Are We There Yet? Part One

Ever since the Pirates hired Neal Huntington as general manager after the 2007 season, the team has focused heavily on its farm system. The idea was to develop one that would provide a constant stream of players to the major league team. That was a daunting task, because the system as it stood in 2007 was so bad. I thought it’d be interesting to take a glance ahead at what the system may look like at the start of the 2012 season, and compare it to the system at the start of the 2007 season.

What I’ve done below is compare the regular and semi-regular players, including the rotation and key relievers, who opened the 2007 season at Indianapolis to the ones who may open the season there in 2012. Obviously, I’m making a lot of guesses on the latter, so feel free to disagree. I’m not trying to put some sort of value on each player, which would be an uneven process because we know a lot more about the 2007 guys now than the 2012 guys. Instead, I’m just trying to get a sense of how many players the team had in each year who had a shot at being major leaguers. This will hopefully impart some impression of just how much the system has advanced, or not. For the 2007 team, I’ve tried to look at it from the perspective of 2007 and not with hindsight. I’ll do this for each of the four full-season teams. It’d be a difficult exercise with the two short-season teams, because they’ll be heavily stocked next year with newly drafted players.

Catcher

2007: Carlos Maldonado, Einar Diaz
2012: Tony Sanchez?, Eric Fryer

The 2007 Indians had two veterans. Diaz had seen considerable major league service, but he never played in the majors after 2006 and was just a depth guy by 2007.

It’s debatable whether the Pirates will move Sanchez, their top catching prospect, up to AAA next year, but if they don’t they’ll have a logjam in AA—more on that in Part Two. Fryer is a prospect and has a good chance of being a major league backup. They’ll probably sign a AAA veteran before they decide Sanchez’ destination. I’m assuming Jason Jaramillo, who will have no options left, won’t be around any longer and that Mike McKenry, who does have an option, will be in the majors.

Infield

2007: Yurendell DeCaster, Luis Ordaz, Russ Johnson, Brian Bixler
2012: Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Brock Holt

Of the 2007 infielders, DeCaster was an organizational player, while Ordaz and Johnson were minor league veterans. Bixler was a pretty good prospect at that point, in his first year in AAA.

In 2012, there’s a reasonable chance that Harrison or d’Arnaud will open the season in the majors, and a very outside chance that both could. All five of the listed players are prospects to one degree or another, although only d’Arnaud has a significant chance of being a major league regular. The Pirates may sign a veteran thirdbaseman.

Outfield

2007: Rajai Davis, Nyjer Morgan, Luis Matos, Mike Ryan, Chris Aguila
2012: Starling Marte, Gorkys Hernandez, Andrew Lambo

In 2007, Matos, Ryan and Aguila were all minor league depth. The Pirates appeared to have little interest in Davis and shipped him to San Francisco as an afterthought in the Matt Morris deal, but he’s actually had a little success in the majors. Morgan appeared to be a decent prospect and had just reached AAA at age 26.

Marte will probably be the best prospect on the 2012 Indianapolis team and one of the better centerfield prospects in the minors. Hernandez and Lambo are also prospects, but the former looks more like a fourth outfielder and the latter is barely clinging to prospect status. It’s possible the Pirates will send Lambo back to AA. Regardless, they’ll probably sign a veteran who’ll get significant playing time.

Rotation

2007: John van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, Sean Burnett, Marty McLeary, Shane Youman
2012: Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Brad Lincoln, Kyle McPherson, AAA depth guy(s)

The 2007 rotation represented the tattered remains of the core of Dave Littlefield’s farm system. Van Benschoten, Bullington and Burnett were all former top prospects trying to rebound from serious arm surgeries. Youman was a very marginal prospect and McLeary was a veteran depth guy.

In 2012, I’m guessing Lincoln, who has one option left, will not make the major league roster and that Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson will be pitching in relief. Lincoln, Owens and Locke are all prospects who’ve had problems this year, while McPherson has emerged as a darkhorse prospect, although it’s possible he could return to AA. Neal Huntington has made it clear he likes having at least one veteran in the AAA rotation as depth, as he did this year with Brian Burres and Sean Gallagher, so there’ll be at least one pitcher like that in the 2012 rotation.

Significant Relievers

2007: Jesse Chavez, Franquelis Osoria, Brian Rogers, Josh Sharpless
2012: Dan Moskos, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes, Mike Crotta

Chavez and Sharpless were promising relief prospects in 2007, Rogers more of a marginal sort. Osoria was a veteran who’d had some success in the majors with the Dodgers.

