Pittsburgh Pirates Mid-Season Top 30 Prospects
The 2010 season has been rough for the Pirates’ farm system, and it really shows in the updated top 30. Gone are top prospects like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Brad Lincoln. Three of my mid-season top 10 prospects have suffered major injuries, causing them to miss a lot of development time this year. Three pre-season top 10 prospects have really struggled at the AA level this year. The system is probably without a Grade A prospect for the first time in a few years, as Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen are both in the majors.
That’s one reason why mid-season prospect lists shouldn’t be taken too heavily. First, they’re kind of the “no man’s land” of prospect lists. Right now we’re between the point when all of the top prospects for the Pirates have been called up, and the draft signing deadline, when the Pirates will know who all they landed from the draft. The international signing period is also going on, and while there is no history showing that the Pirates are guaranteed to make a big splash, they’re mentioned as being interested in two of the top prospects this year, including top Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia.
Mid-season prospect lists also can weigh the current season too heavily, without looking at the tools a player has, what he has done in the past, and what he could be capable of doing in the future. That can work both ways, either for players playing over their heads, or for players having a down year.
But mid-season prospects lists are fun. It’s nice to get an idea of where the organization stands, even if the list probably becomes irrelevant a month or two later. For the Pirates, the biggest need in the majors is pitching, and my updated top 30 list has a lot of pitchers who could be in the majors as early as June 2011, with a few in the top 10. The absence of Alvarez, Tabata, and McCutchen also shows how short the organization is on top talent, which shows the need over the next month to get Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and maybe even Heredia signed.
I didn’t include any of the 2010 draft picks, mostly to keep this as an “in-between” prospects list, but also because there’s only one or two that have signed so-far who could challenge for the list. I also didn’t take much from the lower levels, unless they were projected to be a major prospect. With that said, here is the list:
(Rank. Player, Level, Off-Season Rank)
30. Josh Harrison, AA, 39
Harrison is having a great season in AA, with a .313/.357/.413 line, and 24 doubles, which is among the league leaders. One big improvement for Harrison this year has been his increased walk rate. In 2009, Harrison walked just 23 times in 568 plate appearances. So far this season he has 22 walks in 350 plate appearances. Harrison profiles best as a utility guy, as he doesn’t really have a true position on defense.
Anderson started off the 2010 season on a low note, hitting for a .239/.321/.352 line in 71 at-bats in the month of April. Since then he’s been on fire, with a .299/.363/.455 line in 244 at-bats, plus eight homers in that span. He also seems to be handling the pitcher friendly parks in the Florida State League with ease, as his .820 OPS on the road this year is better than his .751 OPS in hitter friendly McKechnie Field. A big issue with Anderson is his strikeout rate, as even with his success he’s striking out a third of the time since the end of April. That could prohibit him from maintaining this success in the upper levels.
Hague is in his third season in the minors, and all he’s done so far is hit. Hague hit for a .322/.386/.467 line in 2008 between State College and Hickory. In 2009 he hit for a .293/.356/.412 line in 454 at-bats in Lynchburg. This year he’s hitting for a .306/.391/.445 line in 301 at-bats in Altoona. Hague has already matched his 2009 home run totals, and has matched his 2009 walk totals, despite having 160 fewer plate appearances in 2010. His defense has also been considered top notch. Without the power, Hague kind of compares to a Casey Kotchman type first baseman.
Presley is having a breakout season at the plate, which has continued in his promotion to AAA. After struggling for two years in high-A, Presley exploded in to AA, with a .350/.399/.533 line in 246 at-bats. After being promoted to AAA, Presley put up a .288/.319/.530 line. He needs to see the walk rate increased, but it’s nice to see him maintaining the power, even if it’s a small sample size of 66 at-bats in AAA. Presley is good on defense, which was his only advantage in his time in high-A. The best comparison I’ve seen has been Nate McLouth-lite.
I believe Inman could
be a special pitcher, but that really depends on his health. So far, Inman has only pitched four professional innings, and all of those came in 2009. He’s ranked here based on talent alone, and once he manages to get healthy he might have the chance to show why he was considered a top round talent heading in to the 2009 season.
Stevenson has a nice projectable frame, at 6′ 6″, 175 pounds. His fastball sits in the 88-91 MPH range, and has touched 93 in the past. He’s only pitched 16 professional innings, including 11 this year, so it’s hard to make any judgments about him statistically. At the lower levels it’s all about fastball control, and Stevenson hasn’t been lighting up the box scores in that area. He could reach West Virginia by the end of the year, but that would require a lot of improvement in the fastball control area.
