Are We There Yet? Part Three
The comparison between the 2007 and projected 2012 farm system continues at the high A level. Breaking a farm system down into players who are prospects and those who aren’t gets a little harder once you’re talking about class A teams, because at that level nearly everybody is a prospect to some extent. With 2007 Lynchburg and the projected players for 2012 Bradenton, I’ll try, though, to give some sense of which players looked like they had a realistic chance of becoming major leaguers.
2007: Steve Lerud
2012: Elias Diaz, Kawika Emsley-Pai
Lerud had a pretty good chance of reaching the majors as a backup, as he was a good defensive catcher who was willing to draw walks and had some power.
Diaz and Emsley-Pai both have the defensive ability to reach the majors, and both have hit well at times in the past. With Ramon Cabrera and Carlos Paulino both making very large strides this year, the possibility of Diaz or Emsley-Pai doing the same next year shouldn’t be dismissed.
2007: Steve Pearce, Shelby Ford, Tripper Johnson, Dan Schwartzbauer, Tony Mansolino
2012: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Kelson Brown, Rule 5 pickup
As I recounted in Part Two, Pearce opened the season at Lynchburg, but didn’t stay there long. Mansolino, who was an organizational player, and Jason Delaney ended up splitting much of the time at first. Ford at one time was considered the Pirates’ secondbaseman of the future. Johnson was a minor league veteran signed as a free agent. Schwartzbauer was an organizational player who surprised the Pirates by retiring early in the season. As a result, they had to call Angel Gonzalez up from Hickory to replace him.
The 2012 Bradenton infield could be manned mostly by prospects, but it’s not a given. Dickerson was the Pirates’ third round pick this year and should be one of their better hitting prospects. As an advanced college hitter, he should skip over low A. If he doesn’t, Howard should be the regular at first. He looks to be an organizational player. Ngoepe seemed to be having a breakout season this year at West Virginia, but got hurt after less than a month and hasn’t returned, aside from an abortive rehab stint. If the improved hitting he showed briefly was real, he’s a legitimate prospect, but the team could send him back to low A. Maggi was highly regarded when drafted last year, but he’s mostly struggled with the bat. With Eric Avila proving to be overmatched this year in low A, the Pirates may need to sign a free agent to play third in high A or pick somebody up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. If Ngoepe returns to West Virginia, Brown, an organizational player, could play second. He could also play third if the Pirates don’t add a thirdbaseman.
2007: Jason Delaney, Pedro Powell, Brad Corley
2012: Mel Rojas, Jr., Dan Grovatt, David Rubinstein, Cole White
Corley and Delaney were almost exact opposites. Corley was athletic and toolsy, but swung at everything and was eventually done in by his poor plate discipline. He probably had to be considered a prospect in 2007, but unsurprisingly he hit a wall in AA. Delaney had a very good approach at the plate, but did not have good tools. He also was a prospect at this level, but with low odds of long-term success. Powell was not a prospect.
Rojas was very raw when drafted and is a high risk prospect with a good ceiling. Grovatt is similar to Delaney, although he has more upside because his tools are stronger. Rubinstein and White are organizational players. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Evan Chambers return to this level rather than move up to AA.
2007: Kyle Bloom, Derek Hankins, Clayton Hamilton, Todd Redmond, Blair Johnson
2012: Jameson Taillon, Zack von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Zack Dodson, Zac Fuesser, Brooks Pounders, Quinton Miller
The 2007 were all borderline prospects or guys with good stuff who were struggling either with command problems (Bloom) or recurring shoulder injuries (Johnson). Redmond had pitched very well in low A, but was seen as having marginal stuff. Hankins had pretty good stuff, but had spent the previous year at Lynchburg with little success. It would’ve been a stretch to consider him a prospect. The same was true of Hamilton, who was 25 and returning to high A for a third year.
The 2012 staff should feature most of the prep pitchers from the Pirates’ 2009 draft (von Rosenberg, Cain, Dodson and Pounders), as well as Fuesser, who was a JC draftee. Most or all of them will probably start and relieve at times, as the Pirates try to find the best development path for each. They’re all still good prospects, although their ceilings vary some. Taillon, of course, is one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. Miller will probably return to Bradenton in 2012 and try to get past his shoulder problems. The Pirates could try him in the bullpen. It’s also possible that Tyler Waldron and/or Brandon Cumpton could return to Bradenton, although that would create quite a crowd.
2007: Ronald Belisario, Pat Bresnehan
2012: Victor Black, Jeff Inman, Casey Sadler, Jason Townsend
Bresnehan in 2007 appeared to be on the fast track as a relief prospect. He flamed out quickly after reaching AA. Belisario was a rehab project, a guy with a great arm who’d missed two years with injury problems.
Black and Inman both have outstanding arms if healthy, but that’s been a big “if” so far. Sadler and Townsend are both later round draft picks who’ve done well at West Virginia this year, but both are probably longshots to reach the majors.
The Pirates’ 2007 and projected 2012 high A teams present an interesting contrast. The 2007 team was largely a result of the Pirates’ near-total reliance on college draftees. You can see from guys like Corley, Ford, Bloom, Hankins and Delaney that solid college players generally can make it to AA and often perform well at least in class A, but that provides little indication of their ability to advance further. The 2007 Lynchburg roster was like that: quite a few hitters and rotation starters who looked like they might be prospects, but it was hard to be sure. This isn’t to say that college draftees are bad. The fact that so few of the Pirates’ college draftees from that period worked out is a reflection on their scouting, especially the tendency to draft hitters with bad plate discipline and pitchers with injury histories. Of course, the team also had too many organizational players in regular spots (Tripper Johnson, Schwartzbauer, Powell).
The talent on the 2012 Bradenton team will come overwhelmingly from prep and JC draftees. Players who don’t come from major college programs are much less certain to perform adequately in class A, or even lower. The rate of complete failures is going to be much higher, but the chances are greater that a player will make major strides suddenly and unpredictably (see the upcoming Part Four discussion of Wes Freeman). As a result, it’s even harder to be sure what the Pirates have in guys like von Rosenberg, Cain and Rojas. A lot of these guys have fairly high ceilings but many of them struggled for parts of the 2011 season, in some cases large parts. The team clearly will have unusual depth in prospects, or at least potential prospects, on the pitching staff. It’ll also have the one marquee prospect, or two if the Pirates send Gerrit Cole to Bradenton to open the season. The lineup will be much more limited in potential, with only Rojas and Dickerson having significant ceilings and two or three spots likely to be manned by organizational players.
For the fourth and final part: 2007 Hickory vs. 2012 West Virginia.