I’m guessing that Moskos, who’s struggled since his time in Pittsburgh, will be back in AAA in 2012 and that Tony Watson will be in Pittsburgh. Morris and Wilson both moved to the bullpen in 2011 and should have high ceilings as relievers. Hughes and Crotta are also converted starters whose careers have gotten a boost from the move. The 2012 Indianapolis bullpen will depend heavily on how the Pirates handle a number of roster decisions, including Hughes and Crotta.

Summary

The key prospects on the 2007 Indianapolis team were the three former first rounders in the rotation who were trying to come back from major surgeries. There were no other high-end talents. The position players were mostly minor league veterans and organizational players, with a few marginal prospects (Bixler, Morgan, and Davis) mixed in, and there were some interesting relievers.

The 2012 team should have legitimate prospects in most of the key spots. Probably only Marte will have anything approaching star potential, but some others—mainly d’Arnaud and, if he moves up, Sanchez—at least are potential regulars. There should be a few pitchers who could at least become 4th or 5th starters and a couple of others who have the potential to be very good late-inning relievers.

Up next: Altoona.

Author: WTM

Wilbur Miller joined the site in July 2010. He has long been known for his excellent Player Profiles, which he brought to the site in February 2011, combining them with the existing Pirates Prospects Player Pages. Wilbur maintains the player pages section of the site, and provides regular articles to the main portion of the site, including a weekly Prospects Trend piece, featuring the best and worst prospects from the previous week.

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  • http://cityplanning.tumblr.com brendan

    Nice job Wilbur. This series is a great way to filter out all the noise and actually assess the progress made over the last four years.  

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DZTPQRGTPEAWJ3G4S5PLNIQ6AY Jacob J

    There’s no question they are “around the corner”. Anyone who has followed the team for the past 15 or more years ought to be able to see that. Maybe not contenders officially, but far past the embarrassing state they had been in the past 2 decades. And compared to the management of the past, this group is a breath of fresh air.

    The minors that have been so barren since the days of Harding Peterson are finally looking normal, if not pretty decent. Thats the biggest change. Gone are the days when the best the minors could produce was a Rob Mackowiak or a Jermaine Allensworth.

  • http://cityplanning.tumblr.com brendan

    When assessing the system anecdotal evidence that serves the point of view of the writer in question seems to be the norm, so it’s nice to see a comprehensive analysis of the entire system.

  • Anonymous

     I echo the nice job post above.
    No wonder things didn’t work out too well the past few years.
    The one thing I must compliment the AAA players on is that they have not been overwhelmed (for the most part) when reaching the PBC. Missing are Bixler’s high K ratio and the like. The AAA pitching was so obscenely bad I don’t even want to try and remember those sad days.

  • Lee Young

    Wilbur……..nice job. Hopefully, in 4 years you can look back and note how well this current group of prospects have done. “)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

    although only d’Arnaud has a significant chance of being a major league regular

    You don’t think Mercer can start in majors at some point?

    • http://twitter.com/bucco_resist Ian Rothermund

      Not next year would be my assumption.  We still have Cedeno, which hitting .250-ish, and playing the reliable defense that he has should probably be garnering him more respect than it is.  D’arnaud may have to show that he has no potential to improve during next season for Mercer to get a chance.  Then again, I think this article was specifically talking about this coming season, which I’d say, barring serious injuries, Mercer has no chance of making it in 2012.

  • Anonymous

    Great article Wilbur!!!! Anyone who has been watching the abysmal promotions of players during the “streak” can see, no matter how they feel about NH, what a tremendous job this regime has done in 4 short years. If you would have told me 4 years ago that our system would be churning out capable, if not great, players to fill in for injuries I would have thought you were crazy! It’s nice to watch the young kids come up and hold their own and help the team win when veterans go on the DL. I can’t remember the last time the team was so riddled with injuries and didn’t go in the tank due to injuries to key veterans. In fact this years team seemed to “go in the tank” when rookies like Presley and D’arnaud went on the DL….Funny how that works isn’t it?

  • http://twitter.com/Jcsteel Jimmy Cali

    I’d be surprised if Lincoln is back in Triple A.  I think he’ll take Maholm’s spot

    • Anonymous

      I expect Lincoln to be in the ML starting rotation next year.