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Pirates Top 30 Prospects: October 2009 Edition


Rudy Owens (photo: Dustin Baldwin)

Since the last Top 30 Prospects Feature was a fairly popular one, I thought it might be a good idea to make it a regular feature, appearing every couple months. So here's a new edition now that the season is over; I'll probably do another one when there's some winter ball data to work with, and then a few during the 2010 season. Let me know if you think this is a good idea.

All the caveats I described last time still apply, so if you have any questions about how I made the rankings, the first few paragraphs in the last post may be able to answer your questions.

Any player with less than 130 big-league at bats or less than 50 big-league innings pitched is eligible for inclusion, unless I arbitrarily determined he spent too much time in the big leagues despite not reaching those thresholds. (I'm leaving off Steven Jackson and Donald Veal for that reason.)

Ranking about #7 down to about #21 was the most difficult part of this list. Several guys near the end of that range actually played pretty well since the last ranking but moved down anyway, because they had other players leapfrogging them.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Altoona. Grade: A-. Previous ranking: 1. If there's anything to worry about here, it's that Alvarez won't hit for a high average in the majors; he batted only .259 in 54 at bats for the USA's World Cup team. He did, however, slug .574, and he's only just now finishing his first pro season.

2. Tony Sanchez, C, Lynchburg. Grade: B+. Previous ranking: 2. Again, I'm ranking him aggressively, and given the way he performed after being drafted I'm willing to give the front office the benefit of the doubt for now, and be open to the possibility that Sanchez is better than some prospect watchers thought he was. 

3. Jose Tabata, OF, Indianapolis. Grade: B+. Previous ranking: 3. Tabata finished the season slowly, posting a .693 OPS in September. He also struggled against righties for Indy, posting a .608 OPS against them. Tabata has been a very good prospect for years and he keeps rising through the system, basically deserving the promotions he gets. But he has never really answered questions about whether he can hit for power. He'll get another shot in the Arizona Fall League.

4. Rudy Owens, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: B. Previous ranking: 7. I remain skeptical of Owens, who doesn't have shut-down stuff and allows too many fly balls. But after being promoted to Lynchburg shortly before the last list came out, he kept doing what he does, striking out his fair share of batters and hardly walking any. Carolina League batters did have a slightly easier time taking him deep than South Atlantic League hitters did, but Owens is a good pitching prospect until he proves otherwise.

5. Brad Lincoln, SP, Indianapolis. Grade: B. Previous ranking: 5. A perfectly nice pitching prospect, but he hardly dominated in 2009 in the minors, and he'll be 25 in May. Lincoln pitched well for Team USA, but didn't have a dominating strikeout rate in a small sample.

6. Starling Marte, OF, Lynchburg. Grade: B. Previous ranking: 8. We don't have much data to work with, but so far there's nothing not to like, except maybe the fact that Marte struck out four times as often as he walked--and even that isn't necessarily a big deal for a player who was promoted very aggressively in his first season in the U.S. Marte hits for average, he has some power, he runs like the wind, and the Pirates obviously love him. Sign me up.

7. Robbie Grossman, OF, West Virginia. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 6. Grossman slugged just .308 after the All-Star break, and it's pretty likely that he was just tired. The terrific OBP suggests he's going to be a good player; the 164 strikeouts says beware. 

8. Tim Alderson, SP, Altoona. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 4. Yes, Alderson is a good pitching prospect who was a couple rungs higher in the system than most pitchers his age. But what he did after joining the Pirates organization should concern us a bit, as his strikeout rate went from iffy to downright bad. 

9. Zach Von Rosenberg, SP, Bradenton. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 9. Von Rosenberg pitched one scoreless inning in the GCL; as the best arm in a 2009 Pirates draft that was filled with interesting pitchers, he'll hopefully make it to West Virginia next year. 

