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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
4. Garrett Jones, OF
6. Evan Meek, RHP