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December 29, 2008

Future Shock

Pirates Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF
Four-Star Prospects
3. Jose Tabata, OF
Three-Star Prospects
4. Bryan Morris, RHP
5. Robbie Grossman, CF
6. Quinton Miller, RHP
7. Brad Lincoln, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
8. Neil Walker, 3B
9. Jim Negrych, 2B
10. Brian Friday, SS
11. Donald Veal, LHP

Just Missed: Chase D'Arnaud, SS; Daniel McCutchen, RHP; Jaime Romak, 1B/OF

Ranking Challenges: The moment that he signed (or signed again, depending on how you look at it), Alvarez instantly became the top prospect in the system. Morris' youth and his performance after Tommy John surgery gives him an advantage over Lincoln, who is coming back from the same procedure, while the two over-slot 2008 draftees fit in between. Walker was a rather easy (albeit uninspiring) choice to follow at number eight, and the number nine through 11 slots could be occupied by any of the next 10 players.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
DOB: 2/6/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/225
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Vanderbilt University
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The top college player in the country maintained that status despite losing much of the season to a broken hand, and missed an opportunity to make his pro debut due to negotiation shenanigans.
The Good: Scouts are nearly universal in their praise for Alvarez' offensive skills. He has a very professional approach at the plate, combining excellent bat control with plus-plus power, and projects for many as a number three hitter on a championship-level club. He's a heady player with good defensive fundamentals, average speed, and a solid arm.
The Bad: Alvarez does have some swing-and-miss in his game, and he's apt to press in search of power instead of allowing his natural strength work for him. His range at third is no more than average, and some fear that his thick frame will eventually limit him to playing first base. The missed time during this summer's legal mess did little to dispel those concerns, as he showed up for the fall instructional league significantly out of shape.
Fun Fact: Alvarez' college nicknames were El Toro ("The Bull") and El Matatan, which translates loosely as, "the big man."
Perfect World Projection: A consistent All-Star and an occasional MVP candidate at the hot corner.
Glass Half Empty: Not as valuable at first base, but still a special batsman.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Pirates need a hitter like this in their lineup as soon as possible.
Timetable: The Pirates believe that Alvarez can move quickly through the minors. Even if he doesn't start there, the goal is for Alvarez to spend at least some time at Double-A Altoona, with an eye towards a big-league job at some point in 2010.

2. Andrew McCutchen, CF
DOB: 10/10/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, Fort Meade HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .283/.372/.398, .269 EqA at Triple-A (135 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: As the top prospect entering the year, he made solid progress at Triple-A, but not without creating some questions about his ultimate ceiling.
The Good: McCutchen easily possesses the best overall set of tools in the system. He's a strong, wiry athlete who showed a much improved approach in 2008, and he has the bat speed and the wrists to hit for average power down the road. His plus-plus speed makes him dangerous both in the field and on the basepaths, and his arm is at least average.
The Bad: While McCutchen has cut his strikeout rate dramatically, it's come at the expense of his power; after hitting 17 home runs in his full-season debut, he managed only nine at Triple-A. He covers plenty of ground in center, but often needs to compensate with speed to make up for his poor jumps.
Fun Fact: On the rare occasion when McCutchen played in an outfield corner, McCutchen hit just .213 (10-for-47).
Perfect World Projection: He's not the 30-30 player he was once projected as, but he could become a 20/40 type.
Glass Half Empty: If the power doesn't come, his on-base skills will make him a good player, but not an impact one.
Path To The Big Leagues: Nate McClouth had a breakout campaign, but he's a little short in center defensively, so the door is still open.
Timetable: For now, McCutchen is a long shot to make the team out of spring training, but he should get a second-half call-up in anticipation of taking over as a starter in 2010.

3. Jose Tabata, OF
DOB: 8/12/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2004 (Yankees)
2008 Stats: Yankees: .248/.320/.310, .213 EqA at Double-A (79 G); Pirates: .455/.538/1.091 at Rookie-level (4 G); .348/.402/.562, .305 EqA at Double-A (22 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4 (Yankees)

