B  | Age: 25 | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: .301/.369/.532, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 0 SB

I’m starting to eat my words on Moran, as he’s finally getting his shot, following an off-season trade to Pittsburgh. Looking like the starter at third entering the season, Moran hit .346/.370/.423 this spring, but didn’t connect for a homer. Let’s hope that’s not a trend, as Moran started to flash more power potential following a launch angle adjustment. This resulted in his first .500+ slugging performance of his MiLB career, and renewed faith he could reach the status of above average hitter. A good re-draft sleeper IMO.  ETA: 2018

4) Shane Baz, RHP | Age: 18 | Level: Rk | 2017 Stats: 0-3, 23.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 19 K, 14 Bb

Baz is a fire-balling Texan with a varied stable of offerings. His fastball is a plus pitch featuring a velocity range between 91-98, with two plane movement. It’s a pitch he really has feel for, which is why the variance is so great with the pitch’s velocity. Baz’s pitchability and feel are truly impressive for a prep player. His ability to take something off, and reshape his pitches gives him two distinctive plus offerings in his high 80’s cutter and low-mid 80’s slider. He also features an average curveball, and a work in progress change that shows encouraging run. I’d ignore the rookie ball numbers, Baz’s talent is in good hands in the Pirates organization. ETA: 2020

5) Lolo Sanchez, OF  | Age: 18 | Level: RK| 2017 Stats: .284/.359/.417, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB

A plus-plus runner, with gap-to-gap-power, and a line drive focused approach. Lolo was one of the standouts of the Gulf Coast League this summer, and not just for his peculiar name. He’s adept at using the whole field, putting the ball in play to use his speed, and working counts like a seasoned vet. At just 18 the upside for Sanchez is through the roof. ETA: 2021

6) Cole Tucker, SS | Age: 21 | Level: AA | 2017 Stats: .275/.358/.408, 6 HR, 50 RBI, 47 SB

Tucker is one of those players that I consistently struggle to rank. Off the charts athleticism, good on base skills, the speed to steal 47 bases last season, and he’s a switch-hitter with an above average hit tool. What’s not to like? So how on earth did he miss my Top 150? Well, I do think Tucker will hit in the major leagues, but how much? He’s a great runner, and has the aforementioned above average hit tool and on base skills, but there’s not much power here. So let’s say Tucker ends up a .270 hitter with 5-10 homer power, and 25 steal speed. That’s 2016 Chris Owings. So while Tucker was a close call on my top 150, he wasn’t a slam dunk. The offensive skills are there, and if he’s able to hit for a little more power or average he has the ability to jump up lists this season. Not a player I’d own in a 12-14 team league, but he becomes fringey for ownership in a 16 teamer. ETA: 2019 

7) Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B | Age: 21 | Level: A+ | 2017 Stats: .278/.345/.363, 2 HR, 43 RBI, 27 SB

In a real life sense I really like Hayes. He plays an excellent third, gets on base, hits for average, and runs; but much like his predecessor on this list, Cole Tucker, Hayes lacks the game power to put him squarely on the fantasy radar. That said, there’s hope. An improving physique, a quick compact swing, and some MLB bloodlines, point to more untapped potential. If Hayes can make gains with his power hitting, he’s got a shot at being a fantasy relevant third baseman, but for now he seems like a second baseman stuck in the body of a corner-man. ETA: 2020

8) Calvin Mitchell, OF | Age: 19 | Level: Rk | 2017 Stats: .245/.351/.352, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 2 SB

Sometimes a rough senior season can tank a prep players stock, and that’s the case with Mitchell. Highly ranked coming out of his junior season, Mitchell showcased his power at the Perfect Game home run derby, and starred for Team USA. However, a prolonged slump to begin his senior season, saw his first round stock drop, and the Pirates scooped the San Diego prep star in the second round. An inconsistent pro debut, ended strong, as he showcased the advanced hitting ability that put him on the national radar. Plus hitting ability and power is Mitchell’s game, he’s a below average runner, and future corner outfield profile. The bat should play, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Mitchell take a Akil Baddoo like step forward in 2018. ETA: 2021

9) Connor Uselton, OF | Age: 19 | Level: RK | 2017 Stats: .429/.429/.571, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB

Another 2017 second rounder, Uselton is a power hitting outfielder with above average athleticism, but very raw swing mechanics. He sustained a hamstring injury in his second game as a professional, and it ended his season. There’s lots of room for improvement here, but a really exciting ceiling lurks beneath. ETA: 2021

10) Steven Jennings, RHP | Age: 19 | Level: RK | 2017 Stats: 0-2, 26 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 13 Ks, 10 BB

A well decorated high school starter, Jennings is your prototypical mid-rotation type. At this point the arsenal is raw, but strong arm action and projectable stuff lead many evalautors to see a bright future for Jennings. His fastball sits around 90 MPH now, but has nice action and armside run. He mixes in a slurvy breaking ball he’s still gaining feel for, and an above-average to fringe changeup. ETA: 2020

11) Jordan Luplow, OF | Age: 24 | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: .302/.381/.527, 23 HR, 56 RBI, 5 SB

