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February 19, 2010

Future Shock

Pirates Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
Four-Star Prospects
2. Tony Sanchez, C
3. Jose Tabata, OF
Three-Star Prospects
4. Starling Marte, OF
5. Chase D'Arnaud, SS
6. Brad Lincoln, RHP
7. Gorkys Hernandez, OF
8. Colton Cain, LHP
9. Rudy Owens, LHP
10. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Victor Black, RHP

Four More:
12. Tim Alderson, RHP: Alderson, a right-hander acquired in the Freddy Sanchez deal, has great command and control and a plus curve, but can 86-89 mph really get it done in the big leagues?
13. Ronald Uviedo, RHP: His size and effort in delivery might forecast a permanent move to bullpen, but he touched 95 mph last year while flashing a plus slider.
14. Brooks Pounders, RHP: This massive right-hander has more of a finesse profile; he could move quickly, but he has a limited ceiling.
15. Daniel McCutchen, RHP: He might end up as a usable fifth starter, or he might just be beginning the up-and-down stage of his career.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
DOB: 2/6/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/235
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Vanderbilt University
2009 Stats: .247/.342/.486 at High-A (66 G); .333/.419/.590 at Double-A (60 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: The Pirates' top pick in 2008 got off to a slow start, but Alvarez was among the best hitters in the minor leagues during the second half of the season.
The Good: Alvarez projects as a first-division third hitter with perennial All-Star potential. His understanding of the strike zone and approach is big-league quality, and he rarely makes soft contact, with nearly 45 percent of his 2009 hits going for extra bases. His raw power is a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and one scout compared his offensive upside to that of Mo Vaughn, who had five straight years of a 950+ OPS.
The Bad: Alvarez's conditioning is a concern to some, as his wide body borders on soft, and he did not play winter ball in order to focus solely on getting into better shape. Many feel he's destined for first base, but whether that will happen immediately or five years from now is debatable. His current size leaves him as a below-average third baseman, and he doesn't run well.
Ephemera: While Vanderbilt is one of the top baseball programs in the country, they've yet to make a big impact in the big leagues, as infielder Joey Cora is the all-time leader in home runs among players drafted out of the school, with just 30.
Perfect World Projection: Alvarez is a classic .300/.400/.500 slugger who will play the largest role in bringing the Pirates back to respectability.
Path to the Big Leagues: It won't take much longer.
Timetable: Alvarez is ready to produce in the big leagues, but the Pirates want to manage his service time, meaning he'll begin 2010 at Triple-A Indianapolis. If he continues to mash, he could be in the big leagues as early as late May, giving him some Rookie of the Year possibilities.

2. Tony Sanchez, C
DOB: 5/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Boston College
2009 Stats: .308/.357/.385 at Short-Season (4 G); .316/.415/.561 at Low-A (41 G); .200/.385/.300 at High-A (3 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: Sanchez was generally seen as one of the top college catchers and a mid-to-late first-round pick, but the Pirates surprised many by drafting Sanchez fourth overall.
The Good: Sanchez has a patient approach at the plate and has above-average pop for a catcher, but he also has the potential to be a special defensive player. He receives balls well, has a plus-plus arm, and does all of the non-stat things one expects from a catcher, with one scout proclaiming, "If we drafted on makeup alone, he'd be the first pick."
The Bad: Sanchez doesn't have big offensive upside. He takes a big cut at pitches and will always be prone to strikeouts. He's thickly built, even for a catcher, and he's also slow on the basepaths.
Ephemera: When batting with runners in scoring position with Low-A West Virginia, Sanchez went 23-for-53 with four home runs as part of a .434/.500/.774 batting line.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a .260-.270 hitter with 12-18 home runs annually and one of the best defensive catchers in the game.
Path to the Big Leagues: Sanchez is likely less than 200 minor-league games away from the big leagues, possibly much less.
Timetable: The Pirates were thrilled with Sanchez's pro debut, and they believe he could move quickly through their minor-league system. He could begin the year as high as Double-A, and he could be in the big leagues as early as next year.

