Baseball America released their top 20 prospects from the 2009 Carolina League today, with the Pittsburgh Pirates having two representatives from their class high A affiliate, the Lynchburg Hillcats. Top Pirates prospect Pedro Alvarez was rated third, while Chase d’Arnaud finished 13th in the rankings.
Alvarez struggled at the plate in his time with Lynchburg, hitting for a .247/.342/.486 line in 243 at-bats, but showed good power with 14 homers. After moving up to Altoona, the hitting kicked in, with Alvarez hitting for a .333/.420/.589 line and 13 homers in 219 AA at-bats. The only players rated higher than Alvarez were Jason Heyward and Brian Matusz. Heyward was largely considered the best prospect in the minors this year, while Matusz, taken two picks after Alvarez, is already pitching in the majors.
Chase d’Arnaud excelled in Lynchburg, hitting for a .295/.402/.481 line with four homers and 14 stolen bases in 210 at-bats as the Hillcats’ leadoff hitter. d’Arnaud showed good defensive skills at shortstop, being voted the best defensive shortstop in the Carolina League. He’s smart on the bases, stealing 31 bases between West Virginia and Lynchburg this year.
Bryan (San Francisco): Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but what pushed a guy like D’Arnaud that much higher than a guy like Morel? Morel had more power and speed, and was also a higher draft pick. Also, does Morel have a chance with Viciedo in his way at third? Thanks for the chat!
Ben Badler: D’Arnaud doesn’t have Morel’s power, but he gets himself into better hitters’ counts, does a better job of getting on base and has a chance to play a more valuable defensive position.
Morel is Brent Morel, a third basemen taken by the Chicago White Sox in the third round of the 2008 draft, one round before d’Arnaud. Morel hit for a .281/.335/.453 line with 16 homers in 481 at-bats this year.
Ian (Pittsburgh): How does Jordy Mercer compare with D’Arnaud? Who do you think is the better SS prospect?
Ben Badler: D’Arnaud’s a better hitter with a better feel for the strike zone. He’s more athletic than Mercer, although Mercer makes up for it in the field with his instincts and feel for how to position himself. The biggest separator though is D’Arnaud’s a more advanced hitter with more talent for getting on base.
If I had to answer this question, I’d say that these are two different players. d’Arnaud is a solid all around player. He hits for average, plays good defense, has good speed and instincts on the base paths, and has some power, but not a lot. If I had to compare him to a major league player, I’d say he’s a David Eckstein type. Obviously the size comparison doesn’t work, as Eckstein is 5′ 7″, and d’Arnaud is 6′ 2″, but in terms of the stats and style of play, I’d say they could be similar.
Mercer hasn’t hit for a good average, and has some holes in his swing that lead to a lot of strikeouts, especially on the outside breaking balls. However, he hits for good power from the middle infield spot, leading the Carolina League in doubles this year, with double digit home runs. Mercer’s defense isn’t as good as d’Arnaud, but is good enough to stick as shortstop. Mercer is more of a Cal Ripken build shortstop, at 6′ 3″, 189 lbs. If I had to compare his potential to a major league player it would be J.J. Hardy.
The difference between the two is that I feel Chase is on pace for his projection, while Mercer needs to cut down on the strikeouts and increase his average if he wants to have major league success in the future.
Brad (MO): Anthony Rizzo didn’t make the SAL top 20 and was #12 here, is that because the SAL had superior talent top to bottom or differences in opinion?
Ben Badler: The SAL has eight additional teams, which makes it more of a challenge for a player to rank in that league than in the Carolina League, but I also think reasonable minds can disagree about their forecasts of players who are anywhere from 5-10 years away from their peak.
d’Arnaud was in the same situation. He didn’t make the SAL top 20 (although the Q&A afterwards suggested that he would have been in the top 30), and ended up 13th in the Carolina League rankings.
Garrett (Pittsburgh): Bryan Morris has either been injured or put up horrendous numbers since being acquired as part of the package for Bay last year. Did he drop off that badly in such a sort time or is he simply working through injuries? I’m very curious how you view him now. Thanks
Ben Badler: The injuries have really set him back, and I never like to see pitchers with injuries and mechanical issues, which is the case with Morris. The stuff was inconsistent, fastball anywhere from 87-94, a curve and a slider that have their moments and a changeup that isn’t quite up to snuff, but really the injuries have set him back quite a bit.
I’ve written a lot about Morris, and I’ve said I consider him a project at this point. He’s got the ability, and he’s young enough that he still has plenty of time to develop. I think he falls from the top ten prospect list in Pittsburgh, just because of the injuries, and the lack of consistency with his performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if Morris bounces back next year. His new mechanics are aimed at reducing the injuries to his arm, specifically his shoulder, and he’s only had half a season to work with them. He started showing some success at the end of the season, and hopefully he carries that over to next year.