Pittsburgh Pirates: Six Low-A Prospects on the Rise

cdcrisan
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates rely on the minor league system before anything else.  Here are some prospects in the lower minors that are having solid seasons.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a solid crop of prospects who are nearing their MLB debuts. Austin Meadows has been discussed at great length and his Major League service should begin sooner, rather than later. The Pirates also have top pitching prospects Mitch Keller, Steven Brault, and Nick Kingham waiting between the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and hitting prospects Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman are competing to become the Buccos’ next stopper at shortstop.

But even as the Pirates have dealt other top prospects in search of Major League-ready talent, what depth lies beyond the higher levels?

This year’s first round pick Shane Baz is listed third on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Pirates list. The 18-year-old checks in with a 3.86 ERA in six starts to date in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. Also, top hitting prospects Ke’Bryan Hayes (4) and Will Craig (8) are stewing in High-A Bradenton. The talent is there, but what about the prospects in the Low-A ranks who are starting to separate themselves from the competition?

Three West Virginia Power Prospects to Watch (season stats as of start of August 7, 2017)

RHP Luis Escobar – 21 G, 20 GS, 9-5, 3.58 ERA, 105.2 IP, 77 H, 44 R, 42 ER, 134 K, 47 BB, 8 HR, .199 BAA, 1.17 WHIP

Escobar gained some national attention this July with his appearance in the 2017 Futures Game in Miami. He walked a batter and allowed no hits in one inning of relief in that game, but his presence in that contest alone has raised some eyebrows. His numbers have always been consistent, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased from 2.2 K/BB to 2.8 K/BB. Also, he has maintained a consistent WHIP over the last three seasons (1.13, 1.15, 1.17). His mid-to-high 90s fastball is working for him. His profile shows that his secondary pitches still need work and control has been a problem, but the declining walk rate is certainly encouraging.

INF/OF Hunter Owen

80 G, .291/.387/.504, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 82 H, 19 2B, 4 3B, 3 SB, 2 CS, 22 BB, 66 K, .890 OPS

This name probably is not too familiar to most, but Hunter Owen has made great strides as he transitions from his .257/.313/.412 line in Short-Season ball last year. Owen, a 25th-round pick in 2016 out of Indiana State, profiles as a pure power hitter who can play corner outfield or third base. Here’s the kicker on Owen’s hot 2016 season – nearly 42% of his hits this year are for extra bases. He’s showing gap power and is proving his profile correct. On the one down side, his 15 errors in the field lead the Power. Again, he’s being tested at multiple positions, and that can be difficult for any low-level prospect to get used to at first.

RHP Matt Anderson

25 G, 11 GS, 8-5, 3.10 ERA, 81.1 IP, 58 H, 34 R, 28 ER, 90 K, 35 BB, 7 HR, .198 BAA, 1.14 WHIP

As Rum Bunter’s Steve Samek wrote on Monday, Anderson could and should be in the conversation to be included in the Pirates’ Top 30 list. His improvements in 2017 have been pretty significant, and it starts with his fastball that can reach the mid-90s. His secondary pitches – mainly his spiking curveball – are starting to come to par and his mix has held opponents to a .198 average against him this season. The one caveat with Anderson is his walk rate is slightly increased, so that would be something to monitor. In any route, he shows some promise as a starter going forward, but his workload still favors him more as a reliever, provided his fastball can develop and he can command his mix to match.

Three West Virginia Black Bears prospects to Watch (season stats as of start of August 7, 2017)

C Deon Stafford

28 G, .303/.352/.486, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 33 H, 8 2B, 1 SB, 1 CS, 10 BB, 30 K, .839 OPS

The Pirates organization simply had to address catching depth beyond Elias Diaz in the 2017 MLB Draft. They did so by selecting two catchers within the first five rounds, the first being Jason Delay in the fourth, followed by Deon Stafford in the fifth. Stafford did spend a year in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .283/.337/.509 with six home runs. Stafford seemed too difficult to sign as a junior out of St. Joseph’s (PA), but the athletic backstop is off to a roaring start to his professional career. He leads all qualifying Black Bears in batting average (.303), he’s tied for first on the team in home runs (4), and his slugging (.486) and OPS (.839) are second only to Tristan Gray. You can view Stafford’s draft profile from Rum Bunter’s Nicholas Caporoso by clicking here.

OF Bligh Madris

34 G, .290/.373/.466, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 38 H, 6 2B, 4 3B, 2 SB, 5 CS, 16 BB, 21 K, .839 OPS

The 21-year-old was a ninth-round pick in 2017 out of Colorado Mesa, and his 6’2”, 200-pound frame has already produced sufficient offense for the Black Bears. His K/BB for his age and status is very good thus far – 21:16. He provides both power and speed which are rare to find in a ninth round corner outfielder, but so far, so good. Important note: Madris walked 45 times and struck out only 30 times in 62 games during his final season at Colorado Mesa.

Next: Comparing Marinez and Kontos

RHP Matt Seelinger

12 G, 0-0, 0.56 ERA, 16.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R/ER, 6 BB, 23 K, 0 HR, .132 BAA, 0.81 WHIP

Small sample size, yes… But talk about a value pick. Seelinger is a 28th-round pick in 2017 from SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island, N.Y. Last season, he showed a 4-1 record with a 1.39 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. A low-90s fastball couples with a unique knuckle curve-like pitch that can drop into the mid-70s. A mix like this can fool eye levels and keep hitters guessing with his side-step and over-the-top delivery.

Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Bunter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on Twitter @cdcrisan.

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