Top Lineup C – Arden Pabst – In the upper minors, the Pirates possess a collection of backstops that don’t necessarily light the scoreboard on fire. Yet at the same time, it’s a bit surprising the Pirates haven’t traded Francisco Cervelli after the 11-year veteran posted his best season ever as a regular in 2018. However, with one year remaining on Cervelli’s contract, hopefully this gives current backup Elias Diaz a pathway to the everyday job, because truth be told, and with all of his injuries behind him, he’s more than capable of handling everyday duties after batting .286 with 10 home runs, 34 RBi and .984 fielding percentage in 82 games last season. This allows the Pirates time to slow-cook their minors despite the fact that several of the catchers in the system are in their mid-to-upper 20s. The 6’1”- 200 lb. righty Pabst has improved each season since his debut in 2016, with 2018 being his best overall to date. The Pirates drafted Pabst in 2016 out of the 12th round from Georgia Tech and he came to the organization with a defense first, average-at-best bat. He left college with a three-year batting average of .234, six home runs and 54 RBi in 124 career games. Yet as a pro, he’s more than overplayed his scouting report. Last season he started with HiA Bradenton and in 46 games he batted a surprising .281, hit eight home runs (two more than he hit during his entire collegiate career) with 29 RBi. The Los Angeles native received a one-game push to AAA Indianapolis, went 2-3 with a run scored and a strikeout before heading to Double-A Altoona where he finished the season with a .193 average, two home runs and six runs scored in 19 games. However, when you add it all up, he posted a .264/.306/.472/.778 slashline with 10 home runs, 14 doubles and 36 RBi in 66 games to go along with a .992 fielding percentage. I expect Pabst to spend all year in Double-A Altoona, and if he can post similar offensive numbers while maintaining above-average defense, he could find himself in the position to walk with Elias, as Diaz’ primary backup. 1B – Mason Martin – With Josh Bell under team control until the 2023 season, Pittsburgh has more than enough time to toil their system for the next star at the position. They may have found it in former third baseman and 2016 – 1st rounder Will Craig, who after his debut season in 2016, shifted across the diamond from third to first. Last season, with Double-A Altoona, Craig hit only .248, but crushed 30 doubles, 20 home runs and drove in 102, while logging a rather impressive .993 fielding percentage. So, this obviously gives this year’s UTR OAS Mason Martin plenty of time to iron out his strikeout issues, despite his massive power potential. Martin came to the Pirates out of Southridge HS (WA) with one glaring tool: huge raw power. And from the moment the 2017 – 17th rounder took the field as a pro, he’s displayed it, crushing 11 home runs in 30 games for the Gulf Coast League Pirates, then last year when he moved up to Rookie Bristol of the Appalachian League. There, he clubbed 10 more before a late-June promotion to the South Atlantic League. With West Virginia, he belted four more to end last season with 14 home runs, 18 doubles, 58 RBi and 58 runs scored in 104 games. However, let’s pump the brakes a bit. We all love the long ball. The 6’0”- 200 lb. lefty batted .307 in the GCL with 11 dingers in 2017, however, even though the power arrived last year, so did the dip in average and the strikeouts. To go from a 32:41 BB:K ratio (in 39 games) to 60:149 in 104 games is astounding. But you can’t give up on the kid. He’s only 19, and obviously has a lot of work to do. Ironically, you can always look at that debut season and see that he has potential way past his “huge raw power-first” scouting report. 2B – Carlos Arroyo – As a Pirate fan, you just have to love seeing Adam Frazier’s name pencilled in as the potential opening day starter at second. This is a guy who (since being drafted in the 6th round back in 2013 out of Mississippi State University), has kicked, clawed and scratched his way all through the minors, playing every single position management ever asked of him, and no matter where he’s played, he’s hit. He logged games at every single position in the minors except catcher and pitcher and provided adequate enough defense to hold his own no matter what. As a major leaguer, the organization has backed off on the amount of gloves the 27-year-old lefty needs to bring to the park each day, but Frazier is the ultimate gamer and offers that versatility so badly needed in today’s game. Yet one of the more important elements of such versatility is when you have a big time surplus of minors who will eventually need room to play. The Pirates are loaded with middle infielders in their upper minors, with 2B Kevin Kramer, and shortstops Oneil Cruz, Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman all sitting firmly inside Baseball America’s 2019 Pirate Top 10. This basically kicks the door wide open for us UTR folk to highlight another second baseman like Carlos Arroyo, a highly regarded Columbia native whom the