Are We There Yet? Part Two
This is the second part of a look at how the Pirates’ farm system stood at the beginning of 2007, compared to how it may look at the beginning of 2012. The assignments for 2012 are, of course, just my best guesses.
Also See: Are We There Yet? Part One
2007: Brian Peterson, Dave Parrish
2012: Ramon Cabrera, Carlos Paulino
Peterson and Parrish were both veteran minor leaguers.
The Pirates will face some tough decisions with the 2012 Altoona catching situation. Tony Sanchez probably isn’t ready for AAA and so could return to AA. Meanwhile, Cabrera and Paulino are both having outstanding seasons in high A and appear to be legitimate prospects. The Pirates could either push Sanchez to AAA or return Paulino to Bradenton.
2007: Neil Walker, Randy Ruiz, Bret Roneberg, Jason Bowers, Taber Lee, Javier Guzman, Brandon Chaves
2012: Matt Curry, Jarek Cunningham, Elevys Gonzalez, Benji Gonzalez
Walker, of course, was the Pirates’ #2 prospect in 2007 and was making the move to thirdbase. Bowers, Lee, Guzman and Chaves were all organizational players.
The 2007 firstbase situation deserves some explanation because it illustrates one significant difference between the current front office and their predecessors. Steve Pearce began 2006 in low A. After tearing up the place, he spent the last two-thirds of the season in high A and put up a solid .830 OPS. Pearce was going to turn 24 early in the 2007 season. Although that’s a little old even for AA, the Pirates sent him back to high A and signed two veterans, Ruiz and Roneberg, to handle 1B/DH and 1B/OF duties, respectively, at Altoona. As it turned out, Pearce bashed 11 HRs in his first 19 games in high A, won an early promotion, and went on to a monster season. The Pirates cut Ruiz loose. I seriously doubt that current management would have sent Pearce back to high A.
The projected 2012 infield are all prospects. Probably only Cunningham has a significant ceiling and he has serious issues with offspeed pitches. It may be a little arguable whether either Gonzalez is more than an extreme longshot. Elevys looked like an organizational player a year and a half ago, and still may end up as one, but he just keeps hitting. Benji has the defensive ability and speed, but hasn’t developed with the bat yet and may have to return to Bradenton.
2007: Andrew McCutchen, Vic Buttler, Adam Boeve, Alex Fernandez
2012: Robbie Grossman, Quincy Latimore, Adalberto Santos, Evan Chambers
McCutchen was the Pirates’ top prospect and one of the best in the minors. Buttler was a very marginal prospect, Boeve an organizational player and Fernandez a minor league veteran.
Grossman is having a breakout year at Bradenton and should go into next year as one of the team’s top ten prospects. Latimore and Chambers both have very good ability but significant issues to overcome. It’s possible but unlikely that Latimore could move up to AAA, while Chambers may need to return to high A. Santos was probably drafted as an organizational player, but he’s hit very well this year at Bradenton and could reach the majors as a utility player if he keeps hitting. The Pirates have a bunch of organizational outfielders (Brad Chalk, Anthony Norman, David Rubinstein) who could see time at Altoona if Latimore and/or Chambers isn’t there and Santos ends up replacing the oft-injured Cunningham again at second.
2007: Yoslan Herrera (26), Luis Munoz (25), Josh Shortslef (27), Alay Soler (27), Kip Bouknight (28), Wardell Starling (24)
2012: Gerrit Cole, Phil Irwin, Nate Baker, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Mike Colla, Tyler Waldron, Brandon Cumpton
I included ages to give an idea of the nature of the 2007 staff. The closest thing to a real prospect was probably Starling, who I believe started the season hurt. He’d had a good year in 2006, but imploded in 2007 and was out of baseball by the next year. The Pirates strongly touted Herrera as evidence of their newfound “interest” in Latin America, but his mid-80s fastball, at age 26, quickly cast doubt on that. Shortslef had some ability but had been plagued with arm problems. Soler was a high-profile Cuban defector who’d flopped with the Mets. He lasted just five games with the Pirates. Munoz was a marginal prospect and Bouknight a minor league veteran.
Cole is expected to go to the Arizona Fall League this year and could very well start next year in AA, rather than high A as many expect. He’ll be one of the top prospects in the minors. The rest of the potential starters are guys who are probably roughly on the border between prospect and organizational player. Baker was a fifth round draft pick, but he’s struggled this year at Bradenton. Irwin and Pribanic have had some success, but it’s questionable whether their stuff will play well at upper levels. Colla has struggled some at AA in the second half after a strong first half. He could return to the bullpen in either AAA or AA. Lorin has been very effective when healthy, but often isn’t healthy. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft and isn’t a lock to be protected. Waldron and Cumpton both have been promoted to high A this year. Waldron has done better since the promotion, Cumpton was better before. Both could move up, and Cumpton could move to the bullpen. It’s possible that Kyle McPherson could return to Altoona, as he’s been up and down there so far since his promotion this year.
2007: Dave Davidson, Justin Vaclavik, Romulo Sanchez, Matt Peterson, Chris Hernandez
2012: Diego Moreno, Tim Alderson, Tyler Cox
Davidson and especially Sanchez looked like good relief prospects in 2007. Vaclavik did, too, but arm problems torpedoed his season and he was quickly out of baseball. Peterson was a failed starting prospect trying to get going again as a reliever. Hernandez always pitched well for the Pirates, but they never regarded him as more than an organizational guy.
The Pirates’ current front office isn’t big on developing pitchers as relievers unless it appears necessary to move the pitcher to relief. That would be Alderson, who probably has a better chance of turning things around than Matt Peterson did, if only by virtue of being a couple years younger. With an upper-90s fastball, Moreno once appeared to be a top prospect, but his status will be in doubt going into next year, assuming the Pirates don’t lose him in the Rule 5 draft. Cox is somewhat similar to Tony Watson. He’s missed part of this year but has pitched well and could advance as a LOOGY. Veterans and organizational pitchers will likely make up the rest of the 2012 bullpen.
The presence of McCutchen and Walker, and later Pearce, made Altoona the marquee affiliate for the Pirates in 2007, but there was little else of note. There were no other real prospects in the lineup. The starters were an odd assortment of suspects, the sort of AA rotation a team would put together on the fly when it was struggling to develop real pitching prospects. There was the usual assortment of relief prospects. Of course, it might be better to have a couple of top prospects and little else than to have a lot of depth and no high-ceiling guys.
The 2012 Curve should have at least marginal prospects at every position, or nearly so, with potentially more catching prospects than they’ll have room for. The high-profile hitting prospects would be Grossman, possibly Cunningham, and Sanchez if he returns, although none would be on McCutchen’s or Walker’s level. Cole will, of course, be the headliner if he opens in AA. The rest of the pitching staff will be primarily borderline sorts, unless McPherson returns there or Moreno regains his command and stays healthy. The makeup of the staff could depend heavily on the outcome of the Rule 5 draft.