Over the next couple years Bradenton, Florida will be a mecca for young baseball talent. Some of the best young prospects in baseball will be playing for the hometown Bradenton Marauders. We feel these ten players are talented enough to start changing the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates have made numerous headlines with the amount of cash they have invested in the amateur draft the past few years. We look at 2012 as the year that several of those players have to start making moves. There are many players in the lower levels of the Pirates system and we selected ten that we want to see excel at Bradenton or play well enough to reach Bradenton by the end of the season. It never hurts to dream a little bit right?
Gerrit Cole is big, a filled out six foot four inches tall. He weighs 220 pounds but looks even larger. The Pirates first overall pick in 2011 has ace potential stamped all over him. The right hander brings serious heat with his fastball sitting in the high 90′s reaching triple digits consistently.
Because he possesses the advanced fastball command the Pirates farm system drills into the heads of its’ young pitchers, Cole pitched in the Arizona Fall League last year. He received high marks from scouts for his poise, improved mechanics which helped keep his fastball down in the zone, and much to the opposing hitters dismay Cole added some nastiness to his variety of off-speed pitches.
The man with the $8 million dollar arm had his share of struggles while at UCLA and in the AFL All-Star Game, but those should only be blips on the radar gun. The upside heavy Cole will move quickly through the Pirates system if his pitches continue to show more life.
Jameson Taillon was the second overall selection in the 2010 draft out of The Woodlands High School in Texas. Taillon is six foot six inches tall and packs 225 pounds on his solid frame. The right hander began his career at Low-A West Virginia where his fastball sat in the mid-90′s and reached as high as 99 mph during the year.
Taillon uses a drop-and-drive delivery similar to Tom Seaver. The delivery was thought to be the reason his fastball was occassionally up in the zone while he was in West Virginia. He worked through some mechanical issues and improved as his season wrapped up. The 19-year old didn’t dominate, but he definently didn’t disappoint.
We have to believe that Taillon spent a great deal of time working on his fastball command. Due to the focus on his fastball, he wasn’t able to use his knee buckling curveball that scouts absolutely love. When the bad guys know a fastball is coming, it doesn’t really matter how hard it’s thrown, but Taillon still had solid numbers. He struckout 9.4 batters per nine innings, not bad considering hitters were sitting dead red throughout the season.
Josh Bell will be one of the most anticipated hitters to come out of the Pirates system in a long time. Bell, and his advisor (not agent) Scott Boras, sent out a letter to every Major League team telling the teams not to draft him. He had a strong commitment to the University of Texas. It was one of the smartest pieces of advice the 6’4″ Bell would every get.
The Pirates ignored the letter and put $5 million dollars in front of him. Much to the dismay of all the other MLB teams, it worked.
The switch-hitting Bell has a powerful bat from both sides of the plate. The YouTube videos of Bell are a sight for sore eyes for a Pirates system that has a serious lack of anything resembling a power hitting prospect. If Bell excels in West Virginia, there is an outside shot he could make it to Bradenton toward the end of the year.
Colton Cain is one of the several high school arms taken in the 2009 draft. He was signed in the eighth round out of Waxahachie High School. A back injury limited him to 48.1 innings in 2010, but he came back strong in his first full season at West Virginia last year.
There were times when Cain owned the opposition, but as the season progressed and the innings piled up to over 100, Cain wore down. His drop in velocity was the telltale sign and got him moved to the bullpen.
Look for Cain to break camp with the Marauders and we can see him building on his success if his fastball velocity returns and he continues to work on his curve.
Stetson Allie was the Pirates version of Ricky Vaughn from Major League. In his first year at short season State College, Allie issued ten walks per nine innings while striking out nearly the same number.
We were able to see him late in the year and he started figuring it out. He looked more relaxed on the mound and made quick work of the opposition. Allie has a lack of experience on the mound, so as he becomes more comfortable, we see nothing but positives for the 6’2″ right hander from St. Ed’s High School in Ohio.
He can pump up his fastball into the high 90s, but also has an above average slider. There is still plenty of time for Allie to fine tune his abilities and be the pitcher the Pirates thought he could be when they took him in the 2nd round in 2010.
Allie is one of the biggest reasons we are looking forward to spring training. A sharp start this year could get him back on track and we can actually see it happening in a big way for the hard throwing right-hander.
Nick Kingham was very impressive in State College last season. The fourth round pick in 2010 from Sierra Vista High School took the fastball command mantra to new levels. The 6’5″ right hander started 15 games and posted a 2.15 ERA. His fastball had good life and sits in the lows 90s.
The fastball was so good that he rarely used his other pitches. So one has to believe that Kingham will head to West Virginia where he can throw some off-speed pitches to round out his mix and with the promotion of some Bradenton pitchers to Altoona might see a late season move.
What is impressive about Kingham is that when he pitches it looks effortless. He goes right after the hitters and it will be fun to watch him improve on his strikeout numbers as he throws more off-speed pitches.
Alex Dickerson has the ability to hit a baseball to all fields. He looks smooth at the plate and the third rounder from the University of Indiana impressed scouts after his first season in State College.
MLB named him one of the top ten first baseman prospects in baseball after he hit .313 and slugged .493 for the Spikes. He is very hard to strikeout and hits well against left handed pitchers. There isn’t much to dislike about the 6’3″ left hander’s bat.
But in the field he still appears a little clunky to us. It might improve with time as he played a lot of outfield with Indiana. But it’s the bat that matters with Dickerson. If he continues to be the hit spraying machine we think he can be, the Pirates could have their first baseman of the future.
It’s difficult for us seeing Dickerson start in West Virginia, we feel the Pirates will have him jump a level and get the nod in Bradenton. It could be the spark that begins Dickerson’s climb up the organization.
Clay Holmes was the Bucs ninth round pick in 2011 getting a sizeable $1.2 million dollar bonus. Holmes is 6’5″ and 230 pounds with an upside just as big. He’s physical, but also smart as his 4.0 high school GPA showed.
He displays a great deal of effort in his mechanics so the team has been busy cleaning that up for the right hander. He throws in the low 90s with some nice sinking action, the slider can be inconsistent the scouts say and he threw a knuckle curveball while putting up good numbers in high school.
With all of the hype around Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell, most people haven’t heard about Holmes. We think Holmes will change that this year while starting his career in State College.
Ryan Hafner just kept getting better. His velocity improved, he was able to keep the ball down while showing some solid movement on his arsenal.
Hafner is 6’6″ and 205 pounds so he fits right in with the big pitching prospects on this list. He was signed in the 17th round out of Lee’s Summit West High School for a $450,000 bonus. Hafner has improved his velocity each season and he now sits in the low 90s with his fastball which if he can continue to improve, Hafner could be heading to Bradenton in 2013.
Luis Heredia is a raw pitching prospect that just might be one of the best in the Pirates system. Of course, he is just 17 years old, but possesses a lively fastball.
He mixes in two other pitches– an above-average change up and a solid curveball that is showing improvement. He struggled at times in the GCL last season posting 5.6 walks per nine innings. Considering he was just 16 years old, we tend to look at the 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings as a major sign that he’s the real deal.
When we were in spring training last year, Heredia could be spotted at many of the games. He’s hard to miss at 6’6″ tall with an outgoing personality and a love for talking baseball. We can see Heredia pitching in short season State College this season. With some patience and extended work on repeating his delivery, Heredia could begin pulling into the fast lane for rapid advancement up the Pirates system. Reaching Bradenton is a pie in the sky longshot with about a one percent chance of happening. Just seeing Heredia in West Virginia would be insane enough for me, but it doesn’t hurt to have a stretch goal does it?
God I am glad baseball season is here.