A Minor Review of 2016: Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome to the annual series that provides both a review of your favorite teams’ 2016 season, as well as an early look toward 2017. It also serves as a helpful guide for keeper and dynasty leagues.

The Graduate: Jameson Taillon (RHP): If there is one thing the Pirates do really, really well… it’s developing pitching. The hard-throwing Taillon joined Gerrit Cole in the big league rotation in 2016 and didn’t look out of place. He pitched to a 3.38 ERA in 104 innings while showing otherworldly control for his age with just under 1.5 walks per nine innings. Like Cole, Taillon can dial his heater up into the upper 90s but he doesn’t chase strikeouts. His strikeout rate was a decent — but hardly elite — 7.36 K/9 but his ground-ball rate of 52% was above the league average. It’s quite likely that the K-rate will climb as Taillon matures as a pitcher and further sharpens his command. He needs a better weapon against left-handed batters when you consider his K/BB splits (9.60 vs RHHs, 3.08 vs LHHs). As it stands, he’ll be the No. 2 starter on the club.

The Riser: Mitch Keller (RHP): Similar to Jameson Taillon — although without quite as much zip on the heater — Keller displayed elite control in 2016 (1.30 BB/9 in A-ball). It’s even more impressive when you consider that the 20-year-old hurler missed almost the entire ’15 season due to a forearm injury. Although he’s not a flame-thrower, Keller can work in the 90-95 mph range and has an excellent curveball and developing changeup — which helped him miss lots of bats in 2016 (9.50 K/9). The former second-round pick did extremely well against left-handed hitters and held them to a .175 batting average (compared to righties at .242). The right-hander will move up to high-A ball in 2017 with a strong chance to see double-A in the second half. Keller’s MLB ETA is likely mid-to-late 2018 and he has the ceiling of a No. 3/4 starter.

The Tumbler: Alen Hanson (IF/OF): Hanson, 24, has been a top prospect in the Pirates system since his eye-opening 2012 campaign but some of the shine has worn off over the past two seasons (both spent in triple-A). Inconsistent play and maturity issues have dogged him in recent years. When he’s playing at his best, Hanson has the ability to hit .270-.280 with gap pop and 20-30 steals. He doesn’t strike out much due to solid bat-to-ball skill but he also doesn’t walk much. That puts more pressure on his ability to hit for average given the value in his wheels. Incumbent second baseman Josh Harrison is on a two-year offensive decline so a fully-motivated and mature Hanson could definitely put pressure on the veteran in ’17 and potentially make a move for regular playing time — although his versatility could also help him win a job as a back-up at a variety of positions.

The ’16 Draft Pick: Will Craig (3B): A strong performance at Wake Forest convinced to the Pirates to pounce on Craig with the 22nd overall selection in the ’16 draft. He carried over his success to pro ball — especially his ability to get on base. He walked 41 times in just 63 games (218 at-bats), which led to a .412 on-base percentage. Craig, 22, also has above-average power despite hitting just two homers in his debut. In his prime, he projects to be a 20+ home run slugger. Defensively, he has a very strong arm (and was a closer in college) but his range is expected to diminish and push him across the diamond the first base. Luckily, the organization also has another strong third base prospect in Ke’Bryan Hayes. Craig has a chance to move quickly if he keeps his strikeout rate down and he should spend a good portion of the year in high-A ball, although Hayes is also scheduled to play at one of the two A-ball levels.

The Lottery Ticket: Yeudy Garcia (RHP): A fair bit older than the typical Latin America signee, Garcia was 20 when he inked his first contract. Now 24, he spent the last two years in A-ball and will likely move up to double-A in 2017. A starter through much of his career, the right-hander may be better-suited to a relief role. He has shaky command/control and limited use of a changeup. His fastball can work in the 94-98 mph range, especially in shorter stints, and he might be capable of hitting triple digits as a one-inning guy. His slider also has the potential to be electric with more polish. Given the value of high-octane relievers in today’s game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Garcia reach The Show — perhaps evens in 2017 — as a member of the bullpen.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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5 years ago

“If there is one thing the Pirates do really, really well… it’s developing pitching. ”

Hmm. Besides Cole (who was of course the #1 overall pick), which pitchers have the Pirates developed “really, really well” in the minors?

Here is a complete list of Pirate pitcher draftees since 2008 who have accrued even +2.0 career WAR in MLB:

Gerrit Cole (2011 1st overall pick)
Jameson Taillon (2010 2nd overall pick)
Justin Wilson