Pirates Notebook: Discriminating against Littlefield players

In case you missed it, Colin Dunlap of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did an interview with Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Neil Walker. In the article, Walker questions his future with the Pirates, while suggesting that he and Brian Bixler are two examples of players who could be held back due to being acquired by Dave Littlefield.

I’ve seen a lot of talk on message boards and in blogs that matches the comments made by Walker: Neal Huntington is trying to build a team with “his guys”. I’ve never really seen the problem with this, or with discriminating against the majority of guys that DL acquired.

It’s not like Littlefield loaded our system with talent while he was here. In 2008, Baseball America rated the Pirates as the number 26 farm system in the majors, out of 30 teams. What crime would there be to overhaul a system like that? In fact, let’s look at the top 30 prospects in the Pirates system before the 2008 season, according to Baseball America.

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF: Currently starting in CF in the majors
2. Neil Walker, 3B: In AAA, still struggling to hit for average
3. Steve Pearce, 1B/RF: Getting a shot at 1B in the majors
4. Brad Lincoln, RHP: Top pitching prospect, and at AAA
5. Daniel Moskos, LHP: In the starting rotation at AA
6. Shelby Ford, 2B: Recently demoted to AA
7. Jamie Romak, OF: Recently demoted to A+
8. Brian Bixler, SS: Starting to get hot at AAA, poor major league results
9. Duke Welker, RHP: Struggling in West Virginia
10. Brad Corley, OF: Traded to Colorado this year after a .221 average in 104 AA at-bats
11. Tony Watson, LHP: Has been injured most of the year at AA
12. Brian Friday, SS: Hitting .263 at AA with poor defense
13. Romulo Sanchez, RHP: Traded to the Yankees this year for Eric Hacker
14. Bryan Bullington, RHP: DFAd last year, still at AAA, turns 29 next month
15. Nyjer Morgan, CF: Had success with the Pirates before being traded for Lastings Milledge
16. Olivo Astacio, RHP: Released in 2008 for apparently attacking another player with a bat
17. Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP: Was acquired by Huntington before 2008, injury shut him down in 09
18. Josh Sharpless, RHP: Released in 2008, currently out of baseball
19. Evan Meek, RHP: Rule 5 pick by Huntington before 2008 season, currently our best reliever
20. Andrew Walker, C: Can’t make it past low A ball
21. Austin McClune, OF: .256 average at West Virginia this year with no homers
22. Quincy Latimore, OF: .282 average with West Virginia, 10 homers
23. Dave Davidson, LHP: Released in 2009, no major league success, currently out with a big shoulder injury
24. Pat Bresnehan, RHP: Currently out of baseball
25. Yoslan Herrera, RHP: Having success at AA, but at 28 he’s too old for the level
26. Marcus Davis, OF: Currently out of baseball
27. Todd Redmond, RHP: Traded in 2008 for Tyler Yates, 4.19 ERA at AAA with a 93:39 K/BB ratio in 122.1 innings
28. Justin Byler, 1B: Hitting .224 with State College
29. Jason Delaney, 1B/LF: Hitting .254 at AA, but with little power
30. Luis Munoz, RHP: DFAd in 2008, struggling in AA with Seattle

That’s a pretty dreadful list. Breaking it down in to categories:

No longer with the team (Brad Corley, Romulo Sanchez, Bryan Bullington, Nyjer Morgan, Olivo Astacio, Jimmy Barthmaier, Josh Sharpless, Dave Davidson, Pat Bresnehan, Marcus Davis, Todd Redmond, and Luis Munoz): Of this list, only Nyjer Morgan is a major league player. We got Lastings Milledge for him, which is an exchange I like. That says a lot when 12 of our top 30 prospects from a year ago are gone, and we only miss one of them.

With the team, stock dropping (Neil Walker, Shelby Ford, Jamie Romak, Brian Bixler, Duke Welker, Tony Watson, Brian Friday, Andrew Walker, Austin McClune, Yoslan Herrera, Justin Byler, and Jason Delaney): This list is going by my opinion, but I’m sure most would agree. Can you see anyone on this list playing an important role in the majors, based on their current production? That’s 12 players total, giving us 24 players who are either gone, or not really a part of the team’s future.

With the team, could be part of future (Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos, Quincy Latimore): You could also add Neil Walker, Shelby Ford, Brian Friday, and maybe Tony Watson to this list. While those players are having bad years, they still could make the majors in one form, as all are fairly young. Lincoln, Moskos, and Latimore are all having good years. I think Lincoln is the only guarantee to make a big impact from this list, even when you include the guys like Walker and Ford.

In the majors (Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce, Evan Meek): McCutchen came as advertised, so at least Littlefield got one right. Meek was acquired by Huntington, and is easily one of our top bullpen arms, arguably the best we have. Pearce has struggled, but is looking decent in his first legit shot to win a job.

