- C – Taylor Gushue – 23 yo
- 2.44/.613 – PAG/APPA – (HiA Bradenton)
- 2016 stats: .226/.282/.357; .639 OPS; 17 doubles, 8 home runs
After going through all of the Pittsburgh Pirate catchers from HiA down, I didn’t want my favorite boyhood team to begin their UTR Organizational All-Star series like this. Simply put, the performance of the Pirates catching in 2016 was downright poor. I know the old saying about hindsight, but I said it then and I’ll say it again, “Why did Pittsburgh deal away 2013 – 1st round draft pick Reese McGuire?” He was in Double-A and possessed the defensive chops to (probably) contribute (now), but the fact is, he wasn’t hitting. So, the former Kentwood HS (WA) draftee was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays along with starting pitcher Francisco Liriano and Double-A outfielder Harold Ramirez for starting pitcher Drew Hutchison. In the end, it just didn’t make sense to me to let go of a 21-year-old catcher who still had a ton of room to grow. With McGuire now gone, 2016 was the year 2014 – 4th rounder from the University of Florida, Taylor Gushue came to the forefront in the UTR sense. The 23-year-old former Gator led all Pirate backstops Triple-A down in doubles, home runs, runs scored and RBi’s. Of course that’s easy to do when you’re playing full season ball, but his .351 extra base percentage also topped all Bucco catchers. Aside from being a growing hitter, Gushue, more so brings a big glove, with a .993 fielding percentage in 225 career games behind the plate. I expect the switch-hitter to spend all season in Double-A Altoona this season, which aside from hitting in the Florida State League in 2016, could determine how real of a prospect Gushue really is or could be. Looking forward, however, forces me to think with major league backstop Francisco Cervelli signed through the 2019 season, and Gushue poised to see Double-A this year, that 26-year-old Venezuelan Elias Diaz may be ready to make a giant leap this coming season. Diaz has suffered injury after injury including a nagging right elbow and a left leg infection. For the sake of the Pirates, I really hope he stays injury free because the kid can really play.
- 1B – Chase Simpson – 24 yo
- 3.12/.753 – PAG/APPA – (HiA Bradenton)
- 2016 stats: .235/.329/.407; .736 OPS; 18 doubles, 8 home runs
Being a life long Pirate fan, it’s a right of passage around Spring Training time that my close friends and I discuss the overall scene surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates. The current MLB lineup, the “should have done’s” with their roster and the ever so popular “should they do’s.” Of course the minors play a big part in these discussions; and while scanning over the Pirates first base situation, it’s abundantly clear (to me at least) that they need to clean out the cupboard. Since Jim and I began this year’s UTR OAS series, I’m not sure I’ve seen such a glut of competent first basemen as great as this one in one organization. The common sentiment among my friends is that the Pirates should have/could package a few of their first base prospects in a trade to help strengthen needs at other positions because, make absolutely no mistake, Josh Bell is the future (and the now) at first base. In fact, the 2011 – 2nd rounder out of Dallas Jesuit College Prep (TX) became an instant legend in the Steel City in only his second at-bat in a Pirates uniform, hitting a grand slam off of Cubs reliever Adam Warren on a warm Pittsburgh night; and a great friend and I were there to see it. This is not my video clip. It comes via YouTube user Tim Wonder, however this was basically our view of Bell’s first career home run/grand slam; and as a result, PNC Park practically shook off of its foundation. So, as a UTR guy, this pretty much means that my OAS choice is simply a matter of form; to point out who else had a good season. Chase Simpson led all HiA and down first baggers in PAG/APPA, but as a 24-year-old, the 2014 – 14th rounder out of Wichita State will not qualify as UTR next season with his 25th birthday a mere eight days ago. I love Josh Bell. I love everything about him, as should all Pirate fans. But do not discount the others playing directly below him in the minors, especially Venezuelan righty slugger Jose Osuna. If readers remember, Osuna was my Pittsburgh Pirates UTR OAS first base selection back in 2014 (here’s what I had to say). At that time, the organization decided to shift then outfielder Josh Bell to first base full-time. Was it a good move? Obviously. But this leaves a very potent bat sitting behind another potent bat. And in my humble opinion, something needs done about that. Do I think Osuna is better than Bell? No. But Osuna is much more talented than several other minor league organization’s first basemen. I believe Bell is a star, yet also believe Osuna needs a chance. It just may not come at first base; or in Pittsburgh.
