Austin Meadows played even better than advertised, Harold Ramirez really came on strong and Josh Bell had a solid comeback year. With Gregory Polanco a lock, could we possibly see four Top 100 outfield prospects from the same system for the first time? How will things shape up in the Pirates' outfield in 2016-17? And which is more impressive as far as depth for Pittsburgh, its outfield prospects or pitching prospects?
-- Drew B., Tampa
I'm not sure all four of those Pirates will make our Top 100 Prospects list when we revise it in January, but they'll all be in the discussion. Polanco is a lock as a five-tool center fielder who reached Triple-A at age 21. Meadows, who posted a strong pro debut after going ninth overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, should make the Top 100 as well.
Bell and Ramirez could have a tougher time cracking the Top 100, though both are deserving. Bell, who famously signed for $5 million as a second-round pick in 2011, rebounded from a 2012 knee injury to show prototypical right-field tools this past season. Ramirez, who signed for $1.05 million out of Colombia in 2011, showed above-average hitting, power and defensive potential in the short-season New York-Penn League this summer.
The Pirates already have the reigning National League MVP in center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and a more-than-capable youngster in left with Starling Marte. In the long run, I envision Pittsburgh's starting outfield as Meadows in left, McCutchen in center and Polanco in right -- which would make Bell, Marte and Ramirez very attractive trade chips.
While the Pirates have a group of quality pitching prospects led by Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham, their outfield crop stands out even more. They're farther down Pittsburgh's outfield depth chart, but don't forget about Barrett Barnes, Willy Garcia and Jacoby Jones.
What does the Brian McCann signing mean for Yankees catching prospects Gary Sanchez and JR Murphy? Position changes? Trade bait?
-- Rick W., Long Beach, N.Y.
McCann is 29 and already has caught 1,046 games in the Major Leagues, so it's unlikely that he'll remain behind the plate for the duration of his five-year, $85 million contract. Sanchez and Murphy are intriguing catching prospects, yet both require more offensive and defensive polish.
Neither prospect would have been ready to take over as the starting catcher for a contending Yankees club in 2014. Given the pressure to produce immediately in New York, it will be easier for the club to break in Sanchez or Murphy as McCann's backup in 2015. One of the youngsters could take over regular catching duty the following season, with McCann seeing more time at first base or DH.
Any thoughts on what the Peter Bourjos trade means for Oscar Taveras and his playing time in center field next season?
-- Cade T., Ames, Iowa
The Cardinals' trade of David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk shouldn't have much bearing on Taveras. While he has played center field in the Minors, Taveras is a better fit in right field and that will be his position in the Major Leagues.
Taveras is the best pure hitter in the Minors. Once his bat is ready -- which could be Opening Day -- and once he has made a full recovery from ankle surgery, he'll be a regular in St. Louis. Bourjos and Jon Jay will handle center field, and as of now, either Allen Craig or Jay could play right field if Taveras needed more time in the Minors or to recuperate.
How is left-hander Mike Montgomery progressing in the Rays system? Is there any chance to fulfill his once-lofty potential?
-- Mike H., Milwaukee
At the outset of 2010, Montgomery ranked as one of baseball's top left-handed pitching prospects and was pitching as well as anyone in the Minors. He opened the season by posting a 1.09 ERA and a 33-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 2/3 innings over four starts at Class A Advanced Wilmington. Then he strained his forearm, and he hasn't been the same pitcher since.
Montgomery averaged 2.6 walks per nine innings as a pro before he got hurt, compared to 3.9 since. His ERA has risen as well, from 1.93 to 5.13. His stuff hasn't been as crisp, as his fastball has lost velocity and life, his curveball has never developed as hoped and his changeup has become less deceptive.
Acquired last offseason by the Rays in the James Shields deal with the Royals, Montgomery struggled for a third straight season in Triple-A. He might help Tampa Bay in a relief role at some point, but he's unlikely to become the frontline starter he once looked like.