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November 8, 2010

Future Shock

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: The 2010 draft and one international signee transforms the system with a trio of ultra-high ceiling teenage arms.

Five-Star Prospects
1. James Taillon, RHP
2. Stetson Allie, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
3. Luis Heredia, RHP
4. Tony Sanchez, C
Three-Star Prospects
5. Rudy Owens, LHP
6. Bryan Morris, RHP
7. Starling Marte, OF
8. Jeff Locke, LHP
9. Diego Moreno, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Colton Cain, LHP
11. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP

Nine More:
12. Mel Rojas, Jr., OF: This third-round pick is a big, athletic switch-hitter with plus speed and some power potential, but is very raw.
13. Zack Dodson, LHP: He's a lefty who has potential for three solid offerings, but projects as back-end starter.
14. Alex Presley, OF: Presley is a diminutive outfielder who can hit, but he doesn't profile well for a corner due to a lack of power.
15. Gorkys Hernandez, OF: He's one of the best defensive outfielders in the minors, but will he ever hit?
16. Chase D'Arnaud, SS: D'Arnaud collapsed at Double-A in 2010, but he still offers a decent approach and speed.
17. Andrew Lambo, OF: This former Dodgers prospect has seen his stock fall due to poor performances and drug suspensions. The Pirates believe in the bat, and a good showing so far in the Arizona Fall League is creating optimism.
18. Nick Kingham, RHP: This 2010 fourth-rounder is big and projectable, but he's more of a thrower than a pitcher for now.
19. Josh Harrison, INF: An ex-Cubs prospect, Harrison can put a bat on the ball, but like Presley, he's tiny and offers few secondary skills.
20. Quincy Latimore, OF: He's a compact athlete who had minor a breakout year with 19 home runs and 100 RBI for High-A Bradenton, but a horrible approach still holds him back.

1. Jameson Taillon, RHP
DOB: 11/28/91
Height/Weight: 6-7/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, The Woodlands HS (TX)
2010 Stats: Did Not Play (signed late)
Best/Worst Tool: Velocity/changeup

Year in Review: The Pirates had no controversy with their first-round pick in 2010, taking the highest-ceiling pitcher in the draft and signing him to a team-record $6.5 million bonus.
The Good: In a state known for its power arms, some scouts felt Taillon was the best high school pitcher to come out of Texas since Josh Beckett more than a decade ago. His size is ideal, his arm action effortless, and his velocity nearly at the top of the scale as he sits in the mid-90s and consistently touched 98 mph throughout the spring. That's not even his best pitch. One scout called his 82-85 mph curveball, "the best single pitch in the draft" due to its velocity and movement.
The Bad: Taillon still needs to develop his changeup, as he rarely needed it in high school; he carved up hitters with two big league-ready plus pitches. He had a few clunker starts during the spring when he lost his release point and control. He does throw across his body a bit, but not enough to give anyone considerable concern.
Ephemera: Everyone calls him "Jamo," so get the cool T-shirts ready.
Perfect World Projection: Taillon has the raw ability to be a true ace for a club that desperately needs such a beast.
Fantasy Impact: If he hits his ceiling, he's a fantasy monster, putting up big numbers in every column.
Path to the Big Leagues: While it's not official, Taillon heads into spring training with an opportunity to earn an Opening Day gig with Low-A West Virginia, which he'll likely take advantage of.
ETA: 2013, with an outside shot at pulling a Clayton Kershaw and reaching the majors in his second full season.

2. Stetson Allie, RHP
DOB: 3/13/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, St. Edward HS (OH)
2010 Stats: Did Not Play (signed late)
Best/Worst Tool: Velocity/command

Year in Review: One of the 2010 draft's biggest wild cards suddenly started throwing strikes late in the spring, and while his price tag scared many teams off, the Pirates ended up with the two highest-ceiling arms in the draft by giving Allie $2.25 million as a second-round pick.
The Good: Not even Taillon can match Allie's arm strength. One of the hardest throwers ever to come out of the prep ranks, Allie can sit at 97-98 mph, touch 100 routinely, and maintain those readings late into games thanks to a linebacker-like frame that's built for stamina. His breaking ball is a 83-87 mph slider that flashes plus at times.
The Bad: Allie's track record of throwing strikes consistently for a four-week period leading up to the draft. He pitched just 15 innings as a junior, and was often wild to the point of being undraftable. He's often guilty of overthrowing, and many believe his complicated mechanics need considerable tinkering. Primarily a power-hitting third baseman on the showcase circuit, he's rarely pitched against top competition and does not have an off-speed pitch in his arsenal, leaving some to already project him as a future reliever.
Ephemera: Allie's father was his high school coach and is a former scout; one of his teammates was the son of Indians assistant GM John Mirabelli.
Perfect World Projection: Allie's ceiling is higher than that of even Taillon, but his chances of reaching it are significantly smaller due to lack of polish.
Fantasy Impact: Allie could make a fantasy impact in strikeouts as a starter or saves as a closer, but he's also likely to damage your WHIP due to a higher-than-average walk rate.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Taillon, Allie could earn a full-season assignment in 2011, but it's not as sure a thing. His lack of experience could lead to a slow development path that begins the year in extended spring training.
ETA: 2014, but subtract one year if he's converted to the bullpen.

3. Luis Heredia, RHP
DOB: 8/16/94
Height/Weight: 6-6/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Mexico, 2010
2010 Stats: Did Not Play (signed late)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/polish

Year in Review: After spending heavily in the draft, the Pirates continued to open their checkbook by paying $2.6 million for the top international pitcher.
The Good: Heredia possesses every aspect of a highly projectable arm. He's tall with plenty of room to fill out, and his delivery is uncommonly smooth for such a young pitcher with his kind of height and long levers. He already has average velocity while touching 93 mph, and that should increase significantly as his game matures. He throws both a slider and a curveball, but the curve shows more promise and he'll focus on just one breaking ball as a pro. He has the ability to throw strikes and even has some feel for a changeup.
The Bad: Heredia simply needs innings. He has almost no experience pitching against top-level talent save a few international tournaments, and he needs to work on various in-game aspects such as fielding and holding runners.
Ephemera: Heredia's bonus was almost seven times the largest previous high paid by the Pirates for an international free agent.
Perfect World Projection: Heredia's ceiling was unmatched in this year's international class, and he has true star potential.
Fantasy Impact: It's nearly impossible to project exactly what kind of pitcher Heredia can be, except for "good."
Path to the Big Leagues: Heredia will focus more on instruction in 2011, but the Pirates feel his game is mature enough to pitch a complete half-season when the Gulf Coast League begins play in June.
ETA: 2015.

4. Tony Sanchez, C
DOB: 5/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/213
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Boston College
2010 Stats: .314/.416/.454 at High-A (59 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Glove/pure hitting

Year in Review: Given an outside shot at reaching the big leagues by the end of the year, Sanchez played well in a season limited by injuries, including taking a fastball in the face that ended his season in June.
The Good: Sanchez is the rare catcher with the ability to impact games both behind the plate and at it. He's a potentially special defender with plus-plus receiving skills and a well above-average arm. He has a mature approach at the plate and scouts believe that many of his doubles will turn into home runs down the road as he learns to drive balls better. Team officials gush about his makeup and work ethic.
The Bad: Despite a career batting average of .312 in the minors, there are questions about Sanchez's ultimate offensive upside. While his offensive game lacks any real weaknesses, it also lacks star projection. He needs to improve the accuracy of his throws and is still learning how to work with a pitching staff.
Ephemera: Sanchez graduated from Miami Killian High School with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average everyday catcher, both offensively and defensively.
Fantasy Impact: Good, as long as you always throw in that "for a catcher" qualifier in the sense that you have to have one, and he should supply 10-15 home runs annually with good on-base skills.
Path to the Big Leagues: Sanchez is healthy and playing in the Arizona Fall League, and will begin 2011 at Double-A Altoona.
ETA: He has an outside shot at a September callup, and could be lined up for full-time work in 2012.

5. Rudy Owens, LHP
DOB: 12/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 28th round, 2006, Mesa HS (AZ)
2010 Stats: 2.46 ERA (150.0-124-23-132) at Double-A (26 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command and control/breaking ball

Year in Review: This strike-throwing lefty continued to prove his doubters wrong by winning the Eastern League ERA title.
The Good: With a career strikeout-to-walk rate of more than 5.0, Owens has special command and control, but he's often incorrectly labeled as a pure finesse pitcher. With a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 93, Owens actually has a tick above-average velocity for a southpaw, and the pitch adds a bit of natural sink. He keeps hitters off-balance with a solid changeup, and because of his pitching style, he's able to pitch late into games.
The Bad: Owens' fringy breaking ball is still a work in progress, as it's a sweeping offering between a curve and a slider that needs to get tightened if he's to start in the big leagues. Scouts universally see him as a big-leaguer, but debate over his ultimate ceiling is considerable.
Ephemera: No player selected with the 830th overall pick has ever pitched in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Good fourth starter and innings eater.
Fantasy Impact: Low. While he could supply a lot of innings without hurting your team's ERA, don't expect big win or strikeout totals.
Path to the Big Leagues: Owens will be pushed to Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011, and should make his big-league debut at some point during the year.
ETA: 2011, with a more permanent role the following year.

6. Bryan Morris, RHP
DOB: 3/28/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2006, Motlow State CC (TN) (Dodgers)
2010 Stats: 0.60 ERA (44.2-37-7-40) at High-A (8 G); 4.25 ERA (89.0-87-31-84) at Double-A (19 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Velocity/command

Year in Review: Seen as a disappointment entering the year, this former top Dodgers pick had a bounce-back year, and more importantly, stayed healthy.
The Good: Under the tutelage of minor-league pitching coordinator Jim Benedict, Morris smoothed out his delivery and the results were immediate. He's a big, strong right-hander who sits at 91-94 mph and touches 96, and he complements the heater with two quality breaking balls in a slider and hard curve that both project as at least big-league average.
The Bad: Morris' changeup trails behind other aspects of his arsenal. While he tends to throw strikes, he can be guilty of throwing too many hittable ones, a problem that is magnified when he overthrows his breaking balls and causes them to flatten out. His history of arm problems, including a Tommy John surgery, still gives some evaluators pause.
Ephemera: There have been 17 players drafted out of Motlow State, but only David Weathers reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a third starter, but some scouts do wonder he if he'll have a better career as a reliever in the end with an eighth-inning ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: Morris could end up a solid middle-rotation starter who puts up solid but unspectacular numbers in all categories.
Path to the Big Leagues: Morris will join Owens in the Indianapolis rotation, and the two will battle for in-season callup opportunities.
ETA: 2011, but like Owens, not a permanent fixture until 2012.

7. Starling Marte, OF
DOB: 10/9/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2010 Stats: .346/.393/.692 at Rookie (8 G); .315/.386/.432 at High-A (60 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Defense/power

