Where Are the Hitting Prospects?

The Pirates spent $5 M to sign Josh Bell, but he's one of few hitting prospects at the top of the Pirates' prospect rankings.

The first draft of the 2012 top 50 prospects for the 2012 Prospect Guide was completed last night, which means we’re about a thousand mini-changes away from the list being completed.  As I was formatting the top 50 section of the Prospect Guide today, it really stuck out how many pitching prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates have, especially at the top of the rankings.

The top 20 prospects include a split of 13 pitching prospects and seven hitting prospects.  That’s not a huge difference, although three of the seven hitters came in the 16-20 range, which means 11 of the first 15 prospects were pitchers.  This isn’t a big surprise.  The Pirates have focused a lot on pitching prospects, both in trades and the draft.  We see the complaint a lot that the farm system lacks hitting prospects, specifically power hitters.

Some of this is due to unrealistic expectations, as if every farm system is expected to have a handful of guys who will eventually hit 30 homers.  We’re still stuck in the steroid era of thinking, where 20 homers and 40 doubles a year doesn’t qualify as having “power”, and that the only definition of power includes home run totals, and starts with the number 30.  There’s also the fact that a lot of the rebuilding focus has been on the draft, and a big focus in the draft has been on pitching.  That leads to the question every year: what about hitters?

The Pirates definitely aren’t loaded with hitting prospects.  They saw some of their best hitting prospects graduate in the last few years, with Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata all making the jump to the majors.  Even guys like Chase d’Arnaud and Josh Harrison have lost prospect eligibility for the 2012 season, removing them from this discussion.  You can count on one hand the number of hitting prospects at the top two levels that have a shot at being better than average in the majors.

The Pirates aren’t loaded with hitting prospects, but they do have some hitting prospects, and we got a glimpse of that yesterday when Baseball America released their top 20 prospects from the Gulf Coast League.  Outfielder Jose Osuna was rated the number five prospect in the league, even getting rated ahead of Adonis Cardona, who received a $2.8 M signing bonus in 2010 from the Toronto Blue Jays.  Infielder Alen Hanson also was in the top 20, ranking at 14th overall in the league.

While the draft has favored pitchers, the international signings have been very hitter focused.  There’s the obvious exceptions to each category: Luis Heredia getting a large bonus in the international market, and Tony Sanchez and Josh Bell being selected with high picks in the draft.  Osuna and Hanson aren’t the only talented young international hitters in the system.  They both made the jump to the US this year along with several other high upside players, including outfielders Gregory Polanco and Willy Garcia, and shortstop Jodaneli Carvajal.

Next year the Pirates should see a few more position players make the jump to the US.  Dilson Herrera, who signed for $220 K in August 2010, and Raul Fortunato, who had a 36 game hitting streak in the Dominican Summer League this year, are both in the Florida Instructional Leagues, which is a good sign that they will be promoted to the GCL in 2012.  The Pirates also made two big signings during the 2011 international signing period, when they added outfielder Harold Ramirez for $1.05 M, and then signed outfielder Elvis Escobar for $570 K.  It would be a surprise if either player made the jump to the US in 2012.

In the short term, the big concern is the lack of depth at the upper levels.  That’s not a huge concern, as the Pirates have several positions filled for the next five or six years.  However, it does become a concern at certain positions.  The future behind the plate pretty much rests with Tony Sanchez.  The same goes with Pedro Alvarez at third base.  Neither player has put up a good season in 2011, and the Pirates don’t have any strong alternatives as starters in the upper levels of the minors.  Shortstop is another area of concern, although that’s one of the hardest positions to fill in the majors, and the Pirates do have some prospects for the position.  The final concern is first base, with Matt Curry and Matt Hague being the two options in the upper levels.

If you ask me, having a farm system that is heavy with pitching prospects, and light on hitting prospects, isn’t really a bad thing.  Everyone wants that dream scenario with a 50/50 split, a few ace pitching prospects, and a few power hitting prospects, but you’d be hard pressed to find a system like that anywhere in baseball. If the 2011 season has taught us anything, it’s that you win with pitching, and that hitting is easier to acquire than pitching. The Pirates were winning with a poor offense and great pitching.  The offense improved in August and September, but the pitching fell off, and so did the team.  Meanwhile, we saw pitchers like Koji Uehara and Mike Adams fetch huge returns on the trade market, and they were just relief pitchers.  At the same time, the Pirates added Derrek Lee, who was on a hot streak to the tune of .286/.323/.524 line in his previous 147 at-bats, in exchange for Aaron Baker, who was the fourth best first base prospect in the system.

