The Pittsburgh Pirates were most likely disappointed by their 2016 season. They finished 78-83 on the season and finished third in the division. Andrew McCutchen had a down year by his standards and Gerrit Cole posted the lowest innings total in his Major League career at only 116.
But the Pirates will be returning all their stars from last season and could be adding some more potent players this upcoming season. Arms like Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham could be ready to bolster the rotation while bats like Kevin Newman, Josh Bell and Austin Meadows will all be either starting at the big league level or waiting in the wings for an injury or trade to free up some space for them.
By the way, if you are interested in more MLB prospects columns, head on over to our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. Throughout the offseason, you will find the rest of our team prospect breakdowns, fantasy baseball prospect rankings, tiered positional rankings, keeper values articles, and more - all in one easy place.
Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects for Dynasty Leagues
Today I am beginning my list of prospect systems in the NL Central. I have already covered the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers. Later, I will delve into the St. Louis Cardinals. To read more about my prospect coverage, click here.
Top Overall Talent: Austin Meadows
Top Prospect to Debut in 2017: Austin Meadows
Since being drafted ninth overall back in 2013, Meadows has been an extremely quick riser through the minors. With an incredibly disciplined approach and balanced swing, Meadows has flashed tons of upside that warranted his high selection four years ago. The 21-year-old has not always shown the power some believe he can produce, but he started to show that off this season, blasting 12 home runs in only 82 games (pace of roughly 24 dingers) and he swiped 17 stolen bases (pace of 34).
He struggled a bit at Triple-A, but he also dealt with an injury while there and many believe him to be among the low-risk/high-reward type of prospects. Aside from some injuries in the past, Meadows has stood out as one of the top prospects in the game for a long time. If any Pirates outfielder is hurt or dealt away (Andrew McCutchen) and Meadows can stay healthy, expect to see the young outfielder receive a promotion to the big leagues to start in any of the three outfield spots.
Top Prospect who won’t debut in 2017: Mitch Keller
Keller burst onto the prospect scene in 2016 with a dominant season at Class-A before continuing that trend to a single start in Advanced Class-A. In 124.1 innings at A-ball, he posted a 2.46 ERA, 2.41 FIP with a 26.8 percent strikeout rate and minuscule 3.7 percent walk rate. Keller still has some time until he’s ready to pitch in the big leagues, but he possesses arguably the highest floor of any pitcher in the Pirates’ system and looks like a solid bet to at least become a No. 3 or 4 starter. If he can keep missing bats against better hitters, he could be a future No. 2 pitcher.
Biggest Boom or Bust: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Hayes is where Josh Bell was a couple seasons ago: just a projectable athlete at a corner-infield position. As of today, Hayes has not shown much power and while he has demonstrated an advanced approach to the plate, he doesn’t always drive the ball the way he should. And at third base, he will need to develop some of that power if he hopes to produce in dynasty leagues. Owners will need to be patient on Hayes as he does possess quite a bit of power upside, but he is far from a guaranteed thing at this point.
Biggest Sleeper: Nick Kingham
Odds are, many people are going to forget about Kingham a little bit because of the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss large parts of both 2015 and 2016. But the wily fantasy owner will jump right back aboard the Kingham bandwagon as he looked sharp in his brief couple of appearances after surgery. Though the 5.73 ERA in two starts at Double-A isn’t great, his 3.81 FIP looks plenty more promising as should the fact he threw for a combined 48.2 innings only about a calendar year after receiving Tommy John surgery. Kingham has a good chance of debuting in 2017 and could start having an impact on dynasty owners as a reliable No. 3 or 4 starter if he can put the surgery behind him.
Top Prospect Hitters
Best Power Hitter: Josh Bell
This is somewhat of a power projection still, but it is becoming more and more certain by the day that Bell will be an excellent power hitter. It has taken a while for Bell to start flashing his power upside, but he started to do just that in 2016. Between Triple-A and the majors, he mashed 17 home runs in 159 games. The switch-hitter has always been praised for his raw strength and ability to make consistent contact, but getting loft in his swing had always been a bit of an issue. He finally started to turn that around last year and could reach his upside of a .280 hitter with 25-30 home runs per season. Bell plays first base which is obviously an incredibly deep fantasy position, but he should be able to hit enough to warrant ownership in all dynasty leagues.
