clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Minor league preview: Indianapolis

New, comments
MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis will have a very different sort of roster this year, both for the Pirates and probably for most teams. It’s common these days, and it’s been especially common for the Pirates over the years, to stash veteran depth guys in AAA. This year, though, most of the players with Indy will be younger prospects who have at least a reasonable chance of helping the Pirates not only this year, but in future years. Obviously, Austin Meadows is the marquee name, but quite a few other players could play significant roles for the team.

One other striking characteristic of this team will be that very few position players will focus just on one position. Apart from the catchers, Meadows, and a couple of veteran outfielders (Eury Perez and Danny Ortiz), almost everybody will play multiple positions, in most cases both infield and outfield. (Actually, all the outfielders will probably play all the outfield positions.) This makes it hard to say which players will be the regulars at any particular position, so what follows will just give an indication of the positions at which some of these players will spend more time than others.

Bold = 40-man roster
* = Left-handed
# = Switch-hitter

Catcher: Elias Diaz, Jacob Stallings, Jackson Williams

Diaz’ big goal will be to stay healthy. Injuries to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart created a big opportunity for him last year, but he missed out on it due to his own injury problems, the first time in his career he’d missed any significant time. Diaz is 26 now, but he remains a strong defensive catcher with a decent bat, mainly lacking power. If he’s healthy, he’s a near-lock to see meaningful major league time. Stallings figures to be the backup; it wouldn’t be a surprise if he saw some time in the majors, too. Williams is roughly a lesser version of Stallings, a good-glove, no-bat catcher who’s not currently on the active roster. He’ll probably appear when the inevitable injury occurs.

Corner Infield: Jose Osuna, Eric Wood, Jason Rogers

The most common infield alignment for Indy will probably have Osuna at first and Wood at third. Both may spend time in the outfield, though, with Wood probably also getting time at first. Both players will be trying to show their recent performances were for real. In Osuna’s case, that would be a strong two months in AAA last year and a great spring. For Wood, it’s a breakout season, offensively and defensively, in AA, plus a very good showing in the Arizona Fall League. Being on the 40-man roster, Osuna will probably reach Pittsburgh at some point.

Rogers can play both first and third, and will also probably play the outfield some as well as serving as DH (which Indy uses in less than half its games). He’ll try to recover from a very weak 2016 season. All of the team’s middle infielders are likely to play third part of the time, and some (most likely Chris Bostick and Erich Weiss) could play a little at first.

Middle Infield: Max Moroff#, Gift Ngoepe, Chris Bostick, Erich Weiss*, Anderson Feliz#

The majority of the time, Indy will probably have Moroff at second and Ngoepe at short, although they both may switch off as well as playing some at third (and maybe in the outfield in Moroff’s case). Both will try to improve upon 2016 seasons in which they struggled to make contact in AAA. Ngoepe had a good spring and could be in line for a callup in the event Jordy Mercer gets hurt, as he’s the only other true shortstop on the 40-man roster.

Bostick will get time at probably just about every position and could see a lot of time in the outfield. As a 40-man roster player he should be in the lineup most days. He’s shown a solid bat with some pop, but he’s also had plate discipline issues and struggled in his introduction to AAA in the second half of 2016. Weiss has a solid, left-handed bat and is good defensively at second. He was originally a third baseman, so he’ll probably play there some. The downsides with him are that he hasn’t played short and that he’ll be debuting in AAA at age 25. Feliz is a utility player who spent last year at Altoona after the Pirates signed him as a free agent. He plays all over the field and has a decent bat, but isn’t strong defensively, at least not at shortstop.

Outfield: Austin Meadows*, Eury Perez, Danny Ortiz*, Barrett Barnes (maybe some day)

Meadows, of course, is a top-ten-in-baseball prospect on nearly every list. If he picks up where he left off in spring training, the questions about his callup will start quickly, especially if Andrew McCutchen is struggling. In any event, he should be the choice to take over in the outfield in the event of injury, which is likely enough given the histories of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Whether the Pirates will see it that way, though, is another question. Meadows is a natural center fielder, but he’ll probably play all over for Indy as Marte isn’t going anywhere if healthy.