- 2B – Mitchell Tolman – 22 yo
- 2.98/.677 – PAG/APPA – (LoA West Virginia)
- 2016 stats: .267/.370/.371; .741 OPS; 20 doubles, 8 home runs
With 2009 free-agent signee (D.R) Alen Hanson and former UTR OAS selection (2014) Max Moroff receiving all of the high minors love (and 2016 major league time to boot), Pirate second basemen in the mid/low minors offered up quite a strew of prospects and stats. 2014 – 7th rounder out of the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico Nelson Jorge posted the top P/A scores among all regular second basemen, but I had to temper the enthusiasm due to the 20-year-old Jorge logging this year’s scores in his third consecutive season playing in the Gulf Coast League. Jorge didn’t necessarily lead me to this year’s Pirates UTR OAS choice, Mitchell Tolman. The 22-year-old University of Oregon draftee’s 2016 season did that all by itself. The Pirates took the 5’11”- 195 lb. lefty in the 7th round of the 2015 draft and assigned him to Short Season West Virginia. He came to the organization with a scouting report that didn’t have much flash, but one with a purpose. MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis said after the Pirates selected Tolman in 2015, “He has average-at-best tools, but he knows what he’s doing with the bat.” He certainly did batting .319 with a .433 on-base percentage and .883 OPS in his three years with the Oregon Ducks. With the Black Bears of the New York-Penn League, Tolman kept hitting the ball posting a slash line of .304/.407/.411/.807; and ranked third in the league with 33 walks. This year, Tolman was seemingly the glue that held the LoA West Virginia Bears squad together. His 71 walks not only lead the South Atlantic League, but ranked second in the entire Pirates organization (including the majors) behind only fellow second baseman Max Moroff‘s 90. Tolman is a good prospect. I think he’s underrated which is why he’s garnered UTR love; and please watch him as he ascends through the minors. He could surprise us, but could ultimately reach his “projected” ceiling of a solid utility man.
- 3B – Connor Joe – 24 yo
- 2.81/.679 – PAG/APPA – (HiA Bradenton)
- 2016 stats: .277/.351/.392; .743 OPS; 26 doubles, 5 home runs
The third base vector for the Pirates offers the same situation as the last two infield positions I covered: high ceiling prospects and plenty of depth. But this time, the depth isn’t sitting at the higher levels. I’m not going to pull any punches here when I say that Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang could be an superstar in the major leagues. He is among Pirate faithful and in his two seasons since signing a four-year $11MM contract in January 2015, he’s batted .273 with 36 home runs, 120 RBi’s, an .838 OPS and has delivered clutch hit after clutch hit. But damnit, Kang, keep your ass out of trouble. Kang has two years left with fifth year option, which gives the Pirates time to sort out their minor leaguers. A couple of top draft choices had nice seasons in 2016. First round draft choice in 2015, Ke’Bryan Hayes posted a P/A of 2.79/.663 between the Gulf Coast League and LoA West Virginia this year. The son of former major leaguer Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan’s six homers led all third base prospects HiA down. Another first rounder, this time in 2016 out of Wake Forrest, Will Craig logged a season similar to that of Hayes. The 6’3″- 210 lb. righty registered a pro debut P/A of 2.75/.631, 12 doubles and drawing more walks (41) than strikeouts (37). Pretty good for a pro debut. However, the UTR in me wonders with two high profile, former first round picks manning the hot corner, where has all of the love gone for the other first rounder, 2014’s Connor Joe? All the former University of San Diego alum did was top both Hayes and Craig in P/A score this season. I’m not going to say Joe is a better prospect. We try not to do that here, but he can’t be ignored. Although, the question is, “Where will he ultimately play?” I said inside my aforementioned first base OAS bio about Jose Osuna, the Pirates need to package some of these prospects in a trade to help bolster a major league need. With Craig and Hayes in tow, Joe would be a nice corner infield trade piece for an organization weak at both positions.
