The 2010 Indianapolis Indians had a few top prospects, but no where near the wave of talent needed to immediately turn the Pittsburgh Pirates around. The first wave of prospects reached the majors this year, as Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and Brad Lincoln all arrived around June. Lincoln was the only player who didn’t have an immediate impact, and was demoted back to AAA.
After those four graduated, the Indians were left with nothing but bench and bullpen prospects. Two of the top pitching options, Donald Veal and Kevin Hart, went down with injuries, missing the remainder of the season, and potentially part of next season. The Indians also saw the demotion of several failed 2010 Pirates, such as Akinori Iwamura, Jeff Clement, Charlie Morton, and Daniel McCutchen.
Here are the stats for the 2010 team, broken down by age group. Keep in mind that, unlike lower levels, the upper age groups can still be considered future major league players. You won’t find many prospects in the upper age groups, but you could find some bench options or bullpen arms, or possibly even emergency starters like Jeff Karstens.
Five of the six hitters on this list have made an appearance in the majors this season, with Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker making the biggest impacts. Alvarez and Tabata were expected to be in the majors by June, so their ascension to the next level was no surprise, and neither was their success this season in AAA. Walker, however, was a huge surprise, as most had him written off as a future utility player. Instead, Walker had a breakout season in AAA, and has carried that success over to the next level.
Argenis Diaz, Pedro Ciriaco, and Brian Friday all fit the same role as middle infield options who probably are no better than bench options. It’s likely that only one of these three will be with the team in 2011. Ciriaco and Diaz are basically the same player, with all defense and little offense. Friday is supposed to be more offensive minded, but wasn’t that impressive this year. Diaz is out of options after this year, and it’s likely that either he or Ciriaco will hold the backup middle infield role next season. Friday is Rule 5 eligible this off-season, and while he might not be selected, it’s unlikely the Pirates keep him around with so many middle infielders making their way up from AA.
The pitching side didn’t provide many options in this age group. Daniel Moskos was pretty much the only pitcher who had significant time, and he was disappointing in his jump to AAA, especially considering his success at the AA level this year. Michael Dubee was impressive this year in AA, but only got one appearance at the AAA level before being demoted back down to AA.
Ideally, this is the area that the major league depth should come from. Maybe this group says something about how the major league team was this year. Charlie Morton was a huge disappointment when he was in the rotation. Hayden Penn, Dana Eveland, and Brandon Jones were added throughout the season to try and improve the organizational depth at each position, and all three ended up being huge disappointments.
The only legit prospects here were Brad Lincoln and Donald Veal. Lincoln did well in his time at AAA, but didn’t succeed in his jump to the majors. Veal was pitching well, then suffered an injury and had Tommy John surgery.
Michael Crotta, Alex Presley, and Brandon Moss emerged as surprise options. Presley was a breakout in AA this year, carrying that success over to AAA. Moss struggled the first two months of the season before going on a huge tear the remainder of the year. Both Presley and Moss are in the majors for the final month of the season. Crotta was a breakout performer in the AA rotation, and looks like a potential relief pitching option in the majors with his numbers at the AAA level this year.
Half of this group is organizational depth, filling out the AAA roster, while the other half is depth for the majors. Of the latter, Jeff Karstens made the biggest impact this season, pitching 121.2 innings in the majors this year, with a 4.88 ERA and a 71:27 K/BB ratio.
Daniel McCutchen and Joe Martinez are two options for the 2011 bullpen, and while both have starting experience, neither really projects as a starter in the majors. John Bowker came from the San Francisco Giants at the deadline, along with Martinez, and will be a part of the bench depth in the majors. Jeff Clement and Steve Pearce were also a part of the bench depth, although both players might have played their last games in Pittsburgh. Jason Jaramillo and Erik Kratz each served on the major league roster this year as a backup catcher, although it looks like Jaramillo is the man for the job over Kratz, as Kratz was recently removed from the 40-man roster.
Top Hitter: Neil Walker was the top hitter at the level this year, with an impressive .952 OPS in his time in AAA. To put that in to perspective, Pedro Alvarez only managed an .896 OPS, while Jose Tabata hit for a .797 OPS. The only hitter with a higher OPS this season was Steve Pearce, who is three years older than Walker, and had a .959 OPS, only seven higher than Walker.
Top Pitcher: Brad Lincoln didn’t have the best ERA, but he had some impressive ratios, with an 8.0 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 1.14 WHIP. Lincoln’s stats are a bit skewed, as he came to the majors, had his mechanics messed up, and returned to AAA. In his return to AAA he posted a 6.66 ERA in 25.2 innings, and suffered an injury which limited him toward the end of the season.
