Top 15 Prospects
1.OF Age: 22 MLL: AAA
McCutchen had a solid season in AAA last season. He hit .283, with a .372 OBP, while keeping a good K:BB ratio, 87:68. McCutchen supposedly has 20-20 potential, but he has yet to hit for that much power. He still has the potential to develop power, seeing how he is only 22, and should be starting for Pittsburgh by the all-star break, but he may only have the ability to 10-15 in the future. McCutchen has great speed, stealing 34 bases in 2008, and plays gold glove defense. At worst McCutchen is an above-average centerfielder, and leadoff hitter, but he has the potential to be an absolute star if the power comes.
2. Pedro Alvarez 3B Age: 21 MLL: NA
Alvarez was the top prospect heading into the 2008 draft, Alvarez has a terrific bat, which should allow him to hit for a high average, as well as hit 30 or more homeruns every year. There are, however, some questions as to if Alvarez will stay at third in the big leagues, or if he’ll have to move to first, due to his average range, and arm. Alvarez is below-average on the base paths. Alvarez’ advanced bat will allow him to move through the minors quickly, and he could be called up as early as late 2009, and certainly by the first half of 2010.
3.OF Age: 20 MLL: AA
I am much higher on Tabata than most. Tabata is a great fielder – although the best place for him is right field – with good speed, and hitting ability. At one time scouts thought he would develop 20-25 HR power, but those projections have dropped, he still remains a solid hitter overall, though, and has hit consistently near .300 – despite falling to an average of .277 in 2008, in AA. Tabata does not strikeout too much – 67 times in 2008 – but does not walk a whole lot either – 36 times, which means, despite his low strikeout numbers, he still has a K:BB ratio of 2:1. I like Tabata because he is still only 20 years old, and could be in the big leagues for September call-ups in 2009. He will draw more walks as he matures, and can steal bases when he gets on. Tabata will be an above-average outfielder when he joins the already exciting duo of , and Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh.
4. Neil Walker 3B Age: 23 MLL: AAA
Walker’s 2008 numbers were bad, but do not really tell the true story. Last season Walker hit .242, with only a .280 OBP in AAA, but hit 16 homers, and stole 10 bases. He also struck out over 100 times, while walking less than 30. A guy, who hits like that in triple A, should not really be considered a top prospect, but Walker’s year has to be considered one misstep, and not a complete collapse. Walker has good power, especially for a switch hitter, and should hit for a better average in the big leagues. Walker is a converted catcher, and the organization wants him to work on his defense in the minors before they move him to the big leagues. The biggest problem for Walker may be the inclusion of to the third base equation, brought from the Dodgers in the Manny trade. I like LaRoche better, but if Walker can produce early in 2009 the third base job should be his.
5. Jim Negrych 3B Age: 23 MLL: AA/A+
Negrych simply raked in hits in 2008, posting a .359 batting average – ninth best in the minors – and finishing the season with a .438 OBP. He also had a K:BB ratio of 1:1, while only hitting five homeruns, but stealing 12 bases. His defense was not impressive amassing 31 errors last season, but it was his first season at third base, following a switch from second. Negrych probably does not hit for as much power as you would like from a corner infielder and because of the young players in front of him at third – , LaRoche, Walker, not mentioning – he would have been a much better prospect had he been able to stay at second base. Still if Negrych can outperform Neil Walker again next season, he will make the situation interesting.
6. Daniel Moskos LHSP Age: 22 MLL: A+
Moskos was the number four overall pick in the 2007 draft. There are those who feel he has the ability to become a middle of the rotation pitcher, but most seem to think he is best suited at the back-end of the bullpen. Moskos can throw his fastball in the 91-96 mph range, and has a good slider he throws in the mid 80s, he also has the makings of a good changeup. Moskos was not very good as a starter in 2008, pitching in 110 innings, with an ERA of 5.95, and striking out only 78 batters. The Pirates could really use a top starting pitcher, but Moskos is not going to cut it. In 2009 he should move back into the bullpen, and be ready anchor the Pirate’s bullpen – along with Matt Capps, who should be the closer over Moskos, for now – in 2010.
7. Jamie Romak OF Age: 23 MLL: AA/A+
Romak led the Pirates organization with 25 homeruns, but he hit for a low average of .258, while posting an OBP of .345. Romak’s K:BB ratio is 2.5:1. Despite a good arm, Romak is limited defensively, and does not have very good running speed. In order to become a good starting option in the outfield Romak has to cut down his strikeouts, and increase his average, without losing much power, otherwise he is just a decent backup/pinch-hitter.
