Are We There Yet? Part Four
This is the last installment of the comparison of the Pirates’ farm system as it stood at the beginning of 2007 and 2012. This part covers the low A teams, Hickory in 2007 and West Virginia in 2012.
2007: Kris Watts
2012: Samuel Gonzalez, Jonathan Schwind
I always liked Watts better than the Pirates. He was a late-round draft pick and it was always clear that they only regarded him as an organizational player.
Gonzalez had a strong season at State College this year before getting hurt recently. He seems to be a legitimate prospect. It’s harder to say with Schwind, a college draftee who went to the GCL after the draft to make the transition from infielder to catcher. He’s dominated the younger competition there, but we need to see him at a more age appropriate level.
2007: Kent Sakamoto, Jared Keel, Jim Negrych, Angel Gonzalez, Eddie Prasch
2012: Jose Osuna, Dan Gamache, Kirk Singer, Chris Lashmet, Ashley Ponce, Alen Hanson?, Yhonathan Barrios?, Jodaneli Carvajal?
Of the 2007 Hickory infielders, Sakamoto was an organizational player; the Pirates in those days had a puzzling habit of drafting defense-oriented firstbasemen in the middle rounds. Negrych looked like he had a shot at reaching the majors as a bat off the bench. Gonzalez had some ability at short but was very erratic. He was promoted prematurely when the Lynchburg shortstop, Dan Schwartzbauer, suddenly retired. Prasch was a former third-round pick whose prospect status was rapidly evaporating due to consistent struggles at the plate. Keel was an organizational player who started the year as the utility guy, but he had a big year at the plate and won a regular job. He never got past high A.
The Pirates will have some challenges putting together an infield for West Virginia in 2012. They’ve paid little attention to position players in the last couple drafts and the college hitters they drafted as organizational guys this year have performed very poorly at State College. Adding to the difficulty, one of the infielders they drafted, Brian Sharp, retired halfway through the State College season. I’m guessing they’ll try to jump Jose Osuna over a level after his strong GCL season and that he’ll play first. Otherwise, they’ll probably have to find a free agent firstbaseman or pick one in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. They seem interested in moving Gamache, their sixth-round pick, from third to second, where his bat will play better. He could develop into a prospect at that position. Singer and Lashmet aren’t likely to be more than organizational players and could man short and third. Ponce has a good glove and could fill one position, but he’d also be an organizational guy. The Pirates could try to jump one or more of their GCL infielders—Hanson, Barrios or Carvajal—up to full season ball. Any of these guys could be prospects, but that might be taking a risk with their development.
2007: Jamie Romak, James Boone, Alex Presley, Jonel Pacheco
2012: Josh Bell, Wes Freeman, Carlos Mesa, Rodarrick Jones, Taylor Lewis, Alex Fuselier, Willy Garcia?
The season opening outfield at Hickory in 2007 didn’t stay together long. Romak had a strong season in low A in 2006, but in keeping with their practice of emphasizing performance over development, the Pirates sent him back to the level. Like Steve Pearce a level higher, Romak started the season hot and soon earned a promotion. Boone also was returning to the level, although he’d missed most of the previous season with an injury. He also earned an early promotion and looked like a good prospect until he flamed out in AA. Presley looked more like an organizational player and was headed that way until his dramatic breakout in 2010. Pacheco was signed as a free agent and figured to be an organizational player, although he had a huge fluke season in 2007.
Two of the outfield spots for the 2012 Power should be easy. Bell figures to be one of the better hitting prospects in the minors and will almost certainly skip over short season ball. Freeman earned a spot with his sudden turnaround this year. It’s too soon to tell whether he can regain his prospect status, but at least there’s a chance. The remaining outfield spot and probably a lot of DH at-bats could be taken by any of a number of players. Mesa is a Cuban signee who hit well at State College until he got hurt around mid-season. He looks more like an organizational player to me, but that’s mainly a gut feeling. Jones is an unknown quantity who hasn’t played much the last couple years. He could return to State College. Fuselier is an organizational player and hasn’t hit at State College, so he also could go back there. Lewis is a toolsy outfielder whom the Pirates scouted closely, and who also has struggled at State College. College hitters sometimes struggle initially with wood bats and Lewis didn’t come from a top program, so there’s at least a chance he could turn things around next year. Garcia is one of the Pirates’ better Latin American prospects and could try to make the jump from the GCL.
2007: Jared Hughes, Mike Crotta, Brad Clapp, Henry Cabrera, Mike Felix
2012: Nick Kingham, Ryan Hafner, Matt Benedict, Jordan Cooper, Josh Poytress, Mike Jefferson
Hughes and Crotta were prototype Pirate draft picks during the Littlefield era: college pitchers who got a lot of groundballs and seldom missed bats. The Pirates were very high on Hughes, while Crotta looked more like an organizational pitcher. Neither ever did well as a starter, but that was still in the future. Clapp was highly regarded when he was drafted but by 2007 had been struggling for a couple years with arm problems. Felix had very good stuff but projected as a reliever. He lasted just three starts before being moved to the bullpen, due to severe control problems. Cabrera had been cut loose by the Red Sox and was a longshot to go anywhere.
Kingham and Hafner are good pitching prospects, possibly very good in Kingham’s case. Cooper is thought to have significant ability but wasn’t able to harness it in college. Benedict, Poytress and Jefferson appear likely to be organizational players.
2007: Olivo Astacio, Charles Benoit
2012: Stetson Allie?, Orlando Castro
Astacio and Benoit both looked like good relief prospects at one point, although in Benoit’s case it was more because he had an outstanding 2007 season, as opposed to anything he did before then. Astacio was released later after attacking a teammate. Benoit flamed out in high A.
The Pirates now try to push all their pitching prospects as starters, so it’s hard to identify a pitcher at this level as a “relief prospect.” Allie seems unlikely to be to open 2012 in low A, but if he does it’ll almost certainly be in the bullpen. Despite his control problems in 2011, he still has a very high ceiling. Although he’s had a very good US debut in 2011, Castro is a small lefty who’s somewhat similar to several other pitchers the Pirates have had in recent years who so far look like organizational pitchers.
For a low minors team, the 2007 Hickory team had remarkably little upside as the Pirates’ drafting problems were steadily growing. Their complete disinterest in Latin America didn’t help, either. There were no high-ceiling players on the roster, at least not ones who projected as everyday players or starters. The best prospects on the team were probably Romak, Boone, Negrych and Hughes, and maybe Clapp if he could have gotten healthy. They all had significant drawbacks: defense (Romak and Negrych), plate discipline (Romak and Boone), lack of power (Negrych), recurring injury problems (Boone, Clapp), and an inability to miss bats (Hughes). Felix had a high ceiling as a reliever. Nobody could have predicted that Presley would turn out by far the best of the bunch.
The 2012 West Virginia team is likely to be shallow, especially the lineup; the Pirates’ laser-like focus on high school righthanders has left the system short on hitters and State College this year didn’t have any strong college pitchers. Bell, however, puts the 2012 squad ahead of the 2007 bunch all by himself, and Kingham has very good potential. Hafner, Gonzalez, and Osuna could also develop into good prospects, and there’s always the chance that Freeman or Cooper could put his significant talent to use. There may be other, higher ceiling players there, as well, depending on where Allie and the various players who showed some promise this year in the GCL are assigned.