Glasnow, Bell need slightly more seasoning; Taillon, Ramirez standing out at camp
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates have long exercised caution when it comes to promoting top prospects to the Major Leagues. After selecting right-hander Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, the club waited until it knew he was absolutely ready to compete at the highest level, giving him 38 starts in the Minor Leagues before calling him up in June 2013. The Pirates applied the same patient player development model to former top prospect Gregory Polanco, making sure that he received nearly a half-season's worth of Triple-A at-bats before a promotion in June 2014.
"You have to start with a plan and you have to stay committed to it, and you can't be wavered by short-term results and short-term thinking. We're always interested in doing what's best for the organization and player long term, not acting on results, good or bad, right now," said Pirates director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway.
By that logic, it's likely that Pittsburgh's next wave of young, impactful talent could arrive at some point in 2016, a group that includes Nos. 1 and 3 prospects Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell, both of whom finished last season with a strong showing at Triple-A Indianapolis.
"With both guys, more upper-level experience will be key," said Broadway. "Neither one of them has had a full season at Triple-A yet, and since they're both former high school Draft picks, there's even more seasoning to be had."
Glasnow, MLBPipeline's No. 10 overall prospect, has been one of the top pitchers in the Minor Leagues dating back to the start of the 2013 season, posting a stellar 2.09 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 11.9 K/9 over 345 innings in that span. He finished 2015 with his first taste of the Triple-A level, where he pitched to a 2.20 ERA in eight starts.
"Glass got a few starts in Triple-A at the end of last year, so we'd like to get him more experience there so he can continue to advance his feel for overall consistency -- consistency with his thought process, delivery, release points," said Broadway.
Bell also will begin the season back in Triple-A after a tough spring in big league camp during which he went 3-for-19 (.158) while appearing in 13 games. As with Glasnow, Broadway would like to see the 23-year-old outfielder-turned-first-baseman -- MLBPipeline.com's No. 49 overall prospect -- make further strides on both sides of the ball before considering him for a promotion.
"There are more upper-level at-bats for him to get, and he needs more reps at first base before we're ready to subject him to that Major League environment," he said. "The transition has gone well. It took a little bit to get him going, but from the offseason to January, when we had mini-camp, and then January to Spring Training, he's made huge advances."
For much of his pro career, No. 4 prospect Jameson Taillon (No. 54 overall), was a step behind Cole on the developmental ladder. Unfortunately, the right-hander's progress was derailed by Tommy John surgery in early 2014, while surgery to repair a sports hernia kept him from returning to the mound last season. Now finally healthy, the former 2010 No. 2 overall Draft pick appears poised to reach the big leagues in '16.
"Jameson has looked really good. The feel part of it has been especially good -- his ability to locate his fastball and breaking ball for a strike -- so that has been very pleasing," said Broadway. "He's always gone about his business the right way, and he looks ready and hungry to compete again. He's been very composed this spring after not pitching for two years."
No. 6 prospect Harold Ramirez has struggled to stay healthy since he signed with Pittsburgh in July 2011, but there's never been any doubt regarding his hitting ability. After hitting .337 in 80 games at Class A Advanced Bradenton last season, the 21-year-old outfielder opened eyes in his first big league camp by collecting 11 hits in 19 at-bats (.579).
"We just have to keep him healthy, because there's no substitute for reps," said Broadway. "He made strides last year once we got him healthy, but we obviously lost time after Spring Training and he didn't make his season debut until late May. He came to camp in a really good spot, and the goal is to make sure he's got a routine solidified to stay that way so he can post every day and have a good season."
The Pirates loved No. 14 prospect Mitch Keller coming out of the Iowa high school ranks in the 2014 Draft, ultimately selecting him in the second round and then going over pick value to sign the right-hander away from his North Carolina commitment. A forearm strain kept him off the mound for much of the 2015 season, limiting him to just six regular-season starts in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, but he impressed club officials in the fall during instructs and has continued to make strides this year in Minor League camp.
"Mitch has looked very good this spring -- he's jumped," said Broadway. "With high school arms, it's usually that second year when you start to see some bigger gains in physicality, quality of stuff and ability to throw strikes. He came into camp in the best shape of his life, and it's really helped to improve the consistency of his delivery. He's been up to 95 mph, and it's smooth, easy gas.
The Pirates also have high hopes for their 2015 Draft class, especially first-rounder Ke'Bryan Hayes. Ranked as the organization's No. 7 prospect, Hayes, the son of former big league third baseman Charlie Hayes, made an immediate impact during his pro debut last summer, hitting .333/.434/.375 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and finishing the year in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League.
"He has a very mature mindset and a mature way that he plays the game," said Broadway. "Having grown up around the game, there's a lot of second-hand experience there. He's a slow-heartbeat player who reacts well on defense and has a feel for the strike zone, with a really good approach and bat-to-ball skills. It's been really fun to watch him come in and make an easy transition from high school to pro ball."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.