With the 2017 Major League Baseball season in the books, teams are already looking ahead to 2018. For a lot of teams, the focus is on their young prospects and whether or not they’ll have a chance to make an impact for the big league club. This is the case for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who missed out on the postseason this past season. There’s plenty of talent on the Major League club already, but what’s waiting down the pipeline has the Pirates optimistic for the future.
10. Steven Jennings, RHP
- Age: 19
- Drafted: 2017, Round 2(42) – PIT
2017 stats: (RK-GCL): 26.1 IP, 0-2, 4.10 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 13 K, 10 BB.
A two-sport star in college, Jennings turned all of his focus to baseball after the Pirates drafted him in the second round of this year’s Draft. In his small taste of professional ball, Jennings was able to show off some of his tools. The 19-year-old already has a lively fastball that sits in the mid-90s. It went along nicely with his slider and curveball, both of which could be above average pitches in the future. Jennings’ athleticism stood out during his debut and will go a long way in him reaching his potential. He threw just 26.1 innings with the Rookie-level Pirates but should have an increased workload next season.
9. Kevin Kramer, 2B
- Age: 24
- Drafted: 2015, Round 2(62) – PIT
- MLB.com lists: Top 10 2B Prospects (#7)
2017 stats: (Double-A Altoona): 53 games, .297/.380/.500, 6 HR, 27 RBI, 31 R, 7 SB, 17 BB, 50 K.
Had he not broken his hand this June, Kramer may have put together a full breakout season. Nonetheless, Kramer put up the best numbers of his career in the 53 games he played. He batted right around .300 while mashing six homers and swiping seven bases for Altoona. The No. 7 ranked second baseman in baseball is well-rounded and has shown he can be a solid everyday player at the Major League level. If he can stay healthy and pick up where he left off in 2017, Kramer could sniff the Majors towards the end of next season.
8. Nick Kingham, RHP
- Age: 26
- Drafted: 2010, Round 4(117) – PIT
2017 stats: (Triple-A Indianapolis): 113.1 IP, 9-6, 4.13 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 93 K, 29 BB.
Kingham has been battling his way back from Tommy John surgery back in 2015. After a great finish to the 2016 campaign, Kingham took another step in the right direction this past season. While he wasn’t quite as sharp as he was, there were still parts of his game the clearly came a long way. He struck out 93 batters in 113.1 innings while walking just 29. It’s that great command that should help him reach the Majors. While the stuff is nearly there, Kingham will have to log some more innings before contributing for the Pirates. When he does, he should be a nice addition to the middle of their rotation.
7. Will Craig, 1B
- Age: 23
- Drafted: 2016, Round 1(22) – PIT
2017 stats: (High-A Bradenton): 123 games, .271/.373/.371, 6 HR, 61 RBI, 59 R, 62 BB, 106 K.
Craig made the move to first base this season after playing third for all of his career. With the move comes the expectation of tapping into his power, something he hasn’t done yet as a professional. He homered just six times in 123 games, although he displayed decent power to the gaps with 26 doubles. Last season, Craig finished the year with more walks than strikeouts. This season he took a step in the wrong direction, striking out almost twice as many times as he walked. The 23-year-old has solid tools but has yet to put them all together at the professional level.
6. Kevin Newman, SS
- Age: 24
- Drafted: 2015, Round 1(19) – PIT
2017 stats: (Double-A Altoona): 82 games, .259/.310/.359, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 42 R, 22 BB, 40 K. (Triple-A Indianapolis): 40 games, .283/.314/.373, 11 RBI, 23 R, 7 BB, 22 K.
With Jordy Mercer’s contract set to expire after the 2018 season, Newman is in line to take over. In just his first season, he jumped straight to Double-A. A year later, he made his debut at the Triple-A level. Newman’s contact-oriented approach has helped him rake in the minors. He batted .283 in 40 games with Indianapolis, ending the season on a high note. While he lacks power, Newman’s defensive versatility and ability to square up the ball should have him on the fast-track to the Majors. He should get a cup of coffee with the Pirates next season and could be in the starting lineup as early as 2019.
