Pirates Farm System: High Upside Pitching Prospects

We don’t provide a lot of minor league coverage here, although it’s something I’d like to give more attention from time to time. Disclaimer: prospects will break your heart.

No matter how much we look into them, stats never tell the full story — especially at the minor league level. Perhaps a pitcher is only working on one pitch during a game — literally only one pitch. For example, some teams, like the Pirates, are known to put an emphasis on the fastball at the lower levels; after you command the heater, you can master the rest. This makes it hard to interpret the numbers, as we don’t really know what’s going on without the chance to see these guys play regularly.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to look at the numbers and see the players who might be doing something right. Less forget about the potential shortcomings for a second and take a look at pitchers today.

The Pirates have a distinct ground ball pitching philosophy, and strikeouts are always a good indicator of particular dominance in terms of stuff, command, missing bats, etc. So we’ll compare ground ball rates (GB%) and strikeout rates (K%).

Here are the results for the near 40 pitching prospects who pitched 40+ innings at West Virginia, Bradenton, Altoona, and/or Indianapolis (and who are still with the org. as far as I can tell; removed some others — EDIT: Shane Carle was traded for Rob Scahill in November; h/t John Dreker)…

pittsburgh pirates pitching prospects

Average ground ball rate across these minor league levels: ~44%
Average strikeout rate across these levels: ~20%

As you can see, only three prospects who met the criteria featured both above-average K% and GB% — that’s Brett McKinney, Yhonathan Barrios, and Jhondaniel Medina.

McKinney, 24, pitched most of 2014 for West Virginia, boasting a 2.20 ERA over 49 innings; he also made one appearance in Bradenton. Overall: 45.5% ground ball rate and a commanding 23.5% strikeout rate, although he walked a bit too many batters (10%).

Barrios, 23, made two stops in ’14: first, he underperformed at West Virginia (4.70 ERA vs. 3.46 FIP), then outperformed at Bradenton (2.25 ERA vs. 3.70 FIP). According to Pirates Prospects, Barrios was consistently touching 98-99 mph on the radar gun in camp last spring.

Finally, Medina was untouchable this year. The 21-year-old posted a 0.72 ERA with dominant K & GB numbers in 35 relief appearances for the Marauders, despite poor control (14% walk rate).

While that’s not a whole lot, that second quadrant (high GB% but low K%) is quite full. There’s a clear emphasis on ground balls throughout the system, and many of these pitchers are making it happen.

Then there’s Tyler Glasnow, who’s a freak with his innate ability to produce strikeouts. He led the Florida State League in strikeout rate (31.9%) and ERA (1.74), among other dominance. Glasnow’s the #16 prospect in baseball for a reason; if he can improve his command a bit, he’ll be well on his way.

Jameson Taillon obviously missed the year with Tommy John surgery, but he probably would have come close to the first quadrant had he pitched:

Year / K% / GB%
2011 / 24.6% / 39.8%
2012 / 19.9% / 42.5%
2013 / 22.3% / 45%

Here were the best Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers in the system, via Minor League Central (which I noticed about halfway through this that they’re a bit different from FanGraphs…):

Tyler Glasnow, 2.44
Jhondaniel Medina, 3.12
Orlando Castro, 3.13
Nick Kingham, 3.44
Yhonathan Barrios, 3.46
Adrian Sampson, 3.52
A.J. Morris, 3.63
Jason Creasy, 3.64

A couple of notes on pitchers the Pirates have lost this offseason:

Joely Rodriguez wasn’t so great for Altoona in 2014, but he did excel in the ground ball department (53%). He might’ve turned the corner a bit in the Arizona Fall League, but was sent to Philadelphia for Antonio Bastardo.

Buddy Borden, shipped to Tampa as the player-to-be-named-later for Sean Rodriguez, had some decent numbers for West Virginia (3.16 ERA).

Tyler Waldron, who was scooped up by the Cardinals in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, rated very well across the board — above average in both K% (22.0) and GB% (46.2), while posting a 3.16 FIP.

Go Bucs

Tim Williams’ 2015 Pirates Prospects Guide is now available for purchase. You should check that out. 

Data courtesy of Minor League Central

Bucs deal Resop, Navarro

ResopIn addition to officially signing Russell Martin and deciding on who to tender/non-tender, the Pirates have traded relief pitcher Chris Resop and utility man Yamaico Navarro.

Resop, 30, will be headed to Oakland. With rumors of a Joel Hanrahan trade and increasing interest in Jason Grilli, this trade will further deplete the Bucco bullpen. Although he’s not considered a late-inning/pressure situation reliever, Resop is still a decent option at a cheap price. A lot of fans hated him, for whatever reason. He held down a 3.88 ERA in 159 games for the Bucs over three seasons.

In return, the Pirates will receive RHP Zach Thornton. Thornton, a 24 year old University of Oregon product, was selected in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft. He played High-A ball this year for the Stockton Ports, where he went 4-0 with a 4.53 ERA.

The A’s Twitter accidentally said that they had acquired “Jim Resop”…

[tweet https://twitter.com/Athletics/status/274671720537939968]

Furthermore, the Pirates sent Navarro to Baltimore. He only played 29 games at the big league level last season, and hit just .160. Yamaico performed well at Triple-A Indianapolis, but was arrested for D.U.I. in July.

They will get RHP Jhondaniel Medina in exchange for Navarro. Medina is only 19 years of age, but has been in the O’s organization for three years. He has a career 3.14 ERA in 35 games between the Dominican Summer League, Gulf Coast League, and New York-Penn League.

Go Bucs

Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons