Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #3

Question #1:
Who is the most underrated player in the Pirates farm system?


Randy from Buried Treasure:

It’s hard to think of a guy who’ll turn 27 in 2007 as underrated. But Brad Eldred hit 40 homers in three stops in less than 500 ABs in 2005. Yeah, he strikes out too much and didn’t hit for much average in the Show in 2005. But the Bucs were dead set against him making the Big Club out of Spring Training. That might’ve made sense had they decided to go with Craig Wilson as the full time first baseman. Instead they had five different players make 10 or more starts at first and gave way too many ABs to retreads. Those first baseman combined to have the fewest RBI and runs scored of any group of first baseman in the NL. Combined they went .276/.356/.426 with 19 homers. I think Eldred could’ve done that well (at least he would’ve hit more than 19 homers) and he would’ve had a full ML season behind him. Instead, he got injured and had a wasted season in 2006.
Carson and Corey from We Should Be GM’s:
I think Brad Eldred is the most underrated player in the system. He has HUGE power potential, which could easily lead to 30+ homeruns if he were given the 1st base job next season. He’s strikes out a ton and is still learning how to hit overall, but you cannot dismiss his power. I’d predict a line of .235, 30-35 hr, with progression shown through the season (possibly an Adam Dunn type production). Littlefield continues to talk about how they need a power hitter that is perferably left-handed…ah, hello! I know others aren’t sold on him, but I want to see him given the chance, because he’d be better than Darin Erstad at least.
Bones from Honest Wagner:
If “underrated” is taken to mean “not listed on any top 10 prospect list that I’ve seen,” I’ll guess LH reliever David Davidson. Given the pathological obsession of both Creech and DL for relievers, and the resultant excess of these types in the minors at the expense of nearly every other position, picking a relief pitcher makes sense here. The 22-year-old Davidson dominated last summer, striking out 96 in 76 IP while yielding only 53 H and 33 BBs. He didn’t fare so well in the Winter League, but only threw 15.2 IP and still struck out 14.
D.J. from The Derek Bell Yacht Co.:
I would have to go with Steven Pearce here, although probably by default. When you really look at who is most underrated, it’s hard to really pick a guy in this organization because you would be picking somebody who is better than everyone thinks he is, but Pearce seems to be exactly what you think he is. He’s a guy who has good power potential (12 HR, 38 RBI in Hickory and 14 HR, 60 RBI at Lynchburg in ’06) and is moving up rather quickly through the minors after being drafted in 2005. I expect that we’ll see him in Altoona this year, so I’ll have a better idea of what kind of a prospect he is; I hope he doesn’t go the way of Brad Eldred and put up impressive numbers and then completely go into the tank later on. David Schoenfield of ESPN.com recently wrote of the Pirates that they have “an affinity for scrappy-but-likable white players who don’t hit home runs.” Let’s just pray that Pearce doesn’t fall into the aforementioned category and develops into a power threat from the right-hand side of the plate.
Matt and Alan from Bucco Wire:
We think Brent Lillibridge is the most underrated player in the Pirates farm system. His minor league career started off slow, only posting a .243 AVG in the New York-Penn League his first season, but ever since, he has hit the ball all over the field. His lack of press stems from being behind Brian Bixler on the shortstop depth chart, but has shown at Hickory and Lynchburg that he can hit, steal bases and judge the strike zone on a consistent basis. After his past year, we’re sure he’ll be a little more talked about. But either way, it’s nice to have him emerge and give Bixler a run for his money at the shortstop position.
Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:
Hard to find anybody underrated in an organization whose scouting director specializes in drafting low-ceiling players. How many “underrated” relief and UT prospects are there? Anyway, the temptation is to go with somebody from the most recent draft, like Pat Bresnehan, but those guys have only been pros a couple months and are more unknown than underrated. So I’ll go with Josh Shortslef. He’s a big, athletic LHP with a good arm who’s almost never been healthy. He was outstanding early last year in AA before the injury bug bit him again. If he could hang around a whole season, he could be a breakout candidate.
Mondesi’s House:
Neil Walker. He’s carried the incredible burden of being a local product. He’s carried the incredible burden of the rare Pirate 1st rounder that is not a pitcher. And the final incredible burden he’s lived up to? Like all Pirate 1st rounders, he was expected to get injured, a plan he carried out perfectly when he tore a ligament in his wrist.
These developments have not received the attention they deserve from the baseball media. Walker has been a great Pirate #1 draft pick, in the mold of previous #1s Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, Bryan Bullington, and John Van Benschoten. I’m beginning to think their #1 picks have a curse. So let’s blame it on a former Pirate #1 pick, because no one likes him as it is: The Curse of 1985 Pirates #1 Draft Pick Barry Bonds.
Cory from A New Pirates Generation:
Dave Littlefield, Ed Creech and Brian Graham make this question hard to answer. The Pirates’ minor league system is depressing when you consider it in the same context as those of the Devil Rays and Dodgers. Any player who buckles his belt catches his fair share of headlines. Still, there are a few guys that haven’t gotten the press they might deserve–and I guess that’s the definition of underrated.
Michael Connolly is a guy that could turn into a decent fifth starter or long reliever in time. The 24-year-old lefty had a better season in 2005 than in 2006, but he’s pitching well currently in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’ll be 25 in June, but he’s spent time at AAA in both of the past two seasons–so it might not be too late for him. If Connolly comes on strong in March and throws well for Indianapolis, he could be the beneficiary of a trade deadline move.
Tony from The Confluence:
That’s not an easy question, to be honest. I would think you need to have a lot of “rated” players to have some that are “underrated”. And since the promotion of Duke, Snell, Gorzy, and Maholm the wealth of MLB-ready prospects for the Bucs is not at the level that it once was a few years ago. So based on that, I’m gonna take a mad stab in the dark and take Landon Jacobsen. 14-9 with a 3.21 ERA last year with Altoona.
Jake from Bucco Blog:
I’m going to throw out two names–flamethrower Steven Duguay and 2B Shelby Ford. I like Ford because he has good range, soft hands, and a plus arm and I tend to believe he will be manning 2B with Lillibridge at SS in a few years in Pittsburgh. My only question about him is his bat.. can he hit for average. Despite popping out an OPS near .800, he needs to concentrate more hitting right-hand pitching. Duguay is another Torres-type workhorse with a Mike Gonzalez live arm from the right side that can miss bats and, if he can stay healthy, could make an excellent closer.
Question #2:
Based on what we know today, what unestablished pitcher from the Pirates’ organization is most likely to make an appearance in Pittsburgh in 2007? Why him?

