Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects: Number 10 Taylor Hearn

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The regular season is less than a week away, as we continue to break down our Top 20 Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list.  Here is number 10 on the list.

Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system has been considered one of the best in baseball.  However, after enjoying a period of playoff baseball, and in turn picking lower in the draft, they have seen their system fall toward the middle of the pack.  Still, rankings by scouting websites are not everything.  They have plenty of intriguing prospects who could break out just as much as a team with a top farm system.

With that being said, we have come up with our top 20 prospects for the 2018 season.  The articles will look at each player, starting at 20 and working toward one. So far we have looked at pitchers Clay Holmes at number 20, Gage Hinsz at number 19, Travis MacGregor at 18, and left-handed starter Braeden Ogle at 17.  The first hitter to show up on our count down was Calvin Mitchell at number 16 and Oneil Cruz at number 15.  Coming in at number 14 was 2017 draft pick Steven Jennings. Then was is a pair of international prospect in right hander Luis Escobar at number 13 overall and outfielder Lolo Sanchez at number 12.  Right handed starter and 2010 draftee Nick Kingham came in at number 11.  So who is the number 10 ranked prospect on the top 20 list?

Number 10 Overall

When the Pirates traded closer Mark Melancon in July 2016, the club received back left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero and left-handed starter Taylor Hearn.  Hearn was originally drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft, drafted the next two years out of San Jacinto College by two different clubs, and after failing to sign the first three times, he agreed to a deal after being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fifth round of Oklahoma Baptist.  Hearn is a big left-handed pitcher, standing at 6’5″ and 210 pounds.

Minor League History

Hearn has produced mixed minor league numbers, he has a career 3.48 ERA in 49 games with 36 being starts, though last season he produced a 4.03 ERA in 19 games with 18 being starts.  The biggest thing with Hearn is his ability to miss bats, over the course of his minor league career he has struck out 29.1 percent of hitters he has faced.  This past season, Hearn struck out 30.1 percent of hitters he faced.

The Stuff

The swing and miss stuff is real, and it stems from his firm fastball velocity, primarily sitting in the mid 90s.  Fangraphs gave Hearn a 60 current and future grade on the 20-80 scale, while MLB Pipeline gave the pitch a 70.  The fastball velocity coming from the left side is reason enough to believe Hearn will play at the Major League level in some form.  There’s different reviews on the slider, Fangraphs with a 50 current/55 future grade and MLB Pipeline with a 45 grade.

He added a new grip on the pitch in the Arizona Fall League, so it’ll be something to watch for this upcoming season.  The other pitch Hearn throws, the changeup, also received mix reviews.  Fangraphs was more down on the pitch with a 40 current and 45 future grade, where as MLB Pipeline saw gave a 55 grade noting that “he has good feel for the changeup.”  The three pitch outlook makes a potential starter, but if he is moved to the bullpen then he can drop one and focus on having one solid secondary pitch to go with his fastball.

Free-Passes

Hearn having swing and miss stuff is great, especially as a starter going forward, but one of the biggest question marks surrounding him will be his control.  He’s walked 9.5 percent of hitters in the minors, and in 2017 he walked 10.2 percent of the batters he faced.  The average among pitchers with 50 or more innings across all three A+ leagues last year was 7.89 percent.  Hearn giving up less free passes is key for him moving forward as a starter.

One of the other concerns with Hearn moving forward is his injury history, starting with a strained UCL in high school to a torn oblique this past season.  In his three minor league seasons and time in the AFL, Hearn has tossed just 206.2 innings, with a career high 89.1 this past season.  For him to remain starting, Hearn needs to stay healthy and limit more of his walks heading forward.

2018 Season

The 23-year-old hasn’t pitched above A+ yet, but he will either start out in Double-A Altoona this year, or be up sometime in the middle of the year.  The biggest thing to watch will be how the new grip on the slider plays.  If it allows for more control and keeps swing and miss stuff, Hearn will have an edge on remaining a starter, assuming his health holds.  If the health issues linger and the control still lacks, Hearn might start to transition to the bullpen late in the season.

Next: Number 11 Prospect

Final Thoughts

Hearn, coming from the left side, throws hard and has swing and miss stuff.  Just that reason alone should get him action with the Pirates at some point in the future.  The key for him is to stay healthy and throw more strikes.  The Pirates have a potential hard throwing backend starter on their hands, and at the worst a potential left-handed relief weapon.

*Numbers from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference