It’s a widely held belief that the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have any prospects in the upper levels. That’s not exactly the case. The Pirates had five of their best prospects in Altoona at some point this season, although outside of those five, there was a huge lack of depth.
Brad Lincoln started it all off, rebounding from a sub-par 2008 season, which was his first since returning from Tommy John surgery. Jose Tabata returned from injury in June, and earned a promotion to Indianapolis by the end of July. Gorkys Hernandez was added to the mix at the beginning of June, coming over in the Nate McLouth trade. Pedro Alvarez got the call at the end of June and really took off, tearing up the level in July and August. Finally, Tim Alderson was added at the end of July in the Freddy Sanchez trade.
Outside of that group, the prospects in Altoona either fell from their original expectations before the season, or were just too old for their success to be taken seriously. So while Altoona featured some great prospects, the system is still very depleted in the top levels. Here are the statistical breakdowns of all of the players in Altoona, divided by age group.
Click the tables to see the larger version:
The Pitchers: Tim Alderson entered the season as the 45th best prospect in baseball, and the second best pitching prospect in San Francisco’s system. The reviews on Alderson are pretty mixed. Some say he’s a potential top of the rotation starter because of his size and potential to add velocity. Others say he’s a bottom of the rotation starter due to high 80s velocity and a low strikeout rate.
He’s put up strong numbers in his career, but his numbers weren’t overly impressive after joining Altoona. That said, he’s rather young for the level, and far from a finished product, which means we won’t know which side of the debate is right on Alderson for a few years.
Daniel Moskos finished the season strong, with a 3.53 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and a 28:10 K/BB ratio in 35.2 innings pitched in August. His future may be as a left handed reliever in the major league bullpen.
Michael Dubee did well after being acquired for Andy Phillips. Dubee posted strong numbers in Lynchburg, before going to Altoona and having success at the AA level. Tyler Herron, a former first round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals, was a decent risk to take. Both Herron and Dubee seem like long shots to be more than organizational depth.
The Hitters: This group features three of the top hitting prospects in the system. After struggling in Lynchburg, Pedro Alvarez was promoted to Altoona and tore up the AA level, showing why he was the top prospect in the 2008 draft. Jose Tabata showed why he’s considered a top prospect, finishing off with a .354/.393/.487 line in 113 July at-bats, before going to AAA in August and performing fairly well.
Gorkys Hernandez, acquired in the Nate McLouth trade, struggled after the trade, but started to find his swing at the end of the season. Hernandez has great defense, and has shown that he can hit at the AA level before the trade. I wouldn’t be surprised if the struggles were just a result of being traded, the second time Gorkys has been traded in the last two years.
Brian Friday was supposed to be one of the future shortstop options, but had problems on both sides of the game this year. Friday’s defense really struggled, with 25 errors, and his offense didn’t really make up for the poor defense.
The Prospects: Alvarez, Tabata, Gorkys, and Alderson will probably end up in a lot of top ten lists. Moskos and Friday could end up in the bottom half of most top 30 lists.
Brad Lincoln had a major comeback year, dominating Altoona for half a season before moving up to Indianapolis. The most impressive thing about Lincoln is his low walk rate. Lincoln had just 18 walks in 75 innings at AA, and carried that success over to AAA with ten walks in 61.1 innings pitched.
Tony Watson was ranked the number 31 prospect coming in to the season according to Baseball America, following a very strong season with Lynchburg. Watson was injured at the start of the year, missing the rest of the season, and was unable to continue his development this season.
Ramon Aguero jumped through the system this year, and could be a future bullpen candidate if he continues this small sample of success.
The Hitters: Shelby Ford was supposed to be the second baseman of the future, potentially replacing Freddy Sanchez this year. Not only did he struggle at AAA enough to get demoted to Altoona, but he continued his struggles with the Curve. Steve Lerud is more of a defensive minded catcher, although with a lot of talent in the upper levels at the position, Lerud could be expendable.
Lincoln is the only guarantee for any top 30 list, and is probably in contention for the number two prospect spot, behind Pedro Alvarez. Tony Watson, Shelby Ford, Jim Negrych, and Steven Lerud have all fallen this year, although Ford and Watson could still salvage some type of prospect status and have a shot at the majors.
The Long Shots: This group is full of guys who are either too old for the level, or who are slipping from what prospect status they once had. Jeff Sues and Kyle Bloom are both potential relievers in the majors, although each struggled somewhat this year. Sues moves up to Indianapolis, but the change didn’t help his numbers much. Bloom did well this year against left handers, with a .186 BAA against left handed batters, which could put him in contention for a LOOGY role in the majors. Ray Chang is interesting, as not only can he hit and play good defense, but he plays a lot of infield positions. Bloom and Sues are the only guys I’d consider prospects from this list at this point in time.
There isn’t really a lot of prospect depth at this level. Outside of my top five guys, there may be one guy above who ends up in my top 30 prospects at the end of the year. Despite the lack of depth, there was certainly a lot of quality at the level. You could argue that the top five prospects at this level this year are also the top five prospects in the organization. While I wouldn’t rank them that
way, I would rank all five guys in the top 10 going in to next year. That should bring some early results to the rebuilding plan. My top ten prospects from the 2009 team:
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Brad Lincoln, RHP
3. Jose Tabata, OF
4. Tim Alderson, RHP
5. Gorkys Hernandez, OF
6. Daniel Moskos, LHP
7. Kyle Bloom, LHP
8. Brian Friday, SS
9. Shelby Ford, 2B
10. Tony Watson, LHP