Pirates signed in July 2017, soon after he turned the ripe age of 16. The 5’9”- 170 lb. righty debuted in the Dominican Summer League, was one of only four 16-year-olds in the entire DSL, yet batted .294, led the Pirates1 DSL squad in on-base percentage (.416) and sat within the roster’s top five in hits (53), stolen bases (15) and walks (33). Arroyo flashed a good glove too, as he played 45 of his 58 games at second posting a .971 fielding percentage. It’s always a good thing to temper enthusiasm for a 16 year old who performed extremely well in his debut, but it’s absolutely worth noting even though the organization is extremely top heavy with middle infielders. I fully expect Arroyo to start 2019 stateside in the Gulf Coast League, and if he can build upon his 2018 debut with another more-than-solid season, he’ll creep himself onto the cusp of top up-and-coming prospect talk. 3B – Sherten Apostel – As a former fantasy owner of Pirates top third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes in the much-talked-about N.L.-only fantasy league Jim and I partake in, I had to do what everyone does in our league, try to replace one top prospect with another upon making a trade. So, I traded Hayes and replaced him with the Braves Austin Riley when he was crushing it for HiA Florida in 2017. Well, I ended up trading Riley too and I’m now moving forward with the Cardinals Nolan Gorman, whom I added eight days after he played his 24th professional game. In the case of the Pirates third base OAS, Apostel falls into the same principle in which he has to be replaced with another prospect. I chose the 6’4”- 200 lb. Curacao native because he had a solid 2018 with Rookie Bristol, batting .259 with seven homers, 26 RBi and 32 walks to 42 strikeouts in 41 games, but Apostel was one of the infamous “PTBNL” in the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline deal that sent Texas reliever Keone Kela to Pittsburgh. Texas immediately sent the righty slugger to their short season Spokane affiliate and in his final 12 games of the season, he killed Northwest League pitching, batting .351 with a homer, a double, 10 runs batted in and walked 9 more times to only 8 strikeouts. So, the Pirates will have a hole to fill at third base with the departure of Apostel, but as long as Hayes is in town, it’s only a matter of filling depth, and not replacing a top prospect. Fantasy versus reality. SS – Oneil Cruz – As much as Jim and I like to promote the “notspects” as we so call them, on the flip side, we have to take our numbers for they are and promote whomever comes out on top. We do that with our off-season OAS as well as our in-season Players of the Day feature. Well, Oneil Cruz falls into that, “wow, there wasn’t really anyone in the organization that was even close” category, thus choosing him as this year’s shortstop OAS. Mind you, Jim and I do follow Double and Triple-A, but for this website, it’s HiA down through the DSL only, which is why the 6’6”- 175 lb. Cruz sits atop our standings despite the presence of Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman in the organization. At 19, Cruz had a killer season for LoA West Virginia ranking in the South Atlantic League top ten in runs scored (66), triples (7), home runs (14) and just outside the top ten in total bases (196). Due to his size, some say he won’t stay at short and his plus-plus power could either shift him to third base or right field. Either way, he’s a stud in the making and could show off even more with a move to HiA Bradenton in 2019. LF – Juan Pie – Other than maybe Seattle and Milwaukee, who we saw yesterday, there might not be an organization more top heavy with outfield prospects than the Pirates. Four outfielders are listed with MLB Pipeline’s 2019 Pirates Top 30 and Baseball America lists four within their Pirates Top 10: 2018 – 1st rounder Travis Swaggerty, 2nd round draft choice in 2017 Calvin Mitchell, Brian Reynolds, whom the Pirates acquired in the 2018 pre-season Andrew McCutchen trade and Jason Martin, the former Houston Astro product who arrived in Pittsburgh in exchange for former 1st round pick (2011) Gerrit Cole. So, there’s a lot to work with here and the sense of urgency in the Steel City might be sooner rather than later as none of the Pirates current major league outfield (Marte, Dickerson, Polanco and recently signed Lonnie Chisenhall) are under contract past the 2021 season (Polanco). For Pirate fans and N.L.