- SS – Kevin Newman – 22 yo
- 2.81/.679 combined – PAG/APPA – (HiA Bradenton – 3.66/.794; Double-A Altoona – 3.10/.705)
- 2016 stats combined: .320/.389/.426; .814 OPS; 21 doubles, 5 home runs; 10 stolen bases; 43:36 BB:K ratio
Of all the infield positions I’ve covered so far for the Pirates, shortstop is the only where there was any sort of decent separation between my top performer, the first runner up and the rest of the grouping. In fact, for this year’s UTR OAS choice, 2015 – 1st round draft choice Kevin Newman, it wasn’t even close. In fact, not only did Newman’s combined P/A score out-perform the rest of the organization’s shortstops, so did his individual level splits. The first runner up to Newman’s OAS crown this season was first-year Dominican Rodolfo Castro, who posted a 2.93/.713 P/A score in 56 games for the Dominican Summer League squad. At 17 years old, he led the DSL squad in hits (52), runs scored (27), doubles (15), RBI’s (29) and total bases (79). Castro has a long way to go before he’s considered an impact talent, but that’s a pretty darn good start. Keep a close eye on him. Add 2014 – 1st rounder Cole Tucker and 22-year-old fourth-year minor Pablo Reyes to the P/A mix this year as well, after Reyes came in with a 2.85/.715 score. But ladies and gentlemen, the Pirates minor league shortstop show begins and ends with Newman. After starting his pro career with West Virginia of the New York-Penn League, in just two seasons, the two-time Cape Cod League batting champion (which has never been done before) has already blazed a trail all the way to Double-A Altoona and is poised to start 2017 with Triple A Indianapolis. Newman may be the most polished hitter in the entire Pirates organization; and it wouldn’t shock me to see Newman supplant Jordy Mercer as the Pirates new full-time shortstop before the end of the 2017 season. I love everything about Kevin Newman. If you’re in a fantasy league that either allows drafting minors with major leaguers or a league with a separate minor league draft, take the University of Arizona draftee with confidence, knowing you’ll eventually have a hitter who could bat .300+, steal bases and hit (possibly) 15 homers a year from atop a major league lineup.
- LF – Jordan Luplow – 22 yo
- 3.19/.781 – PAG/APPA – (HiA Bradenton)
- 2016 stats: .254/.363/.421; .784 OPS; 23 doubles, 10 home runs; 60:78 BB:K ratio
The recent announcement of the Pittsburgh Pirates major league outfield shuffle left a not so prominent ripple amongst baseball enthusiasts. Probably because no matter how you look at it, regardless of where former National League MVP and 5-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen, 28-year-old Dominican Starling Marte and 2016 breakout star Gregory Polanco play, they are still (in my humble opinion) the most talented outfield trio going in the National League today. However, what this shift does do in a fantasy and financial sense is add service years to a position. With Marte in left field last season, we were looking at a player signed through 2019 with option years in both 2020 and ’21. With Marte now moving to center field and McCutchen to right, Gregory Polanco makes the transition to the left side of the diamond, and all of a sudden the Pirates have a 25-year-old who’s yet to see his prime, signed through 2021 with option years in 2022 – ’23. This gives us fantasy players and Pirate fans alike more time to see what’s going on in left field down in the minors. In 2016, this pointed me right to Jordan Luplow. The Pirates drafted the 6’1″- 190 lb. righty out of Cal State University Fresno in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft and immediately assigned him to Rookie Jamestown. In 62 games, Luplow logged a 3.08/.737 P/A and led the Jammers in hits (61), walks (27) and ranked second with six homers and 10 stolen bases. He ascended to LoA West Virginia the following year; and in his first taste of full-season ball, Luplow ranked fourth in the Sally League with 36 doubles and 59 walks while compiling a 3.70/.843 P/A score. This past season the Visalia, CA native sat within the Florida State League top 10 in runs scored (63) and walks (60). Here’s another in a long line of cases where a player, due to the talent surrounding him, might not receive due diligence. We’re used to that here, but in reality, it’s never a bad thing to add another name to a deep, deep level prospect watch list.
