The Pirates seem to have turned the corner and are seeing the results of some highly regarded prospects finding success on the big stage. Last season, Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole were instrumental in helping Pittsburgh return to the playoffs, and they should just continue to get even better. Losing starting pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Phillies provides a void in the rotation. But when one door closes, another opens.
Starting right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon may find himself on the mound at PNC Park at some point in the coming season.
Taillon, only 22, is a strong 6-foot-6, 235-pound former first-round Draft choice. He has all the potential of a dominating top-of-the-rotation ace. Taillon's fastball is an impact pitch that touches 97 mph. He uses the fastball in almost the same proportion as his sharp breaking curveball. Taillonalso mixes in an occasional changeup that serves to keep hitters off-balance.
Taillon doesn't always command all his pitches, forcing him to work hard at consistently finding the strike zone. Being able to control his pitches will dictate the timetable for his promotion to the rotation.
The possibility exists that outfielder Gregory Polanco could make his way to the big league roster at some point in 2014, too. Polanco is best suited as a center fielder, a five-tool player with huge upside. Tall and thin at 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, Polanco could benefit by eating an extra biscuit every day.
Polanco generally has a nice stroke, but it can get a bit long at times. He makes excellent contact with improving plate discipline and pitch recognition. Polanco's advanced mechanics and ability to put the ball in play should lead to a fine Major League batting average. Having enough speed to steal bases and chase down balls in the outfield adds to Polanco's complete-tool package.
Nick Kingham is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-handed starter. He doesn't rely on high-velocity fastballs, keeping his heater in the low 90s at this point in time, but he also throws a slider and changeup that have equal value to his repertoire. Kingham uses any pitch at any count.
Kingham has work to do on his command and control. His walk rate jumped following a promotion last season from Class A Advanced Bradenton (1.8 walks per nine innings) to 3.7 walks per nine at Double-A Altoona. It must be noted, however, that Kingham finished the season at Altoona with a very fine 2.70 ERA in 73 1/3 innings of work.
Alen Hanson is the Pirates' most advanced shortstop prospect -- especially with the bat -- but I feel he has limited range and limited arm strength for the position. He might be best suited at second base. Regardless of his defensive shortcomings, Hanson has shown he can hit.
Tyler Glasnow is a lanky right-handed starter, but he's a few years from making an impact at the Major League level. Following the trend of towering pitchers, Glasnow is 6-foot-7 and only 195 pounds.
Glasnow is currently mostly a mid 90s fastball/sharp curveball pitcher, but he can ratchet up the velocity if needed. He has pitched for two seasons in the Bucs' system and is coming off a 9-3 record at Class A West Virginia. Glasnow had a 2.18 ERA with a WHIP of 1.03. He walked almost five hitters per nine, while striking out 13.
Switch-hitting Josh Bell is a corner outfielder. He has had knee issues in the past but hit 13 homers and 37 doubles this past season at Class A West Virginia. And that type of power gets attention. If Bell shows he can stay healthy, and if he can hit breaking pitches, his future as a potential power source could fit nicely in the Pirates' plans. He shows more power from the left side of the plate.
Reese McGuire is the highest-rated catcher in the system. The 6-foot, 180-pound left-handed hitter is still raw and learning the game. At this time, he's a defense-first catcher with good mechanics and a strong, accurate arm. It's likely McGuire's hit tool will develop. He runs well.
Austin Meadows is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-handed-hitting outfielder. He's only 18, but he has a very bright future. Meadows has a nice, compact line-drive swing. He probably showed more power than what may have been expected in his first season. While Meadows' arm isn't the strongest, his speed allows him to chase down balls from his position in center field.