Year in Review: This athletic outfielder played just 68 games due to injury, and a fractured hamate bone limited him when he was playing.
The Good: Marte's tools still offer plenty to dream on. He's a 60 runner with a 60 arm, and combined with good instincts he's a potential impact defender in center field. He has a quick, quiet swing and outstanding hand-eye coordination, giving him the ability to hit for average and leaving many scouts to think that eventually there will be a power aspect to his game.
The Bad: Marte's hand problems prevented him from hitting for power in 2010, but it's not a complete excuse, as he's an upper-half swinger who needs to incorporate his hips and legs into his swing. His tools project him as an ideal two-spot hitter in the lineup, but his pitch recognition needs to improve, as he expands his strike zone early in the count and is highly susceptible to breaking balls. 
Ephemera: Marte's plate-crowding ways could make him the next Ron Hunt, as in 125 career games in the United States, he's already been hit by 28 pitches.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a plus defender with hitting ability and speed, but not enough secondary skills to be a star.
Fantasy Impact: Marte could hit .290 with 25-35 stolen bases a year, but you'll have to find your home runs elsewhere..
Path to the Big Leagues: Despite having yet to play more than 68 games in a season, Marte will face a big test at Double-A in 2011.
ETA: Late 2012.

8. Jeff Locke, LHP
DOB: 11/20/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2006, Kennett HS (NH) (Braves)
2010 Stats: 3.54 ERA (86.1-82-14-83) at High-A (17 G); 3.59 ERA (57.2-57-12-56) at Double-A (10 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Polish/overall stuff

Year in Review: Acquired from the Braves in the Nate McLouth deal, the left-hander saw every aspect of his game step forward as he led the organization with 139 strikeouts.
The Good: Pirates officials feel that Locke has finally put it all together. He has three quality offerings, beginning with a 90-92 mph fastball that he can add sinking or cutting action to. He throws a classic curveball with good break, and his changeup is solid average. All of his pitches play up due to his ability to throw strikes and use any of his offerings at any point in the count. His delivery is clean and he has no history of arm problems.
The Bad: There is no 'wow' aspect to Locke's game. He doesn't have a bad pitch, but none are truly plus either, leaving many to wonder how he'll miss bats at the big-league level. He's not a physical specimen, and he still need to prove he can handle a big-league starter's workload.
Ephemera: Not only is Locke the only player every drafted out of Kennett High School, he's also the only player drafted out of a New Hampshire high school in the last five years.
Perfect World Projection: Locke could be a fourth or fifth starter, similar in many ways to members of the current Pirate rotation.
Fantasy Impact: Minimal, unless you are in a deep league and need innings.
Path to the Big Leagues: Locke is considered a tick behind Owens and Morris, and will likely return to Double-A at the beginning of 2011 with the hope he can join his former teammates by mid-year.
ETA: 2012.

9. Diego Moreno, RHP
DOB: 7/21/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/177
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2006
2010 Stats: 1.17 ERA (38.1-14-5-57) at High-A (28 G); 7.04 ERA (7.2-10-3-12) at Double-A (7 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Velocity/slider

Year in Review: This flame-throwing Venezuelan smoked the Florida State League before struggling a bit after a late-season promotion to Double-A.
The Good: Prior to the 2010 draft, Moreno had the best pure arm in the system, sitting at 94-96 mph with his fastball and routinely touching 98. Unlike many power-armed relievers, he has plus-plus control, walking only eight of the 174 batters he faced in 2010. He's also unique in that his best secondary pitch is a changup with deceptive arm action and good late action.
The Bad: Without a plus breaking ball, some scouts have trouble seeing Moreno as a future closer, as his slider if often overthrown in the upper 80s and lacks two-plane break. His fastball can be a bit flat at times, and he lives in the upper part of the strike zone. He can wear his emotions on his sleeve when pitching and has trouble getting out of trouble because of it when he's not dominating.
Ephemera: Right-handed hitters facing Moreno in the Florida State League went 7-for-80 (.088) with two walks and 31 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Some see closer potential, some see a set-up man.
Fantasy Impact: He's the kind of pitcher who could pick up saves, as long as he's on a second-division team.
Path to the Big Leagues: Moreno will begin 2011 back at Double-A, but if he keeps putting up numbers, he could move quickly.
ETA: He has an outside shot at late 2011, but 2012 is more realistic.