Randy from Buried Treasure:
Jesse Chavez will make his ML debut in 2007. I think Dave Littlefield will wind up trading some of the middle relief he has assembled (he’d better). And that will leave a hole in the bullpen for Chavez to fill.
Carson and Corey from We Should Be GM’s:
Landon Jacobsen–for the simple fact that he could eat innings. He could start or relieve and he’s had some success over the past two seasons.
Bones from Honest Wagner:
Sean Burnett. He’s further along than JVB, and the team will need another starter, especially now with Chacon tendered.
D.J. from The Derek Bell Yacht Co.:
I think that Sean Burnett has an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster as the fifth starter, making him the third lefty that rounds out the rotation. He had an okay 2004 season with the big club (including an awesome stretch in late June and into July), and his splits (4-1 with a 3.79 ERA at PNC Park) reflect the type of lefty pitcher that is needed to take advantage of the spacious left field area at PNC. This guy was the Pirates’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002. I know that he has encountered his fair share of problems this past season at Indy, but what can you expect from a guy that missed all of 2005 after major elbow surgery? If he is able to somehow right the ship and gain some of the confidence that allowed him to become a “top of the organization” type pitcher, I could see him sliding in behind Yuslan Herrera on the strength of a solid Spring Training performance, and I hope that he does (instead of us signing a washed-up vet to take the role).
Matt and Alan from Bucco Wire:
We think we’ll see Burnett, and probably pretty early in the season, if not as the No. 5 starter out of Spring Training. Remember, upper management has always liked Burnett and he’s always been a proven winner on the minor league level. In his first stint in Pittsburgh, he wasn’t too shabby either. Last year he hung tough in AAA while battling back from an injury. We won’t be surprised if he’s given every opportunity to win the fifth spot in the rotation if no one else is brought in. If he fails to win it, he’ll be the first guy up when someone is needed.
Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:
Probably Rogers . He seems to be next on the bullpen depth chart after Sharpless, Bayliss, etc., and Chavez isn’t on the 40-man roster. Juan Perez would be another possibility if they needed a lefty, but he’s just never shown that he belongs in the majors. A lot will depend on how many aging veteran relievers Littlefield brings in–heaven forbid the Pirates should continue to carry a mere 14 relievers on the 40-man roster. Rogers could end up a long way down the depth chart.
I can’t see Burnett or VB in Pittsburgh any time soon. Burnett showed no sign at any point last year of recovering from his surgeries. VB not only had to be shut down after a few games, but he hadn’t mastered AAA yet when he was injured. I think both are a year away. Considering they both had labrum surgery, there’s also a good chance they’ll never really recover. McLeary and Youman will probably serve as the emergency starters, along with whatever washed-up vet Littlefield signs to a minor league deal. Yoslan Herrera should figure in there somewhere, too, as he’s supposedly going to get a major league deal, so he’ll have to go on the 40-man.
Mondesi’s House:
Jason Schmidt was from the Pirates organization, and now that he’s on the Dodgers, he should make an appearance in Pittsburgh the first week of June. For those of you who’ve forgotten, Schmidt was a true rarity: the Pirate pitcher with the potential to win a Cy Young Award. But our front office decided they’d rather watch Armando Rios play 78 games in right field and Ryan Vogelsong work as a glorified mop-up man for five seasons than pay the market price for Schmidt in 2001. Personally, I’m glad they made the deal. They wouldn’t have won with Schmidt anyway, and honestly, admit it…some part of you enjoyed watching Vogelsong trot out there on a regular basis. He was like a human Wild Card: you never knew what was going to happen.
Cory from A New Pirates Generation:
We’ll see Brian Rogers and Jesse Chavez–and that’s as close to a guarantee as I get. Dave Littlefield talked about having a couple of spots open in the ‘pen during his Monday live chat, and that’s before he trades Gonzo, Torres or Marte. If there’s one skill our GM doesn’t lack, it’s building a deep core of relievers. The Casey and Wells trades are more tolerable now that Rogers and Chavez have begun to progress. If they can step up and man the middle and late innings in 2007, we could have an extremely young bullpen by the trade deadline. Think of Capps, Sharpless, Bayliss, Rogers, Chavez, Burnett, Davidson and Shortslef.
Tony from The Confluence:
I have a feeling that Sean Burnett will get over the hump and be back in ’07. He wasn’t that far away in ’06, going 8-11 with a 5.16 ERA for Indianapolis. He’s got a great combination of a MLB fastball, hitting in the low 90’s, an outstanding changeup, and pinpoint control. Of course, that re-raises the issue with another lefty in the rotation. If the rotation stays the same during the offseason, that would make it four lefties out of 5 or 6, if you include Chacon.
Jake from Bucco Blog:
JVB, if he will get his head out of his ass. I look for him to be in the Pirates pen by July and then competing for a starting rotation slot in 2008. The keys to watch with him are how he handles bad outings and how he attacks the game mentally. In the GCL and Indy last year he tried to push the ball past batters instead of using his head and pitching. I’m sure part of the reason was because of his long layoff. But if he tries that next year in Indy, he’ll get rocked and how he handles getting rocked (ie: will he be nonchalant–oh well…or will he be a fighter who picks his film apart, talks to his coaches, and works as hard as Burnett did last year to turn his game around) will make the difference whether Johnny V becomes a “could have been a great player but failed” guy, or the impact player I believe he truly wants to be.
Question #3:
When will we get our first glimpse of Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh? What current MLB player(s) do you think will he perform like?

