Sports Magazine

Battling Bucs : Minors Review - Corner Infield

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
Quite frankly the infield corners is quite likely the Pirates weakest area down in the minors. There just isn't much here. With essentially no players looking like safe bets to be solid MLB contributors the top 5 prospects have 4 incredibly raw players with big upsides but big bust potential. The Pirates do have a fairly large stable of upper level 1B who could probably handle playing in the majors for a short period of time without looking completely overmatched. None of them have much upside but I believe anyone of them could be non-embarrassing. Without further ado here is the best of what are very slim pickings.
Top 5 Prospects

1. Stetson Allie: The Pirates corner infielders on the whole are a very uninspiring group. Best among them is probably Stetson Allie and this is based entirely on the fact of his awesome power potential. The story of Allie being drafted as a pitcher and being converted into a position player has been rehashed so many times that I'm not even going to bother discussing it. What Allie is right now is an intriguing 1st base prospect who has loads of power potential but who is still readjusting to hitting and has a rather large strikeout problem. Allie's problem really isn't plate discipline as he is willing to work counts it just that his swing is easily exploitable by quality pitchers. To have any chance of developing into more than what he is now Allie is going to have to improve upon his current swing. Allie will likely start 2014 back at A+.
2. Julio De La Cruz: De La Cruz is the Pirates top third base prospect in the system which speaks volumes to just how thin they are there considering De La Cruz just played his first professional season down in the DSL and struggled doing so batting .199 while posting a .640 OPS. He did show some decent power this past year but little else as he didn't even play the field all that regularly. Still the Pirates gave De La Cruz a 700K signing bonus so they obviously see something in him and he did play last season at the young age of 17 so he still has a lot of time to grow as a ball player. De La Cruz could repeat the DSL level again in 2014 but I have a sneaky suspicion the Pirates are going to push him up state side and let him play in the GCL.
3. Jose Osuna: The Pirates signed Osuna as an international free agent back in 2009. He was primarily a pitcher before the Pirates signed him but the Pirates signed him as an outfielder. He started his career in the VSL and showed good power and plate discipline for his age and the Pirates moved him to the states the following season. Osuna followed up his strong pro debut with two good seasons in 2011 and 2012. The Pirates had been using him both at 1B and OF but transitioned him to 1B to make room for more athletic players. Last season Osuna hit a wall in A+ and saw his prospect stock drop. He continued showing his solid plate discipline but his power was basically non-existent. At 21 years of age Osuna is still fairly young so there is still time for him to develop but in 2014 he will likely repeat the A+ level and will be forced to share 1B and DH duties with Allie.
4. Jhoan Herrera: Herrera is quite similar to the other third baseman on this, De La Cruz, except he comes without the pedigree and big signing bonus. The Pirates did think fairly highly of Herrera as they gave him a 300K signing bonus. Last season he made his pro debut in the DSL and like De La Cruz his numbers weren't the greatest but he showed some decent power potential. Herrera signed a little late so he played a good chunk of last season at 18 instead of 17 but obviously he is still quite young and has a lot of time left to grow. The Pirates will surely send him back to the DSL next season where he might wind up being the Pirates best prospect at that level.
5. Chris McGuiness: The Pirates traded for McGuiness this offseason as a depth option for the 1B position. McGuiness doesn't have much of a ceiling as a prospect but as someone who has already reached the major leagues he comes with quite a high floor and that is enough for him to crack the top 5. McGuiness isn't an exciting player but he has shown good plate discipline throughout his minor league career and plays a solid first base. Essentially he is what he is a solid AAAA player who could be asked to fill a hole at 1B for a short period of time in the majors and manage to not embarrass himself of his team. McGuiness will likely begin 2014 at the AAA level but might get a chance in the majors at some point this season.
Upper Level 1B Depth
Matt Hague: I think pretty much everyone knows about Matt Hague. Hague is a solid contact hitter who just doesn't have the necessary power to play 1B. Hague is similar in a lot of ways to McGuiness but McGuiness has the advantage of being three years younger and left handed. Hague will probably serve as a backup plan for the right handed side of the 1B platoon should something happen to Gaby Sanchez. Even in that role he isn't really all that appealing.