5. Cole Tucker, SS
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 2014, Round 1(24) – PIT
2017 stats: (High-A Bradenton): 68 games, .285/.364/.426, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 46 R, 36 SB, 34 BB, 70 K. (Double-A Altoona): 42 games, .257/.349/.377, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 25 R, 11 SB, 21 BB, 31 K.
The Pirates took Tucker in the first-round of the 2014 Draft. He has since developed into one of the more well-rounded prospects in the Pirates’ system. In 110 games split between High-A and Double-A, Tucker batted .275 with six homers and 50 RBI. The 6-foot-3 shortstop is exceptionally quick for his body type and an excellent baserunner. Tucker stole a combined 47 bases and was caught 15 times. Assuming Tucker keeps trending in the right direction, he should find himself reaching his enormous potential sooner rather than later.
4. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
- Age: 20
- Drafted: 2015, Round 1(32) – PIT
2017 stats: (High-A Bradenton): 108 games, .278/.345/.363, 2 HR, 43 RBI, 66 R, 27 SB, 41 BB, 76 K.
Hayes, another first-round Draft pick by the Pirates, was able to stay healthy for most the season. He played 108 games, the most in his career, and looked great at the hot corner. While he’s focused on making contact now, he should start growing into his power. Hayes improved on multiple parts of his game in 2017, namely his eye and baserunning. He worked 41 walks and managed to swipe 27 bases despite being a below-average runner.
3. Shane Baz, RHP
- Age: 18
- Drafted: 2017, Round 1(12) – PIT
- MLB.com lists: Top 100 Prospects (#75)
2017 stats: (RK-GCL): 23.2 IP, 0-3, 3.80 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 19 K, 14 BB.
Baz was one of the best high school pitchers available in this year’s Draft. There was some speculation that Baz may have gone as a top-10 pick, but the Pirates ultimately took him 12th. At just 18 years old, his fastball has already reached the high-90s and has plenty of sink and movement. Baz started just 10 games for the Rookie-level Pirates but pitched well in his opportunities. He already has great makeup and athleticism for a teenager and could develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.
2. Mitch Keller, RHP
- Age: 21
- Drafted: 2014, Round 2(64) – PIT
- MLB.com lists: Top 100 Prospects (#18), Top 10 RHP Prospects (#6)
2017 stats: (High-A Bradenton): 77.1 IP, 6-3, 3.14 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 64 K, 20 BB. (Double-A Altoona): 34.2 IP, 2-2, 3.12 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 45 K, 11 BB.
Keller only got better as he scaled two different levels in 2017. After posting a 3.14 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 77.1 innings at High-A Bradenton, Keller made his debut for Altoona. He posted an even lower ERA, 3.12, and a 1.04 WHIP despite the tougher competition. Most impressively, he struck out 116 batters and walked just 32 across both levels. His great season could have been even better had it not been for a back strain that caused him to miss a number of starts. Keller is already on his way to being one of the best pitching prospects in the game and should only get better.
1. Austin Meadows, OF
- Age: 22
- Drafted: 2013, Round 1(9) – PIT
- MLB.com lists: Top 100 Prospects (#16), Top 10 OF Prospects (#6)
2017 stats: (Triple-A Indianapolis): 72 games, .250/.311/.359, 4 HR, 36 RBI, 48 R, 11 SB, 24 BB, 50 K.
Meadows has been hit with a slew of injuries during his professional career. That being said, he still managed to reach Triple-A at just 21 years old. His ability to scale the Minor League ladder despite the setbacks shows just how naturally good of a hitter Meadows is. He has a great approach at the plate, works his walks, and doesn’t strike out all that often. Had it not been for hamstring issues throughout the season, Meadows may have finished the season with the big league club. If he can stay healthy, Meadows should have a shot at making the Opening Day roster out of spring training. His injury history makes that a big “if,” though.