The season’s first two weeks have produced some noteworthy performances in the Pirates’ farm system, both good and bad. It’s way too early to start drawing any conclusions from these performances, but it’s not too early to scope out some players who’ll be interesting to follow closely, either with enthusiasm or concern. The biggest extremes have come at West Virginia and Bradenton, as a number of the Power’s hitters have gotten off to big starts and some of the Marauders’ just the opposite, while both teams have had massive fielding problems.
Stetson Allie, 1B (West Virginia): The former strong-armed pitching prospect has made by far the most noise in the system in the early going, leading to considerable discussion online about whether he’s a real power hitting prospect. Allie may have the most raw power in the system, but there wasn’t much to be encouraged about coming into the season. After he converted to hitting, he struggled in the Gulf Coast League last year, fanning in exactly a third of his ABs. It’s a measure of his struggles that, in the playoffs, the team went with Eric Wood at third and Edwin Espinal at first, while Allie rode the bench. Allie’s swing-and-miss tendencies seemed as troublesome as ever in training camp, which Tim Williams chronicled. The season’s first game was more of the same, as Allie fanned in all four of his ABs.
Since then, it’s been a completely different story. Despite starting the season 0-8, Allie is now hitting 407/478/780 and is leading the league in many categories. Even his plate discipline has been solid since that first game, with nine walks and eleven strikeouts. It’s impossible to say whether this will continue. The pitchers still may figure him out. It’s almost as hard to explain what’s changed, but one possibility is that Allie has learned to wait on off speed stuff and trust in his strength to drive the ball to any part of the park. Of his six HRs, only two have gone to left.
Eric Wood, 3B (West Virginia): Wood came into the season with far less visibility than Allie. A native Canadian drafted out of Blinn College, a Texas junior college, he was originally a pitcher but moved to third when he won the school’s homerun competition. He wasn’t well known when the Pirates drafted him in the 6th round, but the team liked his power potential. So far, that power is showing up well in games, as he’s slugging .604 and batting .333. There are some caveats, like a weak K:BB ratio of 10:3 and defensive problems in the form of six errors. But his strong start makes him worth checking on while you’re wondering how Allie did each day.
Raul Fortunato, OF (West Virginia): Fortunato is even more of an unknown quantity than Wood. The Pirates kept him in the Dominican Summer League for three years, which is never a good sign. He also isn’t loaded with tools, other than above average speed. He had a huge season in his third year, though, so the Pirates skipped him over the GCL and sent him to the New York-Penn League last year. He got hurt in his fourth game and missed the rest of the year, so he remains something of a mystery. He’s had a big start to his season, hitting 333/357/574 so far. Like Wood, his plate discipline hasn’t been impressive, as he has two walks and ten strikeouts. But he’s yet another hitter with the Power who’s interesting to follow right now.
Stolmy Pimentel, RHP (Altoona): As a “prospect” who’d had no success above class A and who had only one option left, Pimentel seemed little more than a throw-in as part of the Hanrahan trade. He pitched very well in camp and it’s continued into the season. He has yet to allow a run after two starts. In 12.1 IP, he’s allowed just seven hits and four walks, while fanning 11. The Pirates reportedly have coveted Pimentel for some time and it’s possible they’ve added another quality pitching prospect to the upper levels of their system.
Mel Rojas, Jr., OF (Altoona): Rojas hasn’t set the woods on fire so far, but he’s more than held his own in AA. After he posted a .657 OPS last year in high A, he seemed to have fallen off the prospect map. Rojas instead has put up a solid line of 288/339/423. Maybe more importantly, he’s cut his strikeout rate from one every four and a half last year to one every six and a half this year. That’s not an easy thing to do while moving up a level. Rojas has had promising stretches before and couldn’t continue it. Given his performance so far as a pro, it wouldn’t have been surprising if he’d been completely overmatched from day one in AA, so his first two weeks is encouraging.
Duke Welker, RHP (Indianapolis): Welker has upper-90s velocity, but despite gradual improvement hadn’t quite broken out, due largely to weak control. So far this year, though, he’s allowed no runs, two hits and no walks in eight innings. He’s fanned nine. That’s not a lot of innings, but if he can continue throwing strikes he could be an option for the Pirates’ bullpen very soon.
Jerry Sands, OF (Indianapolis): It was disappointing to see Sands cut early in spring training, but it’s been even more disappointing to see him open the season with a 186/205/186 line, with no extra base hits. One walk and eleven strikeouts isn’t so good, either. For some reason, it seems whenever the Pirates acquire a hitter who ostensibly has power, the lights immediately go out. Hopefully, Sands isn’t just the latest version of Andy LaRoche.
Matt Curry, 1B (Altoona): A numbers game resulted in Curry making his third trip to AA. Because he’s limited to first base, he needs to hit a lot, and because he’s already spent so much time at one level, he needs to do it immediately. Instead, he’s hitting 250/275/375, with two walks and 14 strikeouts.
Alen Hanson, SS (Bradenton): The big story in the system early last year has been a big story early this year, too, but for a different reason. Hanson’s severe defensive problems — ten errors in his first ten game — led to him sitting out the last three games. As Tim has discussed, Hanson makes the tough plays but loses focus on the easy ones. Although the fielding has gotten the most attention, Hanson hasn’t been any better at the plate. He’s hitting 191/224/255, with fourteen strikeouts and just two walks. Even with his breakout 2012 season, Hanson was clearly more raw than Gregory Polanco, so it’s not surprising that he’d run into some problems. Hopefully the time off will get him turned around.
Jose Osuna, 1B (Bradenton): Osuna had a good season last year as a 19-year-old in low A, so he seemed like a breakout candidate this year. The concern about him, though, is that he’s more mature physically than many players his age and not as athletic as Hanson or Polanco, so he may not have much projection remaining. So far in high A, he’s been overmatched, hitting 170/188/277 with no walks and eleven strikeouts.+ posts
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.