According to Jennifer Langosch, the Pittsburgh Pirates will send pitchers Justin Wilson, Aaron Pribanic, and Brian Leach to the Arizona Fall League this off-season, joining position players Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison. When the position players were announced, we had heard that there would be three more pitchers who would be sent.
The assignments are somewhat strange, not so much because of the players, but because two of the players are from A-ball. The Arizona Fall League rules say that each team can send one player from below AA. The Pirates already had Tony Sanchez going, so obviously they were granted an exception to send more than one player, which explains the delay in announcing the pitchers. This isn’t the first exception they’ve been granted, as Sanchez was an exception. Sanchez has been out since late-June, and the AFL rules say a player must be active 45 days before the end of the season.
As for the guys going, here is a quick recap of each of their seasons and their potential:
-Justin Wilson: Wilson is coming off a great year in AA, in which he posted a 3.09 ERA in 142.2 innings, along with an 8.5 K/9 and a 4.5 BB/9 ratio. Wilson’s big problem has been a lack of control from time to time. At times, his control will totally escape him, leading to almost a walk an inning. When his control is present, Wilson is an extremely hard pitcher to go up against. Wilson has always reminded me of the pitching prospects who have come through the system over the last several years, and who are in Pittsburgh right now. He’s like Zach Duke, or maybe more appropriately, like Paul Maholm. He’s got great stuff, and his overall numbers look good, but when you look closer, he’s too inconsistent from start to start, holding him back from being a potential top of the rotation guy.
-Aaron Pribanic: Pribanic was acquired from Seattle as part of the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade in 2009. This year in Bradenton he put up a 3.33 ERA in 154 innings, with a 4.1 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 ratio. Pribanic, at 6′ 4″, 200 pounds, throws 91-94 MPH, and touches 96. Pribanic throws a curveball and a changeup, but neither are as good as his fastball. He’s a sinkerball pitcher with an extreme ground ball ratio. His lack of strikeouts are a concern, and if he doesn’t improve his secondary pitches, he might just end up as a power reliever going forward.
-Brian Leach: Leach has put up strong numbers at every level in his three year minor league career, with a 3.85 ERA in 138 innings this year in Bradenton, along with a 6.4 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9. Leach worked almost entirely as a starter this year, although he was much better in relief in West Virginia during the 2009 season, when he made 12 starts and 20 relief appearances. Leach was more dominant as a reliever in 2009, with an 8.35 K/9 as a reliever, compared to a 6.08 K/9 as a starter. He is in the rotation mix, but his upside is probably as a relief pitching prospect.
Of the three prospects, I rank them how I list them. Wilson ranks in my top 15, Pribanic probably ranks right outside the top 30, and I’m not sure I’d have Leach in the top 50, but that’s mostly because I view him as a future reliever. I see Wilson as the only guy who could start in the majors, while Pribanic and Leach look more like future relievers.
Hopefully the experience in the AFL will work for these guys in the same way it worked for Tony Watson and Donald Veal in 2009. Watson and Veal pitched in the Arizona Fall League last year, and followed it up with big seasons. Watson had a 2.67 ERA in 111.1 innings of work, mostly out of the bullpen, in Altoona. He also had an 8.5 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 ratio. Veal had his season shortened, and underwent Tommy John surgery, but saw great results with his control, posting a 4.2 BB/9 ratio, which was a huge improvement over his 5.0 BB/9 ratio throughout his minor league career. The AFL experience probably didn’t entirely contribute to these results, but the extra experience certainly had to have helped.