In the last two years we’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates graduate some top hitting prospects from Indianapolis, with Andrew McCutchen getting the call in 2009, and Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata coming up in 2010. The 2011 season didn’t have any flashy names, but we did see a lot of guys come up and fill holes in the majors, keeping the Pirates afloat in the standings up until the end of July.
The biggest standout this year was Alex Presley, who had sort of a surprising season if you didn’t take his 2010 season as being legit. The Pirates also saw Chase d’Arnaud, Josh Harrison, and Eric Fryer make their major league debuts this year, getting the call from Indianapolis. Here is a run down of how each player at Indianapolis did this season.
Coming in to the season the first two prospects listed from this group were the favorites to emerge as the eventual long term third option in the outfield, paired along side Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. Andrew Lambo and Gorkys Hernandez both struggled in AA last year, but both were former top prospects, and both were young enough to still make something of their careers. Lambo ended up struggling, moving to the bench, and eventually getting demoted to AAA.
Hernandez on the other hand had a strong season. He started out with some struggles in April, but hit for a .283 average in May, and a .337 average in June. He was around the .260 marks in July and August, with a low walk rate in July. He is very strong defensively, and has some speed, but his lack of power makes him a top of the order hitter at best, which means his overall .283 average and .348 OBP probably won’t cut it. He profiles more as a fourth outfielder at this point, because of his speed and defense, although he could spend another year in AAA trying to improve on that.
Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud both made the jump to AAA after spending the 2010 season in Altoona and the 2009 season in Lynchburg. Both hitters have made it to the majors with different results. D’Arnaud struggled in Altoona last year, but bounced back in Indianapolis this year, before getting the call to the majors. He looked over-matched in the majors, struggling on both sides of the game, although it is notable that the team started going down hill when he and Alex Presley went on the disabled list in late July. The Pirates have been giving d’Arnaud some time at shortstop lately, although he probably needs more time in AAA next year.
Harrison struggled in his initial call to the majors, but has been strong in his recent call up, hitting for a .286/.303/.460 line in 63 at-bats. There are questions about Harrison’s future role in the majors, with his lack of walks, and his lack of power. He’s doing a good job lately in the power department, using his speed to get extra base hits. The Pirates’ offense has been at it’s best with a spark at the top of the lineup, and Harrison is a guy who can provide that spark, although his role ultimately might be decided by the last guy on the list.
Pedro Alvarez has been a big disappointment this year. He was looked at as the guy who would carry the offense, not just in 2011, but for years to come. He struggled in the majors, and was demoted to AAA, where he put up some strong numbers, allowing him to return by the end of July. He got off to a good start in his return to the majors, although the hot streak was short lived, and he quickly moved back to AAA, where he has struggled. The Pirates will, and should, give Alvarez every opportunity to succeed, as no one in the organization has his upside.
Normally a guy from this group needs to really step up with strong numbers in order to have a shot as a starter in the majors. The one guy who did that was Alex Presley, who proved that last year’s success was no fluke. Presley got the call to the majors, where he has continued his strong season, hitting for a .315/.371/.485 line in 130 at-bats. Right now he’s a lock to be in the starting outfield next year, and his performance in the majors will raise some interesting questions once guys like Starling Marte are ready from the lower levels. His emergence in the last year has also made it so that any performance from guys like Gorkys Hernandez or Andrew Lambo are a bonus to the organization, rather than something the organization is relying on.
The other player who has seen a lot of major league time this year is Eric Fryer. Because of the amount of injuries behind the plate, Fryer moved from high-A to the majors in one year, getting limited playing time in the majors as the backup to Michael McKenry. Fryer looked strong defensively, and while he didn’t have strong results at the plate, it was probably due more to having less than 150 at-bats above the AA level.
Matt Hague and Jordy Mercer are two guys from this list who could have a future as a major league starter. Hague’s upside is really a major league average first baseman at best, as there is little chance that he is able to take his numbers from AAA this year and see no drop off in the majors. Mercer had a down year in Altoona last year, but bounced back this year, including a lot of power from the shortstop position. He’s on the older side, and struggled in his first half season in AAA, but with the shortstop position open in the majors, he should get an opportunity to try and win the job.
This group features mostly organizational players and depth options. Jason Jaramillo is the only one on the 40-man roster, and is out of options after the 2011 season. That will lead to an interesting decision, as the Pirates have Eric Fryer and Michael McKenry seemingly ahead of him on the depth charts. One interesting name from this list is Jeff Clement. He was recovering from a knee injury for most of the year, but returned and hit for a strong line, considering he only played one month out of the year. He’s on the old side, although he’s shown power in the majors, which makes him an intriguing guy to watch, even if he has a very slim chance of hitting for the average needed to make that power worthwhile.