Alderson took a free fall in the rankings, compared to the off-season top 50. A lot of that ranking was based off of reputation and potential. After seeing him in action, seeing poor results at the AA level, and seeing no signs of a velocity increase, I’m down on Alderson. I no longer think he has the chance to be a top of the rotation pitcher, mostly because I don’t see him adding velocity. Hopefully the demotion back down to Bradenton will help get him back on track.
Moreno has been lights out this year out of the bullpen. In 26.1 innings with Bradenton, Moreno had a 1.37 ERA and an amazing 39:2 K/BB ratio, with only 11 hits allowed. He had one horrible outing in Altoona, which has caused his numbers to spike over 7.2 innings, although he does have a 12:3 K/BB ratio in that span. Moreno is a hard thrower and profiles as a back of the bullpen arm, possibly ready for the majors by 2011.
Moskos didn’t have a lot of praise coming in to the season, but a full time move back to the bullpen, plus reports that he has increased his velocity, have contributed to Moskos getting a lot of credit on the prospect lists. In 31 innings with Altoona, Moskos had a 1.45 ERA and a 30:9 K/BB ratio. After being promoted he had an 8:5 K/BB ratio in 7.1 innings of work at the AAA level. Moskos could be a candidate to be in the major league bullpen in 2011.
Mercer started off the 2010 season strong, with a .296/.367/.493 line in 71 at-bats in April. In May he really struggled, with a .210/.278/.230 line in 100 at-bats. However, since that point he’s been great, with a .312/.353/.398 line in 93 at-bats in June, and a .316/.325/.474 line in 38 at-bats in July. Mercer hasn’t hit for a lot of power this year, with just three homers in 302 at-bats, and 19 doubles. His strikeouts are down a bit from his 2009 numbers, which is good, but the walk rate hasn’t really increased. Mercer can make good contact with the ball, with gap power, but he struggles with low and away breaking balls, and has yet to consistently put up an OPS around or greater than .800 during his career. I would take his numbers in July over a long period of time, but those numbers haven’t been the norm for Mercer.
Veal is currently out for the season, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. Before the surgery, and the injury, Veal had a 4.35 ERA in 49.2 innings, with a 41:23 K/BB ratio. The best part about those numbers came with the low walk rates. That has always been Veal’s issue, so to see a respectable 23 walks in 49.2 innings gives hope that Veal has fixed his control problems. Now it’s just an issue of getting him healthy, back on the mound, and hoping the injury didn’t hurt his progress.
Grossman was drafted in 2008, and signed for $1 M as a sixth rounder due to his five tool potential. In 2009 he struggled with strikeouts in West Virginia, striking out 36% of the time, but otherwise had a decent season considering he was only 19 and in low-A ball. The Pirates continued their aggressive push with Grossman this year, and while his 26% strikeout rate shows improvement, his .655 OPS is a big step down. Had Grossman gone to college, he’d be a college junior in 2011, likely getting drafted, and starting his career in high-A in 2012. He’s been aggressively pushed, although his numbers in high-A right now show that the Pirates might want to get him some more development time before giving him the big jump to AA.
Black had an injured shoulder to start the 2010 season, came back and pitched 4.2 innings, then went down again with a biceps injury. Dejan Kovacevic reports that he’s close to returning, which is a good sign. Black will likely be used as a starter in the lower levels, although he’s probably best viewed as a potential back of the bullpen reliever, and maybe even a future closer option. That’s mostly due to the fact that he lacks a changeup, leaving him with a 91-95 MPH fastball, and an excellent slider when he is able to command the pitch.
Lorin hasn’t pitched much this year, as he’s returning from an off-season injury, which might have held him back from high-A to start the season. Lorin put up a 2.20 ERA in 123 innings at low-A between Seattle and Pittsburgh last year, with an 8.5 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9 ratio. He’s back in low-A now, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved up to high-A once he’s fully stretched out.
Miller has also suffered from the injury bug this year, although he has recently returned, and is currently rehabbing in State College. Last year he pitched mostly out of West Virginia, with a 4.47 ERA in 56.1 innings, plus a 6.4 K/9 and a 4.0 BB/9 ratio. That’s not bad for a 19 year old, although it’s clear that Miller needed more development time, which explains why he started out back in low-A. Miller and Grossman are both in the same situation: over-slot signing bough them away from a college commitment, both started out in low-A, and both were decent, but had room for improvement. The Pirates seem to be taking a conservative approach with Miller, which might be showing signs of working, as his walks are down in a very small sample size this year.