3. Jose Tabata, OF
DOB: 8/12/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2004
2009 Stats: .303/.370/.404 at Double-A (61 G); .276/.333/.410 at Triple-A (32 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: This sweet-swinging outfielder seemed to finally be tapping into some of his potential, as he had a good showing at the upper levels.
The Good: Tabata has one of the quickest bats in the minors, as the barrel rockets into the strike zone and smacks balls from line to line, while Tabata still teases with the occasional ability to really drive pitches into the gaps. He's not as aggressive as he once was, as he's learned how to wait for better pitches. He's a solid outfielder who works in center field in a pinch, and his arm is a true plus tool.
The Bad: After hitting just five home runs in 362 at-bats last year, fewer and fewer scouts are projecting that Tabata will ever hit for power. Questions about his age have dogged him throughout his career, and even the Pirates don't seem to be convinced based on recent comments. If he can't stay in center, where his average speed limits his range, he'll need to be a consistent .300-plus hitter to work as a corner outfielder.
Ephemera: Tabata saw some rare action in the leadoff role with Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, batting .426/.475/.611 in his 12 games there.
Perfect World Projection: It's likely that Tabata will be a .300-hitting outfielder, but one whose value is overrated, as he lacks much in the way of secondary skills.
Path to the Big Leagues: This should be his final year in the minors.
Timetable: Tabata's Triple-A showing showed that there are still some adjustments to be made. He'll begin 2010 back at Indianapolis, but he should make his big-league debut at some point during the year.

4. Starling Marte, OF
DOB: 10/9/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006
2009 Stats: .000/.000/.000 at Rookie-level (2 G); .312/.377/.439 at Low-A (54 G); 1.000/1.000/1.000 at High-A (1 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Marte was a virtual unknown entering the year, but he had scouts scrambling to get more information based on a stunning U.S. debut.
The Good: Marte easily has the best all-around tools in the system. Long-limbed and ultra-athletic, he's a 65-70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, covers considerable ground in center field, and has an above-average arm. He rarely looked overmatched against Sally League pitching, and some scouts project for him to hit for average power down the road.
The Bad: Marte will be 21 for all of 2010, but he has some of the rawness normally associated with a teenager. He needs to tone down his aggressiveness at the plate, and good breaking balls can turn him into a chaser at times. He needs his speed in center to make up for bad jumps and routes.
Ephemera: Marte's season at Low-A West Virginia began with a 10-game hitting streak, and then after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Delmarva, he started another streak of 22 games.
Perfect World Projection: Other than Alvarez, Marte is the only position player in the system with true impact-level upside, but he's not without considerable risk.
Path to the Big Leagues: Marte still needs two or three years before he's ready.
Timetable: Despite his inexperience, Marte will move up to High-A Bradenton in 2010, and many feel he could be a Top-100 candidate come next year.

5. Chase d'Arnaud, SS
DOB: 1/21/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2008, Pepperdine University
2009 Stats: .291/.394/.427 at Low-A (62 G); .296/.402/.481 at High-A (54 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: A classic safe college pick, d'Arnaud had a blistering pro debut across both A-level teams.
The Good: D'arnaud is a classic max-effort grinder, but he's not without tools. Slightly above-average speed and a plus arm buoy his outstanding defensive fundamentals. He displays a solid approach to go with a line-drive swing and gap power at the plate. He's an excellent baserunner and plays with an infectious energy.
The Bad: d'Arnaud's greatest strength is a lack of weaknesses, as he doesn't have any one standout tool. Scouts don't think he'll ever develop much power, nor is he the quick-twitch athlete that most normally associate with a shortstop.
Ephemera: d'Arnaud was a 2005 graduate of Los Alamitos High in Southern California, a school that has produced numerous pro athletes in baseball and football, as well as a number of post-punk ska bands including Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris.
Perfect World Projection: d'Arnaud looks to be a solid-but-unspectacular everyday shortstop.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Pirates are in a bit of flux at shortstop, so there could be an opportunity for d'Arnaud sooner rather than later.
Timetable: d'Arnaud will begin 2010 at Double-A Altoona, and he could even be a surprise call-up in September.

