This should be an interesting time to do a prospect list--we have more information about the Pirates' minor leaguers than we had a few weeks ago, but we can argue about what a lot of it means. A bunch of the Bucs' prospects are very hard to rank right now; you could make legitimate cases for putting someone like Jarek Cunningham in a bunch of different places on this list. So hopefully this list will be a good excuse to argue about a bunch of these guys.
I'll probably do another one of these around the time of the draft, and then another once the draftee signing period is over. I'd intended to do one after winter ball ended, but found myself suffering some pretty intense fatigue from all the lists coming out around that time, so I decided to put it off. My last list is from October.
Again, the criterion I'm using to define the word "prospect" is Major League Baseball's rule for rookie eligibility: 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of big-league service. So, at this point, John Raynor and Neil Walker are eligible; Donnie Veal and Steve Pearce are out. The grades are based on John Sickels' and essentially range from A, which means Jason Heyward, to C, which could mean a random Class A guy who might have potential or a Class AAA guy who will probably be a bit player in the majors.
UPDATE: Some people have expressed some concern in the comments about some of the grades. It's perfectly normal for the Pirates to only have one guy in the "A" range at this point. "A" players are typically in the high minors and are very likely to become stars. Sickels very rarely gives players "A"s. On top of that, most of the Pirates' best prospects at this stage are in the low minors, and typically they'll receive lower grades because of the amount of uncertainty in projecting players that far from the majors. This list really isn't intended to be sobering or anything like that. I think the development of the Pirates' minor league system is coming along fine.
By the way--a lot of the video below comes from Tim from BuccoFans, who taped a lot of these guys last year in Lynchburg. So thanks, Tim, for putting your stuff on YouTube.
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Indianapolis. Grade: A-. Previous ranking: 1. This is an easy call; Alvarez's transition to Class AAA has mostly been smooth, although a lot of his production came in the first week of the season, and the strikeouts are still a concern.
2. Tony Sanchez, C, Bradenton. Grade: B+. Previous ranking: 2. I ranked Sanchez at #2 in the last two lists, and that was pretty aggressive, but nothing that has happened since then has made those rankings look bad. Scouts love Sanchez's defense even more than they used to, and his hitting so far has been fantastic. Ryan Doumit has been a disaster so far this year; Sanchez can't get to the big leagues quickly enough.
3. Starling Marte, OF, Bradenton. Grade: B+. Previous ranking: 6. No homers yet, but Marte has six extra-base hits and five steals, and he's hitting .333/.435/.471. His tools are second to none, and nothing about his performance record really limits his upside in any way. He does need to learn to control the strike zone a bit better, but he's raw enough at this stage that he can work on that.
4. Jose Tabata, OF, Indianapolis. Grade: B. Previous ranking: 3. If he's really 21, he's still a very good prospect, but it's a bit worrisome that he keeps having the same season over and over: good average, good OBP, but very little power. If he's 24, he's a fringe prospect. Despite some rather weird comments by Neal Huntington this offseason about Tabata's age, though, there's no reason to assume his listed age isn't real--the ages of Venezuelan players like Tabata tend to be more reliable than those of Dominican players. And Tabata's performance in the Arizona Fall League was excellent.
5. Rudy Owens, SP, Altoona. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 4. I'm dropping Owens a grade not because of his progress, but because I think I overrated him a bit last time. Keith Law recently compared Owens to Zach Duke, and after watching Owens pitch for Altoona, I think that's apt. He'll probably continue to put up excellent minor league numbers because he has a good curve and because he knows how to pitch, but his upside is somewhat limited once he gets to the big leagues. I could probably rank him lower for that reason. But it's hard to overlook stuff like the 15:1 K:BB ratio Owens is putting up so far.
6. Brad Lincoln, SP, Indianapolis. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 5. He's close to the majors, was once the fourth overall pick in the draft, has good control, has shown a bunch of perseverance in battling back from injuries. Those are all good things. But beyond that, there's little to recommend him. He's almost 25, his strikeout rates have been lackluster, and he hasn't yet dominated AAA. He's this high because of his proximity to the majors and the good chance he'll be useful; I'm not sure he'll be much more than that.
7. Robbie Grossman, OF, Bradenton. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 7. Again, my ranking Grossman this high before was pretty aggressive, but I like keeping him here for now, as he's off to a nice start. Grossman's strikeouts last year were really problematic, but so far this year he has 13 strikeouts compared to ten walks, which isn't bad at all. He also has a .411 OBP and has been an important part of Bradenton's devastating offense, all at the age of 20. Not bad.
8. Zack Von Rosenberg, SP. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 9. This well-regarded high school pick from last year's draft hasn't pitched yet. We'll get a closer look at him later this summer, hopefully at State College and then West Virginia, following about the path that fellow high school draftee Quinton Miller took last year. In the meantime, I see no reason to move Von Rosenberg around much.
9. Chase D'Arnaud, SS, Altoona. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 10. D'Arnaud has been MIA so far this year, but with an excellent season at two Class A levels in 2009 and a solid Arizona Fall League performance, there's no reason to worry much yet.
10. Bryan Morris, SP, Bradenton. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 19. After a disastrous 2009 campaign, Morris looks to be back on track after four great starts so far at Bradenton. Reports about him out of camp were glowing as well. He could move up the list quickly as the season goes on.