Then there’s the major league roster. Only seven players remain from the 2008 Opening Day roster. Those players are Matt Capps, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Evan Meek, Tyler Yates, and Phil Dumatrait. The last three were acquired by Huntington before the season. The rest of the players were either traded away, or released. Those players:

Tom Gorzelanny: Struggled big time in the majors in 2008, traded recently
Matt Morris: Good riddance
Ian Snell: Struggled in the rotation the last two years before being traded
John Grabow: Traded with Gorzelanny, was set to be a free agent after 2009
Damaso Marte: Traded with Xavier Nady to get Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen
Franquelis Osoria: SEE: Morris, Matt
Ronny Paulino:
Traded for Jason Jaramillo, good swap
Jose Bautista: Traded for Robinzon Diaz, another good swap
Chris Gomez: Was a bench player on a one year deal, didn’t re-sign
Adam LaRoche: Free agent after 2009 season, recently traded, good but not great, was expected to be great
Doug Mientkiewicz: Another bench player, only brought leadership as well

pan style="font-weight: bold;">Luis Rivas: Another bench player
Freddy Sanchez: Traded for Tim Alderson
Jack Wilson: Expensive defense shortstop. Replaced by a cheaper defensive shortstop.
Jason Bay: Traded for Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Bryan Morris, and Craig Hansen. Free agent after 2009.
Nate McLouth: Traded for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke
Nyjer Morgan:
Traded with Sean Burnett for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan
Xavier Nady: Traded with Marte, out for the year in 2009, which makes the trade look like a steal

I’m not going to say that there weren’t any good players on this list, because there were. However, where are the stars? Where are the guys like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in Milwaukee? You could argue that Jason Bay was a star, but in order to build a team around him, you’d have to first extend him beyond the 2009 season, a task that even the Boston Red Sox are finding difficult.

Most importantly, this is largely the same team that went 68-94 in 2007. They were 48-56 at the time of the Nady/Marte trade, which was the start of the dismantling. Neal Huntington made a quote that has been thrown around a lot: it’s not like they blew up the ’27 Yankees.

In short, yes Neil Huntington did do a mass exodus of Dave Littlefield players. However, the farm system he overturned was ranked 26th in the majors. The top 30 prospects were full of busts and guys we aren’t going to miss. The major league roster was coming off a 68-94 season the year before, with Huntington making very few changes to that team. Focusing on the fact that the players exiting were Littlefield players is the wrong thing to do. The right thing to do is to focus on the fact that the players Littlefield acquired simply weren’t getting it done, from the majors all the way through the farm system.

Back to Neil Walker. I’m not considering his career to be finished, but nothing says he currently deserves to be in the majors. Sure, he’s good at defense, but so is Andy LaRoche, the current starting third baseman in the majors. Unfortunately Walker is not good on offense. He’s hit .241/.284/.417 in 922 plate appearances at AAA in his career, with a homer every 31.3 at-bats.

It’s not like he did significantly better at AA, batting for a .279/.351/.455 line, with a homer every 30.8 at-bats. If you’re going to use the “he had to work on switching to third base in the last few years” how about his .281/.331/.402 line in Lynchburg, with 3 homers in 306 at-bats, when he was exclusively a catcher?

The bottom line is that Walker looked like a top prospect when he was a catcher. A .280 average, and a homer every 30 at-bats is great for catchers. That’s a catcher with 18-20 home run power, who can hit for a decent average. Only two catchers hit 18 or more homers with a .280 or better average in the majors last year. They were Brian McCann and Geovanny Soto. By comparison there were seven players in the majors last year who hit .280/18 or better at third base.

Walker went from the upside of a top major league catcher, to the upside of an average major league third baseman. Throw in the fact that he’s struggling big time at AAA (when your on-base percentage in over 900 plate appearances is under .300, you have no business thinking about the majors), and it’s easy to see that Walker is in AAA not because he’s a Dave Littlefield draft pick, but because he doesn’t deserve to be any higher. He’s only 23, so the book isn’t closed yet, but the next chapter isn’t approaching any time soon either.

The MVP Tracker

The MVP Tracker is updated through the 8/9 loss. Here are the big performers for tonight’s win:

1. Delwyn Young: .183 WPA
2. Garrett Jones: .166
3. Andrew McCutchen: .113
4. Ronny Cedeno: .089
5. Ross Ohlendorf: .083

Other Stuff

-The Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch for 8/11 is up.

-We heard from Peter Gammons that the Pirates had another offer on the table for LaRoche, which Gammons described as a better option talent-wise. There has been some speculation that this was the same deal that Boston made with Atlanta: Casey Kotchman for Adam LaRoche. Ken Rosenthal confirms that this was the case.

I’m not too upset over going with Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland. I’ve never been a huge fan of Kotchman. He’s a career .271 hitter, and has never hit more than 14 homers in a season. He’s basically Adam LaRoche with less power. The only reason a one for one swap works is because LaRoche is a free agent in two months.

I’m not saying the Pirates are loaded with talent at any position, but they have Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce at the major league level, and have Pedro Alvarez as an option (although they probably are only thinking of him for third base right now). They didn’t have Jeff Clement at the time, but he’s now in the system as well. It’s not like Kotchman was a big need for us, especially entering his final two arbitration years, and putting up performances that are worse than what we have on the roster. I’d rather have the strong defensive shortstop, and a pitching prospect who might turn in to a back of the rotation starter someday.

-Jim at North Side Notch went to the Indianapolis Indians game on Monday, and has video and scouting reports on Daniel McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Argenis Diaz.

-Pat at WHYGAVS breaks down the future of the Pirates, position by position, starting with first and third base.

-I’ll be going to the Lynchburg Hillcats game on Friday night. I think Rudy Owens will be pitching, but no confirmation yet.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch 8/11/09

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