Down On The Farm – Pirates Minor League Roundup
AAA Indianapolis Indians
As is the case with most AAA teams these days, the Indians feature a number minor league veterans, as opposed to legitimate prospects.
– Brian Bixler has gotten off to a hot start, hitting .476/.500/.571 (BA/OBP/SLG) in his first 21 at-bats. The 24-year old Bixler, a second round pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2004, is likely a future utility infielder at the major league level. Despite high batting averages in the low minors, Bixler has a propensity to swing and miss with some frequency (18.3 K% at Lynchburg, 22.6% at Altoona) and has benefitted from abnormally high BABIP (Batting Average in Balls In Play) numbers that cannot be sustained. Bixler had a .373 BABIP at Lynchburg and a .392 BABIP at Altoona. Because of his high strikeout rate and his luck on balls in play, Bixler is unlikely to be more than a .270-.275 hitter at the big league level. Without great secondary skills (drawing walks, hitting for power) and ordinary defensive skills (scouting reports question his arm at shortstop), Bixler profiles as a utility player on a good team. The Pirates appear to hold Bixler in higher regard, though. His progress was cited as a reason that the Pirates were willing to include promising shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge in the Adam LaRoche deal.
– The rotation for the Indians will look familiar, as the forgotten crop of Pirates pitching prospects try to work back from various arm and shoulder maladies. Sean Burnett has gotten off to a nice start, posting a 2.38 ERA in 11.1 innings while striking out 5 and walking 2. Bryan Bullington also kicked off his 2007 season in positive fashion, striking out 4 and walking 1 without giving up a run in his 5-inning debut. John Van Benschoten‘s first start was was less pleasing, as he walked 4 batters and gave up 5 ER in 3.1 innings.
AA Altoona Curve
– Andrew McCutchen (.000/.154/.000 in 11 At -Bats) and Neil Walker (.231/.231/.308 in 12 At- Bats) have gotten off to slow starts, though we’re obviously dealing with small sample sizes here. Walker, 21, faces a pivotal season, as his prospect status has taken a hit recently. Despite glowing scouting reports, Walker has yet to make progress with his plate discipline or translate his raw power into games. As well, Walker is making a position switch (from catcher to third baseman) that puts more of an onus on the development of his bat. The offensive expectations of a third baseman are considerably higher than that of a catcher.
– Cuban import Yoslan Herrera had a solid pro debut, showing little rust. Herrera, 25, allowed 1 ER in 5 innings, whiffing 2 and issuing 1 free pass.
High A Lynchburg Hillcats
Lynchburg features a number of position prospects that perhaps garner too much notice, due to the lack of offensive depth in the system.
– Shelby Ford (.273/.304/.545 in 22 AB), a big (6-3, 190) second baseman taken out of Oklahoma State in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, bears watching. Ford, 22, needs to improve his footwork at second, but he has above-average power for a second baseman and possesses a strong arm.
– Brad Corley (.316/.364/.421 in 19 AB) is a good athlete with power potential, but he needs considerable work on his plate discipline. Corley, 23, drew just 18 walks in 534 At-Bats at Hickory in 2006.
– Todd Redmond was roughed up in his first start, giving up 5 ER in 3.2 Innings, striking out 4 and walking 1. Redmond, who has a very solid minor league track record to date (2.51 ERA in 233 IP) is the type of pitcher who is going to have to prove himself at every level. Redmond, 21, possesses a good, not great repetoire (a low-90’s fastball that he commands very well, plus changeup, average curveball) and relies more on command than generating a lot of of strikeouts. Redmond profiles as a 4th or 5th starter at the major league level.
Low A Hickory Crawdads
– James Boone (.429/.484/.607 in 28 AB) has gotten off to a blistering start, and just in time for the oft-injured outfielder A switch-hitter with some pop and defensive skills, Boone has missed a considerable amount of time in his 2 pro seasons with various ailments (pinched nerve, broken foot, shoulder issues.) Already 24, Boone needs to make large strides in 2007 if he wishes to have a lengthy major league career
– Jamie Romak, acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Adam LaRoche deal, has gotten off to a hot start (.292/.414/.625 in 24 AB.) In his career, Romak, 21, has drawn walks and hit for solid power. However, Romak has issues making consistent contact and is limited to the corner outfield because of below-average speed and range.