Biggest Surprise: Walker is by far the biggest surprise of the 2010 season for Indianapolis. Coming in to the year the expectations for him were to be a super utility player at best. If you suggested before the season that he could have a breakout year and become the regular starting second baseman in Pittsburgh by June, you would have been laughed at. Walker not only was a huge surprise in his time in AAA, but became an even bigger surprise with his success in the majors.
Biggest Disappointment: Daniel Moskos had a huge breakout season at the AA level in the bullpen, but completely bombed in his jump to AAA. Had Moskos carried over his success, he could have been a candidate to move up to the majors to start the 2011 season, or possibly even as a September call-up during the 2010 season.
Top five prospects:
1. Donald Veal – Veal may have been injured, and he probably won’t pitch until the middle of the 2011 season, but he’s still the best prospect remaining from the group that played in Indianapolis this year.
2. Daniel Moskos – Moskos struggled in the initial jump to AAA, but seems to be back on track, hitting 96-97 MPH in Altoona after his demotion back to the level. A short amount of time in AAA in 2011 could lead to Moskos getting the call at some point next season.
3. Pedro Ciriaco – Ciriaco is possibly better than Argenis Diaz, both defensively and offensively. He is a defensive minded shortstop, which leaves his future as a backup player in the majors.
4. Alex Presley – Presley really surprised this season, and his surprise season has carried him from high-A to the majors in one year. Presley has always been strong defensively, and has some speed. If his hitting can stay at the current level, he would make a nice bench outfielder in the majors.
5. Michael Crotta – I had Crotta as a future sleeper bullpen option last off-season, and he sort of broke out this year. Despite working out of the rotation in Altoona and Indianapolis this year, I don’t see Crotta as more than a middle reliever. However, he has the ratios to be a strong middle reliever in the majors.
It’s difficult to do this sort of thing for a AAA team, as teams at that level serve as a sort of taxi squad for the major league team. The typical AAA affiliate is stocked primarily with veterans who serve as depth, along with a smattering of rookies who are real prospects. Once a prospect succeeds at this level, a callup usually isn’t far off. Turnover is much higher at this level than at other levels.
Indianapolis in 2010 was no exception. The team started the year with a powerful lineup, spearheaded by Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Steve Pearce. The top starting pitcher was Brad Lincoln. By mid-June, however, all were in the majors, although Lincoln returned after struggling and Pearce returned for a brief, unsuccessful rehab. The Indians continued to be a solid offensive team, though, finishing in the top half of the league in runs. They got good production at various times from Alex Presley, Erik Kratz, Jim Negrych, Jeff Clement, John Bowker and Brandon Moss.
The Indy pitching was a bit below average. The staff lost Donnie Veal early to Tommy John surgery and Lincoln to promotion. The rotation generally was made up partly of pitchers who’d struggled in the majors and were trying to make their way back: Charlie Morton, Dan McCutchen, Kevin Hart (also a Tommy John victim), Brian Burres, Hayden Penn and Dana Eveland. Mike Crotta (after an early promotion from Altoona) and swing man Jeremy Powell started the most games, but neither was very effective. The bullpen also was made up heavily of refugees from the majors, such as Wil Ledezma, Justin Thomas, Steve Jackson, Anthony Claggett, Vinnie Chulk and Brian Bass. Only the two lefties, Ledezma and Thomas, pitched well. Minor league veteran Jean Machi served as the closer and was very erratic.
Top hitter: This is a tie between Walker and Pearce, although neither played more than 43 games in AAA. Both were faced with closing windows of opportunity as prospects and came up big, earning promotions to the majors with OPS totals above .950. Of the players who spent the bulk of the season with Indy, of which there were only a few, the top hitter was Moss.
Top pitcher: Very few pitchers had good years for the Indians, although a lot had adequate years. By default it’s probably Lincoln. He was by far the team’s most effective pitcher before his callup, as he allowed very few baserunners and was remarkably efficient with his pitches. He struggled after coming back down, as his mechanics apparently got messed up, possibly due to former Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, while he was getting hammered in the majors. Ledezma was the best reliever, while Thomas was the best reliever who was there most of the year.
Biggest surprise: Walker. He experienced the breakout season the Pirates had been hoping to see for years. He did it after being relegated to a utility role, as the Pirates very clearly had little hope left for him. His breakout ended with him becoming the Pirates’ regular secondbaseman, an outcome nobody could have predicted.
Biggest disappointment: Nobody on the Indianapolis roster experienced a dramatic decline or anything, at least among players of any note. There were struggling pitchers, Charlie Morton and Dan McCutchen in particular, who failed to get things completely straightened out when they were sent down. The biggest disappointment, though, was Dan Moskos, who completely imploded after his promotion from Altoona. After dominating in AA, Moskos had one disastrous outing after another in AAA, due mainly to suddenly critical control problems. He ended up back in AA. It was a missed opportunity for Moskos, as the Pirates needed relief help in August after trading three relievers in deadline deals and releasing a fourth.
