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An Alternative View, In That The Pirates Should Go With Young Pitching

As we enter another week on Quintana Watch at TPOP, Mike presents an alternative viewpoint that not only is Quintana not necessary, but that fans should trust what’s in the system already — KC.
Prospectology – (n) –  the knowledge of baseball prospects, how much they are worth, what their ceilings/floors are and how teams develop them.

Understanding “Prospectology” is a vital skill for anyone that wants to really understand baseball.  It’s what separates the most knowledgeable fans and baseball media members from those that think we should trade Austin Meadows for a relief pitcher.

Understanding what is brewing in the minors is very important this offseason more than any other.   In this article I will give a little information to help fans speak prospectology and how it will play out in our 2017 starting pitching rotation.

Top 30 lists have spoiled us

So in this Buzzfeed era, we all love Lists.  Top 10 most livable cities, Top 15 restaurants in Pittsburgh….top beers, top songs, etc., etc.  So in baseball the Top Prospects lists have become a big deal.  The problem is that the lists lack perspective.  You are just comparing the Pirates’ prospects to each other.  Only in the Top 100 lists do players gain a little bit of perspective, but only the top 4-5 within the system.

As an example, these are the Baseball America Top 10 Pirates prospects for 2010 and 2016, respectively.  I’ve also done my composite ranking to show how the lists might have been merged together.

You can see that the Pirate fans might have been excited about the thought of the 2010 Top 10 prospects coming in and helping the major league club.  In reality, there was only one prospect that was an upper tier prospect and lots of question marks.

Simple as A, B, C

So to differentiate quality of prospects you need to find a service that grades the prospects individually.  Our friends at Fangraphs use the very thorough 20-80 current and future values.   This is a great system for nerds like Kevin Creagh (true — KC), but pretty complicated for a casual fan.

That’s why I also use John Sickels’ A+ through C- system that’s available at minorleaguebaseball.com.  John has evaluated prospects for years and grades all prospects on this “teacher scale”.   Here is how he quantifies the grades:

  • Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major “if” in some cases. 
  • Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
  •  Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into starsMany end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

What has been very noticeable due to Sickels’ lists over the last several seasons is not only the increased level of A, A- and B+ prospects in the Pirates system but also the increased number of B-, C and C+ prospects in the system.   For reference:

2010

2016

Prospects with grade B or better

3

6

Prospects with grade B- or better

6

15

Prospects with grade C+ or better

17

23

Alright… I’ve beat the dead horse.   Our system is much better than how it was in 2016.  Got it.  How does that matter in 2017?   Well, look at this last chart.

These are the ‘games started’ leaders for the AAA Indianapolis Indians for the last seven years.  Players highlighted in red are Sickels C+ or better prospects.

So this is a good visual of how much talent is ready for the majors; more than ever before and ready for the majors:

  • Frank Duncan, while not flashy, started the most games in AAA at an acceptable age for the level (24) and dominated (IL All Star).  He is a legit #4-5 pitcher prospect who should be a rotation consideration.
  • Tyler Glasnow, everyone knows the story by now:  he could be our #1 starter as soon as day one or could need another half season working on his control.
  • Trevor Williams is not Jared Hughes.  Yes, he’s a groundball pitcher but he succeeded as a starter at AAA where Hughes failed.  He’s already logged two ML starts and will get better.  Could he become Mike Leake?  Maybe.  He’s also an awesome Twitter follow (@mellamotrevor).
  • Chad Kuhl is a #3 starter if things work out and a #5 starter if they don’t.   If he ends up in the bullpen, it’s due to our rotation hitting on the two or three others on this list with more upside like…
  • Steven Brault is a John Lester clone.  Supremely athletic and left-handed.  He’s got an amazing cutter that I witnessed in Altoona and was a steal from the Orioles.  The reason you haven’t heard more about him is he started playing baseball late and didn’t come from a baseball factory, but rather a small Catholic college in Denver called Regis College.  Scouts love him, though, and he’s the best outfielder, runner and hitter of all the Pirates’ young pitchers.
  • Jameson Taillon was one of the AAA starters last year and I think you know he’s a rotation fixture now.   Hopefully he’s on the Gerrit Cole trajectory.  His ceiling probably isn’t as high as Cole… or Glasnow… but his floor is higher than both.
  • Nick Kingham’s rehab starts weren’t technically in Indy, but I included him because he was only pitching in Altoona since there was no room for him in AAA.  I’ve watched Kingham pitch in Altoona.  He’s Jameson Taillon light (fastball, curveball) but with a better changeup. By the end of the season there was a chance he was one of the best 10 pitchers in the whole organization.  If he’s ready to log the innings in the second half he needs to be called up in June.

So when I say that we should let the kids fill in the rotation and see what happens, I’m serious.  I think people are confusing Trevor Williams with Hayden Penn…and Tyler Glasnow for Brad Lincoln …and Nick Kingham for Adrian Sampson.

The days of many ML-level pitching prospects are uncharted waters for the Bucs and I’m ready to jump in with both feet.

About Michael Bradley (60 Articles)
Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.
Contact: Twitter

2 Comments on An Alternative View, In That The Pirates Should Go With Young Pitching

  1. I’m with you on your theme – let’s go with the kids!

  2. The Elusive Robert Denby // January 1, 2017 at 11:33 AM //

    Trevor Williams pitched so awesomely during the final two months last season in triple A. He was practicably unhittable.

    I am most looking forward to him above the rest of the guys usually listed as battling for the final spots in the 2017 rotation. Steven Brault is underrated too.

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