Bell, Glasnow rise to the top for Pirates

Slugger, right-hander stand out among plethora of upper-level talent

Tyler Glasnow finished tied for fifth in the International League with 133 strikeouts for Indianapolis. (Ken Jancef)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | December 2, 2016 10:00 AM ET

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

After relying on trades and free agent signings over the last few years, the Pirates finally began to see the fruits of a long-promising farm system.

Nine of the club's top 30 prospects made their big league debuts this season with some, such as right-hander Jameson Taillon, providing major lifts. Though the approach translated to just 78 wins and Pittsburgh's first losing season since 2012, the farm still has plenty more to offer over the next few years. Four of the Pirates' seven domestic Minor League affiliates finished .500 or better, while Class A Advanced Bradenton captured its first Florida State League title.

With much of their best Minor League talent finishing at or near the Majors by the end of the season, the Pirates have plenty to look forward to in 2017.

Pirates Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Reese McGuire, Altoona (77 games), New Hampshire (15 games): Before the Pirates shipped McGuire to Toronto at the trade deadline, the 2013 first-rounder was quietly putting together one of his best offensive seasons at Double-A Altoona. McGuire finished with 37 RBIs for the Curve, one shy of the lead among Pittsburgh's Minor League catchers, and walked more times (29) than he struck out (26). Defensively, the 21-year-old threw out 39 percent of potential base stealers.

First baseman -- Josh Bell, Indianapolis (114 games), Pittsburgh (45 games): Pirates fans have waited for Bell's arrival since he burst onto the Triple-A scene late last season. They finally got a look at the 24-year-old in Pittsburgh in early July, but before that, he thrived in the International League with a .295/.382/.468 line. Bell's 14 homers in the Minors ranked third in the organization and first among first basemen, while his 60 RBIs ranked sixth and third, respectively.

"I think he just continued to improve every day, and that was because of his work ethic," said Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor. "His work ethic is really what separates him from some other players out there."

"He really focused on his plan and approach at the plate," added Pirates director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway, "which allowed him to drive the ball more consistently."

Second baseman -- Erich Weiss, Altoona (127 games): An 11th-round pick in 2013, Weiss spent the year in Altoona after finishing there last season. He ended up third in the organization with 65 RBIs while hitting .276 and ranking second with nine triples. Weiss made strides defensively as well, cutting down his errors for the third straight year to a career-low 12.

"He's a talented left-handed hitter with a sweet swing. Very reliable on defense," said then-Curve manager Joey Cora, now the Pirates' third base coach. "Whatever he gets to he catches. He improved a lot at turning the double play. He became adept to the nuances of hitting second in the lineup -- moving runners over, taking pitches, bunting sometimes. I think he learned a lot this year of how to play the game."

Third baseman -- Connor Joe, Bradenton (107 games): A full-time third baseman for the first time since high school, the 39th overall pick in the 2014 Draft improved almost across the board offensively with a .277 average, five homers, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. The 24-year-old also hit .333 with three homers and seven RBIs in six playoff games.

"He's continuing to understand who he is as a hitter and what pitchers are trying to do to him and where that intersects with what he wants to do to them," Broadway said. "It all comes down to pitch selection."

Shortstop -- Kevin Newman, Bradenton (41 games), Altoona (61 games): After being taken in the first round of last year's Draft, Newman entered the season with the expectation that he would hit. The 23-year-old delivered. After a sizzling start with Bradenton earned him a promotion to Altoona, Newman produced a combined .320 average while striking out just 36 times in 397 at-bats between both levels.

"He knows who he is as a hitter and doesn't try to do too much at the plate," Broadway said. "He has very good hand-eye coordination and very good zone awareness. He knows what he's looking for and doesn't try to do too much with it when he gets it."

Outfielders

Austin Meadows, West Virginia (5 games), Altoona (45 games), Indianapolis (37 games): Seemingly the only thing that could stop MLB.com's No. 9 overall prospect this season was health. Meadows missed time early in the year after fracturing an orbital bone in Spring Training, then was slowed by a hamstring late in the year with Indianapolis. In between, however, the Georgia native clubbed a career-high 12 homers and drove in 47 runs while hitting a combined.266 with 17 steals. He also led the organization with 11 triples.

