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June 16, 2010

Future Shock

Org Issues: Talent Rising to the Top

by Kevin Goldstein

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The month of June has been defined by big-name call-ups, and although none has been bigger than Stephen Strasburg. Let's look at three other teams that have added some prime talent to their roster and see whether there is more coming.

• Dubbed "the cavalry" by one member of the Pittsburgh media, the Pirates have added a slew of prospects to the big leagues of late, but none will be bigger than tonight's arrival of Pedro Alvarez. Is it time to finally be optimistic in Pittsburgh?

Mike Stanton brings his gargantuan power to the bat, but has the pipeline of young talent in the Marlins system suddenly begun to dry out?

• The best prospect in the Cleveland system, Carlos Santana, is not only the new starting catcher for the Indians but their new No. 3 hitter, as well. There's not much help this year, but some of the top prospects in the system are lined up to fill some major holes.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Here comes the cavalry

Rocco DeMaro, who hosts the pregame and postgame shows on the Pirates' radio network, has given the name "the cavalry" to a slew of recent Pittsburgh call-ups.

They are hardly elite-level prospects, but these rookies certainly have breathed some life into the team. 2004 first-round pick Neil Walker, almost completely off the radar entering the season, got off to an explosive start at Triple-A and has more than held his own at second base in the big leagues, batting .286/.342/.429 in his first 18 games.

Joining him last week was outfielder Jose Tabata, who is arguably in the best physical condition of his career, as the former New York Yankees prospect hit .308/.373/.424 at Triple-A with 25 stolen bases; he's 5-for-16 so far in the majors. He's never going to hit for the kind of power some projected for him in the past, but he's a pure hitter with above-average speed, and an outfield of Tabata, Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge is one of the more athletic trios in the league.

Moving Garrett Jones to first base and Jeff Clement back to the minors provides a significant upgrade to one of the worst offenses around.

That offense could get another shot in the arm this week with the addition of top prospect Pedro Alvarez. If this is truly a cavalry, Alvarez is the general. He was the No. 2 pick in 2008 and could represent the type of elite talent the Pirates have lacked for most of the past decade.

He'll never be known for his glove, but he's at least average at third base, and concerns about his struggles against left-handers are a thing of the past as he actually has been better against them this year than against righties. Batting .346 with a .636 slugging percentage in his past 15 games, Alvarez looks ready, and his "super two" status looks safe, so he could be in the Pittsburgh lineup as soon as Wednesday night.

The offense is thus clearly better, but what about the pitching?

A rotation that consists entirely of No. 4 and 5 starter types was bolstered a bit by the addition of Brad Lincoln, but although the 2006 first-round pick should be commended for his comeback from elbow surgery—and arguably has better stuff than anyone else in the rotation—his ceiling likely ends as a No. 3 starter. As of now, no player in the system looks like a true No. 1 starter down the road.

However, if the Pirates can somehow pull off signing both of their top picks from last week, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, they would add two of the bigger upside arms from the 2010 draft class. Things are looking up in Pittsburgh for the first time in a long while. The team is close to no longer being an embarrassment, but it's the jump from average to contender that is actually the more challenging one.

Florida Marlins: Stanton's here, now what?

As if there had been some memo last week instructing teams to call up their top prospects, the Marlins added minor league home run leader Mike Stanton to the big leagues June 8, and the 20-year-old outfielder had gone 7-for-19 (.368) entering Tuesday night's action. Every silver lining has a cloud, though: Of the 12 outs Stanton has made so far with the Marlins, seven of them have been whiffs (he struck out 53 times in 52 Double-A games for Jacksonville). He can get caught looking fastball quite often, and he needs to work more on his two-strike approach, as his swing-for-the-fences mentality can catch up to him when he's behind in the count. He's going to be a monster, but this year? He could end up more like a Rob Deer kind of player until he makes the necessary adjustments.

The only other impending call-up could be first baseman Logan Morrison, although of late, current first baseman Gaby Sanchez seems to get hot every time whispers of Morrison's arrival begin. Hitting .331/.423/.554 at Triple-A New Orleans, Morrison is MLB-ready, but he also could be the end of the line for what has been a constant flowing pipeline of young talent in the Florida system.

Although a pair of former first-round picks in third baseman Matt Dominguez (at Double-A Jacksonville) and catcher Kyle Skipworth (at Low-A Greensboro) have shown signs of life with the bat, neither is close. Neither upper-level Florida affiliate offers much in the way of big league talent once Morrison finally moves up. The cash-poor Marlins are always letting players go before they reach free agency—or even arbitration in some cases—but at this point, the ability to replace those players as they had in the past is seriously in question.

Cleveland Indians: This might take awhile

Adding to the prospect parade last week were the Indians, who finally brought up Carlos Santana (thus finally admitting that, despite some defensive shortcomings, he has a bat that's just too good to keep down). Immediately installed as the club's No. 3 hitter, he has paid off some quick dividends, but pulling the Indians out of the lower half of the American League Central standings is going to require more than just one player.

The answers won't come this year, but some of the club's top prospects are good fits for some of the bigger holes at the big league level. Two of the biggest issues for the Indians in 2010 have been second base, where Luis Valbuena has done nothing, and third base, where Jhonny Peralta is in the final year of his contract, assuming that the club does not pick up his 2011 option.

The system has answers in those spots with two of its top position prospects, both of whom are at Double-A. 2009 second-round pick Jason Kipnis, a converted outfielder, got off to a great start at High-A Kinston, batting .300/.387/.478 while showing off gap power, on-base skills and rapidly improving glove work. Moved up to Double-A Akron this past weekend, he joins third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, who, after struggling with some injuries early in the year, has caught fire of late, going 20-for-54 in his past 14 games with five home runs. The 2008 first-round pick is the best offensive prospect in the system now that Santana is in the big leagues. These guys likely won't be ready by spring 2011, but they provide hope for the future.

With 2009 first-round pick Alex White already reaching Double-A and pitching well, and 2010 first-rounder Drew Pomeranz expected to move quickly, there's hope for the pitching staff, as well, and although this will be more of a slow burn than the sudden turnaround of the mid-'90s, things once again are pointing in the right direction for a franchise that seems to have lost its way the past few years.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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

5 comments have been left for this article.

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