The Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Arizona Fall League participants will be playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions, along with prospects from the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and New York Yankees. The Pirates will be sending seven players to Arizona - four pitchers, two infielders and an outfielder.
Phil Irwin, RHP - Irwin will be making up for a lot of lost time from the 2013 season, having thrown just 10 minor league innings and 4 2/3 major league innings over the entire year. An AFL veteran, Irwin is a low-ceiling right-hander who could serve as a back-end starter in the majors, but realistically is more pitching depth than anything else. At this point, it's difficult to see a scenario in which the Pirates are banking on the 26-year-old Irwin as a part of their rotation, but he could serve as a spot-starter/long-man if he can regain his health.
Jameson Taillon, RHP - With the promotion of Gerrit Cole, it was assumed that Taillon would assume the mantle as the Pirates top pitching prospect. He should probably still receive that label, but a mediocre season coupled with the emergence of Tyler Glasnow clouds the debate. Regardless of rankings, Taillon is a significant part of the Pirates future and will be one of the top prospects in the AFL. Taillon can dominate at times, as you'd come to expect from a pitcher with a mid-90's fastball and a plus curve, but he doesn't do it as frequently as you'd hope, as evidenced by his 3.73 ERA between Double and Triple-A this season. He misses his bats and generally has good control, although his BB/9 rate spiked up to 3.9 in Triple-A this season, but it's not a major concern. Taillon still projects as a top of the rotation starter, but he hasn't taken the final step to becoming an ace that the Pirates were hoping to see.
Zack Thornton, RHP - Acquired this past winter, Thornton was dominant as a reliever at three levels this season, all of which he was way too old for. Right-handed relievers who are turning 26 next May don't have a very high ceiling, no matter how well they perform, but a trip to the AFL will serve as a chance to prove that he's ready for a better challenge from the Pirates. He's always missed bats (career 10.2 K/9), so he's got a chance to serve as a middle reliever.
Tyler Waldron, RHP - A former 5th round pick in 2010, the 24-year-old Waldron hasn't given the Pirates a whole lot to dream on, yet he continues to get chances, like a second stint in the AFL this fall. He continues to work as a starter, but he doesn't miss anywhere near enough bats to ever start in the majors (career 5.7 K/9) and will be a reliever, if anything, in the majors. He's another low-ceiling arm and the Pirates have to hope that his stuff plays up in a relief role.
Alen Hanson, SS - There was a time last season, as both were breaking out in Low-A ball, when Hanson was mentioned in the same breathe as Gregory Polanco as the top position prospects in the Pirates deep farm system. Polanco has since left Hanson in the dust, but Hanson is still very much a prospect in his own right. Hanson is still playing shortstop, but scouts are not sold that it's his long-term home. At the plate, he still put together a strong season, but his power took a step back from his 2012 season. Still, he finished the season as a 20-year-old in Double-A and held his own against advanced pitching. If he can't remain at short, his value takes a step down, although if he only has to slide over to second base he still has plenty of bat to be an above-average player. If he has to move to a corner outfield spot, it would be a significant hit.
Gift Ngoepe, SS - After playing in the AFL last season, Ngoepe debuted at Double-A Altoona in 2013. Three months and a .177 batting average later, he was demoted back to Bradenton where he had spent all of 2012. His results were much better there at the plate, but it was in a league in which he'd already spent a full season, thus should be able to handle. He's always been a defense-first shortstop, but his struggled to hit advanced pitching raise some concerns about his future role. A second shot in the AFL will be a chance to redeem himself.
Alex Dickerson - Dickerson spent all of 2012 as a first baseman but all of 2013 as a right fielder, and the latter is where he'll be playing in the AFL. A shift back to first could still be in his future, depending on the needs of the Pirates, but the versatility could help him, especially given that he's not a particularly good defender at either spot. It's Dickerson's bat that will dictate his future, and he put together a strong season at Double-A Altoona, hitting .288/.337/.494. He has one of the best power bats in a Pirates system that doesn't have a ton of them. He's aggressive at the plate, which limits his offensive profile slightly, but if his power continues to develop, he'll be able to get away with it. A aggressive, moderately-powered, left-handed hitting 1B/RF may sound familar to Pirates fans, and Dickerson does have a similar profile to Garrett Jones, although he does have a slightly higher ceiling. Dickerson should start in Triple-A next year and could be ready to take on Jones' role once the veteran moves on.