This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshman contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season.
In a Nutshell: The Pirates have pretty solid depth on the field, although the catcher and shortstop positions feature fringe-average starters. The pitching staff has a couple of question marks.
1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP: The Pirates should open 2015 with a solid starting rotation featuring a mix of young power and veteran guile. Glasnow is the future of the Pittsburgh staff, although he spent the 2014 in A-ball. The right-hander struck out 157 batters in just 124.1 innings of work and held his opponents to a .174 batting average. He’ll open 2015 in Double-A and has the talent to reach the Majors in the second half of the year despite his inexperience.
2. Alen Hanson, SS/2B: Hanson has spent much of his time in the minors at the shortstop position but his best position is likely second base. However, his clearest path to a job in Pittsburgh is probably at shortstop where modest Jordy Mercer is the incumbent. The recent acquisition of Sean Rodriguez, a jack of many trades, also muddies the waters for the young prospect. If he gets an opportunity in 2015, Hanson has a chance to provide both gap pop and some speed (15-20 steals with regular playing time).
3. Josh Bell, OF/1B: The outfield depth in the Pirates system has pushed Bell into consideration for the long-term first base gig in Pittsburgh. However, the move across the diamond for Pedro Alvarez puts up a bit of a roadblock for the young player. Bell’s most intriguing asset is his raw power but he has yet to tap into it consistently with just nine home runs in 108 games last season. With that said, he’s not a one-dimensional slugger, though, and can swing the bat (.325 average in 2014). He’ll likely open the 2015 season with a return to Double-A.
4. Nick Kingham, RHP: Kingham’s strikeout rate took a noticeable dive in 2014 but he continued to work around the strike zone and take the ball every fifth day, allowing him to compile close to 160 innings. He split the season between A-ball and Double-A, which gives him a solid shot at opening 2015 in Triple-A. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter.
5. Jameson Taillon, RHP: Taillon has a higher ceiling than Kingham but the 2014 Tommy John surgery has significantly slowed his timetable, meaning his questionable for a big league appearance in 2015. With that said, he was fairly advanced at the time of the injury and could make a surprise appearance in The Show during the latter half of the season — especially if the Pirates are in the playoff hunt.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.