10. Colton Cain, LHP
DOB: 2/5/91
Height/Weight: 6-3/225
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Eighth round, 2009, Waxahachie HS (TX)
2010 Stats: 3.77 ERA (14.1-12-5-15) at Rookie (4 G); 5.03 ERA (34.0-23-14-32) at short-season (11 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command/secondary pitches

Year in Review: Given a well over-slot bonus of $1.15 million in 2009, Cain showed plenty of promise in his pro debut, while also demonstrating that he still has plenty to work on.
The Good: Cain is built like a classic power right-hander from Texas, only he's a southpaw. He's highly projectable and already sits in the low 90s and tops out at 94 mph; Cain was able to retire short-season batters on his velocity and command alone. Physically, he's a beast who approaches the game with an aggressive mentality.
The Bad: Cain is still raw and needs to develop the rest of his arsenal. He rarely gets good snap on his loopy curveball, and tips his changeup with a slower delivery. More than anything, the Pirates feel he just needs consistent innings to reach his potential.
Ephemera: Cain is the only player ever drafted out of Waxahachie High, but the school has produced multiple NFL players, including All-Pro offensive lineman Brian Waters.
Perfect World Projection: If Cain develops, he could become a good third starter.
Fantasy Impact: Too early to say, but Cain could be provide solid ERA, WHIP, and strikeout numbers when all is said and done.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cain is ready for a full-season assignment, and will begin 2011 at West Virginia.
ETA: 2014.

11. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP
DOB: 9/24/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Sixth round, 2009, Zachary HS (LA)
2010 Stats: 3.20 ERA (59.0-60-13-39) at short-season (13 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command/velocity

Year in Review: This highly projectable right-hander impressed in his pro debut but is still seen as far more future than reality.
The Good: Rosenberg could be a star-level starter if he finds more velocity. His body oozes projection, as he's a long-armed, skinny right-hander with silky-smooth mechanics. He commands his 88-91 mph fastball very well, and both his curveball and changeup are advanced for his age and project as plus offerings.
The Bad: Rosenberg still has below-average velocity, and some scouts don't believe he'll ever have more than an average fastball. He battles with all of his pitches, but he struggled to generate swings and misses, even in the New York-Penn League.
Ephemera: Rosenberg's high school won the Louisiana 4A state baseball title in each of his last three years.
Perfect World Projection: Those that believe in the projection see a good third, maybe even second starter; those that don't see a back-end rotation piece.
Fantasy Impact: As variable as his projection.
Path to the Big Leagues: Von Rosenberg will be yet another part of one of the most intriguing minor-league rotations at West Virginia.
ETA: 2014.

The Sleeper: Despite hitting just .239 at Low-A in 2010, outfielder Evan Chambers showed power (12 home runs), patience (93 walks), and speed (35 stolen bases). Pirates officials feel he can take off if they can take the passivity out of his approach.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Andrew McCutchen, OF
3. Jameson Taillon, RHP
4. Stetson Allie, RHP
5. Luis Heredia, RHP
6. Tony Sanchez, C
7. Neil Walker, 2B
8. Jose Tabata, OF
9. Rudy Owens, LHP
10. Brad Lincoln, RHP

While the young arms have true impact potential, Alvarez and McCutchen are already here. The version of Alvarez that made adjustments and slugged in September is the real deal, and 2011 could be a year where the rest of the country sits up and takes notice. McCutchen avoided a sophomore slump in 2010, but at the same time didn't show some of the expected growth. Walker's season was the organization's surprise of the year, but now he has to prove it's for real. Tabata makes the list despite the fact that nobody believes his age. He's similar to Marte in that his swing is all hands, and with little to no power or walks, even with a .300 average he doesn't fit well in a corner. Lincoln was a great story after the former first-round pick returned from Tommy John surgery, but he's yet to really solve Triple-A and struggled mightily in the big leagues.

Summary: While it's been slow going overall, the Pirates are at least moving in the right direction. While they're half a decade (at least) away, the three power arms added this summer have franchise-changing potential.

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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