Top five prospects:
This is another tough one. Most of the real prospects at Indianapolis were called up and are no longer eligible to be considered prospects.
1. Pedro Ciriaco, SS. An excellent defensive player, Ciriaco has shown signs of improving with the bat, although he still swings at practically everything.
2. Alex Presley, OF. The sudden breakout may or may not be for real.
3. Brian Friday, IF. He’s done just barely enough to stay on the prospect radar. The Pirates seem to regard him more as a possible utility player than as a shortstop prospect now.
4. Mike Crotta, RHP. He didn’t pitch very well in AAA, but his stuff is still pretty good and he might do better as a reliever.
5. Argenis Diaz, SS. Glove-only player will be limited to bench roles.
Indy had a good season in that the guys who you wanted to do well did and got promoted so soon they weren’t eligible for the prospect list below, which is very weak. Going into the year they had a great top of the lineup with Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Steven Pearce batting in the first four spots and all ended up in the majors by mid-June. Brad Lincoln was the only slight disappointment of the pre-season prospect group because he didn’t perform well in the majors but before he hurt his neck late in the year he put up decent stats at Indy. Since all four (plus Pearce) won’t be eligible next year for rookie status it didn’t leave much for the prospect ratings, but in all honesty that shouldn’t be considered a bad thing because you want guys moving quickly. Next years Indy team could be a very interesting group with a stacked starting rotation that should give them a good chance to win every night, that is until guys start getting called up.
Top Hitter: Brandon Moss, OF - Not much competition for this category but it would be hard to not give it to the guy who lead the International League in RBI’s,and led the team in hits, runs, doubles and homers as well. He started the year off slow but once he got going he basically performed as good as the Pirates could’ve expected, earning himself a promotion to the majors.
Top Pitcher: Jeremy Powell, RHP – He may not have put up the best stats but I give him a ton of credit for being ready to go when the team needed him and very few times in his 21 starts was he actually the probable starter. He ended up leading the team in innings pitched and was easily the staff leader in games won with eleven. He was a very important piece for this team due to his durability and flexibility, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him back next year in the same roll.
Biggest Surprise: Michael Crotta, RHP – Going into the year I expected him to be Altoona’s 5th starter all year, or until some better lower level pitchers supplanted him in the rotation. Instead he ended up dominating AA early and then went on to lead the Indians in games started and finished second in IP. Biggest surprise number two would be Alexander Presley who I thought would be in the Altoona outfield all year, but he ended up putting up decent AAA stats in half a season at the level. He came back to Earth once the calendar hit August but the Pirates still called him up to once the Indy season ended.
Biggest Disappointment: Daniel Moskos, LHP - He earned a mid-season promotion from Altoona and looked to be on track to be better than that future LOOGY everyone thought he would be, but adding that extra A to his level made him totally fall apart. I didn’t expect him to match his AA numbers but he put up a 2.65 WHIP, allowed a ton of inherited runners to score and was back in Altoona after 19 games and a 10.38 ERA
Top five prospects:
1. Pedro Ciriaco, SS - Before I go into the descriptions let me say I don’t consider any of these guys top prospects so I didn’t put much thought into the placing of them in any order and I only listed four guys because there isn’t anyone else eligible and considered young enough to still be a prospect. Ciriaco had a ton of minor league all-star games to his credit, has very good speed and a great glove. He could be a serviceable SS on a real good team where his bat wouldn’t be needed deep in the lineup. If he could learn to take a walk once in awhile he would probably be a good enough hitter for the Pirates to use him everyday as he has a little pop in his bat.
2. Brian Friday, INF – Friday is basically a step below Ciriaco, doesn’t have the glove or quite the speed but he will take a walk once in a while. He has some injury concerns, always seems to miss a stretch of games. He should be able to handle a backup job in the majors someday soon and possibly could be a Rule V pick unless the Bucs add him. A team could use him all over the infield and wouldn’t be afraid to let him start once in awhile.
3. Alexander Presley, OF – While his story this season is a great one, going from a AA career minor leaguer to a September call-up, I’m not sold on him. He has some tools, decent speed and glove, decent hitter, but he’s very small for an outfielder and he’s 25 already with no prior success above A ball. He played regularly all season getting well over 500 plate appearances but he faded down the stretch with a .699 OPS in August and just 3 of his 12 homers after June 30th, which is basically just past the halfway point. I think at some point he could be a 4-5th outfielder somewhere and being a lefty helps his case, especially in PNC Park plus he can play all three outfield spots.
