2009 Indianapolis Indians Season Recap

Indianapolis produced two of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ best players in the 2009 season: Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. The first was expected, as Andrew McCutchen has been at, or near the top of the Pirates prospect lists since he was drafted. The second came as a surprise, with Jones signing as a minor league free agent, having never put up numbers like this at AAA, or the majors.

The end of the season saw two more top prospects get promoted to Indianapolis, with Brad Lincoln getting the call in the second half, and Jose Tabata getting the call in August, after success hitting at AA.

Outside of McCutchen/Jones and Lincoln/Tabata, there hasn’t been much to get excited about in Indianapolis this year. Lastings Milledge and Evan Meek are the only other success stories, although Meek was only in Indianapolis for a short time at the beginning of the season, and Milledge was only with the team for a month and a half after being acquired.

This all reflects heavily on the state of our farm system. A few players are decent major league options, such as Robinzon Diaz and Daniel McCutchen, although nothing beyond the back end of the rotation or a bench player. If you’re looking for immediate upgrades to the majors, upgrades in the form of impact players, you’re not going to find it here. The earliest we could see Lincoln and Tabata would be June 2010, and even that is not guaranteed.

Here are the statistical breakdowns of all of the players in Indianapolis, divided by age group.

Click the tables to see the larger version:

The Pitchers: Brad Lincoln is the only pitcher at AAA on the 24 and under list, which I feel says a ton about the Pirates’ pitching depth. Lincoln dominated AA ball, and continued to put up strong ratios at AAA, with some impressive control, despite an ERA that doesn’t look as appealing as his AA numbers.

The Hitters: Andrew McCutchen started the year at AAA, and had a great season in the first three months, before going on to have major league success. Jose Tabata reclaimed his top prospect status in AA, and did well in his first appearance at AAA. Lastings Milledge was acquired in the Nyjer Morgan trade, and put up good numbers with Indianapolis. McCutchen, Tabata, and Milledge could be our starting outfield in Pittsburgh, as soon as June 2010.

Neil Walker and Shelby Ford both had down years, although both are still young enough to maintain prospect status. Argenis Diaz is strong defensively, but struggles big time on the offensive side of the game.

The Prospects: Lincoln could be in the rotation by June of 2010, and could be our future ace (although that’s not necessarily saying he will be on the same level as other team’s aces). McCutchen, Tabata, and Milledge could be the starting outfield as early as June 2010, as well as holding down the top three spots in the lineup. McCutchen and Milledge aren’t technically prospects, due to their time in the majors.

I’m not counting out Walker or Ford, but I’m also not penciling them in for a position in the majors any time soon. As for Diaz, he’s very young for AAA, so I’m not saying his hitting will never come around, but until it does I consider him more of a Luis Cruz type defensive replacement.

The Pitchers: Daniel McCutchen and Evan Meek are the best of this bunch, although Meek can’t really be considered a prospect anymore, and it would be a stretch to apply that label to McCutchen. Meek could be a good option out of the back end of the bullpen, possibly even a future closer for the Pirates. McCutchen is more of a number five starter, and will provide some tough decisions about the rotation heading in to next season.

Jeff Sues was supposed to be a future option in the major league bullpen, but struggled this year in Altoona, and carried those struggles up to Indianapolis. Eric Hacker, Ty Taubenheim, and Juan Mateo can’t really be considered anything more than organizational depth, used in cases of emergencies when injuries arise.

The Hitters: Jeff Clement was once the top prospect in Seattle’s farm system, and is now being converted to a first baseman. He will compete with Steve Pearce next year for the starting first base job, although Clement could have the edge as Pearce has yet to impress in his time starting at first base in the majors. Both could be on the outside looking in if Garrett Jones continues his strong hitting from the second half of the 2009 season.

Brian Bixler has struggled every time he’s been called up to the majors, both on offense, and on defense. Bixler strikes out at an alarming rate in the majors, and as a result has lost his prospect status in the majors. Luis Cruz isn’t an option at short either, outside of a defensive replacement in the majors.

Robinzon Diaz is an interesting player. Diaz has shown the ability to hit in the majors, and spent time in the final two months of the AAA season playing at first base, third base, and right field. Diaz is out of options after the season, and could make the major league roster next year as a super utility player, playing those three positions, and providing a third catcher on the roster.

The Prospects: Meek, McCutchen, Diaz, and Clement are the only players I would consider prospects at this point, although McCutchen is the only player who would really qualify for prospect status at this point, and even that is a stretch. Sues, Bixler, and Pearce have all fallen off, either due to their failures in the majors, or their struggles in the minors.

The Long Shots: Garrett Jones pretty much sums up the chances of players from this age group making the majors. For some (like Jorge Julio or Jeff Salazar), the player is at AAA because he’s failed in several tries at the major league level, and is now deemed a “AAAA” player. For others, like Jones, the player has yet to receive a chance in the majors, and could still be productive.

Steven Jackson and Denny Bautista both provide depth for the major league bullpen, and both have impressed in their time in the majors at the end of the season. Bautista’s ERA doesn’t look good, but his ratios are greatly improved from his previous chances in the majors, and his stuff looks a lot better. Jackson is a good ground ball pitcher who has allowed just three runs in his last 14 innings pitched.

I don’t think Virgil Vasquez or Chris Bootcheck will be with the team beyond this season, as both are candidates to be designated for assignment in order to clear roster space for new players on the 40-man roster. Yoslan Herrera showed a lot of success in AA

, but that should be taken with a grain of salt due to his age. At AAA his ERA looks good, but his strikeout and walk ratios don’t look good enough to look past his age at this level either.

Erik Kratz is blocked by Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo, and Robinzon Diaz in the majors, although Kratz provides good depth at AAA. He has already signed a deal to be with Indianapolis for the 2009 season.

Then there’s Garrett Jones, and we know how that story has played out so far.

Final Thoughts…

There aren’t a lot of true prospects at this level, with a lot of the better players not really eligible for prospect status. Brad Lincoln, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Lastings Milledge will provide the first big wave of talent for the rebuilding plan in Pittsburgh, although the overall success of the rebuilding will come from prospects at the lower levels. Since there aren’t enough true prospects to make a top ten list, I’m going to just focus on overall talent for this top ten list. My top ten players from the 2009 team:

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF
2. Brad Lincoln, RHP

3. Jose Tabata, OF
4. Garrett Jones, OF
5. Lastings Milledge, OF
6. Evan Meek, RHP
7. Jeff Clement, C/1B
8. Daniel McCutchen, RHP
9. Robinzon Diaz, C
10. Neil Walker, 3B
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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 AccuScore.com, 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.

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