This week’s edition is sponsored by George Romero. (Well, not really . . . .) Halfway into May, the Pirates have had a handful of prospects come back from the dead, so to speak, after miserable starts to their seasons or from other adversity. In some cases it’s been prospects who were new to their current level and also a good age for that level. Hopefully, many of these players just needed some time to get acclimated and will continue to improve.
Before moving on, though, I want to give a quick plug for Gift Ngoepe, who got a “sleeper alert” mention in Kevin Goldstein’s daily prospect column at Baseball Prospectus a couple days ago. Ngoepe is now hitting 306/359/459, and that goes along with excellent speed and good defensive play. At the very least, he’s shown that his signing was far from a stunt.
Chase d’Arnaud, SS/2B (AAA): The Pirates consider d’Arnaud their best upper-level middle infield prospect, but he wasn’t looking like much of a prospect after a 217/323/373 April. After going 9-for-17 over his last five games, though, he’s now hitting 333/377/479 in May. With Ronny Cedeno struggling to stay above the Mendoza line, there couldn’t be a better time for d’Arnaud to break out.
Andrew Lambo, OF (AAA): The Pirates are desperately short of prospects with the bat to play in a corner, so Lambo’s an especially significant prospect for them. In April, though, he went 203/263/338 and fanned almost four times as often as he walked. So far in May he’s hitting 289/377/444, with eleven strikeouts and five walks. The improvement has come mostly in the last nine games, as he’s gone 11-for-28 with two HRs.
Jordy Mercer, SS (AA): Mercer started the season back where he spent all last year, then made things look worse by posting a dismal 154/233/346 batting line in April. May has been an entirely different story, though, as he’s hit 333/377/574 so far. He’s now got seven HRs after hitting only three all last year, while also cutting his strikeout rate a little. It’s now a very modest once every 7.7 ABs.
Drew Maggi, SS/2B (A): Maggi, an above-slot signing from the 2010 draft, has followed a miserable 141/267/188 April with a 283/389/413 showing so far in May. His plate discipline on the year is good–15 walks and 15 strikeouts–so there’s reason to think he can continue making progress from here.
Kawika Emsley-Pai, C (A): Emsley-Pai started this season badly only in the sense that he was initially a backup to Elias Diaz. The Pirates acquired him when the Diamondbacks let him go after his first partial season with them. He didn’t hit at all in his debut, but it was only in 42 games. Now the Pirates have effectively gotten a free tenth round draft pick. Emsley-Pai’s playing time is gradually increasing, thanks to a 395/500/558 batting line on the season. He’s also thrown out six of fourteen base stealers.
Tim Alderson, RHP (AA): Most fans gave Alderson up for dead after a miserable 2010 in which he got demoted and saw his fastball velocity drop to the mid 80s. Things didn’t look any brighter when the Pirates announced he’d move to the bullpen in 2011. So far, the move has been a big success. After allowing two earned runs in his third outing, he’s allowed none in nine games since. His ERA stands at 0.84 and his opponents’ batting average at .187. He’s allowed no HRs and six walks in 21.1 IP, while fanning 22. His fastball by most accounts is up to 90-91.
Mike Colla, RHP (AA): Colla has done the reverse of the usual pitching switch, moving from the bullpen–where he’d spent his whole pro career–to the rotation after Bryan Morris went on the disabled list. Surprisingly, he’s done better since the move, which occurred at the end of April. His ERA was 4.00 coming out of the bullpen, but it’s 2.84 in four starts. Opponents batted .257 against him as a reliever, but they’re managing only .188 when he starts. On the season he has 28 strikeouts and only eight walks in 28 IP.
Brett Lorin, RHP (A+): Lorin struggled to recover from hip surgery in 2010, then got off to a shaky start in the Bradenton rotation. Through three starts, he had a 6.55 ERA. The team moved him to the bullpen in late April and he’s dominated so far in five outings. (Oddly, though, his outings have been as long in relief as they were as a starter: He only went three innings twice and four once as a starter, but he’s gone six once and four once as a reliever.) Since the move, Lorin has an ERA of 1.02, with three walks and 21 strikeouts in 17.2 IP. Opponents are hitting .212 against him, compared to .326 as a starter.
Jhonathan Ramos, LHP (A+): Ramos is one of a succession of small (5’8″ in his case) lefties who’ve emerged from the Pirates’ Latin American program, but he’s gotten farther than the others. He throws only in the upper 80s, but he’s very tough on left-handed batters, so he could have a future as a LOOGY. He’s only 21 and the promotion to the Bradenton bullpen seemed very aggressive after he spent most of last year at State College. Ramos struggled in April, with an ERA of 4.38 and opponents’ batting average of .365, but he started turning it around as soon as the calendar flipped to May. So far this month, his ERA is 1.59 and he’s allowed only six hits and two walks in 11.1 IP, while fanning eleven.
Brandon Cumpton, RHP (A): After a dismal beginning to the season, in which he allowed seven runs in each of his first three starts, Cumpton has now allowed exactly one run in three straight. The strong starts came after a one-outing interlude in the bullpen in which he threw three scoreless innings. That leaves him with a 1.37 ERA in his last four games, with ten hits, three walks and seventeen strikeouts in 19.2 IP. In two starts this past week, he allowed only five hits over 11.2 IP.