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Five-Star Prospects
1. Andrew McCutchen, CF
Four-Star Prospects
2. Steven Pearce, 1B/OF
3. Neil Walker, 3B
Three-Star Prospects
4. Daniel Moskos, LHP
5. Brad Lincoln, RHP
6. Jamie Romak, OF
7. Duke Welker, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
8. Brian Bixler, SS
9. Brian Friday, SS
10. Shelby Ford, 2B
11. Andrew Walker, C

Just Missing: Bryan Bullington, RHP; Brad Corley, OF; Quincy Latimore, OF

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF
DOB: 10/10/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Fort Meade HS (FL)
2007 Stats: .258/.327/.383 at Double-A (118 G); .313/.347/.418 at Triple-A (17 G)

Year In Review: Rushed to Double-A after a strong spring training performance, the top tools player in the system struggled initially, but came on strong in the season’s second half.
The Good: Despite middling numbers, scouts still project stardom for McCutchen based on his incredible tools. He’s a phenomenal athlete with a lightning bat that gives him at least average power potential despite a smallish frame. He’s a plus-plus runner with excellent range in center field and a solid arm, and a threat to steal a base every time he gets on. The Pirates love his work ethic and his drive to get better, citing the adjustments he made during the latter months of the season.
The Bad: McCutchen is sure to be productive, but it’s hard to figure out exactly where he fits into a lineup, as he lacks the patience for a leadoff man, and his power ceiling isn’t high enough for him to hit in the middle of the order. Right-handed pitchers give him troubles, and his unrefined approach often has him lunging at pitches out of the strike zone.
Fun Fact: McCutchen was selected with the 11th overall pick, one year after Neil Walker was selected in the exact same slot. The Pirates also picked 11th in 1994, taking Texas high school shortstop Mark Farris, who failed to develop, and once again in 1974, when they selected Nevada high school righty Rod Scurry, whose promising relief career and ultimately his life were destroyed by drug use.
Perfect World Projection: An exciting center fielder who hits 20 home runs and steals 40 bases annually.
Timetable: There were some whispers of Pittsburgh opening 2008 with McCutchen in the big leagues, but the new administration will utilize spring training to make a fresh assessment of his progress. There are just as many who feel he’d be best served by another year in the minor leagues to make the necessary adjustments.

2. Steven Pearce, 1B/OF
DOB: 4/13/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/198
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 8th round, 2005, University of South Carolina
2007 Stats: .347/.412/.867 at High-A (19 G); .334/.400/.586 at Double-A (81 G); .320/.366/.557 at Triple-A (34 G); .294/.342/.397 at MLB (23 G)

Year In Review: After breaking out in 2006, the system’s top pure hitter shot through three levels, and then more than held his own during a late-season big-league stint.
The Good: Pearce has the much-envied combination of plus power and excellent contact skills. He focuses solely on making solid contact and uses all fields, letting his natural strength work for him. He’s a very good first baseman, and he surprised scouts by playing an acceptable right field and showcasing a good arm when the Pirates moved him there in order to get him into the lineup.
The Bad: Pearce isn’t going to win any beauty contests, and the overwhelming amount of his value involves his bat. Short and stocky, he’s not much of an athlete; none of his actions are very fluid, and he’s a poor runner. His hitting skills prevent him from talking many walks, but there’s no desire to change that because he’s such a good bad-ball hitter.
Fun Fact: When leading off an inning for High-A Lynchburg, Pearce went 9-for-12 with a double and four home runs.
Perfect World Projection: Pearce projects as an above-average offensive contributor, flirting with .300 annually while smacking 20-30 home runs.
Timetable: The Pirates will use the spring to figure out how to get Pearce’s bat into the Pittsburgh lineup on an everyday basis. It will require some personnel moves, but chances are good that he’ll spend most if not all of 2008 in the majors.

3. Neil Walker, 3B
DOB: 9/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, Pine Richland HS (PA)
2007 Stats: .288/.362/.462 at Double-A (117 G); .203/.261/.250 at Triple-A (19 G)

Year In Review: The organization’s first-round pick from 2004 made a successful transition to the hot corner while beginning to fulfill his offensive potential.
The Good: Walker is a big switch-hitter with a quick, quiet swing and the strength to hit 20+ home runs a year. He has a solid approach, outstanding work ethic, and the personality (and Pennsylvania upbringing) to be a fan favorite. His arm is above-average, and he has the tools and athleticism to become solid at third base.
The Bad: Walker’s ultimate power ceiling is the subject of considerable debate, and he ended the year with just one home run in his last 42 games, further confusing matters. While the potential is there for him to get better, he’s understandably still inconsistent at the hot corner, but officials believe he just needs more repetitions.
Fun Fact: When batting with the bases loaded last year, Walker went 5-for-7 with two doubles, a grand slam, and 10 RBI.
Perfect World Projection: A switch-hitting Todd Zeile?
Timetable: Walker will begin the year at Triple-A with the expectation of being the Opening Day third baseman in 2009.