Year in Review: This hot prospect in the Yankees' system was having a miserable year at Double-A, but came alive following a trade to Pittsburgh.
The Good: Tabata combines a lightning-fast bat with hitting skills that are highly advanced for a player who just turned 20 at the end of the season. He has great plate coverage, the ability to adjust to in-flight pitches, and should eventually hit for average power. He's a solid athlete and a good outfielder who can play center in a pinch.
The Bad: The first part of Tabata's 2008 season cannot be ignored: beyond the poor performance, he clashed with coaches, showed questionable effort at the plate, and was downright indifferent on defense. The Pirates insist they've had no issues with him since his signing, and they feel that the change of scenery was the key to his late-season surge. He'll probably be limited to a corner outfield slot as his body fills out, though he lacks the power profile for the position.
Fun Fact: Tabata is from the Venezuelan state of Anzoategui, the center for the country's oil production. The name is taken from Jose Antonio Anzoategui, a general in the Venezuelan War of Independence of the 1820s.
Perfect World Projection: A consistent high-average hitter with 15-18 home runs and 60 walks per year.
Glass Half Empty: If he intends to stick as an everyday player he'll need to become a solid .300 hitter. If not, he could end up as more of a bench player.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Pirates have a number of young outfielders in the majors, but Tabata's ceiling is high enough that they may have to step aside.
Timetable: Still just 20 years old, the Pirates might return him to Double-A, where he'd still be among the league's youngest players. The hope is that he can dominate and continue to build confidence before moving to Triple-A.

4. Bryan Morris, RHP
DOB: 3/28/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Motlow State CC (Dodgers)
2008 Stats: Dodgers: 3.20 ERA at Low-A (81.2-74-31-72), 6.78 DERA; Pirates: 5.02 ERA at Low-A (14.1-17-12-11), 8.76 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed (Dodgers)

Year in Review: This first-round pick made a successful return from Tommy John surgery, and was a key component in the three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.
The Good: Morris became the highest-ceiling pitcher in the system when he was acquired. His velocity is all the way back to its pre-surgery level, with his fastball sitting at 91-94 mph and touching 96. While he limited the use of his curveball upon his return, it's a plus-power breaking pitch than he can throw for strikes or bury as a chase pitch. Scouts praise his competitiveness and aggressiveness on the mound.
The Bad: Morris' changeup rates well below his other offerings, though he does show some feel for the pitch. Like many TJ survivors in their first year back, his command came and went throughout the year. While his arm action is fairly clean, the injury background will remain a concern for a few more years.
Fun Fact: Morris played one year for his father, who is the coach at Motlow Community College. The only player drafted out of the school to reach the majors so far is 18-year veteran David Weathers.
Perfect World Projection: A solid mid-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: If the changeup fails to develop or there are concerns about his workload, he still has enough stuff to become a late-inning reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: A healthy, full year with the Pirates will help to clarify this.
Timetable: Morris will return to High-A to begin 2009 with hopes of reaching Double-A by the end of the season. Many believe that he could be the best player acquired by the Pirates at the trade deadline, despite being the furthest away.

5. Robbie Grossman, CF
DOB: 9/16/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: S/L
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2008, Cy-Fair HS (TX)
2008 Stats: .188/.381/.250 at Rookie-level (5 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Pirates shocked the industry by paying an over-slot bonus of $1 million for this sixth-round pick-roughly the money that Grossman was in line for before a disappointing senior year.
The Good: Where his tools and athleticism are concerned, Grossman has plenty of upside. His compact frame offers plus power from both sides of the plate, he's a plus runner, and he has good range in center field and plenty of throwing ability.
The Bad: Grossman fell into some bad habits last spring; a serious case of draft-itis had him trying too hard to impress the scouts, and he began to get away from the strengths in his game. His swing is not especially smooth, leaving some to question his ability to hit for average, and his thick body has many believing that it will be difficult for him to maintain his speed.
Fun Fact: Taking its name from a combination of the towns of Cypress and Fairbanks, Cy-Fair's most famous alumni is actress Sandy Duncan.
Perfect World Projection: He could have a dangerous combination power and speed.
Glass Half Empty: There are too many red flags from last season, and he may never develop as expected.
Path To The Big Leagues: There's nothing to worry about at this point.
Timetable: Grossman represents what Pirates fans hope is a new and aggressive strategy in the draft, and he'll make his full-season debut at the organization's new, close-to-home Low-A affiliate at West Virginia.

