Top Prospect: RHP Nick Kingham
Kingham was a 4th-round selection out of high school in 2010. Now in his age-22 season, the 6'5" Kingham posted the best season of his young career last year with a 2.89 ERA across high-A and AA last year, and with peripherals to match. This year he hasn't looked quite as strong, at least in terms of his peripheral numbers. His strikeout rate has been down, and his walk rate has been unimproved from last year. Entering the season, Tim Williams reported that he'd been adding velocity, while Marc Hulet was talking about him needing to learn to use his height and pitch in a downward angle. He's obviously the guy that I'm most interested to see pitch...although I don't think the schedule matches up.
Top Performer: RHP Adrian Sampson
Sampson was drafted in the 5th round in 2012 out of community college. He had a very nice season in low-A that year, but struggled a bit last year at high-A; his strikeouts took a big hit, even as he demonstrated exceptional control. Perhaps as a result, he was left off all but the deepest Pirates prospect lists. This year, now pitching in AA, his strikeouts are back up to mostly-respectable rates, and he's continuing to show good ability to avoid the walk. He is listed as 6'3", 200 lbs, so he has good size. Beyond that, the best info I've found on him was here: high-80's to low-90's fastball, good curve. If I'm reading the schedule right, he should be in line to pitch on Saturday when I head to see the Curve. I'm looking forward to watching this guy. The Pirates have been aggressive in promoting him, and this year it seems as if it's paying off.
The Other Name: LHP Joely Rodriguez
Calling Rodriguez a "name guy" might be overstating things, but he managed to be ranked right along with Adrian Sampson in the pre-season lists that were deep enough to include him. Rodriguez's 2014 stat line makes him look like a soft-tossing lefty. Interestingly enough, despite his low career strikeout rates, Rodriguez actually was featured in a Nathaniel Stoltz profile as a power lefty. He throws hard for a lefty, sitting in the low-to-mid-90's, and, thanks to the Pirates emphasis on it, is showing a good change-up. Still, at some point, the stuff needs to play up and result in performance. While he hasn't been bad, he's been the weakest of the Pirates' trio of 22-year old starters thus far.
The Veteran: LHP Brandon Mann
The top strikeout rate on the team actually belongs to Brandon Mann, who has largely thrown out of the bullpen. He's also 30 years old, apparently did not play in organized baseball last season, and before that spent two years in Japan. He last appeared in the affiliated minors in 2010 with the Dodgers after being cut loose by the Tampa Bay Rays, who drafted him as an 18-year old in 2002. He's not a prospect, and is undoubtedly pretty far down on the depth charts. But he's left-handed, so you never know, right? Kudos to him for working his way back into affiliated baseball.