Most Likely to Hit over .300: Austin Meadows
Best Burner on the Bases: Austin Meadows
It was very tempting to make this a full sweep for Meadows in all three categories, but alas he will just have to settle for the best batting average and fastest runner. Before he reached Triple-A this past season, Meadows had never struck out more than 18.2 percent at any level above Rookie league. He has also always shown outstanding patience at the plate, consistently walking somewhere around the 7-8 percent mark. His discipline plus his ability to drive the ball to all fields should help him easily hold down a .290-.320 batting average in the big leagues.
As for his speed, Meadows has always been able to flash that promising speed. Back in 2015, he combined for 24 stolen bases in 143 games and swiped 17 this past season in under 90 games. He probably tops out at 30 stolen bases in a season, but with his speed and power combination, an annual 20/20 projection should be well within reach if he can stay healthy.
Top Prospect Pitchers
Strikeout Machine: Tyler Glasnow
Are you surprised by this selection? If you are, have you been living under a rock for a while? Because as long as Glasnow has been a pitcher in professional baseball, he has been the very definition of a strikeout machine. His lowest strikeout at any level with at least 40 innings pitched is 27.6 percent. Glasnow has a blistering upper-90s fastball and a curveball that can be a plus-plus pitch at times. His control leaves a lot to be desired, but even if he fails to lower his walk rate significantly, he will still be a backend of the rotation starter with immense strikeout upside.
Best Command: Nick Kingham
Keller had that one season of stellar command at Class-A, but Kingham has proven time and time again that he is fully capable of filling the zone with strikes. He has never at any point in his career walked batters at 10 percent or higher and has typically sat in the 5-7 percent range. Though he will need to be making the recovery from Tommy John surgery and there’s no telling exactly how well he will be when he returns, most scouts maintain that he will return his outstanding control numbers and should step right back onto the path of a middle of the rotation starter.
Top 10 Dynasty Prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates
1. Austin Meadows (OF, AAA)
Health permitting, Meadows is on pace to be a truly special outfielder in Pittsburgh with the potential to hit over .300 with annual 25/25 seasons at his peak.
2. Josh Bell (1B/OF, MLB)
Bell is finally starting to hit for some power and the switch-hitting first baseman should be given a chance to put it on display as the starter for Pittsburgh this season.
3. Tyler Glasnow (SP, MLB)
Glasnow has a ton of strikeout upside, but control issues could hurt his immense potential.
4. Mitch Keller (SP, A+)
With the stuff needed to rack up high strikeout numbers while limiting the walks, Keller certainly has a higher floor than Glasnow and could turn out to be the best Pittsburgh pitching product since Gerrit Cole. He still requires some time to develop before he’s ready for the big leagues.
5. Kevin Newman (SS, AA)
Newman is not the most exciting shortstop prospect out there, but he looks like a lock to hit for a .280+ average with some steals and a home run or two.
6. Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B, A)
Hayes has plenty of potential in his bat, but he will need to develop some power if he hopes to deliver for dynasty owners.
7. Will Craig (3B, A-)
The corner-infielder from Wake Forest could be a solid .270 hitter with 20 home runs on an annual basis. But his value will drastically go down if he is forced to move over to first base.
8. Cole Tucker (SS, A+)
Tucker has the upside to be a serious fantasy contributor at shortstop with the ability to steal some bases and hit for a solid average. He will first have to prove he can cut down on the strikeouts though before fantasy owners should totally buy in to him.
9. Steven Brault (SP, MLB)
Scouts are split if this southpaw is destined for the bullpen or the rotation. If he can stay in the rotation, he has enticing strikeout upside and could be a really solid backend option. A move to the pen would decimate his value.
10. Nick Kingham (SP, AA)
Control freak looks poised to bounce back quickly from TJ surgery and could be in the big leagues by this summer.
It is not often that you see teams with the potential to contend also boast one of the top farm systems in baseball, but that’s exactly the situation Pittsburgh finds themselves in right now. Not only do they have the current big league talent to compete for a Wild Card (they are probably not quite at the Cubs level just yet), but they have five of the best prospects in the game in Meadows, Bell, Glasnow, Keller and Newman as well as some impressive depth along with those elite stars.
The team is not super deep in bats, but they have a ton of solid pitching prospects. With guys like Clay Holmes, Yeudy Garcia, Gage Hinsz and Trevor Williams, this team is remarkably deep with pitching talent. Dynasty owners should all be sure to grab a hold of the top five guys in their system. But for those in some deeper leagues, the pitching talent is worth scouting out a bit more.