Justin Howard: Here is yet another 1B who makes good contact but just doesn't possess much power. Howard flew under the radar despite posting good numbers until last season when he put up a very strong second half at the AA level (he started playing full time once Lambo was promoted). Howard bats from the left side so if the Pirates get desperate this year he could be an option but most likely he'll serve as a backup 1B/OF at either the AA or AAA level.
Matt Curry: Curry is a little bit different than the rest of the upper level depth first baseman I have discussed. He still kind of fits the profile of a 1B who makes decent contact but doesn't have enough power but he probably has a bit more power than the others listed. This isn't to say he is a power hitter but rather that he has a tad more pop in his bat than the others. He had a rough go of things in 2013 missing most of the seasons with a hammate injury which usually saps a player's power for a year so chances are what power he does have won't be on display in 2014. At this point Curry isn't much of a prospect but in reality he is in a similar position to where Lambo was last year and he managed to turn it around so things aren't completely hopeless. Curry will likely begin 2014 back in AA and the 1B position appears likely to be crowded in AAA.
Low Level 1B Projects
Dan Collins: Collins was drafted in the 13th round of last year's draft and got off to a great start in short season ball showing a lot of power but cooled off by the end of the season and ended up with only a solid overall line. He definitely has some good power and he hit rather well in college so he is one to watch but seeing as he is an all bat college player who is playing 1B the odds are stacked against him. He will likely play at the A ball level in 2014.
Edwin Espinal: Espinal was signed by the Pirates in 2011. Bottom line with Espinal is he doesn’t run well and is not good defensively (except for an outstanding arm) so how well he does will all come down to his bat. So far in his professional career Espinal has hit fairly well but it has come without much power. He seems to be a fairly disciplined hitter as he doesn’t strike out a lot but in contrast he also doesn’t walk much. He possesses a great arm which has caused the Pirates to try him at third from time to time but he just doesn’t have the defensive chops to make it work. If Espinal is to become more than low level filler he is going to have to start showing some good power. The potential is there so we will just have to wait and see. Espinal will likely start the season in A ball sharing 1B duties with Collins.
Notable Third Base Prospects
Eric Wood: The Pirates drafted Wood out of Blinn College in the 6th round of the 2012 draft. He was a complete unknown at the time and the thought was the Pirates drafted him primarily to save money to try and sign Appel with. He did sign for under slot but the 100K signing bonus he received was a good bit more than I think most were expecting him to receive. Wood was drafted out of a junior college meaning he was only one year removed from high school making him more like a prep player than a college player so the Pirates had him start his pro career in the GCL. There he played relatively well flashing good power. The Pirates decided to push him fairly aggressively this past year to A ball and he started off well there in April but struggled for most of the remaining season. Wood has some good power and is good enough defensively to stick at 3B. Considering the Pirates lack of depth at the position he is certain to get a long look. The Pirates may push him to A+ for 2014 but I’m thinking a return to A ball is more likely.
Erich Weiss: Mr. Houdini himself! Ok seriously now I just like to joke around about his name as Harry Houdini’s real name was Ehrich Weiss. As for Weiss as a ballplayer the Pirates drafted him in the 11th round of this past draft. Weiss was rated the 321st best player in the draft according to Baseball America which represented a huge drop off from where he was prior to his college season. Weiss was considered a potential 3rd round pick before his junior season but his struggles dropped him down to around a 10th round grade. The Pirates still seen something they liked as they signed him 305K well above the 100K slot amount. Weiss signed a little late in the process and due to this got off to a late start but when he finally did play he started off on fire. The hot streak only lasted about 20 games though as he began to slump immediately after and finished the year with only a decent line. Weiss only hits for gap power but he has good baseball skills which he uses to be a good base runner and a decent defender despite not having any outstanding tools. Weiss may move up to A ball but I’m thinking he repeats short season.

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