Starting today, and finishing on Monday, I’ll be previewing the upcoming 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates season, all to get ready for Opening Day on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. To kick things off, here is a list of the top ten prospects who could make an impact at the major league level this season. Keep in mind that this is not a normal top ten prospects list. This is only a list of guys who I think have a shot at making the majors this season. Also, before anyone asks, Jeff Clement does not qualify as a prospect.
10. Jose Ascanio - Ascanio barely qualifies for prospect status, but he still qualifies. He has a career 8.2 K/9 ratio and 1.89 K/BB ratio in his 39.2 innings in the majors, and a 9.1 K/9 and 2.71 K/BB in 112.2 innings at the AAA level. Ascanio could be a back of the bullpen reliever if he recovers well from his torn labrum surgery this past off-season. He is expected to return in June, a month after turning 25. Hopefully the injury won’t have any major lasting effects, and Ascanio can live up to his potential in the bullpen.
9. Daniel Moskos - Moskos will move back to the bullpen, where I think he is better suited for a shot at the majors. He should start out at the AAA level, and if he is successful, could be up in the majors by mid-season. Moskos had a decent year as a starter in 2009, and struggled some in the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League last year, although that could be chalked up to all of the work he saw out of the AA rotation. Starting fresh in the bullpen in 2010 will give us a better idea of his long term potential.
8. Neil Walker - Walker has started to convert to a super utility player, which is a move I like. I’m not a fan of Walker as a starter at this point in his career. His hitting isn’t what you want from a starter, even at the AAA level. However, a player who can play third, second, first, and supposedly all three outfield spots, plus serve as your emergency catcher, is a very valuable tool to have on the bench. Walker probably won’t have a position at AAA this year, which means he will likely work on all of these positions, and could be up in Pittsburgh as a bench player in the event of an injury or two. There’s also the possibility that Walker could be traded to a team seeking such a player, which hopefully would bring back a decent prospect that has a chance to be a starter.
7. Erik Kratz - The annual Ryan Doumit injury will strike, and when it does, Kratz will serve as the backup to Jason Jaramillo. Last year the Pirates didn’t miss Doumit that much, mostly due to the play of Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz in his place. Kratz has shown some good skills, which will help the Pirates if Doumit does get injured, or in the event that he gets traded.
6. Donald Veal - The Pirates have six starters when you count Kevin Hart, plus they’ve got Brad Lincoln ready to come up mid-season. However, if you think they’ll get by this season with only seven starters, you’re being optimistic. Chances are we’re going to see Veal make at least one start in the majors this season, at which point we’ll get to see how the Joe Kerrigan teachings worked out.
5. John Raynor - It’s looking like Raynor will make the team, which is excellent as he adds speed and defense at all three outfield positions off the bench. Raynor was once a top prospect who found no room in Florida’s crowded outfield situation, thus exposing him to the Rule 5 draft for the Pirates to take. Don’t rule out a big surprise from Raynor this year. He could prove to be very valuable off the bench this year.
4. Jose Tabata - I’m not completely sold that Tabata will be called up this year. The Pirates gave Andrew McCutchen a year and a half at AAA, and that was after a short time at the level prior to his first full season. If Tabata isn’t hitting for power, I don’t expect him up. If he’s putting up slugging percentage numbers at the AAA level similar to McCutchen in 2009, then he should get the call.
3. Daniel McCutchen - McCutchen will get the first crack at the fifth starter’s role, and might keep the job depending on his performance. McCutchen is more of a vanilla pitcher compared to some of the other arms the Pirates have. He doesn’t have velocity, but he has a good mixture of pitches, and good control. I’m expecting an ERA around 4.50 this year, which wouldn’t be bad for a fifth starter.
2. Brad Lincoln - Lincoln should be up in June, at which point it will be interesting to see if his “four start” trend continues. Lincoln struggled in his first four starts at AA last year, with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 19 innings, including a 7.6 K/9, and a 2.7 K/BB. The rest of the season he put up a 1.61 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP, a 7.9 K/9, and a 4.1 K/BB. At the AAA level he put up a 5.76 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in 20.1 innings in his first four starts, with a 5.8 K/9 and a 1.6 K/BB. The rest of the season he posted a 4.17 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 41 innings, with a 6.4 K/9 and a 14.5 K/BB. He might struggle initially in his call-up, but let’s just hope he limits that to his first four starts.
1. Pedro Alvarez - Alvarez is the best prospect the Pirates have had possibly since Barry Bonds. He’s also the only prospect in the system, and maybe the only player in the system, who might one day be mentioned in the same sentence as guys like Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Mark Teixeira. No, not because he might eventually move to first base, but because he might be able to hit 40-50 homers a season. For the 2010 season he will be a favorite for the Rookie of the Year award, and could help the Pirates surprise in the second half of the season after his expected early June call-up.
Check back tomorrow for some trade activity to watch out for in 2010.