If the Pirates are going to eventually contend, they’re going to need good pitching, and a lot of it.  They will obviously need hitting, but as we’ve seen this year, hitting is easier to come by, probably because teams realize the importance of pitching.  That’s why I’ve never been concerned with the balance of the current farm system.  You can never have too much pitching, and if you do, you can always trade the excess for hitting. The idea of a farm system is to have the most talent possible, in order to help the major league team.  When you start trying to fit your farm system to a limited criteria, and you start focusing on need, you move away from the goal of adding the most talent possible.  The Pirates have some hitting prospects, but the shift is definitely in favor of the pitchers.  Considering the value of pitching, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • Anonymous

    Tim wrote: “If the 2011 season has taught us anything, it’s that you win with
    pitching, and that hitting is easier to acquire than pitching.”

    If hitting were easier to acquire than pitching, then the Pirates should have had the hitting they needed and should have found themselves looking for pitching. But the pitching was OK to good for most of the season whereas the hitting has been poor for most of the season.

    If a team or the league finds it difficult to locate power hitters, then those power hitters a team does find will be especially valuable. The demand will be high and the supply low. Therefore, having one or more power hitters (and great hitters in general) will provide a competitive advantage on the team that has these hitters.

    Finally, a team wins by outscoring its opponents. It does not matter much how it accomplishes this goal. Nevertheless, if good power hitters are scarce in general and relative to the number of good pitchers in the league, then the team that has these good hitters to complement its good pitchers will likely prevail over the pitching only teams.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      The Pirates already found their pitching prior to this year. Their young hitters struggled, which was the reason they were looking for hitting. In a vacuum your theory might work, but not when you look at the Pirates’ situation and factor in the moves they have made over the years to get to this point.

      Also, the final statement works the other way. You win games by giving up fewer runs than your opponent. The successful teams tend to be the ones winning low scoring games, not relying on their offense to score 10 runs to win a 10-9 game.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

        totally agree with you, Tim.

        IMO pitching depth in the minors is key to building a strong franchise.  top pitching talent is super expensive and its much more sensible to grow your own arms.  excess pitching talent could always be traded for bats, especially since pitching is always at a premium.

  • Anonymous

    I will state again that it will take ten years to build this farm system. I think eventually this system will have a solid mix of all type of players as long as they keep their focus on acquiring prospects.

    However the major league team will just keep shuffling along.

    You can’t win with a bunch of hitters batting .220  I don’t care how good the staff is and I really don’t think that the staff next year is going to have the same success that they had at the start of this season. With the way he pitched untill he went down Maholm should have had at least 12 wins at the break and the other pitchers should have had more wins except for the lack of hitting. Maholm won’t be back and nobody really knows what the rest of the staff will do.This first part of the season my have just been an abarition.

    The Pirates can’t afford to acquire a good 3b because of Alvarez and Lee won’t sign here again so unless Alvarez finds himself they will have no offense again in the middle of the lineup.

    If the Pirates sign Doumit he will only play part time and on top of that he will spend significant time on the DL …..he always does. So there won’t be a lot of offense at catcher.

    No offense at SS.

    As long as the OF stays healthy the top of the lineup will be good but you can’t have a good team with Cutch and Walker as your middle of the order guys.

    I know I got off subject but it is all right not to have 30 HR guys but if you don’t you better have 7 guys hitting 15 with at least a 270 avg.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TQC5HKTKJ52MK7PN2CBR4JIWYQ Kevin

    Of our curiosity did Hughes make the Top 10?

    • Anonymous

      No.  One of us had him in a top 30 and maybe one other person in their top 50, but he didn’t place on 3 ballots.

      The reality is that he is older and his ceiling is that of a middle reliever, not an extremely valuable commodity.  Guys who are closer and proving themselves in AA and AAA get some extra consideration, but overall it is about ceiling and age-appropriateness.

  • David Lewis

    And of course, good pitching always beats good hitting, and vice-versa.