Hernandez has really struggled at the AA level since being traded to the Pirates last June, although lately he’s showing some signs of breaking out of those struggles. So far in June and July, Hernandez has hit for a .313/.383/.444 line in 144 at-bats. That’s a small sample size, when considering that he has combined for a .249/.306/.310 line in 526 AA at-bats between the time he was acquired and the start of June. Hernandez has excellent defense, which means the bat is the only thing that needs to come around. He turns 23 this September, so he’s not exactly a washout, despite the extended time at the AA level. Hopefully this recent success is a sign that his bat is coming around.
Cayonez is probably one of my favorite players to follow at the lower levels. Signed for $400,000 in 2008, the 18 year old from Venezuela holds the largest reported Latin American signing bonus given out by the Pirates. He’s showing why this year, with a .371/.438/.486 line in his first 70 at-bats at the GCL level. He’s not drawing a lot of walks, but that could be because he’s hitting everything he sees, and that’s especially the case in July. In a small sample of 38 at-bats in July he has a .447/.522/.579 line. If he keeps this ridiculous play up, he could be a candidate to start the 2011 season in West Virginia.
Adcock is having a breakout year in high-A, after combining for a 5.29 ERA, and an 86:61 K/BB ratio in 126 innings at the level in 2009 between the Seattle and Pittsburgh farm systems. So far this year, in 91 innings, Adcock has a 3.56 ERA and a 78:26 K/BB ratio. He has struggled recently, as his K/BB ratio in June and July has been 17:14 in 34.2 innings of work. The walk rate has remained low, which is good, but it looks like Adcock is still projected to be a back of the rotation guy.
After suffering a set back by missing the entire 2009 season, Cunningham has returned in 2010, playing in West Virginia. So far he is hitting for a .268/.323/.435 line with seven homers in 306 at-bats. Cunningham has above-average speed, range, and arm strength, which allows him to play shortstop, although the Pirates have been using him at second base this year, perhaps so he can fully recover from his knee injury that kept him out all of 2009.
Cain signed for $1.125 M last year, but because he signed late, he didn’t get a chance to make his debut. Before the season, Cain suffered an injury, which held him back in the Gulf Coast League to start the season. Cain did well in the GCL, with a 15:5 K/BB ratio in 14.1 innings, followed by two strikeouts and no walks in his first inning i
n State College. At this point, Cain will focus mostly on fastball control and command. His fastball works in the low 90s, and his curveball could potentially be a plus pitch.
You might not think that Chambers is having a good season if you just look at his .243 batting average. However, Chambers is a prime example as to why batting average can be a useless stat. Chambers currently has a .389 OBP, thanks to a South Atlantic League leading 68 walks. He’s also shown some power, with 17 doubles and 10 homers in 300 at-bats this year, mostly hitting from the leadoff spot. Chambers can also be a threat on the bases, stealing 23 bases in 30 attempts this year. Chambers is an interesting player. He strikes out a lot, but walks a ton, although the strikeouts have been reduced this year. He doesn’t hit for average, but has some pop in his bat. He’s also good on defense and capable of stealing a lot of bases on the base paths. At this point in his development, I’d much rather see him with a ton of walks, rather than a ton of singles. The walks indicate a special skill, while the extra singles wouldn’t necessarily translate to the same success at higher levels.
Holt is now out for the season with a torn MCL, but not before making the jump from State College to Bradenton, and putting up some impressive numbers in high-A. Holt hit for a .351/.410/.438 line in 194 at-bats in Bradenton this year. The injury was big, as it really cut in to Holt’s development time at the high-A level. He should get some work in the off-season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns to high-A in 2011, at least to start the season.
Wilson is having an excellent year on the mound, with a 2.85 ERA in 91.2 innings at the AA level, plus an 85:37 K/BB ratio. The best thing about this year has been his control. Wilson uses a four pitch mix, and has a lot of movement on his pitches, which can sometimes make them difficult to control. When he has control of the pitches, he can be very effective, as we’ve seen this year. Wilson could be a candidate to end up in Indianapolis by the end of the season, and might even have a shot at the majors by June 2011.
Locke had a rough year in 2009, although his struggles might have been enough for Atlanta to relent and trade him to the Pirates, after refusing to give him up in several trade offers prior to the 2009 season. Locke didn’t have much trouble this year in his return to high-A, with a 3.54 ERA and an 83:14 K/BB ratio in 86.1 innings. He was recently promoted to Altoona, and one has to think that with a good finish to the season at the AA level, Locke could end up in AAA to start the 2010 season. Locke was one of the top prospects in the Atlanta farm system before the 2009 season, and it’s nice to see him getting back on track this year in that regard.