A somewhat out-of-nowhere breakout in 2017, Luplow has a chance to see some significant time in the Pittsburgh outfield should an injury or two open a spot. He showed all-fields power last year, as well as advanced pitch recognition skills. This combination gives him a real shot to earn an everyday MLB gig eventually. As it stands, Luplow is a fringe MLB bat/4th outfielder type. ETA: 2018

12) Kevin Kramer, 2B Pirates | Level: AA | 2017 Stats: .290/.371/.479  6 HR, 30 RBI, 8 SB

A Neil Walker clone, Kramer is a hit-first second baseman with quick hands and great bat to ball skills. There’s not much power, but he’s made some gains the last year, that below average pop is a possibility. I like the lefty swing, and advanced hitting acumen, but he’s likely a fringe MLB guy if he doesn’t max out. ETA: 2019

13) Taylor Hearn, LHP | Age: 23 | Level: A+ | 2017 Stats: 4-6, 87 IP, 4.12 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 106 Ks, 37 BB

I have no idea if Hearn will ever make it into a big league rotation, but I have no doubts he will pitch in the majors. A tall lefty with big fastball velo from the leftside, Hearn sits 95-97, popping 100 on occasion. Problem is Hearn doesn’t always know where the ball is going. He mixes his 70 grade heater with a pair of average/fringe secondaries in an improving changeup, and a fringe slider. He was traded along with current Pirates closer Felipe Rivero, and he draws many comps to the fiery lefty, both for his big fastball, and control issues. I’d bet on a bullpen future, but a fantasy relevant one. ETA: 2019

Other Names: Sherten Apostel, Luis Escobar, Nick Kingman, Kevin Newman, Max Moroff, Oneil Cruz, Mason Martin. 

Find all of the 30 Minor League Previews, and Offseason Rankings on the Minor League Index
On Twitter as @ProspectJesus

 

   
  1. J-FOH says:
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    Ah good to see someone else who may have some hope for Tucker. When I took him in our recent NL only draft I jumped him up my board for a few reasons. His home club should have a spot for him because we’ll they don’t have much now. He can run, anything between 20-30 steals in an NL only is huge. I’ll take the .270 and hope he gets the LAA (launch angle adjustment). He’s at an age where I don’t have to carry him any longer than two seasons before I know what I have or I move on. He’s definitely not a high end commodity but if he fits your needs because you draft BRANDON FUCKING CRAWFORD then you live with it. Could be worse. I have no idea why I’m writing this. I’m in a smokey bar drinking a whiskey and no one to talk to. Hey Ralph!

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @J-FOH: This is what Bob Seager’s articles would be like if he wrote fantasy.

      Here I am, at the game again, there I am, measuring speed with a gage, here I go, watching the radar again, I’m a scout, giving 60 grades!

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: Mauler would love that statement. Seriously though I love Bob Seager. Total compliment. Opening my fantasy process mind reveals a little Seager in there.

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @J-FOH: You love that old time roto game!

  2. Elwood Blues says:
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    I am torn between Meadows, Trammell, or Soto in the 2nd round of our NL Only 5×5 12-team keeper.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Elwood Blues: Trammell for me, then Soto, then Meadows. Check out my top 100.

  3. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:
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    Neil Walker clone! Having yinzer chicks’ panties wetter than a Iron City sautéed pierogi.

  4. Matt Moore's Law says:
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    Soooo…what are the thoughts on starting Ohtani today? My pitching got off to a rough start if it matters…

  5. Whatever says:
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    Hey Ralph,

    Who would you start/sit given the cold weather in some of these locations?

    Matz at home vs STL
    Weaver @Mets
    Gausman at home vs MIN
    Bauer @SEA

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Whatever: Little late but Weaver and Bauer

      • Whatever says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: Np Ralph. I put Matz on the bench and got Gaused. I did start Bauer and Weaver though.

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @Whatever: You never go first half Gaus! Hahaha, seriously he’s so bad in H1.

          • Whatever says:
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            @Ralph Lifshitz: Lol. Lesson learned the hard way.

  6. jose says:
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    Ralph,
    What do you think of 18 year old Mason Martin 1B of the Pirates?
    He had a great Rookie season, including 11 HRs.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @jose: I like him, nice pop, he’s part of this really fun class of teenage Pirates prospects. There’s some obvious contact issues coming, but he’s got a future.

  7. Matt says:
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    He isn’t really a prospect anymore, but how much does the injury and everything hurt Reyes long term? I own him in a HTH points dynasty league. I’m just about ready to move from rebuild to contend mode-the guy that has Sale is in a rebuild and asked about Reyes, Senzel, and an early rookie draft pick for him.

    I don’t thing I’d want to give up Reyes here if he’s stil a TOR arm fairly quickly (looking at next season and the next for him to emerge-not this year). But Sale would be a really nice arm to have at the top of my rotation….dilemmas!

    On a different trade offer, thoughts on my Archer, mejia, draft pick for another owner’s J. Ramirez and Adell? I’m heavily leaning ‘yes’ there, but another opinion never hurts.

    • Matt says:
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      @Matt:

      Just got a counter from him-make that two draft picks (2nd rounder and 5the rounder). QS is a category so that’s a small hit to archer (that and the al east).

  8. Chad Huggins says:
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    Hey, what’s the low down on Julio Pablo Martinez? Have you spoken about him anywhere?

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