It wasn’t the best of weeks in the farm system. Several players who are repeating levels don’t seem to be making progress, nor do a couple of upper level position prospects. On the other hand, two key prospects at Bradenton are turning up the heat, the Alen Hanson Show continues, and a little-known outfielder at West Virginia pushes for a regular job.
Brandon Boggs, OF (AAA): The minor league veteran Boggs in the first week of the season hit three HRs but little else. In the second week, however, he’s just plain been hitting. He’s gone 9-20 (.450) with two doubles and a HR, giving him a 1.017 OPS on the season. He now has four of Indianapolis’ seven HRs on the season. Boggs is very unlikely to get a shot in Pittsburgh, considering that he’s 29 and hasn’t hit in his limited major league opportunities. There’s also the fact that Starling Marte and Gorkys Hernandez are both on the 40-man roster and Boggs isn’t. Still, it might get tempting if Boggs keeps hitting, and Nate McLouth and Jose Tabata continue contributing nothing at the major league level.
The Altoona Four (well, half of it), LHPs (AAA): The seemingly prospect-laden Altoona rotation from 2010 (Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris and Rudy Owens) struggled in 2011, and all had a lot to prove going into 2012. Two members, Locke and Owens, both struggled in their first two starts for Indianapolis this year. Owens allowed five HRs in just twelve innings (although he gave up only two runs in seven innings in the second start), while Locke got pummeled his first two times out. Both pitched well in the past week, although it was only one game each. Owens, following a full week off, threw two-hit, shutout ball over seven innings, fanning five. He has yet to walk a batter in 19 IP. Locke allowed one run and seven hits over six innings, walking one and fanning eight. He now has 15 Ks over 15 IP, which is a good sign since his stuff isn’t overwhelming. It’s just one start, but hopefully they’ll both get on a run.
Doug Slaten, LHP (AAA): The veteran Slaten has had a good start in AAA, allowing just one run and six hits in 9.1 IP (0.96), with the run coming in the first of his six outings. The Pirates are making noises about adding a second left-handed reliever and Clint Hurdle has raised Slaten’s name. Unfortunately, Slaten has had a lot of chances in the majors and hasn’t shown himself to be an adequate reliever, but I’m just reporting what’s happening.
Adalberto Santos, OF (AA): After starting the season on the bench, Santos joined the regular lineup when Andrew Lambo got hurt. It’s going to be awfully hard to sit him back down. In the past week, he’s gone 12-22 (.545) with four doubles. In his last three games he’s gone 9-13 (.692) with all four of those doubles. On the season he’s hitting 469/541/594. He’s fanned only twice in 32 at-bats, while drawing five walks.
Alex Dickerson, 1B (High A): After a slow start, Dickerson suddenly started coming around with a four-hit game on Tuesday. He was still looking for his first extra-base hit when he homered and doubled on Sunday. On the week he went 9-20 (.450), leaving him at 288/344/356 on the season. Despite the early problems, he’s fanned in just one of every six at-bats, so hopefully he just needed an adjustment period.
Jameson Taillon, RHP (High A): Taillon posted his second straight strong start on Thursday, allowing four hits and a run over five innings while fanning six. He didn’t walk any in either of those starts. On the year he’s fanned 18 in 13.2 IP, while allowing just nine hits and two walks.
Alen Hanson, SS (Low A): With his hitting streak now up to 13 games, Hanson is hitting 405/443/757, with five steals in seven attempts. On the week he went 11-27 (.407). The one warning sign continues to be strikeouts, as he’s fanned 17 times in 17 games. Hanson’s blazing start, as well as his quickness and agility, has attracted the attention of all the top prospect hounds, with Keith Law giving him a glowing writeup recently. Unlike me, Law thinks he can stay at short. That’d be huge for a team that lacks an answer at the position.
Junior Sosa, OF (Low A): Sosa opened as the Power’s fourth outfielder and looked like he was headed for organizational player status, but a strong start has earned him increasing playing time. He’s now batting 343/378/486 on the year and hitting the ball with much more authority than in the past. He only has two walks, but he’s also fanned only once every seven at-bats. Sosa is still only 21 and has great speed, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the improvement holds.
Matt Benedict, RHP (Low A): Benedict has been a rare bright spot on a staff that’s largely struggled. He started twice during the week, allowing just two runs in 11.2 IP (1.54 ERA) on eleven hits and one walk. His season ERA is 0.84.
Zack Dodson, LHP (Low A): Dodson had one of his best pro starts on Friday, allowing just two unearned runs, three hits and one walk in six innings, while fanning eight. He’s pitched progressively better in each of his three starts so far.
Jordy Mercer, SS (AAA): Mercer started the season well, but quickly went into a slump over the past week, going just 2-22 (.091), both singles, with one walk and six Ks. He struggled after a mid-season promotion in 2011 and it would have been helpful for him to start strongly this year, especially with Clint Barmes right now ranking last among all MLB qualifiers in OPS by a sizeable margin. It’s especially important for Mercer to establish himself as an adequate fallback with Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro being unsuitable to play short on any sustained basis and with Chase d’Arnaud still out with a concussion.
Tim Wood, RHP (AAA): Wood has a history–including last year, when he spent most of the season in the Pirates’ organization–of pitching well in AAA and then imploding in the majors. When the Pirates brought him back for 2012, it seemed like a good depth move, but he’s struggled badly so far as Indy’s closer. He’s blown two of his three save opportunities while allowing twelve hits, five walks, three HRs and nine runs (seven earned) in just five and a third innings. Opponents are hitting .444 against him.
Robbie Grossman, OF (AA): Grossman so far is adapting slowly to AA. In the past week he’s gone 3-21 (.143), although he has drawn five walks. On the season he’s hitting 211/318/316 and he’s fanned in nearly 30% of his at-bats. It’s possible the off-season hamate surgery is affecting him more than he wants to let on.
Quincy Latimore, OF (AA): Like any player repeating a level, Latimore needed to start the season well, but he hasn’t. He’s hitting 188/235/292, with three walks and thirteen Ks. In the past week he’s gone 4-18 (.222).
Aaron Pribanic, RHP (AA): Another player repeating the level, Pribanic got knocked out in the third inning of his one start during the week, allowing nine hits and six runs in 2.2 IP. In three starts so far, his ERA is 7.36.
Gift Ngoepe, SS (High A): There’s no doubt that Ngoepe’s defense and speed are prospect-worthy, but his bat has been a question. He raised hopes with a hot start in low A last year that was cut short by a hamate injury. He’s off to a slow start at Bradenton, hitting 214/267/250 so far on the year. He’s fanned in nearly a third of his at-bats, so he seems to have a lot of adjusting to do. Patience is warranted, though, because he played less than a month at low A.
Willy Garcia, OF (Low A): Garcia is a potential five-tool player who came into the season very raw and is still showing it. After a decent start, he struggled badly in the last week, going 2-19 (.105) with eight Ks. On the year he’s hitting 183/203/267 with two walks and 18 Ks, numbers that fit much better on the current Pirates than on the Power.
Elias Diaz, C (Low A): The Pirates like Diaz, but he’s repeating the level and hitting just 132/193/151. In his past nine games he’s done his best Rod Barajas imitation, going 2-33 (.061). He could see a significant drop in playing time if Samuel Gonzalez gets healthy and joins the Power.
Trent Stevenson, RHP (Low A): Of all of the prep pitchers the Pirates drafted in 2009, Stevenson has made the least progress. In his last three outings he’s allowed eleven earned runs in just 5.2 IP. On the year his ERA is 10.13 and opponents are hitting .418 against him.