ZVR was the top prep pitcher from the Pirates’ 2009 draft class, signing for $1.2 M. Like every other pitcher in the lower levels, ZVR is working mostly on fastball control and command. So far this season that has led to a 17:6 K/BB ratio in 26 innings, including a 13:3 K/BB ratio in 14 innings over his last three starts. While his ERA and BAA don’t look dominant, there’s no cause for concern, as this portion of ZVR’s career is all about developing the fastball, and not as much on putting up a good ERA.
D’Arnaud has struggled in the jump to AA, hitting for a .240/.325/.356 line in 334 at-bats this year. He started to look like he was coming around in June, with a .316/.383/.500 line in 114 at-bats, although he’s struggled to start the month of July. D’Arnaud is walking at a good pace (9.8%), and is still a very good base stealer, with 17 steals in 19 attempts. He’s also been unlucky this season in the BABIP department, with a .285 BABIP, down from his .330-.345 range in A-ball. He’s gotten his line drive rates back up to just under 18% in June and July, which is about where he was in 2009. A strong finish to the season in the final two months could put d’Arnaud in AAA to start the 2011 season.
After having a breakout year last year, Owens is on to more success in Altoona, with a 3.00 ERA in 99 innings, plus an 81:19 K/BB ratio. Owens pitched 100.2 innings in West Virginia in 2009 before moving up to high-A for the final month
of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the same approach this year in AA, especially when considering he only had a handful of innings in high-A. Owens could be in the major league rotation by June 2011, depending on how he handles the jump to AAA.
Marte is yet another player who has suffered a serious injury in Bradenton, having the hook of his hammate bone removed back in May. He is currently rehabbing in the Gulf Coast League, although he has recently suffered a setback
. Marte was off to a promising start in Bradenton, with a .283/.374/.391 line in 92 at-bats. The hammate injury hurts his development, as not only is he missing valuable development time in Bradenton, but hammate injuries have been known to hurt a player’s power for several months. Marte has the chance to be a player similar to Andrew McCutchen
, which makes this development time very important, especially when you consider that after this season, he will only have three more years in the minors before he has to be in the majors for good.
Morris is having a great season, emerging as the Pirates’ top pitching prospect with his turnaround in high-A, and his impressive numbers in AA. After a bad season in high-A in 2009, Morris was lights out in 2010, with a 0.60 ERA in 44.2 innings, and a 40:7 K/BB ratio. He was moved up to Altoona, where he currently has a 4.19 ERA, but an impressive 52:19 K/BB ratio in 53.2 innings of work. Morris has run in to some problems in the ERA department recently, with a 6.07 ERA in his last five starts, spanning 26.2 innings, although he has a 25:12 K/BB ratio in those outings. He could pitch the final month of the season in Indianapolis, and is a prime candidate to be in the majors by June 2011.
Probably the biggest blow to the Pirates this year has been the bad luck season Sanchez has had. It started with a shoulder injury, which hurt his defense in the month of April. Then in the month of June he was hit in the face with a pitch on two separate occasions. The second instance broke his jaw in two places, and required surgery which resulted in his jaw being wired shut. That was enough for him to be out for the rest of the season. Sanchez did well at the plate, hitting for a .314/.416/.454 line in 207 at-bats. It’s hard to say, but with a healthy season, Sanchez might have been in AA right now, with a chance at starting the 2011 season in AAA and getting a mid-season call-up. Due to his injuries, it’s hard to imagine Sanchez arriving in the majors anytime before June 2012, unless the Pirates take a very aggressive approach next year. That’s a big blow to the team, as Ryan Doumit
has struggled this year, especially on defense, with no replacement for the Pirates in the upper levels. Sanchez will be that replacement, as he has great defense behind the plate, and has shown the ability to hit at the lower levels, making him a potential All-Star catcher.
Prospects By Level
Indianapolis (AAA) - 3
Altoona (AA) - 10
Bradenton (A+) - 7
West Virginia (A) - 6
State College (A-) - 3
GCL (RK) - 1
Prospects by Position
RHP – 10
LHP - 6
OF - 6
SS - 3
1B - 2
2B - 2
C - 1
3B - 0
Draft - 19
Trade - 7
International - 3
Rule 5 - 1
Biggest Gainers from Off-Season List
1. Nathan Adcock (+38 spots)
2. Exicardo Cayonez (+37 spots)
3. Alex Presley (+24 spots)
Biggest Drops from Off-Season List
1. Tim Alderson (-20 spots)
2. Gorkys Hernandez (-9 spots)
3. Robbie Grossman (-7 spots)
Players Who Could Arrive By June 2011: 9