8. Shelby Ford 2B Age: 24 MLL: AA
Ford also plays third, and shortstop. Ford was injured with hip flexors for the first couple of months of the season, but still had a productive season. He hit .285, with a .338 OBP, while hitting 4 homeruns, and struck out twice as many times as walks.
9.: 25 MLL: AAA
Big step back in 2008, Pearce flopped splitting time between the majors, and AAA. In the minors he hit .251, with a .312 OBP; he hit only 12 homeruns, and struck out twice as many times as he walked. Still, Pearce could come back next season as the starting first basemen for the Pirates, and crush the ball, like he had prior to last season. He has 20-30 HR potential, and can steal a few bags as well, but I fear last season might have been a precursor to his future in the majors, where he is an average first basemen, at best.
10. Matt Hague 3B Age: 23 MLL: A-
Good offensive numbers in 2008, hitting .322, with an OBP of .386. He also hit 6 homeruns in 242 ABs, and struck out 33 times, while walking 23 times. I expect his numbers to carry over to next year, as he looks to play a full season.
11. Brad Lincoln RHSP Age: 23 MLL: A
Lincoln had a decent season coming back from He struck out 75, while walking 17, in 103 innings in 2008. Lincoln throws his fastball in his low-mid 90s, and a good curveball. He has a nice comeback story unfolding if he can continue to improve next season – Lincoln will crack the top 10 next season if he does well in AA, in 2009., forcing him to miss all of 2007.
12. Anthony Watson LHSP Age: 23 MLL: A+
Watson’s fastball hardly touches 90, but also throws a good changeup. He pitched great in 2008 striking out 104 batters in 151 innings, while maintaining an ERA of 3.56. Watson could move into the top ten if he repeats his 2008 success in AA.
13. Brian Friday SS Age: 23 MLL: A+
Friday is a defensive specialist with some upside on offense. In 2008 he hit .281, with a .359 OBP, while hitting only 2 homeruns. Friday also had a K:BB rate of almost 2:1, and stole 16 bases. Despite lackluster offensive numbers Friday could become a solid utility infielder, maybe more if the offense comes in.
14. Brian Bixler SS/2B Age: 26 MLL: AAA
Bixler is a natural second basemen, but looking to play shortstop in the majors with He had a good overall year in 2008 hitting .280, with a .346 OBP, and stealing 23 bases. He has limited power, with 7 homeruns in 2008, and strikeouts a lot, with a K:BB ratio of 4:1. Bixler does not have the arm for short, but if Wilson departs, as is expected, Bixler will take over there in 2009.at second.
15. Alex Presley OF Age: 23 MLL: A+
I do not have much to say about him. He hit .258, with a .325 OBP, while hitting 6 homeruns in 287 ABs, and stealing 13 bases in that time. He has some power, and speed potential, which will cause me to keep an eye on him next season in AA.
Strengths: Pittsburgh has a few really good position players in Andrew McCutchen, and . They also have a number of options at third base with Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Jim Negrych. The Pirates have a lot of variety in tools among their position players: Alvarez can flat out rake, and McCutchen is one of the best overall prospects in the minors, Walker, Romak, and Pearce can mash, Negrych is a great on base guy, and Tabata does everything, but hit for power.
Weaknesses: One pitcher in the top 10, one, and he is likely a future reliever. [insert pathetic whistle here] There is a lack of both talent, and depth on the pitching side, and what do you know the Pirates passed on a couple of future aces (Brian Matusz, and Aaron Crow) in the 2008 draft to sign Alvarez. I have nothing else to say about the abysmal state of the Pirates’ pitching prospects, because they do not have much of anything there to talk about. Except Brad Lincoln who is a real great success story coming back from TJ surgery. Also it should be noted that the Pirates took Moskos one pick ahead of in the 2007 draft (Wieters, a catcher, and best position playing prospect in baseball, he is a Orioles prospect. As is the aforementioned Brian Matusz, who was taken a couple picks after the Orioles took Alvarez – it should be noted that I do not dislike the Pirates’ decision to take Alvarez, he was the best college hitter in the draft, but the Pirates need[ed] pitching, and Matusz was the best pitcher in the draft.
Next Up: I finally finish the NL Central with the Cardinals, and then wrap up the division by ranking the organizations within it, and rank the top prospects, within it.