Apart from Meadows, the outfield will be a mixture of players listed above among the infielders, as well as the two veterans. Perez is a speed-first player whose bat has fallen off recently. Ortiz can also play center and has some power, but he’s been hampered by consistently poor plate discipline and very low OBPs. And then there’s Barnes, who’s out once again with a hamstring injury. It’d be nice to see him get a chance to show whether his late-season outburst with Altoona in 2016 was real, but it’ll be a while before that can happen. It’s not guaranteed that he’ll go to Indy when/if he’s healthy.

Rotation: Steven Brault*, Drew Hutchison, Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, Josh Lindblom, eventually Nick Kingham

There’s nobody with Jameson Taillon’s ceiling in this rotation, but it has plenty of potential to provide help at the major league level. Contrary to some perceptions, Brault is not a soft-tosser, especially not for a lefty. His fastball averaged 91 mph in his time with the Pirates last year and got up to 93-95 at times. He needs to refine his command so he’s not working behind in the count a lot, which became a problem for him around mid-season last year. Brault is a good hitter, which is nice. Hutchison needs . . . something. At no point since the Pirates acquired him, not in the majors, in AAA, or in spring training, has he resembled a major league starter. But he and Brault will both be options early in the season if the inevitable need arises.

Holmes and Eppler have a lot of similarities. Both are tall (6’5” and 6’6”, respectively) righties whom the Pirates have pushed aggressively despite arm trouble, including Tommy John surgery that cost Holmes most of two years. Both spent little time in high A and are moving up to AAA now despite mediocre numbers last year in AA. Both throw in the low- to mid-90s, but need to get better at putting hitters away. There’s one noteworthy difference: Holmes was one of the most extreme groundball pitchers in the minors last year, while Eppler is a flyball pitcher.

The one veteran minor leaguer here, Lindblom, will be in the rotation for the time being while Kingham recovers from a minor ankle injury. A surprising spring got him the opportunity. Kingham represents the Pirates’ best chance for a strong rotation boost later in the season as he tries to recover from his own Tommy John surgery. He’s in his last option year, so it’ll be very important for him to earn some major league time this year.

Bullpen: A.J. Schugel, Edgar Santana, Dovydas Neverauskas, Pat Light, Angel Sanchez, Cody Dickson*, Dan Runzler*, Brett McKinney

In some ways, the bullpen may be the most interesting part of this team. Santana, Neverauskas and Light all throw in the mid- to upper-90s. Santana may be the most promising of the bunch. He adds a nasty slider to a fastball that reaches 97. He made a big impression in the Arizona Fall League, but he’s not on the 40-man roster, which may put others ahead of him for a callup. Neverauskas throws even harder, but needs to improve his command and secondary stuff. Light also has swing-and-miss stuff, with a 95+ mph fastball and possibly the only splitter in the system. He also has command issues. It’d be helpful if he and/or Neverauskas got off to a good start, as they are on the roster even though they may not be as good right now as Santana. The most intriguing off all, though, may be Sanchez, who’s come back from Tommy John surgery throwing harder than ever. He was sitting at 96-97 in short outings in camp, with a low-90s cutter. Formerly a starter, he’ll be in the bullpen at least for now.

The rest of the bullpen holds some promise as well. Schugel pitched well for the Pirates last year, but fell victim to their obsession with Jared Hughes and ended up first in AAA, then on the disabled list with shoulder trouble. He seems to be healthy now, but didn’t have a great spring. Hopefully he just needs to work his way back. Runzler is a lefty with mid-90s velocity and a good slider. He had some success in the majors way back in 2010, but has been struggling ever since with control problems. Dickson is moving to the bullpen after his command held him back as a starter. He has fairly good stuff for a lefty, with a low-90s fastball and a sometimes-effective breaking ball, so it’ll be interesting to see how the move to relief plays out. McKinney is a 26-year-old righty who spent the last year and a half at Altoona, with just decent results.

Top Prospects: Austin Meadows, Nick Kingham.

Breakout Candidates: Clay Holmes, Angel Sanchez.