6. Quinton Miller, RHP
DOB: 11/28/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Shawnee HS (NJ)
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Another indication of the new era in Pittsburgh, Miller fell in the draft and was expected to go to North Carolina, but $900,000 at the deadline convinced him to turn pro.
The Good: He has a projectable power arm, sitting at 90-93 mph with a fastball that touches 95. His slider is a viscous two-plane breaker that already flashes as plus. Scouts like the confidence, bordering on cockiness, that he brings to the mound.
The Bad: The combination of geographic location and his shoulder problems as a junior have left him lacking in experience. His changeup is rudimentary at best, and his mechanics, while not overly violent, could use some smoothing out.
Fun Fact: Quinton McCracken is the only 'Quinton' in big-league history. The name is an Old English variation of Quentin, meaning "Queen's Place."
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a solid major league starting pitcher.
Glass Half Empty: He's already had shoulder problems, and he is a project.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's far too early to consider this.
Timetable: Because he signed too late to be able to pitch last year, the Pirates may take it slowly with Miller, holding him back in extended spring training before assigning him to a short-season team for his pro debut.

7. Brad Lincoln, RHP
DOB: 5/25/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, University of Houston
2008 Stats: 4.65 ERA at Low-A (62-72-6-46), 7.83 DERA; 4.75 ERA at High-A (41.2-42-11-29), 6.87 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: This 2006 first-round pick returned from Tommy John surgery and was merely adequate at both A-level stops.
The Good: While Lincoln's velocity is not all the way back yet, his low-90s fastball plays up due to outstanding location and natural sink. His curveball is also a plus offering, and he has a serviceable changeup. He's an outstanding athlete who fields his position well and who won't be an automatic out when taking at-bats for a National League team.
The Bad: Lincoln needs to make adjustments in order to see better results from his less powerful arsenal. He throws too many strikes at times, giving hitters far too much to hit in each at-bat, and when he misses with his location, it's usually up in the zone. Scouts would like to see him pitch inside more often and become more aggressive.
Fun Fact: He's one of two players in University of Houston history to both hit a home run and earn the win in the same game twice in one season. The other is Woody Williams, who has also pulled off the feat twice in the majors.
Perfect World Projection: Once seen as a potential All-Star, the best hope now for Lincoln is probably as a number four starter.
Glass Half Empty: Without another step forward, he may not be much more than a reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Pirates want to see what Lincoln looks like in his second post-surgery year before they'll be able to figure that out.
Timetable: He'll likely begin the year at Double-A Altoona.

8. Neil Walker, 3B
DOB: 9/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2004, Pine Richland HS (PA)
2008 Stats: .242/.280/.414, .236 EqA at Triple-A (133 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: The former first-rounder led Triple-A Indy in home runs and RBI, but overall his season was a disappointment.
The Good: Walker still possesses an intriguing combination of size and athleticism. He has at least average power from both sides of the plate, and ha made tremendous progress in his second year as a third baseman, showing excellent instincts, soft hands, and a plus-plus arm.
The Bad: Issues with pitch recognition continue to hamper Walker's development. He's prone to chasing pitches both low and away, and when he becomes aware of it, he ends up guessing on pitches and freezing up.
Fun Fact: He was at his best with the bases loaded in 2008, going 6-for-13 with a triple, a home run, and 17 RBI.
Perfect World Projection: A solid third baseman with offensive and defensive value.
Glass Half Empty: Those .280 on-base percentages don't get you very far.
Path To The Big Leagues: For now, Walker is behind Andy LaRoche at third base.
Timetable: He still needs everyday at-bats, so he'll return to Triple-A to work on refining his approach at the plate.

9. Jim Negrych, 2B
DOB: 3/2/85
Height/Weight: 5-10/180
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2006, University of Pittsburgh (PA)
2008 Stats: .370/.448/.508, .262 EqA at High-A (104 G); .310/.394/.368, .252 EqA at Double-A (25 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This college grinder had a breakout season, winning the Carolina League batting title by 55 points and then more than holding his own during a final month at Double-A.
The Good: Negrych is an absolute pest at the plate. He works the count to his advantage, never swings at a bad pitch, and has the ability to lace line drives all over the field and into the gaps. His quiet swing gets the bat into the zone quickly, and he can hit any type of pitch from a left-hander or a right-hander.
The Bad: Negrych will never impress with his tools. His single-plane swing is designed for contact only, giving him little power now or projection for any in the future. Originally drafted as a second baseman, he lacks the speed to play up the middle every day, nor does he fit the profile for third base, where his arm is no more than adequate.
Fun Fact: In his first college game, Negrych had three hits against New Orleans, including a game-winning home run off of soon-to-be Rangers first-round pick Thomas Diamond.
Perfect World Projection: A player whose on-base abilities make up for his shortages elsewhere.
Glass Half Empty: He ends up as a utility player.
Path To The Big Leagues: If you can live with the slight defensive liability, second base could be open by the time Negrych is ready.
Timetable: Negrych will have to prove himself at every level and will likely begin the year at Double-A, though he'll move up quickly if he continues to compete for batting titles.