"Complete offensive players are very hard to find in the game today -- combinations of speed, power and hit ability are special," Broadway said. "He can beat you in a lot of different ways, and can also help win a game defensively."

Barrett Barnes, Altoona (124 games): Barnes hit .246 in 37 games with Altoona last season, and the difficulties persisted when he returned there early this year. At the end of June, his average sat at .249. However, the 25-year-old turned things around in the second half, raising his average to .306 and finishing with nine homers and 28 doubles, fourth-most in the organization.

"He took ownership of his career," Cora said. "At the beginning of the year, he was wandering. He was going sideways. But he looked in the mirror and knew it was time to go.... He came around and he was the MVP of the team. But it was all on him. He made himself a player."

Adam Frazier, Indianapolis (68 games), Pittsburgh (66 games): When Frazier left Indianapolis for the big leagues in late June, the 2013 sixth-round pick led the Indians with a .333 average, had walked 29 times against 27 strikeouts and had stolen 17 bases. The Mississippi State product has hit .321 or higher in three of his four Minor League seasons and hit .301 in the big leagues this year.

"He has no fear," Treanor said. "No fear of learning a new position, no fear of bouncing around the field, no fear of who he faces on the mound. This guy has a very, very solid approach at the plate and never wavers from that."

Utility -- Jose Osuna, Altoona (70 games), Indianapolis (63 games): Osuna earned playing time in both the outfield and at first base down the stretch, especially after Bell left for the big leagues. The Venezuela native hit .279 and led the organization with 37 doubles and 69 RBIs while tying for fourth with 13 home runs.

"He was our big RBI guy that last third of the season," Treanor said. "I don't like to use the word 'carry,' but it was like he carried us there for a while. He drove in a lot of big runs. I think this guy is somebody that is going to be a factor in Pittsburgh at some time very soon."

Right-handed starter -- Tyler Glasnow, Altoona (2 games), Indianapolis (20 games), Pittsburgh (7 games): Glasnow rang up 144 strikeouts over 116 2/3 innings in the Minors to pace the organization for the second straight year. While he compiled a 1.93 ERA and .176 opponents' average in the Minors, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound hurler also issued 5.2 walks per nine innings. However, his command improved as the year went on, especially after making the jump to the Majors in July and September.

"I think there were points where his age became a factor," Treanor said. "He tried to strike everybody out, and then once he settled in and got to Pittsburgh and understood that he just needs to force contact and not try to strike everybody out, you saw some flashes of what he can be."

Honorable mention: Jameson Taillon defied expectations, returning after missing the last two seasons to emerge as a rotation mainstay in Pittsburgh. His rise began in Indianapolis, where he posted a 2.04 ERA and 61 strikeouts against just six walks over 61 2/3 frames. Mitch Keller also busted out with Class A West Virginia, vaulting into MLB.com's top 100 and capturing the fan vote for the breakout prospect MiLBY.

More Organization All-Stars

Left-handed starter -- Brandon Waddell, Bradenton (5 games), Altoona (22 games): Waddell came out of the gates flying with Bradenton, and the Pirates moved the 2015 fifth-round pick to the Eastern League after he posted a 0.93 ERA in five starts. The 22-year-old ended the season tied for fourth in the organization with 120 strikeouts to go along with a 3.49 ERA over 147 innings.

"He's not super strong or super tall or whatever, but he's up there at 92-93 [mph], sometimes 94, and he spots the ball really well," Cora said. "When he's on, he reminds me a lot of Mark Buehrle, who I had with the White Sox. He gets the ball and throws it. He doesn't let the hitter think too much."

Relief pitcher -- Edgar Santana, Bradenton (9 games), Altoona (21 games), Indianapolis (13 games): Santana, 25, rose through the ranks on the strength of a 2.71 ERA, 71 strikeouts and a solid rate of 2.1 walks per nine innings. After the Minor League season concluded, the right-hander went on to toss 13 2/3 scoreless frames for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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