Randy from Buried Treasure:
Never seen Andrew McCutchen play. So, everything I know about him is from other people’s reports. If the Pirates are absolutely miserable again in 2007, he’ll be promoted in September if he is having a good season in the minors. The ownership will want to give fans a taste of something good. So, they’ll feel pressure to bring him up. Regardless, I expect him to be the starting center fielder on Opening Day in 2008. From what I can gather, the high end for him is a center field playing Reggie Sanders. A three spot or five spot quality major league hitter (good average, good power) with a stellar glove. The low end is a Corey Patterson/Jeffrey Hammonds type player. McCutchen seems to be a good guy. When he was first drafted he spoke openly about his faith and, while that might not translate into solid on the field performance, it should (and has apparently) translated into a solid work ethic.
Carson and Corey from We Should Be GM’s:
He’s not exceptionally tall (5’10″/5’11”) so his body can’t fill out too much more. He’s had solid numbers in the minors, but his OPS isn’t that outstanding. I like this kid’s potential, but I forecast him to be in the mold of an Aaron Rowand. He can roam CF, steal some bases, has a bit of pop, and could bat 2nd or 6th.
Bones from Honest Wagner:
I’d bet McCutchen won’t be called up til fall of 2008. The greedy urge to boost ticket sales by bringing him up in fall of 2007 will be curbed by the miserliness to not start his service time clock. In the field, I think Andrew will be an excellent CF with great range and a weakish arm, kind of like Johnny Damon, but with not as bad of a girl-arm and much less facial hair. As for hitting, with Andrew’s smaller size and limited power displayed so far, it’s hard to imagine him mushrooming into a puffy slugger like Vernon Wells. I think he’ll be better than Torii Hunter, Gary Matthews, Jr., and Mike Cameron, especially at getting on base, so optimistically I could see a Damon-type hitter with great speed, great OBP, and moderate power who would lead off. Of course, given that this is the Bucs, we should all temper our expectations. He could be converted to a SP, require surgery on both labrums, and ultimately emerge, years later, as a middle reliever.
D.J. from The Derek Bell Yacht Co.:
With regard to when he will be arriving in Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t doubt it if we see him around the same time we saw Ryan Doumit in 2005, which was the Pirates’ 55th game of the year (June 5th). Sure, this seems like a bit of a stretch, but assuming that certain stars align (which wouldn’t be that far-fetched), it could be more reasonable than it seems. Say, for example, that Cutch has a great Spring Training and looks even more impressive at Altoona than he did last year and Chris Duffy gets off to a horrendous start next season, much like 2006. Who else would the Pirates turn to? Also, you have to take into account any injuries that may hamper the OF situation, further increasing the likelihood that we will see him before the All-Star break. I don’t necessarily feel that the Pirates could turn to McLouth or slide Nady over to center, allowing Gerut to play RF. Thus, McCutchen would be the most logical choice and if he shows he can stick at the big league level he may never return to the minors again.
I saw a report before the 2004 MLB Draft that he was one of the prospects considered “most Major League-ready,” and with his five-tool talent he could really flourish alongside Bay and Nady in the outfield. Speaking of his five-tool talent, I’ll go on to which current MLB player he compares to. Being that I haven’t seen him play, which is what I would use to judge him by, it is difficult for me to say what kind of a player he will be. However, by looking at his numbers and reading what various scouts have said about him, I will instead pick a player who I definitely HOPE he will perform like. That would be Alfonso Soriano, someone who is extremely athletic and is a complete (five-tool) baseball player. It would be nice to have a guy in your lineup who is capable of hitting 30 or more HR’s and swiping 30 or more bases. Additionally, the Cubs plan to bat Soriano leadoff, and for the Pirates it would be enormously beneficial to have a player on their roster who can give them certain degree of flexibility when filling out the lineup card. He might be able to hit in any spot of the order when he gets the call.
