Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2015 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.
Shining star: Tyler Glasnow, RHP
The numbers do Glasnow justice. In 2014, he made 23 starts with Class A Advanced Bradenton and managed a 1.74 ERA. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, and his fastball routinely ticks near triple digits. As a result, he's the No. 1 Pirates prospect.
The 6-foot-8 right-hander has made strides in a number of areas. A stringbean high schooler taken in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft, Glasnow first added velocity, then brought along his command and secondary pitches, and in 2014, his mental fortitude and general consistency took another step forward. Sam Dykstra chronicled those improvements and more after Glasnow won our 2014 Best Starting Pitcher MiLBY award.
As he's made all these improvements, Pittsburgh has been methodical in the way it's pushed him through the system. Now, he's developed to the point where that's poised to change. The 21-year-old will open the season with Double-A Altoona, but if he pitches up to expectations and stays healthy, the Pirates believe he's ready both physically and mentally to make a mid-season jump to Triple-A, and who knows from there?
"He's grown up a lot," said Pirates director of player development Larry Broadway. "It was a group effort, reinforcing the same ideas, and he bought into it and he's committed to it. He did a nice job."
At the crossroads: Barrett Barnes, OF
The Pirates took Barnes 45th overall in the 2012 Draft. Since then, he's amassed just 358 at-bats, including just 50 in 2014. Health has been a huge problem for the Texas Tech product, who's missed time with a stress fracture in his leg, back stiffness, multiple hamstring injuries and an oblique strain -- the latter two being the culprits in 2014.
Despite all of that, Barnes still finds himself at No. 18 among the Pirates' top prospects. The upside is significant. MLB.com puts at least fringe-average grades on each of his five tools, with his power, speed and defense getting average or better marks.
He's produced in flashes, too. In 101 Minor League games, Barnes has a .271 average and .796 OPS. He's also stolen 24 bases in that time and made 97 of his 99 career starts in center field. If things all come together, Barnes could either force his way into the Pirates' long-term outfield plans -- no small accomplishment these days -- or become enticing trade bait if Pittsburgh is buying at the trade deadline.
But you can't get better if you're not on the field. Two lost seasons have Barnes well behind the learning curve for a 23-year-old. A third lost season could drop him off the prospect radar altogether.
• Bonus Cut: Broadway on catching prospect Reese McGuire »
Full-season debutant: Cole Tucker, SS
Tucker was among the youngest players available in the 2014 Draft, but Pittsburgh was so enamored by his tools and makeup, it surprised the industry by selecting him 24th overall. Tucker then hit .267 with a .368 on-base percentage in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his debut, despite injuring his thumb.
The Pirates think they've added a premium athlete before his body has fully developed. At 6-foot-3, he has the athleticism and range to make Pittsburgh think he'll stick at shortstop. Listed at 185 pounds, Tucker has a long, thin frame with room to add strength. A natural righty, he's somewhat new to switch-hitting and has already made some adjustments to his swing with the Pirates' staff.
Perhaps most importantly, Pittsburgh believes he has the work ethic and intelligence to be coached into a Major League shortstop. After seeing how he handled the GCL and working him through his first Spring Training, Pittsburgh expects Tucker to get to Class A West Virginia as an 18-year-old, likely for Opening Day.
"He's a mature kid," Broadway said. "Anytime you talk to him, he's a type-A personality. He's out there. He's outgoing. He's not afraid to talk to you. So you feel fine with him leaving Pirate City, going up there."
Back and healthy: Jameson Taillon, RHP
Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery in early April last year. Roughly a year later, he's back throwing to hitters in Spring Training, and the Pirates are pleased with how he's recovered to date. As of last week, the expectation was that he'd leave the complex around mid-May and begin working back up the Minor League ladder.
First, Taillon will start the year in extended spring training. After that, the goal will be to get him back to Triple-A, where he logged 37 innings in 2013. Expect him to get a start or two in Bradenton and possibly detour through Altoona on the way.
Pittsburgh doesn't have an innings count in mind, but will let Taillon's health dictate how quickly he climbs.
"That first year when you get a partial season with a Tommy John, it's going to be a build-up," Broadway said. "As we watch him, a lot of it will depend on how he's throwing, how well he's repeating his delivery, how his stuff's coming out, how he's recovering. There's much more of an art than just, 'Hey, we're trying to get him 100 innings this year.'"
Breakout prospect: JaCoby Jones, SS
The 2013 third-rounder played a few positions in college, but shortstop wasn't one. The Pirates tasked him with learning the position in 2014, and the team thinks he handled the move with aplomb. All the while, he slugged 23 homers and stole 17 bases.
That power-speed combo is rare at shortstop, and yet prospect evaluators have been hesitant to shoot Jones up their lists -- he checked in at No. 13 on the latest Pirates Top 30.
Why the skepticism? As a position player coming out of the SEC, Jones should have dominated Class A. The Mississippi native turned 22 early in the 2014 season, making him older than the average South Atlantic Leaguer by about half a year. As MLB.com noted in its evaluation, "There are those who want to see Jones continue to do it at a higher level before jumping on the bandwagon."
Jones will advance to Bradenton to start the season. There, the LSU product will look to prove the thunder in his stick is for real and that his future is really at shortstop. He's made believers out of his own organization with the latter.
"He can play the position," Broadway said. "[2014 was] his first time playing it since high school. He went out on some tough ballparks, some tough surfaces in the South Atlantic League, and he did a nice job. He is a shortstop and he'll stay there."
More to keep an eye on: Alen Hanson will open the season at Triple-A. The infielder is battling to stay at shortstop long-term and also faces makeup questions following a mysterious suspension during the 2014 season for "among other things, a lack of effort," according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. … Two of the system's best bats will be working at new positions in 2015 -- Josh Bell has been moved from the outfield to first base, while 2014 first-rounder (39th overall) Connor Joe has been taking reps at third base. … Injuries limited Austin Meadows to 38 games with West Virginia last year, but the Pirates still plan to push their No. 4 prospect to Bradenton for Opening Day.
Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.