10. Brian Friday, SS
DOB: 12/16/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2007, Rice University
2008 Stats: .182/.280/.273 at Rookie-level (7 G); .287/.365/.387, .215 EqA at High-A (85 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: He's an advanced college player who performed admirably in his full-season debut at High-A while dealing with back problems.
The Good: Friday simply plays the game right. He's a baseball rat who gets the most out of his average tools by working hard and consistently showing maximum effort. At the plate he works the count well, making consistent contact with occasional gap power. He's a heady, instinctual shortstop with excellent defensive fundamentals who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
The Bad: Friday offers little in the way of projection. He's a tad on the wee side, and no more than an average runner.
Fun Fact: In a rather strange small sample-size split, Friday had a .500 on-base percentage in 12 day games for West Oahu, but hit just .122/.245/.146 in 14 night games.
Perfect World Projection: A grinding, everyday player in the mold of David Eckstein.
Glass Half Empty: He may be more of a solid bench player.
Path To The Big Leagues: Once Jack Wilson departs... there is no one currently holding the title of Pittsburgh Shortstop of the Future.
Timetable: Depending on his health and his spring training performance, Friday will either return to Lynchburg or move up to Double-A.

11. Donald Veal, LHP
DOB: 9/18/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2005, Pima CC (Cubs)
2008 Stats: 4.52 ERA at Double-A (145.1-150-81-123), 6.39 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3 (Cubs)

Year in Review: The power lefty continued to stagnate with another disappointing year at Double-A for Chicago, and was selected by Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft.
The Good: Veal still excites scouts with his size and velocity from the left side, sitting in the low 90s and touching 94 with a fastball that runs in on left-handed hitters. He also flashes a plus overhand curve, and remains impressive on those rare occasions when everything is working.
The Bad: Veal's mechanics are long, pronounced, and inconsistent, and along with his size they are the primary reasons for his continued control problems. His curveball can flatten out when he gets around on it. A slew of personal issues seem to have taken their toll on Veal, who tends to lose focus; he has often had his effort questioned.
Fun Fact: Of the 19 home runs that Veal gave up in 2008, every one of them was to a right-handed batter; lefties were homerless in 116 at-bats against him.
Perfect World Projection: The skills are still there, and Veal could turn into a solid big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: What he needs right now are consistent innings, and that's not going to happen if the Pirates keep him on the roster.
Path To The Big Leagues: For now, he's there.
Timetable: Pittsburgh hopes that Veal can show enough to be useful as a situational lefty in the majors for a year before returning to the minor leagues for more development.

The Sleeper: Big lefty Tony Watson doesn't have much in the way of stuff, but he's a fearless competitor who mixes his pitches well, fills up the strike zone, and who could get there as a swingman/fifth starter.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF
3. Andy Laroche, 3B
4. Jose Tabata, OF
5. Bryan Morris, RHP
6. Matt Capps, RHP
7. Robbie Grossman, CF
8. Steven Pearce, OF
9. Brandon Moss, OF
10. Quinton Miller, RHP

The Pirates have some young players, but they don't have many good young players. Andy LaRoche is an enigma who I refuse to give up on. His stat line looks like that of a Quad-A player, but his skill set- specifically his combination of power and good contact-does not. Matt Capps is a set-up man impersonating a closer, but he's a very nice reliever who combines good stuff with great command. Pearce and Moss are both guys with ceilings of second-division starters or bench players; I give Pearce the slight edge based on power. Zach Duke would rank 11th on this list; it's hard to see what he's capable of right now other than eating up innings and generally getting torched while doing it. And before you ask, yes, I'm writing off Craig Hansen, and for some reason, I agree with the Pirates in Evan Meek being a bit of a sleeper.

Summary: The new administration in Pittsburgh inherited a mess, but they addressed it with the most aggressive draft in franchise history. There was nowhere to go but up, and things definitely seem to be heading in that direction.

Up next: the St. Louis Cardinals.


Pirates Director of Player Development Kyle Stark joins Brad for a look at a Pittsburgh farm system that's improved dramatically in just one year as we check in on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.

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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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