Pittsburgh Pirates prospects to watch in 2016

The Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system could make meaningful contributions sooner rather than later. Aside from Glasnow and Bell, who are the ones to watch in 2016?

On Nov. 30, Baseball America named the Pittsburgh Pirates their Organization of the Year following a 2015 season in which the major league club won 98 games. Aside from the success of the major league club last season, the Pirates also have an abundance of future stars down in the minor leagues just waiting to make an impact in the big leagues. The Pirates’ minor league system is filled with young talent, so I thought I would rank my top five minor league players, not named Tyler Glasnow or Josh Bell, to watch in 2016.

5.) Max Moroff

One of the biggest surprises in the Pirates minor league system in 2015 was young second base prospect Max Moroff. Moroff, who was selected by the Pirates in the 16th round of the 2012 MLB draft, has risen quickly through the Pirates’ minor league system, playing at a higher level each year. While playing at Double-A Altoona last season, Moroff put up impressive numbers, compiling a .293/.374/.409 line with seven home runs and 51 RBIs in 136 games with the Curve. Offensively, the 22-year old switch hitter has improved each year, becoming more disciplined at the plate and transitioning into a player who can hit for average and a good amount of power. His stellar season offensively helped him take home the Pirates Minor League Player of the Year award, beating out the likes of Josh Bell and Austin Meadows. Moroff isn’t among the top of the list when it comes to Pirates prospects, but his 2015 season warranted an appearance on this list. With the departure of Neil Walker, questions surround the future of the second base position at the major league level. Moroff could eventually be the answer and the Pirates’ future second baseman, however, with fellow prospect Alen Hanson developing well at Triple-A Indianapolis, Hanson will likely get the opportunity to show what he’s capable of at the big league level first. Moroff will likely begin the 2016 season back in Altoona, but it will be interesting to see if last year’s stellar performance can be duplicated this season.

4.) Kevin Newman

Only one player has ever won two batting titles while playing in the Cape Cod League, a premier summer league for collegiate baseball players. That one player is Kevin Newman, one of the Pirates two first round draft picks in 2015. Selected 19th overall out of the University of Arizona, Newman was the fifth shortstop selected in a draft that saw three shortstops taken with the first three picks. In his first taste of action at the professional level last year, the 22-year old hit .257 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 61 games with the West Virginia Power and West Virginia Black Bears. Newman didn’t get much time to get acclimated to playing at the professional level, but he’ll get the opportunity to get a full season under his belt in 2016. Newman has the tools to be a dependable major league ball player and is already highly regarded as a top prospect in the Pirates organization. Only time will tell if he can continue to grow as a player and rise through the minor league system.

3.) Reese McGuire

While Francisco Cervelli has cemented himself as the undisputed starting catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates for the time being, a future star at the position is making a name for himself down in the minor leagues. Reese McGuire, one of two high schoolers taken by the Pirates in the first round of the 2013 draft, has become one of the team’s top prospects. The young 20-year old is also regarded as one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball due to his athleticism both at the plate and behind it. In 98 games with the Bradenton Marauders last season, McGuire hit .254 with 34 RBIs. McGuire did not hit a home run last season, but his offense isn’t his biggest strength. His defensive ability is what really garners attention. Aside from working well with the pitching staff, McGuire gunned down opposing base runners with ease in 2015, throwing out 25 percent of base-runners attempting to take an extra bag. McGuire is still young, but the talent is there. He still has the opportunity to refine his skills in the minor leagues and hopefully make an impact in the big leagues within the next few years. It should be exciting to see him continue to progress and see what type of impact he will make in 2016.

2.) Jameson Taillon

Number two on my list is a very intriguing player for me, mainly because he has had various injury issues to deal with over the past few years. Jameson Taillon, the Pirates’ second overall pick in 2010, was on the verge of making his major league debut in 2014 after reaching triple-A Indianapolis a year prior. Taillon would go on to miss the entire 2014 season instead due to Tommy John surgery. As he was attempting to make a return last season, Taillon then underwent hernia surgery that kept him sidelined for another long period of time. There are many questions that surround the 24-year old right-hander. He has not pitched in a minor league game since 2013 and I’m skeptical to think he can stay healthy enough to put up big numbers in 2016. He hasn’t put up flashy numbers when he has been on the mound, compiling a 16-21 record with a 3.72 ERA in 74 career minor league starts. It will be interesting to see how Taillon comes back from these two surgeries and if he is able to stay healthy in 2016.

1.) Austin Meadows

My number one minor leaguer to watch in the new year happens to be one of the Pirates’ top overall prospects. Along with Reese McGuire, the Pirates also selected Austin Meadows in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft with the ninth overall pick. The 20-year old left-handed-hitting outfielder has put up impressive numbers throughout his minor league career thus far and has developed nicely into one of the best outfield prospects in all of baseball. Last season, Meadows compiled an impressive .310/.360/.420 line with seven home runs, 55 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases in 121 games with the Bradenton Marauders and six games with the Altoona Curve. Meadows likely won’t make his major league debut until 2017 or 2018 due to the stacked major league outfield that includes Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, but this does give him time to refine his skills and develop more. He will likely begin the 2016 season in Altoona, so it should be fun to see him progress and see how his talent and skill set translates to the higher levels of the Pirates’ minro league system.

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