Minor League Update: A 2008 Prospects List

Rather than my usual off-day roundup of what's going on in the minors, I want to take a broader look at what's going on in the farm system. I'm taking another look at a top prospects list I made in August, naming each player and deciding, based on his performance so far this year, whether his stock has risen or fallen.

There's been a bunch of bad news on the farm this year. It's only six weeks or so of baseball, any farm system will have its ups and downs, and there are enough "up"s below that it would be premature to say there's a pattern, but it's still a pretty bleak picture.

Just to be clear, this isn't a new top prospects list. It's a new look at the one I made in August.  

1. Pedro Alvarez - DOWN. Now batting .214 with 32 strikeouts in 103 at bats after four-strikeout performance on Sunday. Good power, plenty of walks and a good Spring Training suggest that all this might be fixed with some changes in approach, but other 2008 draftees (Justin Smoak, Buster Posey, etc.) are passing him by. It's too early to panic, but not too early to be concerned.

2. Andrew McCutchen - EVEN. Cooled off after hot start and still hasn't proven he can dominate AAA, but 13 extra-base hits and more walks than strikeouts give reason to hope his transition to the big leagues will be smooth. Still only 22; still a very good prospect.

3. Jose Tabata - DOWN. Got off to a poor start at Class AA Altoona. Currently shut down with a hamstring injury. I'm not even going to discuss WifeGate.

4. Brad Lincoln - UP. Has quietly pitched well for Altoona; has had six starts, and none of them have been bad. He turns 24 in two weeks, so it's unlikely he'll be the ace the Pirates hoped they were getting with the fourth pick in the 2006 draft, but he should at least be useful.

5. Bryan Morris - DOWN. Currently shut down with shoulder trouble.

6. Neil Walker - DOWN. Has made no progress while repeating at Class AAA Indianapolis. Nobody wants a good defensive third baseman who'll hit .210 with a .250 OBP. Some comments here at Bucs Dugout about the possibility of having him catch once or twice a week are interesting. At this point, I'd settle for a Brandon Inge-like career.

7. Jamie Romak - DOWN. This was admittedly an aggressive ranking for Romak, but not even his detractors could have predicted he'd be this bad. He has a .453 OPS at Altoona with 32 strikeouts against five walks. If I made another top 20 prospects list today, I'd leave him off it entirely.

8. Dan McCutchen - EVEN. Actually, "even" is probably generous. McCutchen gets a little slack for starting his pro career late and having less pro experience than most 26-year-olds, but he's still at the age when he needs to produce. He has a strikeout per inning at Indianapolis, which is good, but he also has half a walk per inning to go along with serious flyball tendencies. Strikeouts or no, that's not a recipe for success in the majors.

9. Robbie Grossman - UP. Currently holding his own at Class A West Virginia, which is no small feat for a 19-year-old. Grossman isn't showing much power yet, but that's to be expected at his age. He's a good prospect.

10. Ross Ohlendorf - UP. Has pitched fairly well as a member of the Pirates' rotation, although he needs to strike out more batters to sustain success.

11. Jimmy Barthmaier - DOWN. Should miss the rest of the year with Tommy John surgery.

12. Chase D'Arnaud - EVEN. Recent cold streak leaves him with an .839 OPS at West Virginia, which is good but not great for an early-round draftee from a major college program. 

13. Quinton Miller - EVEN. Hasn't pitched yet, which is to be expected.

14. Jarek Cunningham - DOWN. Cunningham will miss the entire season with an ACL tear. The good news is that there should be no ill effects when he returns next year. His 2008 debut was easily the strongest of any 2008 draftee.

15. Justin Wilson - DOWN. This is actually just barely a "down." I'm not sure how much to read into Wilson's stats so far. He's only pitched 22.2 innings, and they're the first of his pro career. He's also at Lynchburg, which was probably an aggressive assignment. He has 16 strikeouts, which isn't bad. He's also getting a lot of outs on the ground. He's worth watching.

16. Jim Negrych - UP. If Negrych could field at all, he'd probably be one of the better infield prospects in the minors. Unfortunately, he can't. He is, however, too good a hitter for the Eastern League, and he's probably going to be a pretty interesting big league bench player. Think Bobby Hill with way better contact ability.

17. Dan Moskos - DOWN. Terrible.

18. Wes Freeman - EVEN. Hasn't played yet.

19. Nelson Periera - EVEN. Hasn't pitched yet; will probably debut at State College.

20. Shelby Ford - DOWN. Has floundered at Indianapolis. Has fourteen strikeouts against just one walk, which suggests he's every bit as lost as his other numbers indicate.

*      *      *

If I were making another top 20 prospects list today, I'd take a hard look at the following players not listed above:

Ronald Uviedo, SP, Lynchburg. The Pirates moved him from the 'pen to the rotation this year, and suddenly he looks like one of their best pitching prospects. 

Michael Dubee, RP, Lynchburg. Quietly acquired a few weeks ago for minor league utilityman Andy Phillips, Dubee has been just about unhittable for the Hillcats, striking out 19 batters in 12.1 innings. He's a good candidate for a midseason promotion.

Michael Colla, RP, Lynchburg. The 2008 14th-rounder has piled up 14 strikeouts and a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Jordy Mercer, SS, Lynchburg. 2008 3rd-rounder is holding his own.

Calvin Anderson, 1B, West Virginia. Eight strikeouts for every walk so far, which is terrible, but it's hard to complain too much when a guy slugs .547. If the strike-zone issues are at all representative, he'll have to make adjustments to have success at higher levels.

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