11. Jarek Cunningham, IF, West Virginia. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 24. Cunningham was down near the bottom of the list after missing all of last season with injuries, but he hasn't missed a beat upon returning this year, posting a line of .354/.358/.462. The 12:1 K:BB ratio is a little worrisome, but it must be hard to be too selective when you're hitting .354. He's a hard player to rank, but like Cunningham at the plate, I'm going to be aggressive.
12. Quinton Miller, SP, West Virginia. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 11. The Pirates are being very cautious with Miller, but there's no reason not to like him so far; he has a 1.50 ERA in six innings early on. He currently has bicep tendinitis, which doesn't sound like a big deal.
13. Jeff Locke, SP, Bradenton. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 12. It was disappointing to see that Locke was held back in Class A+ this year after spending all of 2009 there, but he's posted 17 strikeouts in 13.2 innings so far.
14. Tim Alderson, SP, Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 8. Ranking Alderson here at 14 may actually be generous at this point. He's throwing in the mid-80s now, which won't even fly in Class AA. His control has always been excellent, but he needs to throw several MPH harder to succeed. The Freddy Sanchez deal may turn out to be one that neither team wins.
15. Nathan Adcock, SP, Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 27. From this point on, we're playing a little bit of prospect bingo, and at this early point in the season we certainly run the risk of overrating or underrating someone based on a few weeks of games. Adcock gets a bump for getting off to a good start, whiffing a batter an inning so far.
16. Brock Holt, SS, Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 29. The Bucs are being very aggressive with Holt, which suggests that they like him, and he's off to a good start after skipping low Class A entirely. Let's hope he makes it, not only because the Pirates need infielders, but because he could inspire one of the Pirates blogosphere's funnier memes. Volt for Brock Holt!
17. Colton Cain, SP. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 15. Cain moves down a bit after missing some development time recovering from back surgery. He probably wouldn't have played before the start of short-season ball anyway.
18. Quincy Latimore, OF, Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 25. Latimore has cooled in the past few days, but his excellent start at Bradenton earns him a bump here. He's a bit like his teammate Grossman, in that strike zone issues will probably determine whether he has a career. Latimore's power is pretty clearly legitimate, however.
19. Neil Walker, UT, Indianapolis. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 19. Walker is off to a great start at Indianapolis, which is nice. He was drafted back when I was still writing posts on a twenty-pound monitor, and he's been at Indy for ages, so it's about time. He has a future as a utility player, albeit one without much upside.
20. Victor Black, SP. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 23. I'm moving Black up a bit from the last list because it wasn't clear to me then how much the Pirates liked him, but he's injured and has yet to pitch this year.
21. Trent Stevenson, SP. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 20. A good, live arm from the 2009 draft who hasn't pitched yet, so there's no reason to move him around much.
22. Justin Wilson, SP, Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 17. Wilson is off to a terrible start at Altoona. He needed some time to adjust to Class A+ last year, but he ended up succeeding in doing so; let's hope he can do it again. This is a case where it would be easy to overreact. Wilson has only had three starts, and only one of them (a six-walk stinker against Erie) has really been all that bad.
23. Brooks Pounders, SP. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 21. Like Stevenson, he hasn't pitched yet, which at his age isn't a cause for alarm. Hopefully he'll start at State College.
24. Brett Lorin, SP. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 14. Like Cain, Lorin should be back at midseason, but missing the first half of the year (after hip surgery, in Lorin's case) hurts a 23-year-old a lot more than it hurts a kid just out of high school. Lorin pitched very well in 2009, but he was a little old for his level even then; he needs to hit the ground running when he comes back.
25. Nate Baker, SP, West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NA. The 2009 fifth-rounder has been solid in West Virginia so far. You'd expect competence from a well-regarded college lefty pitching at Class A, of course; Baker probably won't really be tested until he's promoted.
26. Jordy Mercer, IF, Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NA. The Pirates have moved Mercer so quickly that it's been hard to figure out what to make of him, but he's off to a great start at Class AA. He also hit pretty well down the stretch at Lynchburg last year, so maybe there's something here.
27. John Raynor, OF, Pittsburgh. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NA. He belongs on the list somewhere (and it's probably the only one he'll ever make, because he'll have too much service time for the next one), but letting someone sit on the bench for a year is a pretty dubious way to develop him. I wouldn't be surprised if Raynor ended up being offered back to the Marlins, if the number of roster decisions the Pirates have already had to make is any indication.
28. Gorkys Hernandez, OF, Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 16. FAIL.
29. Jeffrey Inman, SP. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NA. I'm not sure why he hasn't pitched yet, but every report I read out of camp suggested that his velocity was impressive and that he just generally looked like a beast. He's gotten less attention than guys like Von Rosenberg and Cain, but it's worth pointing out yet again that he was once a very highly regarded draft prospect and the Pirates paid $425,000 to get him. Keep your eyes peeled for him.
30. Exicardo Cayonez, OF. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 26. Cayonez is about as interesting as they come for a guy who hasn't played in the U.S. minors yet--he got a big bonus, he's incredibly young, and he smacked a ton of doubles in the Venezuelan Summer League last year. Hopefully he'll continue hitting once the short-season leagues get going.
I also strongly considered adding Ronald Uviedo (who moves down after making the switch back to the bullpen), Josh Harrison and Rogelios Noris. Jeremy Farrell entered my mind, too, but I'd like to see a couple months of sustained performance before I start taking him seriously.