On the Cusp: Pittsburgh Pirates
Taillon, Kingham, Hanson among top prospects who could impact big league club in 2015
In this series, Bernie Pleskoff takes a team-by-team look at which top prospects are poised to make a contribution at the big league level in 2015.
As they head to the new season, the Pirates have a fairly settled lineup of young and seasoned veteran players. With the possible exception of Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang, the veteran lineup seems settled.
Here are the Pirates prospects I think have a chance to make an impact in Pittsburgh in 2015, listed by their rankings in the Pirates Top 20 Prospects list.
Jameson Taillon | RHP | 6-foot-5, 245 pounds | No. 2
A first-round Draft choice in 2010, Taillon is among the prototypical big and strong pitchers we have seen emerge throughout baseball. However, he required Tommy John surgery this past April. Now almost a year removed from surgery, he may be able to help the club with a late arrival this season. Before his operation, he was bringing his fastball between 93-97 mph, with good movement. Of his secondary pitches, his curveball was extremely effective, and his changeup wasn't far behind. He also threw a slider, but it remains to be seen if that pitch returns to his post-surgery repertoire. If his stuff returns and he regains full arm strength, he has the size and the makeup to dominate hitters.
Nick Kingham | RHP | 6-foot-5, 220 pounds | No. 5
Not quite as heavy as Taillon, Kingham is another on the list of big, strong Pirates pitching prospects. His fastball consistently sits between 90-93 mph, and he uses it to set up a swing-and-miss curveball. He also throws a quality changeup as a third pitch. He isn't a huge strikeout pitcher (6.7 per nine innings in 2014), but Kingham's stuff is tough to hit solidly. He is an intelligent pitcher with an ability to mix his pitches well. He won't dominate, but he will keep hitters guessing as he changes their balance and eye level.
Alen Hanson | SS/2B/3B | 5-foot-11, 170 pounds | No. 6
The switch-hitting Hanson may have improved his stock this past season, when he hit .280 with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs at Double-A Altoona. He also used his good speed and surprising strength to his advantage, knocking out 21 doubles and 12 triples and stealing 25 bases. He has a solid line-drive bat, and he should be able to use his hitting tool against increasing quality pitching. Defensively, Hanson is probably average, at best. Whenever I've seen him, he has played shortstop. However, I feel his skills project best at second base.
Adrian Sampson | RHP | 6-foot-3, 200 pounds | No. 19
Sampson started 28 games in the Pirates' organization this past year, with 24 of them coming at Double-A Altoona and four at Triple-A Indianapolis. I saw him in this past Arizona Fall League, where he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen, throwing 12 innings in 10 games. He threw to a 2.25 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. That relief experience may well have added to his value and versatility for the coming season. He pitches to contact, and regardless of his role, he can't be counted upon to rack up strikeouts. He throws his fastball in the 88-92 mph range and also has a deceptive and very effective curveball to go with an improving changeup to round out his repertoire.
Jung Ho Kang | SS | 6-feet, 180 pounds | Unranked
There is some question regarding Kang's role with the Pirates. He is the first position player from the Korean Baseball Organization to sign with a big league club. Can he play Major League Baseball? If so, where will he play? Signed as a shortstop, Kang may be a roving utility player who spells regulars at shortstop, second base or even third base. Kang has played nine seasons in the KBO. He has a lifetime batting average of .298 in 3,560 plate appearances. He has hit 139 career home runs and has driven in 545 runs. The risk-reward equation could easily tip in the positive direction for Pittsburgh if Kang shows the hitting and power skills he displayed in Korea.
Jaff Decker | OF | 5-foot-9, 190 pounds | Unranked
The San Diego Padres signed the left-handed-hitting Decker as a first-round Draft choice in 2008. He was designated for assignment by the club in November 2013. The Padres then traded him to Pittsburgh with pitcher Miles Mikolas for outfielder/first baseman Alex Dickerson. Decker may best serve as a spare-part outfielder with a good, disciplined approach at the plate and an ability to hit the gaps with an uppercut swing and good contact ability.