By Jason Shetler
Mitch Keller – p/c: Martin Griff
Multiple baseball publications release their updated prospect rankings at different times. MLB Pipeline does theirs late in the regular season, while Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus come out with theirs during the offseason. Just for fun, I thought I’d put together my list of the Top 10 Pirates prospects right now, and then comparing that to where the other publications have the prospects ranked at.
1. Mitch Keller: 2017 as a whole was outstanding for Mitch Keller. After posting a 3.14 ERA with High A Bradenton and a 3.12 ERA with AA Altoona this season, Keller dominated some of the game’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League, where he put up an ERA of 1.52. He worked on his changeup during the AFL, and it’s now become an effective pitch for him, to go along with the mid-90’s fastball and plus curveball.
MLBP (2), BA (1), BP (1)
2. Austin Meadows: Although Mitch Keller has surpassed Austin Meadows on the list, Meadows is still the Pirates top prospect in terms of position players. He had just a .670 OPS this year with AAA Indianapolis, but hamstring issues played a big part in him struggling. When healthy, Meadows has the tools to be a solid, all-around outfielder. The Pirates made the no-brainer decision to place Meadows on the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
MLBP (1), BA (2), BP (2)
3. Shane Baz: It’s not very often that a prep pitcher has phenomenal stuff upon being drafted, but that’s the case with Shane Baz. The Pirates 2017 first rounder out of Concordia Lutheran High School in Texas had a strong commitment to pitch at TCU, but the Bucs were able to ink him for $4.1 million. Baz possesses a fastball that can reach upper-90’s, a swing and miss mid-90’s cutter, a good slider and above average curve. He posted a 3.80 ERA in his debut season with the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
MLBP (3), BA (3), BP (3)
4. Cole Tucker: In terms of Pirates prospects, you could argue that Cole Tucker is the most athletic in the system right now. The former first round pick in 2014 began this year with Bradenton, putting up a .790 OPS. He was then promoted to Altoona in July, where he had an OPS of .726. Combined with both affiliates, Tucker stole 47 bases, and most likely would’ve had 50 had a thumb injury not kept him out a few weeks.
MLBP (5), BA (6), BP (4)
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes: Shane Baz isn’t the only graduate of Concordia Lutheran who’s currently in the Pirates system, as Hayes was drafted out of the same school 32nd overall in 2015. Hayes played the High A level for Bradenton this season as one of the youngest players in the Florida State League, and really held his own, posting a .345 on base percentage. He didn’t hit for much power, but that could increase once he really develops offensively. Hayes is already establishing himself as one of the best defensive third basemen in the minors, with a very strong arm and good range.
MLBP (4), BA (4), BP (5)
6. Kevin Newman: Entering 2017, Kevin Newman was arguably the Pirates best pure hitting prospect in the organization, but had a down year offensively this season. Newman had a .310 OBP with Altoona. He was promoted in July to Indianapolis, where he hit .283, but had an OBP of .314. To his credit however, Newman was tough to strike out, as he put up an 11.6% K rate combined for both Altoona and Indianapolis.
MLBP (6), BA (5), BP (6)
7. Taylor Hearn: While Felipe Rivero is viewed as the main piece from the Mark Melancon deal, Taylor Hearn is a very promising pitcher in his own right. Hearn pitched for Bradenton this season, as he posted an ERA of 4.12, but had a 3.41 Fielding Independent Pitching. He had a 10.9 K/9, although he did walk batters at a rate of 3.8. Hearn participated in the AFL to make up for lost time, because of an oblique injury he sustained in July, and had a 3.06 ERA. His fastball is consistently upper-90’s and he compliments it with a good slider. The development of Hearn’s changeup will decide whether he remains a starter or is moved to the bullpen.
MLBP (Not in Top 10), BA (9), BP (8)
8. Will Craig: In the 2016 MLB Draft, Will Craig was chosen by the Pirates in the first round out of Wake Forest. The former ACC Player of the Year was considered an on base machine upon being drafted. That trend continued in 2017 with Bradenton, as he put up a .373 OBP, which was third best in the FSL, thanks in large part to a strong walk rate of 11.4%. Despite being 6’3, 212 lbs, he had just a .371 slugging percentage for the Marauders, so the lack of power prevents him from being higher in prospect rankings.
MLBP (7), BA (Not in Top 10), BP (10)
9. Luis Escobar: Signed by the Pirates of Colombia in 2013, Luis Escobar is definitely one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the system. Escobar spent the entire 2017 season with the West Virginia Power, posting a 3.83 ERA, along with an impressive K/9 of 11.5. The command was an issue for him, with a 4.1 BB/9, mainly due to being too amped up on the mound, so he will need to do a better job of controlling his emotions. Escobar has a mid-90’s fastball that can creep into the upper-90’s at times. He also throws a curveball, which is a solid pitch when he does command it right, and an average changeup. Escobar was the Pirates representative in this year’s MLB Futures Game and was recently added to the 40-man roster, being protected from the Rule 5.
MLBP (Not in Top 10), BA (7), BP (7)
10. Kevin Kramer: After putting up decent numbers his first two seasons in the Pirates system, Kevin Kramer was on the verge of having a breakout season this year with Altoona, until a left hand fracture foiled those plans. At the time of the injury, he had a very impressive .880 OPS. Kramer made up his lost playing time in the AFL. He and Mitch Keller both participated in the Fall Stars Game.
MLBP (9), BA (Not in Top 10), BP (9)