With the trading deadline now behind us, I got together with Pat from WHYGAVS to discuss the eight players the Pirates acquired. We put aside the question of whether or not the Bucs made good deals and talked about our expectations for each of the eight new guys, beginning with the four acquired from the Red Sox and Dodgers and ending with the four acquired from the Yankees.
If you missed the first Bucs Dugout / WHYGAVS crossover, you can check that out here.
WHYGAVS: Hansen is probably my least favorite player of the eight we acquired, though that's (perhaps unfairly) based on his rough major league performances so far. He's got a great fastball and slider, but very little control. Best case, he becomes a legitimate closer and worst case, he becomes Tyler Yates (not to cast a wide net or anything).
BUCS DUGOUT: Yates is a good comparable. The problem is that Yates isn't any good. Hansen certainly has stuff and upside, but so have a million other young relievers who never learned how to throw strikes and thus never accomplished anything in the majors, just like Yates really never has. At this point, Hansen is a live arm and nothing more. He's the fourth player the Pirates acquired, so there's really nothing wrong with that, but... the Red Sox sure came out of this deal smelling like roses, didn't they? Jason Bay may well be better than Manny Ramirez going forward and is under contract for a reasonable price in 2009, and all the Sox had to give up to make the exchange and get rid of their headache was two players they didn't need.
BUCS DUGOUT: LaRoche is a tough player to figure out, because the Dodgers didn't seem to have much use for him. Several prospect lists ranked him very, very highly before the year, but LaRoche missed playing time after returning from a thumb injury to the plainly unready Blake DeWitt. After that, the Dodgers sent him to the minors, had him play second a little bit (as if grooming him for some sort of utility position), then let him sit on the big-league bench, never letting him get into a rhythm.
One report compared LaRoche to Jason Kendall. I think LaRoche will hit more homers than Kendall and get on base a little bit less, but it's an apt comparison in that LaRoche's command of the strike zone is outstanding like Kendall's was. In the upper levels of the minors, LaRoche typically walked as often as he struck out, and in 123 at bats in Class AAA this year, he struck out 14 times and had 37 walks. That bodes very well for his future. It's fair to wonder how much power he'll have--he hit 30 homers in the minors in 2005, but without a lot of doubles, and that round-trip power hasn't made an appearance at the big league level yet--but that may come, and because of his strike-zone judgment and defense, he can be a productive starter even if he only hits 15 to 20 homers a year.
WHYGAVS: LaRoche's power is definitely an important factor in deciding what kind of corner infielder he's going to be. In his 30-homer year in 2005, he was playing Vero Beach for half of the season, where he'd already spent 60 games the prior year. In that half-season he hit 21 of his 30 homers. So it's not a slam dunk that he'll be a 30-homer guy, especially not in PNC Park.
The in-his-prime Kendall is an interesting comparison. People forget how good Kendall was before his thumb injury. Though he was never a home run hitter, he slugged between .470 and .500 in the three years sandwiching his ankle injury (what would've happened to Kendall had we disabled him and let that thumb injury heal is its own discussion). As you said, though, I think 15-20 homers is the least we can expect from LaRoche and given his plate patience and how he's adjusted to each level in the minors, we can probably expect more than that.
The interesting thing to me is how the fans are going to react to Andy. As we saw with Gene Collier, many people are already equating him to his brother, and I think people may be quick to turn on him if he's not a 30-homer guy, even if he's putting up a .900 OPS. It's also interesting to see how he'll be handled when Pedro Alvarez is ready to come to Pittsburgh. While his pop might not hold up at third, he could be an incredibly valuable second baseman if he's able to make the switch (which is definitely a big if) because of his bat. I guess these are all things to worry about down the road.
WHYGAVS: I think Neal Huntington had the right idea acquiring a guy coming off of Tommy John surgery. The recovery rate for guys coming off of the surgery with no other arm troubles is actually pretty high. That said, Morris is still hard to project since he's so low in the minors. Everything I've read about him places him as a third starter, but he's 6'3" with a good fastball and good strikeout rates in his limited minor league experience, which makes me think he could even fill out to be more of a top-end guy. There's still a lot that can go wrong between the Sally League and Pittsburgh, but given Brad Lincoln's struggles, I think Morris is already the top pitching prospect in the system.
