1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B: It may seem odd to give the top spot to a guy who hasn't even played in the minor leagues rather than giving it to a player who's about the same age and is already playing pretty well AAA, but when the player is as good as Alvarez is supposed to be, it's a no-brainer.
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF: He's showed excellent strike-zone judgment while hitting against much older pitchers in the International League. He hasn't flashed much power yet, but the foundation is there for him to develop some of it. Hopefully, he'll join the Pirates for good by mid-2009.
3. Jose Tabata, OF: He's younger than Alvarez or McCutchen and is more of a question mark than either one. Tabata has battled injuries for years now, so it's really hard to tell how good he is. Hopefully he'll finish the year well, then report to Spring Training totally healthy.
4. Brad Lincoln, SP: Lincoln hasn't had a great year statistically, but he has showed good stuff and control for a pitcher coming back from a major injury, and he was a legitimate pick at #4 in the draft two years ago. He's already 23, so he'll hopefully have a strong year in 2009.
5. Bryan Morris, SP: All kinds of upside, but like many very young pitchers with good stuff, he needs to improve his control.
6. Neil Walker, 3B: Looked like a very good prospect after a good 2007 season at Altoona, but this year has been a disaster, at least at the plate. He should be a pretty good defensive third baseman, but he needs more time at Class AAA to make better contact. The Pirates' choice of Alvarez in the June draft was something most teams would have done regardless of the talent they already had at 3B, but their acquisition of Andy LaRoche at the trading deadline may suggest that they (rightly) don't consider Walker to be a can't-miss prospect.
7. Jamie Romak, OF: I like this guy much more than many do, but I understand their problems with him--he strikes out all the time, which raises legitimate questions about whether he'll be able to hit at higher levels. Unfortunately, we still don't know as much about Romak as we might because the Pirates kept him at Lynchburg for such a long time. He struck out all the time there, but he also drew walks and hit for a ton of power and had a good year there overall. If you're Romak and you can be very productive at Class A+ by waiting and waiting for pitchers with poor command to throw meatballs, why wouldn't you? Fortunately, the Pirates finally moved him to Class AA, where he'd be challenged by pitchers who know how to throw strikes. Unsurprisingly, he was very bad for a few weeks, but he has hit quite well recently, going 9-for-21 with four homers in his last five games. There are big league power hitters who make it through the minors while striking out constantly. It's rare, but it does happen. The odds are against Romak, but his upside could be quite high if he beats them.
8. Daniel McCutchen, SP: May have more upside than his age and performance suggest, because he was relatively old when he signed. He apparently has a pretty good changeup now and probably has the stuff and repertoire to succeed as a big-league starter.
9. Robbie Grossman, OF: Grossman was a second round talent the Pirates got in the sixth round of this year's draft. He has a broad base of skills, although none are reported to be outstanding; he could be a Nate McLouth-type player if everything goes well. Obviously, he's a million miles from the majors, but he's a hard-working player.
10. Ross Ohlendorf, SP: Ohlendorf has brains and fantastic stuff but, if his recent work at Indianapolis is any indication, he needs to learn to pitch instead of just throwing. He could be a good reliever if he doesn't make it as a starter.
11. Jimmy Barthmaier, SP: It may seem odd to see a free-talent find this high on the list, but Barthmaier isn't old, was once very highly regarded and has quietly had a pretty good year at Altoona, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. He may warrant consideration for a job on the Pirates' staff in the near future.
12. Chase D'Arnaud, SS: 2008 4th round pick is one of the few bright spots for a horrible State College team.
13. Quinton Miller, SP: This is an aggressive ranking for a high school pitcher who hasn't played in the minors yet, but Miller has about a thousand times more upside than any pitcher below him on this list.
14. Jarek Cunningham, 3B: We don't know much about him yet, but he's hit well in every way at Bradenton--average, power, patience--and he's only 18. He bears watching. At this point next year, he could easily be completely off the list, or he could be moving up quickly.
15. Justin Wilson, SP: 2008 5th round lefty has good stuff and could have a career if he improves his control. Obviously, we don't know much about how he'll do as a pro.
16. Jim Negrych, 3B: If Negrych were still a middle infielder, he would be ranked much higher, but so far he's shown very little home run power. He clearly can hit for contact, and he controls the strike zone much better than most Class AA hitters, but it remains to be seen whether he can draw walks against major league pitchers who know how to throw strikes and won't respect his power. He's also having a terrible year on defense, and was recently described by the Altoona Mirror as a "one tool player." He did hit .370 at Lynchburg, though, and that's tough to ignore. If he can fake his way around second and short, he might be able to eke out a career as a bat-first utility player. As the Mirror points out, that would make him a bit like former Pirates farmhand Jeff Keppinger.
17. Dan Moskos, P: Yes, he's terrible and the less said about him, the better, but just 15 months ago he was ranked as a solid first round pick on lots of experts' draft boards. I have no idea what they saw--they certainly haven't seen the Moskos I've watched--but I'll give Moskos the #17 ranking just in case there actually is first round talent hidden in there somewhere.
18. Wesley Freeman, OF: Another bonus baby, Freeman has serious power. Like so many players on this list, he's light years from the majors.
19. Nelson Periera, SP: A Latin American starting pitching prospect? Acquired by Dave Littlefield? Periera is only in the Gulf Coast League now, but if maintains his prospect status, we should nickname him Sasquatch.
20. Shelby Ford, 2B: Ford keeps doing just enough to be considered a real prospect. He's 23 and is having a decent year in Class AA... doing just enough to be moved up a level next year.
Further down the list: Jordy Mercer, Ronald Uviedo, Jesse Chavez, Jeff Sues, Matt Hague, Andury Acevedo, Tony Watson, Brian Friday, Brian Bixler. Other than Moskos, I didn't put any relievers in the top 20. That probably reflects my lack of excitement about minor league relievers more than anything else.