4. Daniel Moskos, LHP
DOB: 4/28/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Clemson
2007 Stats: 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level (3-4-0-3); 4.26 ERA at Short-season (12.2-19-6-13)

Year In Review: One of the top college relievers, Moskos moved up on draft boards when Clemson moved him to its weekend rotation late in the season, but it was still a big surprise to see him go fourth overall.
The Good: Moskos has excellent stuff for a lefty, beginning with a plus fastball that can reach 95, a plus-plus slider that serves as his primary out pitch, and a surprisingly good changeup. He has a closer’s mentality, but scouts who saw him in college thought he also had the arsenal, body, and potential stamina to start, where he’d have more value.
The Bad: Moskos was clearly out of gas after signing, so his arm still needs to get stretched out if he’s going to be developed as a starter. His delivery is a little long, and his command no more than average.
Fun Fact: Moskos’ sister Erin is a freshman on the Clemson women’s soccer team, and his cousin Michael Wade is a backup quarterback on the football squad.
Perfect World Projection: Moskos can either be a late-innings reliever or a mid-rotation starter, depending on his development path.
Timetable: Moskos is slated to begin the year in High-A, but while the previous administration announced that he’d relieve, the new brass is still deciding on his future role.

5. Brad Lincoln, RHP
DOB: 5/25/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Houston
2007 Stats: Did Not Pitch

Year In Review: The first-round pick of two years ago missed the entire year when he injured his elbow in spring training and required Tommy John surgery.
The Good: When healthy, Lincoln had very good command of a deep arsenal. His best pitch is a low-90s fastball with plenty of sink, and he can dial up his four-seam fastball to 94-95 mph when he needs to get a pitch by someone. He has a very good curveball and a solid average change. He’s a fantastic athlete who was also the best hitter on his college team.
The Bad: Lincoln’s size turned off many scouts, and the arm injury has led to even more questions about his long-term outlook.
Fun Fact: Only two players in University of Houston history hit a home run and got credited for a win in the same game twice–Lincoln, and Astros starter Woody Williams.
Perfect World Projection: Lincoln still projects as a mid-rotation starter, but the distance between where he is now and what he can be is greater than it was when he signed.
Timetable: Lincoln’s recovery is on schedule, and if he’s not ready for Opening Day, he should take the mound for Pittsburgh’s High-A affiliate shortly thereafter.

6. Jamie Romak, OF
DOB: 9/30/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2003, A.B. Lucas Secondary School (ON)
2007 Stats: .275/.393/.551 at Low-A (20 G); .252/.380/.483 at High-A (85 G)

Year In Review: Acquired from the Braves as part of the Andy LaRoche deal, the raw Canadian outfielder began to tap into his considerable power potential.
The Good: Romak is a massive, hulking slugger with as much raw power as anyone in the system. He’s capable of mammoth shots when he fully squares up on a ball, and he draws a very high number of walks, as he’s always willing to take his base when pitchers won’t give him anything to hit. He has an outstanding arm in right field.
The Bad: Romak’s only swing is a vicious hack, and he’ll always rack up high strikeout totals. He’s nearly lost against left-handers, against whom he hit just .202 last year. He’s a slow runner and a poor outfielder.
Fun Fact: Of Romak’s 15 Carolina League home runs, five came in the third inning, in just 32 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: A valuable big-league corner outfielder who will need a platoon partner.
Timetable: Romak will begin the year in Double-A, and could be ready for a big-league role by 2009.

7. Duke Welker, RHP
DOB: 2/10/86
Height/Weight: 6-7/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, University of Arkansas
2007 Stats: 2.35 ERA at Short-season (30.2-29-10-27)

Year In Review: The immense right-hander pitched well late in the year for the Razorbacks, which moved him up to the second round in the draft, and he followed that up with a very encouraging pro debut.
The Good: Welker’s size gives him an intimidating presence on the mound, and it also allows him to get a strong downward plane on his 90-92 mph fastball that can touch 94. He gets good spin on his soft curveball, and shows some feel for a change. His mechanics have cleaned up considerably since early in his amateur career.
The Bad: Welker has a troubling injury history, including labrum surgery in 2005. He doesn’t have a single plus-plus pitch that scouts can identify as a go-to offering at the big-league level. Like most tall pitchers, his command is erratic.
Fun Fact: Last June was Welker’s third time being drafted, as Seattle tried to get the Washington product into its system twice, taking him in the 34th round of the 2004 draft out of high school, and in the 39th round the following year out of junior college.
Perfect World Projection: Welker projects as a big-league starter, but more likely in the back end of a good rotation.
Timetable: Welker is a bit more of a project than your standard college arm, and he’ll begin the year at Low-A, and likely spend the majority of the season there.