- CF – Austin Meadows – 21 yo
- 3.57/.884 combined: – PAG/APPA – (Short Season West Virginia – 1.40/.412; Double-A Altoona – 4.07/.963; Triple-A Indianapolis – 3.27/.834)
- 2016 stats combined: .266/.333/.536; .869 OPS; 25 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs; 17 stolen bases
As each regular reason rolls along and Jim and I tabulate daily stats for the UTR Hitters of the Day and UTR Pitching Performances posts, we make both physical and mental notes on players that we know (for certain) are (currently) cruising under the radar. This is basically the springboard toward the guys who make our off-season UTR OAS lists. One player that was a near lock to make this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates Organizational All-Star list was 22-year-old Colombian native Tito Polo. He began the season with LoA West Virginia and received a promotion to HiA Bradenton in mid-June. He was having by far his best season as a pro and by the end of September, Polo had compiled a 3.85/.843 P/A score, much higher than his career mark of 3.16/.775. However, the MLB Trade deadline deal that sent starting pitcher Ivan Nova to the Pirates ended my hope of revealing the 5’9″- 185 lb. Polo as this year’s breakout star. Polo, along with HiA Bradenton starting pitcher Stephen Tarpley, was one of the players-to-be-named-later and finished out his season wearing a Tampa Yankees uniform. This leaves me with a choice I did not want to make, but being that I use P/A scores, and real good ones to boot, as equal qualifiers, Pirates #1 prospect Austin Meadows is my choice. My goodness do I love this kid. He’s a pure a hitter as they come with raw, yet untapped power, speed on the base paths and near unmatched defense with both the glove and arm strength. There’s no reason to believe Meadows won’t make his major league debut in 2017. He has top-of-the-order impact talent; and if you’re in a minor league start up draft, be confident viewing Meadows as a top 10 overall pick.
- RF – Jeremias Portorreal – 19 yo
- 2.96/.710 combined: – PAG/APPA – (DSL – 3.05/.724; GCL – 2.50/.625)
- 2016 stats combined: .256/.375/.378; .753 OPS; 10 doubles, 6 triples; 31:35 BB:K
I was hoping I would make it through the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates UTR Organizational All-Star series with a more-than-worthy prospect at every position. But what’s the old saying? “All good things must come to an end.” After scanning through all of the right fielders from the DSL up through HiA, it was evident that they need major help at the position. Several kids posted noteworthy P/A scores, but with a caveat. 2012 free agent signee out of the Dominican Republic Henrry Rosario posted a 4.04/898 P/A score this season, which is great, but Roasario has yet to make it past Rookie Appalachian League and will be 24-years-old the day before MiLB’s Opening Day. I could have chosen 2014 UTR OAS (at catcher) Kevin Krause. The 2014 – 9th rounder out of Stoney Brook University (NY) lead all right fielders in batting (.273), on-base percentage (.400) and steals (10). But this time I’m going pure UTR to close out the Pirates for 2016. Jeremias Portorreal was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, but he didn’t see game action until the following year. He was scouted as an advanced hitter with growing power and the organization assigned him to the Dominican Summer League. In his first two seasons as a pro, he struggled batting .199 with 13 doubles, 9 triples and only three home runs in 104 games. This past season he took a nice step forward, but I’m not going to sit here and say the 6’3″- 190 lb. lefty is the second coming of Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte or Andrew McCutchen. However, he’s a UTR prospect that had a decent enough season for die-hard or niche Pirates fans to put him on their position vector. From both the long and she short view, the mediocre-at-best situation in right field just might be what aforementioned first base prospect Jose Osuna needs. I could see him shifting there full time, making Pirate fans completely forget about the dismal state of those who, with a move, would immediately fall behind Osuna on the right field depth chart.