Indianapolis Indians Season In Review

Compared to teams lower in the minors, it's always tough to write about a Class AAA team. AAA teams just function differently - although they do have a developmental purpose, many of their players aren't so much prospects as guys who just aren't quite good enough for the majors. It's hard, therefore, to sum up what happened in Indianapolis in a way that will be relevant to Pirates fans. I'll try, while skipping over a bunch of players (Kevin Melillo, Akinori Iwamura, Brandon Jones, Jeremy Powell, etc.) who were important parts of the team but who won't have much relevance to Pirates fans going forward.

Besides Melillo and Brandon Moss, most of Indianapolis' top hitters (Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Steve Pearce, Jeff Clement, Alex Presley) didn't actually stay with the team the whole year. Alvarez, Tabata and Walker were on their way up from Indianapolis; Clement was on his way down from Pittsburgh; Presley was on his way up from Altoona; and Pearce was just hurt a lot. John Bowker joined the team after being traded from the Giants and hit well, as he nearly always does in Class AAA. Those guys have already been discussed quite a lot here, so I'll focus instead on some other players we don't talk about too much.

Indianapolis' leader in plate appearances was Moss, who's finally back with the Pirates now. As I've written before, I'm not at all sold on the idea that 2010 was a resurgent season for Moss; he only batted .266 in AAA, which won't play well in the majors (Alvarez hit .277 in Class AAA this year and .232 so far in the majors, which gives you a rough idea of how to translate stats from the International League to the NL), and Moss' .800 overall OPS wasn't a spectacular number even before considering that he didn't do it at the highest level. Essentially, he's the same mediocre hitter he was last year. He still might be able to provide some value as a good defensive outfielder with a bit of pop, but we already knew that going into this season.

Catcher Erik Kratz hit brilliantly for Indianapolis, then got called up and made his major-league debut at the age of 30. That didn't last long, as his bat turned out to be pretty slow, but he cleared waivers after the Pirates sent him back down. He'd be a nice player to have back at AAA next season, but he'll be a minor-league free agent.

Infielder Brian Friday seems like he's been in the organization forever, but actually it has only been three years. He keeps hitting just well enough to be more prospect than scrub, but a .257/.347/.378 line won't cut it when it's translated to the majors. He's also injured a lot. He's eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason, so it will be interesting to see what the Pirates do with him. Plainly, he hasn't hit enough to be on the Pirates' radar as a potential starter, but he could be a future utilityman.

One factor that could stop Friday from finding a role with the big-league team is that Argenis Diaz and Pedro Ciriaco are already on the 40-man roster. Both are wretched hitters, but Ciriaco has at least shown some semblance of the ability to hit for average, and he has good speed and defense. He's also new to the organization, which means that no one is bored with him yet. (I'm saying that mostly in jest; I don't think the Pirates honestly weigh novelty into their evaluations. But I do think Ciriaco will get the first look in a utility role next year unless the Pirates sign a free agent, even though the difference in value between Ciriaco and Friday should be marginal.)

Indianapolis' starting pitchers were nothing to write home about. There was a burst of hype for Michael Crotta after he got off to a great start for Altoona, but that great start didn't continue after he was promoted. He turns 26 today, so there isn't much hope for him to be more than a groundball-inducing reliever. Brad Lincoln was Indianapolis' top prospect, and he pitched fairly well, but not nearly well enough to appear to be anything better than a fourth starter. (And his turn through the big-league rotation did nothing to contradict that.) Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen had good ERAs, but very low strikeout rates; again, neither were particularly successful in the majors, either. Donnie Veal mostly pitched well for nine starts, but ended up having Tommy John surgery in June. After his early-season blowup, Hayden Penn pitched passably for 12 starts before heading to Japan.

Indianapolis' best relievers were Justin Thomas and Wil Ledezma, both of whom are getting shots in the majors. They deserve them. Thomas might not have the stuff to succeed in the majors, but he should get 25 more innings or so to make sure that's the case; his AAA numbers this year just jump off the page. And Ledezma has the potential to be flat-out good - in addition to the great AAA numbers, his fastball averages nearly 94 MPH, which is extremely fast for a lefty.

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