8. Brian Bixler, SS
DOB: 10/22/82
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2004, Eastern Michigan University
2007 Stats: .274/.368/.396 at Triple-A (129 G)

Year In Review: The gritty infielder continued his steady but unspectacular climb through the system with a solid year at Triple-A.
The Good: Bixler’s average tools are supplemented by great instincts and an outstanding feel for the game. He has a solid approach, a line-drive swing, and uses all fields. His speed is his best pure tool, rating as a 55-60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. In the field, he’s a fundamentally sound defender with a take-charge attitude.
The Bad: Few think Bixler can do enough at the big-league level to be an everyday player for a first-division team. He doesn’t have much power, and has a surprisingly high strikeout rate. His arm is no more than average, which limits him on plays to his right.
Fun Fact: When batting sixth or seventh in the Indianapolis lineup, Bixler hit .410 (32-for-78).
Perfect World Projection: A shortstop for a team like the Pirates, but more of a utility player for a good team… or the Pirates when they get good.
Timetable: There’s currently no opening on the major league roster, so Bixler will return to Triple-A and wait for his opportunity.

9. Brian Friday, SS
DOB: 12/16/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2007, Rice
2007 Stats: .295/.371/.410 at Short-season (40 G)

Year In Review: The heart and soul of an excellent Rice team worked his way up into the third round of a draft low on college infielders.
The Good: Friday’s grinding style has enamored him to scouts for years, because he’s a maximum-effort player who gets the most out of his tools and earns universal praise for his makeup. He has solid hitting abilities and above-average speed, and he’s a very good defensive shortstop with good instincts, fine range to both sides, and a strong arm.
The Bad: Friday will never hit for power, and he needs to develop a much less aggressive approach as a pro, as he often looks for fastballs early in at-bats and finds himself constantly in pitcher’s counts. His aggression gets the better of him on the base paths as well.
Fun Fact: Friday was hit by a pitch in three of his first four pro games.
Perfect World Projection: There might be a little bit of David Eckstein in him if he can develop a better approach.
Timetable: Depending on how things shake out in spring training, Friday will be the everyday shortstop at one of Pittsburgh’s A-level affiliates.

10. Shelby Ford, 2B
DOB: 12/15/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2006, Oklahoma State
2007 Stats: .281/.360/.433 at High-A (94 G)

Year In Review: The offense-oriented infielder was just hitting his stride with a .331 batting average and .543 slugging in his last 45 games when a back injury cost him the last month of the season.
The Good: Ford is a highly-polished switch-hitter who has tremendous plate coverage–he’s equally adept at turning on inside fastballs or slicing an outside breaking both the other way. He’s a decent athlete with a nice feel for the game, and a solid defensive player with a good arm.
The Bad: Ford doesn’t have much in the way of secondary skills, as he’s an aggressive hitter with no more than gap power. If he can’t profile as an everyday second baseman in the big leagues, there is no backup plan other than utility player. He’s 23 and he’s yet to play above A-ball, so many see him as unproven.
Fun Fact: In 13 day games for Lynchburg, Ford hit .222 with just two extra-base hits.
Perfect World Projection: A solid-but-unspectacular infielder in the big leagues.
Timetable: Ford will make the big jump to Double-A in 2009, and the Pirates will have a much better idea of how good he can be once they see how well the bat plays at the upper levels.

11. Andrew Walker, C
DOB: 1/22/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 5th round, 2007, Texas Christian University
2007 Stats: .317/.390/.441 at Short-season (46 G)

Year In Review: A solid college catcher, Walker was much more than that in his professional debut after being selected in the fifth round.
The Good: Walker’s hitting skills are above-average for a backstop. He works the count well, waits for his pitch, and then laces line drives from gap to gap with a quick, level swing. His makeup is off the charts, and he calls a good game and works well with pitching staffs.
The Bad: Walker has solid arm strength but a slow release, which leaves him susceptible to the running game. He doesn’t have much projection beyond his current gap power. He runs like one would expect a bulky catcher to.
Fun Fact: When batting with the bases loaded as a pro, Walker went a perfect 3-for-3 with a walk.
Perfect World Projection: An average everyday big-league catcher.
Timetable: Like Friday, Walker will play for one of the Pirates’ A-ball affiliates in 2008.

The Sleeper: A 35th-round pick who received a $100,000 bonus last June, Tom Boleska is a smallish right-hander with a biggish arm, touching 93 mph with his fastball and flashing a plus breaking ball at times.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF
2. Steven Pearce, 1B/OF
3. Neil Walker, 3B
4. Daniel Moskos, LHP
5. Brad Lincoln, RHP
6. Matt Capps, RHP
7. Jamie Romak, OF
8. Duke Welker, RHP
9. Brian Bixler, SS
10. Brian Friday, SS

It’s the worst of combinations–a bad team with a bad system and not much in the way of young talent in the big leagues. That said, Matt Capps is one of the better-kept secrets around; on most teams he wouldn’t be a closer, but he could set up for anybody.

Frank Coonelly and Neil Huntington inherit a myriad of problems in Pittsburgh, but at least they’ll begin to pull the team out of what has been a 15-year death spiral without a winning record. With the second pick in the draft and an administration that won’t make the same mistakes made by Pittsburgh in the past, the team will certainly have a new top prospect a year from now, but turning the big-league team around is a long-term project.

Next: The St. Louis Cardinals.

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