Everyone knows about the hotshot prospect. The Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, or in the case of the Pirates, Jameson Taillon. Fans of their respective teams will be aware of other top prospects in their team's farm systems. For the Pirates those guys include Stetson Allie, Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, and Luis Heredia. Other good prospects who haven't excelled or have been injured, such as Bryan Morris and Rudy Owens, are also known, if only so fans can be disappointed. Still others are known for how hot they've been, bringing hope of a breakout season. For the Pirates players like Kyle McPherson, Matt Curry, and Jarek Cunningham come to mind.All these players have at least one major thing in common. They all are receiving attention. Now, its not wall-to-wall national media coverage obviously, but most posters on BucsDugout and other close followers of the Pirates would know most of players I listed above and have some sense of how they have preformed thus year.
Unfortunately, at least in my eyes, there are other players, good prospects, who get ignored and fly under the radar. They exist on every team I'm sure, but I'm here to highlight some that come to mind for me when looking at the Pirates farm system.
1. Jameson Taillon
Now, above I wrote a few paragraphs essentially detailing how popular players get too much attention while there are other very good players who get nowhere near the attention they deserve. Therefore, it makes little sense why Taillon should be first on this list of players who fall into the second category. After all, I just pointed out he's the Pirates most well-known prospect (although that may be Cole now) both in Pirate circles and baseball circles in general. So what gives?
Well, Taillon came out of high school with everything you look for in an ace pitcher. Size, a big arm, some polish, etc. The main attraction was his big arm, with a fastball that reportedly came close to triple digits. With three other pitches with serious potential, Taillon was the complete package, save for some small issues with control/command. With that type of scouting report, most fans, myself included, were probably expected gaudy strikeout totals.
To date, including Taillon's last brilliant start, the big kid from Texas has 38 K's in 42.2 innings. That translates to a 8.1 K/9 rate. That's a solid number, but by no means elite. In fact that puts Taillon at only 19th in the South Atlantic League. However, while K/9 is a good stat to look at (because pitchers without large strikeout totals have balls put into play more often and thus give up more hits), K:BB is arguably a better stat to look at as far as minor league numbers (if you are going to give up more hits, giving less walks can even things out.) This is where Taillon has excelled. In those same 42.2 innings, Taillon has only walked 4 batters. That's a BB/9 rate of .84. That gives him an absolutely tremendous 9.5 K/BB rate. That's second in the South Atlantic League today.
So don't look at the seemingly pedestrian ERA for Taillon. Glance at the K/9 rate (which will go up if he keeps pitching like he did his last start) and look closely at that K:BB ratio.
2. Jeff Locke
Jeff Locke is one of my personal favorite prospects. He's a lefty with solid to plus stuff for his handedness. He has the pedigree; He's a former second round pick by the Braves who came over in the McLouth deal (Man does that trade keep looking better and better as I write this). Locke put up excellent numbers between A+ and AA last year (albeit he is a bit old for those levels), posting a 3.56 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 1.6 B/9, and a 5.3 K:BB ratio. This year he's lost some of his control, but he's actually upped his K rate in AA to 9.2 K/9 and still has managed a 2.5 K:BB ratio. He's looked even better recently with a 12:1 K:BB ratio over his last 11 innings.
Considering Justin Wilson is getting by on smoke and mirrors (worst K rate, K:BB rate, and HR rate of his careers), Rudy Owens has seen his K rate completely disappear, and Bryan Morris has been injured and got absolutely shellacked his last start, I think Jeff is our best pitching prospect above WV, so keep an eye on him.
Robbie Grossman was the big bonus baby bat (say that 10 times fast) of 2008. Coming out of high school he was highly rated and that earned him a 7 figure signing bonus from the Pirates. His best attribute is that he has no weak attribute. He has average to solid tools across the board with great plate discipline. In a sense, that's his curse because with no plus or plus-plus tool, he is often overlooked for sexier prospects. Grossman's other problem is he hasn't been a fast-riser. He's been a methodical, level-a-year grinder. Fortunately, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that in terms of the end product, especially when a player steadily improves like Grossman has.
This year, for Bradenton at the age of (still!) only 21, Grossman has a .779 OPS mark as a product of a .278/.399/.380 line. That's right, you read that correctly. Despite managing to actually have a decent ISO of .102, Grossman's OBP is essentially .020 points higher than his SLG. That's due to his 48 walks in 234 AB to only 53 K's. He's even been better in the month of June, posting a .347/.476(!)/.429 line. Oh, and he also has 14 SB to only 3 CS.
Grossman's big knock is his lack of power. But, he's still young and will develop more. If he manages to even end up with below-average power for a cOF, his OBP will make him very valuable, especially considering (as far as I know) he should be able to provide above average to plus defense in right or left, so keep an eye on him. He also will need to fix a platoon issue where he hits lefties better.
4. Dan Grovatt
This one will be much shorter because Grovatt is very similar to Grossman. He's a year-older as a college draftee out of Virginia. As far as mid-round college junior selections go, Grovatt was more interesting than most. He has the same, no special tool, good plate discipline, grinder mentality/skillset that he brings to the table. So far this year for WV as a 22 year-old, he's put up a .815 OPS by way of a .289/.413/.402 line. To do this he has 42 walks and only 37 strikeouts in 204 AB. He's actually been slumping this month, but considering he has a .779 OPS, that's not bad for a slump. He also will need to fix a platoon issue, but he hits righties better.