6. Brad Lincoln, RHP
DOB: 5/25/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, University of Houston
2009 Stats: 2.28 ERA (75.0-63-18-65) at Double-A (13 G); 4.70 ERA (61.1-72-10-42) at Triple-A (12 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: A former top pick, Lincoln was impressive in his first full season after Tommy John surgery in 2007, although he hit some stumbling blocks at Triple-A.
The Good: Lincoln goes right after hitters with a 90-92 mph fastball that consistently gets up to 94, and his power curve is a true plus offering. His command and control is well above average, and it's almost remarkable for a recent Tommy John survivor. He's a fantastic athlete who fields his position extraordinarily well.
The Bad: While Lincoln's fastball has above-average velocity, it also has well below-average movement, with one scout classifying the pitch as "straight as an arrow." He can get inconsistent with his changeup, either overthrowing it and losing movement, or under-throwing it and telegraphing the pitch with slow arm action.
Ephemera: Lincoln is the highest drafted player even out of the University of Houston, with 2003 draftees Ryan Wagner (Reds) and Brad Sullivan (A's) being the only others to go within the first 25 selections.
Perfect World Projection: He's a third or fourth starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lincoln is nearly a finished product.
Timetable: Lincoln will get a long look this spring, but has little shot of breaking camp in the big leagues. He'll return to Indianapolis to begin the year, but he's seen by many as the team's sixth starter who will be the first to get a call should the need arise.

7. Gorkys Hernandez, OF
DOB: 9/7/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2005 (DET)
2009 Stats: .316/.361/.387 at Double-A (52 G) with Braves; .262/.312/.340 at Double-A (86 G) with Pirates; .282/.331/.358 at Double-A (138 G) with both
Last Year's Ranking: 4 (Braves)

Year in Review: This big-name prospect was a big disappointment after arriving in Pittsburgh in the Nate McLouth deal.
The Good: Hernandez still has impressive tools. He's a plus-plus runner with a quick bat and projects for 10-12 home run power down the road. He's among the best defensive outfielders in all of the minor leagues, with fantastic jumps, flawless routes and an above-average arm.
The Bad: Hernandez thinks he's a power hitter at times, getting pull-conscious and loopy with his swing, leading to far too many strikeouts. He needs to develop better plate discipline and a more line drive-focused approach to fit at the top of a lineup. He was clearly frustrated by his slumps after the trade, and he pressed.
Ephemera: While Hernandez struggled at Altoona, it doesn't look like he was staying out too late, as he hit .421/.450/.658 in 10 day games with the Curve.
Perfect World Projection: The tools to be a good everyday center fielder are there, but he's definitely down from where he was last year.
Path to the Big Leagues: It all depends on what happens this year.
Timetable: While his performance hasn't necessarily earned it, Hernandez will move up to Indianapolis in 2010, with the hope that he'll do well enough to earn a September look.

8. Colton Cain, LHP
DOB: 2/5/91
Height/Weight: 6-3/225
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 8th round, 2009, Waxahachie HS (TX)
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: This big Texas lefty slipped in the draft due to signability concerns, but he finally got a seven-figure bonus.
The Good: Cain's classic power frame and arsenal is made all the better as it comes from the left side. He sits in the low 90s, touches 94, and most think that will become more commonplace velocity for him down the road. He already flashes a plus curveball and some feel for a changeup. He's good and he knows it, and he pitches with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder.
The Bad: Cain had an inconsistent spring, as he was often guilty of overthrowing, costing him both command and movement. He has a beefy build, and conditioning could be an issue down the road. His attitude borders on arrogance for some.
Ephemera: Former Mets and Indians reliever Jerrod Riggan (Angels, 1996) is the last player drafted 235th overall to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He projects to be an above-average big-league starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: He has yet to pitch a professional inning, so there's tons of risk here.
Timetable: Cain signed too late to make his pro debut, so he might not be ready for a full-season assignment. It's possible that his name won't appear in a box score until June, when the short-season leagues begin.

