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Perrotto on Prospects

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John Perrotto is a smart guy and a very good reporter, but I have to wonder what purpose articles like this serve.

Here's the bulk of the article.

- On Neil Walker:

Walker is a switch-hitter with power who doesn't turn 20 until Sept. 10. Most impressively, he has gotten better every month in his first full professional season despite the wear and tear of catching in the heat and humidity of the Sally League.

All true - after hovering around a .700 OPS for most of the season, Walker has hit well recently, and is now at .293/.322/.445, which isn't bad at all for a 19 year-old in full season ball. His power is very good for a player his age - he has 11 homers and is second in the league in doubles.

- On other Pirates' prospects:

Right-hander Bryan Bullington, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, is finally living up to his potential at Class AAA Indianapolis. Left-hander Paul Maholm and catcher Ronny Paulino are also performing well there.

Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny and third baseman Jose Bautista are premium prospects at Class AA Altoona, while center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' first-round draft pick this year, is tearing up the Gulf Coast League at rookie-level Bradenton.

True again, except in that Bullington was the top pick in the 2002 draft, not 2001 - and in that Bautista is not, by any reasonable definition, a "premium prospect." Also, let's not get too worked up about Bullington - his year has been merely good. He's still a 24 year-old minor league pitcher who's striking out far less than a batter an inning. If he were "living up to his potential" as the #1 pick in the draft, he'd be contributing in the Bucs' rotation already.

The substance of the article is contained in the quotes above. (Elsewhere, there are mushy quotes from non-prospect Dan Schwartzbauer, and a couple more mushy quotes from people who know Neil Walker.) All the article shows is that the Pirates have prospects - which is hardly news, since every team does. It does not put the quality of those prospects into context, and thus fails to prove its thesis, which is stated at the end of the article:

Thus, it is realistic for long-suffering fans like Schwartzbauer to think the Pirates actually have a chance of eventually turning things around.

The Pirates probably do have some remote chance of contending for a wild card in about 2007, but that hardly qualifies as turning things around. After that, the team looks very likely to be dreadful again and the farm system will likely again be recognized as a huge problem.  

Look at Minor League Baseball's recent list of its Top 50 prospects. Despite years of high draft picks and trades for minor leaguers, there is only one Pirate, Zach Duke at #14. Or look at Baseball America's preseason Top 100 - there's Duke at #34, Walker at #81, and that's all. Pirates prospects were also underrepresented in Baseball Prospectus' preseason Top 50.

It is probably true that the Pirates have slightly more prospect depth then some organizations, but as the minors are becoming filled with Dave Littlefield acquisitions, that depth is disappearing - although it is not too late for a few others to emerge, the only really good prospects the Pirates have below Class AA are Walker and Andrew McCutchen, both top draft picks.

I realize I have previously made the point that the Pirates' much-hyped minor league system is not actually very good, but I think it bears repeating. I will stop when Pittsburgh writers stop hyping the Pirates' system. This year, a bunch of pretty good players arrived in Pittsburgh from the minor league system at about the same time, and several of them have played well. That gets fans excited about the Pirates' future. But such an influx of young talent is not likely to happen again in the next several years. Articles like these (by the way, the headline was "Farm System Growing Talented Crop"), which provide no context to prove their theses, are misleading at best.