BUCS DUGOUT: I agree, but that isn't saying much, since pitching prospects in the Pirates' system are like women at a Star Trek convention. Anyway, terms like "#3 starter" are applied way too casually to pitchers in the low minors, in my opinion. Ace pitchers come in lots of different types, so to say that a 21 year-old who's a million miles from the majors can become a #3 (but, by implication, not a #1) seems arbitrary. All of which is to say that I don't disagree with anything you said, and that all we can say with confidence about Morris' future is that if your team's minor league system contains several pitchers with his level of potential, you're in pretty good shape. The Pirates' doesn't, but acquiring one of them is certainly a step in the right direction. Signing some of their more promising pitching draft picks, like Tanner Scheppers, Justin Wilson, Drew Gagnon and Quinton Miller, will be another step. At this point in his career, Morris is really an unknown quantity. His important goals now should be to throw more strikes and avoid getting hurt.
BUCS DUGOUT: One silver lining to the Pirates' situation is that they'll have no trouble finding playing time for all the guys they've acquired. That's especially nice for Moss, because he's not the sort of player who would get a lot of chances with a team like the Red Sox. He looks like a tweener--he doesn't appear to have enough offense for a corner or enough defense for center--but looks can be deceiving. Before the 2007 season, this is what Baseball Prospectus had to say about Nate McLouth:
The Pirates have corned the market on FOGies--Fourth Outfielder Guys. Their farm system is practically the Fourth Outfielder Factory. If a young outfielder is just good enough to not start, the Pirates will sniff him out and make sure he stays that way. You can buy just one or you can buy them in bulk at a discount. McLouth? Duffy? McDuffy? Butter or no butter, salted or unsalted, cinnamon and sour cream varieties, frozen and unfrozen. Move away from Pittsburgh? They`ll ship a case to you so you never have to feel lonely. McLouth isn`t quite as good as Duffy, and plating only 6.3 percent of the men on base when he batted, the worst mark in baseball among hitters with 150 PA. Of course, he can`t really play center either. No matter how scrappy you are, people notice when you do this little with that much playing time.
Oops! I say this not to pick on BP, but to point out that when you combine what appear to be average or mediocre talents with plenty of playing time, weird things can happen. Moss is younger than McLouth was when BP made that comment, and he has a better performance record. I'm certainly not saying he'll be as valuable as McLouth, only that it's not impossible. A more realistic expectation, though, is something like Xavier Nady before the ridiculous 2008 season--not especially good, but useful.
WHYGAVS: The thing I like about Moss is that I think a left-handed hitter has a much better chance of breaking out like McLouth did at PNC than a right-handed hitter does. Predicting a breakout like we've seen in McLouth since that BP article was written is almost impossible to do, but Moss might be a good candidate at PNC. If nothing else, we've seen what playing time can do for a player (see: McLouth's splits as a starter vs. a bench player) and even assuming that Andrew McCutchen is ready for Pittsburgh next year, there should be plenty of playing time for Moss in the next year.
WHYGAVS: Before he started his Pirate career with a 15-inning scoreless streak and a near perfect game, the general consensus on Karstens was that he was a back of the rotation or middle-relief guy. He's got good control but not great stuff, and that's good enough for a good K/BB ratio and decent strikeout rate in the minors, but may not translate well to the majors (see: Duke, Zach). Still, those first two outings were encouraging. He was able to put the ball exactly where he wanted in against Arizona last week in his near-perfect game. The key to remember is that when a guy is projected to be a back-end starter, it doesn't mean he's going to be John Van Benschoten. Karstens could certainly have a Josh Fogg-like career. So long as he's not the second best starter on the Pirates, like Fogg was, that'll be just fine.
BUCS DUGOUT: Sometimes I think most teams would love to have the sorts of pitchers people are describing when they talk about "back-end starters" actually be in the back of their rotation, if that makes sense.
We shouldn't let Karstens' perfect game bid lead us astray. It was an encouraging outing, in that he threw strikes, but about 82 balls were hit to the warning track. Since he doesn't walk many batters, he'll pitch deep into games when he has success, but he may not have much success. Of course, he should still be far better than Yoslan Herrera or Van Benschoten, as you note. In fact, it's pretty likely that Karstens and Ohlendorf will be more valuable just for the rest of the season than Nady and Damaso Marte would have been.