9. Rudy Owens, LHP
DOB: 12/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 28th round, 2006, Mesa HS (AZ)
2009 Stats: 1.70 ERA (100.2-71-15-91) at Low-A (19 G); 3.86 ERA (23.1-29-2-22) at High-A (6 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Pittsburgh's breakout player of the year was among the top performers in the Sally League.
The Good: Owens' command and control rates with anyone in the system. He fills all four quadrants of the strike zone with an average-velocity fastball that can occasionally get up to 92 mph. He'll flash a solid curveball, but his changeup is a true plus offering with hard late-biting action.
The Bad: Owens just doesn't have much in the way of upside. He's a strike-thrower with average-at-best stuff, and many wonder how well it will play at the upper levels, with many feeling that he'll need to significantly improve his breaking ball to remain a starter.
Ephemera: Sally League batters facing Owens in 2009 with runners on and two outs went a ridiculous 3-for-55 (.055).
Perfect World Projection: He's a back-of-the-rotation starter or nice middle reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's one of those prospects that needs to prove himself at every level.
Timetable: Owens will try to prove that 2009 was for real, beginning the 2010 season at Bradenton.

10. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP
DOB: 9/24/90
Height/Weight: 6-5/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2009, Zachary HS (LA)
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: Like Cain, Rosenburg was another high-ceiling arm who fell due to a high price tag, ultimately getting a deal done for $1.2 million.
The Good: Von Rosenberg is all about projection. He is 6-foot-5 with even longer levers, and scouts are nearly universal in believing that he'll throw much harder than his current 88-90 mph down the road. His arm action is silky smooth and effortless, and his command is well above average.
The Bad: Von Rosenberg's low three-quarters delivery gives some scouts pause, as it prevents him from getting much downward bite on his curveball, and it could leave him susceptible to left-handed hitters down the road. He offers plenty to dream on, but his pure stuff is mediocre right now
Ephemera: Rosenberg started and won the Louisiana 4-A state championship game during all four of his high school seasons.
Perfect World Projection: Rosenberg will be a good big-league starting pitcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Cain, Von Rosenberg will require patience.
Timetable: Rosenburg has the polish to handle a full year at West Virginia, but he could stil be a year or two away from really taking off.

11. Victor Black, RHP
DOB: 5/23/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Dallas Baptist University (TX)
2009 Stats: 3.45 ERA (31.1-26-15-33) at Short-season (13 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: A supplemental first-round pick, Black had a breakout spring at a small Texas school, pitching himself into the supplemental first round and impressing in his pro debut.
The Good: Black has some of the best velocity in the system, sitting at 92-95 mph and touching 97. He has a big, strong frame and maintains his velocity deep into games. He'll flash a good slider at times, and has improved his command and control throughout the spring.
The Bad: Black still needs to develop a deeper arsenal, as his slider is inconsistent and his changeup is well below average. He rushes his delivery at times, causing him to drift and lose the strike zone. For a pitcher who turns 22 in May, he's more raw than most.
Ephemera: In seven starts for short season State College during his pro debut, Black did not allow an earned run in the first or second frames, giving up just six hits and striking out 15 over 14 innings.
Perfect World Projection: If his secondary stuff comes around, he could remain a starter, but many still peg him as a future reliever, albeit with late-inning possibilities.
Path to the Big Leagues: He could take as little as two years.
Timetable: Black's age and advanced fastball could have the Pirates moving him aggressively, with a possible 2010 Opening Day assignment at Bradenton.

The Sleeper: Acquired from Seattle in the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade, righty Brett Lorin is a finesse pitcher packed into a giant 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame with excellent command and a deceptive delivery.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Andrew McCutchen, OF
3. Lastings Milledge, OF
4. Tony Sanchez, C
5. Jose Tabata, OF
6. Starling Marte, OF
7. Chase D'Arnaud, SS
8. Brad Lincoln, RHP
9. Donnie Veal, LHP
10. Jose Ascanio, LHP

Having McCutchen at No. 2 is not a knock against him in the least; it's just that Alvarez really does have some MVP possibilities with the bat. Milledge has matured considerably since his Mets days, is out of the spotlight with few expectations, and could be one of the big leagues' better sleeper picks this year. I still have some faith in Veal, especially after what he showed in the Arizona Fall League. Ascanio has some bullpen upside due to his plus velocity but is out until the All-Star break after undergoing shoulder surgery last July.

Summary: While unquestionably a better system than it was a year ago, the transformation of the Pirates from perennial laughingstock to a consistent competitor is still in the very early stages. They need to remain aggressive in the draft, but hopefully they can do it this year without also sacrificing their top pick, as they did in 2009.


Next up: the St. Louis Cardinals.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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