By Jason Shetler
Baseball America’s Ben Badler released his rankings of the Top 20 prospects in the Florida State League. The Pirates have three prospects on the list with Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez.
Meadows is ranked #3 on the list. The ninth overall choice in the 2013 MLB Draft was the Pirates second best prospect entering this year. Meadows played in 121 games for the Bradenton Marauders where he batted .307, which was third highest in the FSL. He also posted a .764 OPS and had 20 stolen bases.
McGuire just missed the Top 10, coming in at #11. The Pirates other first round selection in 2013 struggled offensively this year, hitting .254 with a .595 OPS in 98 games for the Marauders. Defensively, he threw out 25% of baserunners, which is around league average. While McGuire didn’t do much at the plate, he played this year as a 20-year-old, so he was facing more advanced pitchers who are two or three years older than him. His defense however is still regarded as one of the best in the minors.
Ramirez was right behind McGuire at #12. The 21-year-old outfielder from Colombia began the year in extended Spring Training, and joined the Marauders in late May. He left the Pirates in early July to represent Team Colombia in the Pan-American Games, which lasted two weeks. Ramirez played in only 80 games with Bradenton, but still put up solid numbers, as he hit .337 along with an .857 OPS and stole 22 bases.
It should be noted that former Pirates shortstop prospect JaCoby Jones was on the list at #20. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers a day before the trade deadline in the Joakim Soria deal.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: Mike Ehrmann – Getty Images North America
If you were to put together a list of the most underrated offensive players in baseball over the last several years, Michael Morse would certainly be on there. During his four seasons with the Washington Nationals from 2009 to 2012, Morse posted an .857 OPS and a 130 OPS+. He was also a key contributor in leading the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series crown in five years last season, as he put up an .811 OPS, an OPS+ of 130 and a 2.2 oWAR.
The solid numbers for Morse in 2014 earned him a two-year deal with the Miami Marlins worth $16 million this past offseason. He dealt with a finger injury in the first half, and wasn’t able to get anything going, as he posted just a .588 OPS.
The Pirates were looking to add a bat at the trade deadline in an effort to improve the bench after getting minimal production from it in the first half, specifically with Corey Hart and Jose Tabata. Just a day before the deadline, Morse was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a three team trade involving the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves. Pirates GM Neal Huntington would acquire Morse from the Dodgers at the deadline, and at the same time was able to rid himself of the Tabata contract.
Since joining the Pirates, Morse has put up impressive numbers, posting a .420 on base percentage, an .878 OPS, and a 136 OPS+ in 39 games. Meanwhile, Tabata had just a .286 on base along with a .623 OPS for AAA Oklahoma City. He wasn’t even a September call up for the Dodgers, so the trade is looking like an absolute steal for the Bucs. It’ll be interesting to see what the Pirates decide to do this offseason as it pertains to Pedro Alvarez. Morse is under contract while Alvarez would appear to have good trade value offensively for American League teams looking for a DH. Whether or not the Pirates part ways with Alvarez in the offseason, Morse one way or another should be a valuable piece for them next season.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: Tammy Shriver – timeswv.com
On Friday, Ben Badler of Baseball America came out with a list of the Top 20 New York-Penn League prospects. Kevin Newman was ranked in the Top 10 at #7. Unlike the Gulf Coast League, the NYPL didn’t have too many impact performers.
Newman was the Pirates first round selection in this year’s draft out of the University of Arizona. The 22-year-old shortstop struggled at the plate with the West Virginia Black Bears where he hit .226 along with a .620 OPS in 38 games played. Defensively, he handled himself very well, as he posted a .963 fielding percentage. Newman was promoted to the West Virginia Power in August and performed better there, batting .306 with an OPS of .743 in 23 games. He could begin next season with the Bradenton Marauders.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: Mike McGinnis – Getty Images North America
After being drafted by the San Diego Padres as a first round supplemental pick in 2008, Jaff Decker became one of the Padres top prospects, as well as a Baseball America Top 100 prospect in 2010. Decker for whatever reason fell out of favor with the Padres, and was dealt to the Pirates prior to 2014 in exchange for Alex Dickerson.
Just as the case while in the Padres organization, Decker has continued to do a phenomenal job getting on base, as he’s posted a .363 on base percentage since joining the Pirates system. After getting called up to the Bucs in July, Decker returned with them as a September call up. Although the playing time has been limited, he’s made the most of it, posting a .419 on base and a 122 OPS+ in 32 plate appearances.
Decker could very well be the Pirates reserve outfielder coming out of Spring Training next season. Travis Snider is arbitration eligible, but would make more than the $2.1 million he’s owed this season, so I doubt the Pirates would do that especially since Decker is a capable option for just the league minimum. It’ll likely come down to Decker or Keon Broxton. Decker will be out of options next year, which means he’s almost certain to make the Opening Day roster over Broxton, barring injury of course. Having someone who has a strong knack for getting on base obviously makes for a valuable asset off the bench, and Decker could certainly provide that for the Pirates in 2016.
By Jason Shetler
When the Pirates signed Luis Heredia out of Mexico in 2010, he was considered the Bucs biggest Latin amateur prospect since Aramis Ramirez in 1994. Heredia agreed to sign with the Pirates for $2.6 million, but has been a very inconsistent pitcher since then. Another amateur signee in 2010 from Mexico is looking to make a bigger impact and that’s Carlos Munoz.
Munoz is a left-handed hitting first baseman who is listed at 5’11, 225 pounds. While I’m sure there are some scouts that consider his size to be non-athletic, he’s been very productive in short season leagues since joining the organization.
2012 (DSL Pirates): .443 OBP, .809 OPS, 143 wRC+
2013 (DSL Pirates): .456 OBP, .914 OPS, 169 wRC+
2014 (GCL Pirates): .377 OBP, .799 OPS, 134 wRC+
2015 (Bristol/West Virginia): .426 OBP, .992 OPS, 160 wRC+
The numbers have been superb for Munoz, as he’s posted an on base percentage above .400 in three of the last four seasons, thanks in large part to an outstanding 19% walk rate. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he strikes out only 11% of the time. On Wednesday, Munoz made Baseball America’s list of the Top 20 prospects in the Appalachian League for 2015. In addition to the strong on base, he also showed power this year by slugging .587, which resulted in having an OPS near 1.000.
Munoz will begin 2016 playing in his first full season for the West Virginia Power. Even if his strikeout rate increases some over time due to longer seasons and more advanced pitching, the solid on base figures and developing power could still make him an impact prospect in the Pirates system very soon.
By Jason Shetler
Ben Badler of Baseball America released his list of the Top 20 Gulf Coast League prospects, and had Ke’Bryan Hayes ranked in the Top 10 at #9. Badler mentioned that this year’s GCL class is the deepest and most talented he’s seen in a long time, so Hayes being in the Top 10 says a lot about his upside.
Hayes was the Pirates first round supplemental choice in this year’s draft. The 18-year-old third baseman played 44 games for the GCL Pirates where he batted .333 along with an .809 OPS. He was also good on the defensive side, as he posted a .955 fielding percentage, and turned seven double plays. Hayes is likely to begin next year in short season ball for the West Virginia Black Bears.