4. Michael Crotta, RHP – Big, hard-throwing workhorse who gets a ton of groundballs. Sounds like the kind of guy you can dream on but he’s about to turn 26 and seems to have trouble getting deep into games so despite putting up 140 innings every year he may be a reliever in the future. His 2.32 GO/AO ratio and mid 90′s fastball as a starter should work very well out of the pen so it should be interesting what the Pirates do with him, and that starts with adding him to the 40 man roster.
I’ve always thought of AAA as a big holding tank. It’s a level where teams put their 40-man roster veterans with some major-league experience so that they can recall them easily. There may be a crusty minor league veteran waiting to break into the majors. And in recent times, it’s where teams stash their top prospects until they can game the system by manipulating service time in order to garner another year of team control. The whole level should have a big sign that says “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass”.
As a result, it will be a little difficult at the end to come up with a Top 5 Prospect list, as you will see. The good news is that, for me at least, all of the “Top” winners and surprises involved true prospects.
Top Hitter: Neil Walker, 3B/2B — During the time that Pirates fans got to watch Akinori Iwamura flop around PNC Park like a beached opa, Walker was finishing his apprenticeship by hitting .321/.392/.560 (952 OPS) and did it with a walk rate slightly over 10%. Having a last name of “Walker” has always been something of a misnomer for Neil, but he lived up to it at AAA.
Top Pitcher: Brad Lincoln, RHP – Lincoln had a very workmanlike, middle of the rotation-type of stint in AAA. In 17 starts, over 94 innings, he had around a 8 K/9 IP ratio, with a BB rate around 2.5 BB/9 IP and a 1.14 WHIP. Lincoln was tinkered with by the now-gone Joe Kerrigan when he got to the majors, but his time in AAA was well spent.
Biggest Surprise: Neil Walker, 3B/2B — I don’t even know if Mr. and Mrs. Walker would have predicted the way their son opened up the AAA campaign, especially with regards to the walk rate. Walker has always had nice slugging percentages and isolated power numbers, but this was out of his norm. Walker earned his trip to Pittsburgh and is most likely the Pittsburgh Pirates 2010 Team MVP.
Biggest Disappointment: Donnie Veal, LHP — This nomination is not performance-related, but rather health-related. After a wildly successful 2009 Arizona Fall League that had many national scouts and services buzzing, Veal came into 2010 with a lot of positive karma behind him. That was ripped apart when he went down in May after 9 starts and needed Tommy John surgery. It’s just another sad footnote in the career of an apparently star-crossed athlete.
Top 5 Prospects
As I mentioned in my intro, I’m not accounting for any player that has exceeded their rookie eligibility of 50 innings or 130 at-bats in the majors. The remaining prospects are a fairly sorry bunch, with only Alex Presley most likely making my overall Top 30.
1. Alex Presley, OF — Many call Presley a tweener or a 4th OF at best, especially because he is only 5′-9″, but I’m not sure what is wrong with that. Presley can play all 3 OF positions in a pinch, has a modicum of power, and can steal a base for you. Question – Would you rather have Presley as your 4th OF or Ryan Church and Lastings Milledge? At AAA, Presley hit .294/.349/.460 (809 OPS) with a K rate of only 15%.
2. Brian Friday, SS/2B — Friday is extremely injury prone and is always good for 1 or 2 trips to the DL per year. When he is on the field, Friday is competent enough to be a cost-controlled middle infielder for the Pirates and eliminate the need to spend money on veteran retreads only to discover they can’t play SS anymore (Chris Gomez). Friday had a 726 OPS in AAA.
3. Michael Crotta, RHP — Crotta took the mound 24 times for Indianapolis and had an amazing GB/FB ratio of 2.24. He has a very heavy sinker and he sits around 94 mph with it. He is very hittable and doesn’t have good K numbers, so his future (maybe as soon as spring training) is as a middle reliever.
4. Pedro Ciriaco, SS — Obtained in the Bobby Crosby/Ryan Church/Brian Snyder swap meet, Ciriaco is a glove first shortstop. He may not have the stick to be a regular, but he is an interesting player nonetheless. He should at least be an upgrade over….
5. Argenis Diaz, SS — Diaz came over with Hunter Strickland (who should be on a milk carton) for Adam Laroche in the Boston deal. He is also a glove first shortstop, but there are no allusions he will ever be much with the big toothpick in his hand.
Top 10 Prospects at the Level
The prospect list below factors in every prospect at the level during the 2010 season. Several of the top guys have graduated from prospect status, but while they were at the level, they were considered prospects, and thus will be counted as one of the top ten prospects at the level during the 2010 season.
1. Pedro Alvarez
2. Jose Tabata
3. Neil Walker
4. Brad Lincoln
5. Donald Veal
6. Daniel Moskos
7. Daniel McCutchen
8. Pedro Ciriaco
9. Alex Presley
10. Brian Friday