BUCS DUGOUT: It's hard to know what to make of McCutchen because he was already almost 24 when he was drafted, and then he served a 50-game suspension (which he blamed, apparently pretty believably, on drugs he took for ADD). He moved through the Yankees system very quickly. That could be because he was beating up on younger opponents, but he also might have real potential; he's only been a pro for a year and a half. His stuff isn't as good as Ross Ohlendorf's, but he could wind up being a better pitcher in the long run. Like Karstens, he's not afraid to throw strikes, so his walk totals should stay low.
WHYGAVS: After looking at the stats, I was a little surprised that people were so much higher on McCutchen than Karstens and Ohlendorf, but I suppose it's because he's a bit younger with such limited experience. He's really pitched pretty well at both Scranton and Indianapolis for a guy with such limited minor-league experience before this year. I can't think of much else to say about him, other than to reiterate that his minor-league numbers coupled with his limited experience probably makes him the most promising rotation candidate out of the three guys we got from the Yankees.
BUCS DUGOUT: The Bucs Dugout user Azibuck wrote a really helpful report about Ohlendorf's last start at Indianapolis that suggests that either he doesn't really know how to pitch, or he was working on particular problems during his start without worrying much about setting hitters up. It might well be the latter--Ohlendorf's a seriously smart guy, so there's a good chance it is--because he also showed very good stuff, with an electric fastball and breaking pitches that could make batters swing and miss. It would be a shame if his tendency to rely on his fastball relegated him to the bullpen, because he has a chance to be a real horse: he pitched 182 innings in the minors in 2006. My prediction: he shows flashes of brilliance but ultimately frustrates while pitching in the rotation for a couple years--think mid-career Brett Tomko--then becomes a reliever.
WHYGAVS: At his ceiling, Ohlendorf kind of strikes me as the exact type of pitcher the Pirates don't have right now. He's a horse who can eat innings that can hopefully be the kind of guy the Pirates can put in the rotation and not worry about needing six innings from the bullpen when he starts. I guess that means I'm hoping that he turns more into Brett Myers than Brett Tomko. The problem there is that I think his minor league strikeout numbers, save this year as a 25-year old in AAA for a third go, don't really seem to predict that much success (if we can consider Myers' three year peak a success) and he's probably a bit too old to think that's going to drastically change. Still, his velocity seems to be much better than reported, based on the few reports I've seen on his minor league outings, and I suppose that makes me a little more hopeful for him than I was when we acquired him. If he can't cut it in the rotation, I guess he'll be off to the pen where he should probably find some success due to his fastball, though your comment about "live arms" would apply to him, as well.
WHYGAVS: As most people know by now, Tabata was signed by the Yankees and compared to Manny Ramirez in the early minors before injuries and makeup issues lowered his value in the Yankees minds to the point that he was traded for Nady and Marte. The big question is how a change of scenery affects him. Honestly, I'm somewhat optimistic. He killed the ball in his four-game stint in the GCL and he's 19 years old. I know that's way too small of a sample size to draw a conclusion, but it's encouraging and anything encouraging is good news with a talent like Tabata. The comparisons to the Ramirezes (he's been compared to both Manny as a hitter and Hanley as a young prospect who struggled through the minors before blossoming) are unfair because talents like Hanley and Manny don't come around every day, but I think there's still a good chance that Tabata is going to be a productive player and maybe more.
BUCS DUGOUT: Clearly, it's way too early to say, but the Hanley Ramirez example shows why it was a good idea to take a chance on Tabata. It's very difficult to acquire talents like him. He's so young that he could be a complete mess for the next two years and still go on to have a good big-league career. The uncertainty level is extraordinarily high here not only because of his youth but because his stats can't be taken at face value, since he's suffered several fairly serious injuries. I'd love it if he became the next Ramirez--either of them--but for some more likely outcomes, say... Johnny Damon with fewer steals and less defense? Dusty Baker minus some (basepath-clogging!) walks and the annoying managerial career? Rondell White? Or Tabata could flame out completely. At this point, he simply needs to stay healthy.