Class AAA Indianapolis: Brian Bixler's bat went cold last week, but he's had three good games in his past four, and he went 3-for-5 last night. Meanwhile, the Bucs are shuffling mediocre infielders at the big-league level. Humberto Cota has a .645 OPS at Indianapolis. I mention this because Cota is among four 2007 Indianapolis Indians hitters to post OPSes below .700 despite spending time with the big club in either 2006 or 2007. The others are Don Kelly, Carlos Maldonado and Mike Edwards. (Edwards' is in a very small sample, but he was also below .700 at Indy last year.) That tells you a lot about the Pirates' lack of depth. Elsewhere, Brian Rogers is pitching himself out of prospect status, allowing nine runs in his last four appearances. He has a mediocre 33:23 K:BB ratio. Indy recently added Royals flameout Runelvys Hernandez to its rotation. Sorry; there really isn't a lot of good news here.
Class AA Altoona: Andrew McCutchen is actually hitting .292 in July, although he only has two extra-base hits. OF/1B Jason Delaney has been even better at Altoona than he was at Lynchburg - he's hitting .323/.451/.585 overall and he went 10-for-13 in his last three games, all against Bowie. He's rough defensively and he's already 24, but it looks like we've got a prospect here. None of the Altoona pitchers look especially interesting so far. It's weird that the Pirates' farm system has flip-flopped - now nearly all the interesting prospects are hitters rather than pitchers.
Class A+ Lynchburg: Shelby Ford's bat has come alive - he's hit .368 with seven walks in his past ten games. He still only has a .767 OPS for the season, but he has a .959 OPS since the All-Star break. There may be something here. Jamie Romak's Adam Dunn impersonation continues. Well, Dunn was arriving in Cincinnati when he was Romak's age, but you know what I mean. Shortstop Angel Gonzalez, who was inexplicably promoted to Lynchburg in June despite bad hitting at Hickory, has recently recovered from shoulder problems and rejoined the team. Reliever Olivo Astacio was recently (and deservedly) promoted from Hickory, but he's been shelled in both of his first two appearances.
Class A Hickory: Corner guy Jared Keel has a 1.022 OPS and needs to be sent to Lynchburg pronto. And there's something exciting going on down in Hickory - a prospect from Latin America, and not a fake one like Gonzalez or a reliever like Astacio, either. For those of you who may have forgotten what "prospects from Latin America" are, they're young kids, often from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, who aren't drafted, but instead are offered bonuses by scouts. For those of you who may have forgotten what a scout is... well, anyway, this kid's name is Jose Diaz, and he's a 20 year-old starting pitcher. He mowed down the Dominican Summer League this year, started the season with Bradenton, then got promoted all the way to Hickory after he posted a 1.13 ERA (albeit with bad peripherals) in his first 16 innings there. He then made a spot start with Hickory, where he struck out six batters and walked none. The Pirates apparently demoted him after that, but I don't know where they sent him; he hasn't pitched since then. Hopefully he isn't hurt - a 20-year-old starter who can mow down Class A pitching really gets my attention. That probably says more about the state of the Pirates' farm system than it says about Diaz, but still, he bears watching.
Class A- State College: There aren't a lot of hitters here; 2007 fifth-rounder Andrew Walker, the team's most interesting hitter so far, has missed the last several games with a thumb injury. 25th-rounder Keanon Simon is hitting .275/.413/.412 so far, but he'll be 23 in December. 18th rounder Marcus Davis has an .889 OPS so far and is supposed to be extremely raw, so there may be some upside there, but again, time isn't on his side - he'll turn 23 in the offseason, too. Among pitchers, Anthony Watson has had two more strong starts, and he now has a 1.87 ERA in 33.2 innings. 2006 second rounder Mike Felix was demoted to State College a couple weeks ago, and he continues to struggle.
Rookie League Bradenton: Josue Peley, a draft-and-follow from 2006, is hitting .316/.341/.474 so far. Who knows if that means anything, but I'm including it here because he's only 19 and he's destroyed the ball in July after struggling in his first few games. First baseman Alex Vargas has a .960 OPS, but he's already 21. Actually, most of Bradenton's hitters are way too old, so the only hitters worth watching may be Peley, Vargas, and 2007 4th-rounder Quincy Lattimore. I know I'm not the first to say this, but why stock your rookie league team with 22- and 23-year-olds? No one even watches those games. The Bucs would be better off grabbing a bunch of 18-year-olds in the last ten rounds of the draft, letting them play, and hoping to get lucky with one of them. On the flipside, how must it feel to be one of these guys who's already 23 or 24 and is playing to crowds of five people in Bradenton? What does anyone get out of this arrangement? It's bizarre. Anyway, on the pitching side, Rafael Delossantos, 20, has 29 strikeouts and just three walks.