-only fantasy leaguers, this is a bit hair-raising, but for UTR, it’s an opportunity, and it should come as no surprise that we’re going deep again with first-year Pirate Juan Pie. The organization loved the young Dominican’s bat signing him to a deal in July 2017. They sent him to the DSL in 2018, where with Pirates1, the 6’2”- 170 lb. lefty hit .258, clubbed 12 doubles (second on the team), tied for the team lead with 8 triples, ranked second in both walks (36) and total bases (88). Defensively, Pie has quite a bit of work to do. He spent time in all three outfield spots, and although his .917 fielding percentage was poor, it was the better number than what he registered in each corner (.893 in left; .824 in right). However, he’s poised to turn 18 in early April, which gives the organization time to improve his defense while he builds upon his potential impact swing. CF – Jared Oliva – Had I added a little more length the Pirates top outfield prospects listing above, there would have been a great possibility that 2017 – 7th rounder Jared Oliva would have brought up the rear of that discussion. Simply put, Oliva doesn’t really have a standout tool, yet what he doesn’t possess in physical tools, he makes for it in intangibles. The Pirates love his makeup and according to the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospect Chat back in mid-December, moderator Dustin Dopirak said about Oliva, “The Pirates look at him as a captain type, and he’s just not the sort of guy you bet against.” After not being recruited out of Valencia HS (CA), Oliva walked on at Arizona State University and in three seasons with the Sun Devils, batted .280 with 9 home runs, 108 RBi and 27 stolen bases. After being drafted, the 6’3”- 185 lb. righty went straight to the New York-Penn League, where with West Virginia, he stayed on pace with a .266/.327/.374/.700 slashline and stole 15 bases, but went homer-less and walked 17 times to 57 strikeouts. One of the things Jim and I look at from season to season is improvement upon a promotion. Oliva did just that, and even more impressive was he did it in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. With Bradenton, Oliva batted .275, belted 9 home runs and led the FSL in runs scored (75), ranked second with 33 stolen bases and just outside the top 10 in total bases (168). RF – Jack Herman – Now we’re talking. Nothing says under-the-radar like a 30th round draft pick out of central New Jersey. Pittsburgh drafted the 6’0”- 190 lb. right out of Vorhees HS and got a prospect with an above average arm plus-plus speed, but a bat-first profile and boy, he didn’t disappoint, putting his skills on display in the Gulf Coast League. Herman posted a .340 average, drew 23 walks, struck out 24 times and an eye-popping .435 on-base percentage. Herman also went errorless in the outfield. Now as UTR advocates, we can’t help but be a bit giddy over Herman’s 2018 performance. Even though this is our wheelhouse, we understand that Herman will suffer his share of struggles as he ascends through the ranks, but for 2018, what a way to conclude an all-star list. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP James Marvel – (16.5) / Double-A Altoona “Legit UTR”
** Marvel quietly had an outstanding season for the Pirate organization. The 36th round pick in 2015 made 27 appearances (26 starts) across two levels, but began to gain traction in the prospect realm with his 5 starts at Altoona. His 167.1 innings of work was tops amongst all pitchers in the minor league system. He posted overall pedestrian numbers with a 12-7 record, 3.55 ERA and 122/40 K/BB ratio (3.05 K/BB). The 6′ 4″ 197 lb right-hander is a sinkerball, pitch-to-contact, control type pitcher that generates groundball, but with enough solid velocity to miss bats. Marvel should return to Altoona to start the 2019 season, and should be their #1 starter. Marvel repeats as a UTR-OAS after finishing at #3 after the 2017 season.
2. LHP Domingo Robles – (20) / HiA Bradenton** Robles filled the vacancy at HiA Bradenton left by Marvel and got rough-up in his first start ( 9 ER in 3.1 IP). The 20 year-old southpaw shook it off and finished strong in his last 4 starts. The 6′ 2 ” 170 lb Dominican native saw his first full season as a pro, since coming out of the DSL in 2015. Robles is a finesse lefty who’s fastball averages around 90 mph and throws a curve and change. During his time with LoA West Virginia, Robles posted a 9-6 record a 2.97 ERA over 115 innings.
3. RHP Luis Escobar – (11) / Double-A Altoona “Legit UTR”
** Escobar enjoyed a breakout season in 2017 and was the UTRMinors #1 UTR-OAS for the Pirates. He spent the whole 2017 season with LoA West Virginia and struck out 168 batters over 131.2 innings. The 6′ 1″ 205 lb right-hander only throws three average rated pitches and currently lacks command, as displayed by his 4.1 BB9 last season. The Pirates may aggressively push Escobar to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin 2019.
4. LHP Oddy Nunez – (11) / HiA Bradenton
5. RHP Max Kranick – (10.5) / LoA West Virginia
** Kranick should show his upside in 2019. Last season he was hampered with shoulder soreness and blisters and was limited in innings work. The 11th round pick from 2016 spent his first full season with West Virginia and posted a 4.28 K/BB rate.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Angel German – (8)/ HiA Bradenton
** German came to the Pirates from the LA Dodgers in the Tony Watson trade.
2. LHP Blake Weiman – (5) / Double-A Altoona
3. RHP Scooter Hightower – (4) / Double-A Altoona
** Hightower was a 15th round pick in 2015 and returns as a UTR-OAS (2016) with a strong 2018. Across two levels Hightower posted a 7-1 record, 1.99 ERA and 66 strikeouts (13 walks) in 68 innings