Matt and Alan from Bucco Wire:
We believe we’ll see McCutchen this season, in September. He’s obviously on a fast track up the big leagues if he keeps performing the way he is now. And if the same pattern follows for the Buccos, they’ll need a reason to try and fill seats in September. What better way than to showcase your best prospect? If he hits AA and AAA this season the way he handled his two stops last year, it’ll be real tough to keep him down. He’s an exciting player that deserves that opportunity. As for what MLB player we think he’ll perform like, we went with Grady Sizemore. He could handle leadoff or second in the lineup. When he matures a little more, maybe even third. But to start off, like Sizemore, he could sit nicely at the top two spots. He has strike-zone judgment and can swipe a base with the best of them. Like Sizemore, he’ll score runs, mature into 20+ HR power with 20+ SB to add along with it.
Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:
Sept. 2008. I’m guessing he starts at AA and finishes at AAA. The team may be reluctant to start the arbitration clock, but they’re desperate for good news, so the temptation to bring him up could be too strong. The comp most people seem to like for him is a young Marquis Grissom, and that seems reasonable to me, except McCutchen should have better on-base skills. Tim Raines would be a best-case comp, a leadoff hitter who does it all, although McCutchen will be a centerfielder.
Mondesi’s House:
McCutchen will first appear as a Pirate in September, 2007. He’ll perform like Carlos Beltran, which will mean his first appearance as a New York Met will be in July 2012, as Beltran’s replacement.
Cory from A New Pirates Generation:
It’s hard to take a guess on McCutchen because he’s only a couple of years removed from high school: We’re not far enough along to know if he’s going to turn into Lloyd Waner or Lloyd McClendon down the road. I’d guess that we’d see him before August of 2008, but a lot of the calendar talk can be affected by trades, free agent signings and injuries. We think we know how Andrew fits in now, but the 25-man roster is constantly changing. What happens if Bay gets hurt (or even traded)? In that case, we’d see Cutch a bit earlier, I’d think. No matter what, Littlefield won’t be rushing his bonus baby’s development. He’ll be here when he gets here, I can guarantee you that.
Now, on to what we get when the savior arrives. I’m thinking that we’ll see him hit .320 with an OPS a little under .900. Not a ton of power, but a little pop, and not a ton of speed, but plenty of stolen bases. He lends himself well to a Bautista-Sanchez hybrid, I think. McCutchen could hit anywhere from first through sixth (save cleanup); hopefully he’ll fill the void in the second spot of the order. If Duffy goes, he plays center. If not, he’ll take a corner.
Tony from The Confluence:
I believe we’re still at least a year away from seeing McCutchen in a Bucco uniform. And the reasons for that are two-fold. First and foremost, I think he needs another year of development, this year being at Indianapolis. Secondly, I think that the Pirates’ reluctance to deal Chris Duffy will preclude the promotion of McCutchen.
Jake from Bucco Blog:
Perhaps a September callup out of respect for Andrew. I think he will be the Pirates center field leadoff hitter for a few years as he continues to mature and be moved to the two or three hole eventually. All of that can change based on Chris Duffy. If Duff continues to battle his mindset and plays 2007 out like he played the last half of 2006, then Cutch will come up and play a corner OF slot and bat second or third. Cutch reminds me a lot of BJ Upton, but with a better glove and more speed.

Author: PLCArchives

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