10. Chase D'Arnaud, SS, Lynchburg. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 16. D'Arnaud hit well, with a good OBP, at West Virginia, then did basically the same thing but with more power at Lynchburg. He was perhaps a hint too old for the level, but it was his first pro season. He's a good, well-rounded player who hits for average, draws walks and plays good defense, and with the Bucs currently shaky in the middle infield, he'll have a clear path to the majors if he keeps hitting. He'll join Tabata in the Arizona Fall League.

11. Quinton Miller, SP, West Virginia. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 17. Miller gets a bump after improving throughout his short season and posting a very respectable overall line as a 19-year-old at West Virginia. I probably underrated him a bit last time.

12. Jeff Locke, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 11. The only reason Locke is ranked lower than before is that I felt I needed to move D'Arnaud and Miller up. Actually, the end to Locke's regular season was terrific--beginning with his July 29 start against Wilmington, he struck out 35 batters and walked just six, with an ERA of 2.58. It's way too early for despair about the Nate McLouth trade. Locke and Charlie Morton could make that deal a very, very good one for the Bucs, even if Gorkys Hernandez doesn't come along.

13. Daniel McCutchen, SP, Pittsburgh. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 12. How you grade McCutchen depends upon how you weigh potential versus certainty, I suppose. As McCutchen showed, he's ready to be a functional back-of-the-rotation guy right now. The problem is that he's probably going to allow a ton of homers as a major-league starting pitcher.

14. Brett Lorin, SP, West Virginia. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 13. No one ever talks about him, but Lorin struck out a batter an inning all year, and he posted a microscopic ERA after arriving in the Jack Wilson deal. Like Owens, he gives up lots of flyballs, and the ERA will probably take a hit after he's promoted to Lynchburg and faces more batters who have the ability to take him deep. (And ERA is pretty low on the list of tools we should use to evaluate minor league pitchers anyway.) Still, Lorin is a huge dude with a very good performance record, and I see no reason not to be cautiously optimistic about him.

15. Colton Cain, SP, No level. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 14. Cain still hasn't pitched a pro inning yet, but he was probably the second-best arm the Bucs signed from the '09 draft.

16. Gorkys Hernandez, OF, Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 10. Hernandez was terrible for Altoona; you have to look pretty hard to find a facet of the game in which he excelled. He's ranked at #16 because of his age, and not because of anything he did this year.

17. Justin Wilson, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NR. Wilson, the Bucs' fifth-rounder in 2008, makes a big run up the charts with an excellent second half. His disastrous first half now looks like merely an extended adjustment period after an aggressive assignment in his first pro season.

18. Neil Walker, 3B, Pittsburgh. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 26. Walker finished brilliantly at Indianapolis, posting a .339 average in August that made his overall season line respectable. He didn't hit well in 36 at bats in the majors, but that's not such a concern. The problem is that he hits for low averages and, unlike, say, Alvarez, doesn't draw walks. Those are huge red flags. There have been a number of major league third basemen with Walker's basic profile (power, defense, an inability to get on base), such as Brandon IngeTony Batista and Pedro Feliz. But Walker has less power than any of them right now, and while he certainly could add it, it's worth pointing out that all those guys are or were frustrating, though still useful, players.

19. Bryan Morris, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 15. I know this is supposed to be a highly-regarded prospect, but as with Hernandez, it's just about impossible to find anything Morris did well this season. It's too early to write him off, but the Pirates would probably be wise to keep him at Lynchburg next year; he's had a ton of injuries, and he has probably moved a little too quickly.

20. Trent Stevenson, SP, Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 19. The live-armed Stevenson was excellent in the GCL, allowing only two runs in his first 15 pro innings.

21. Brooks Pounders, SP, Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 18. Don't read anything into Pounders being moved down; he did have one terrible start in August, but otherwise his year was as good as you'd hope. He moves down only because Wilson and Walker move up.

22. Ronald Uviedo, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 22. Uviedo slowed down after missing time in midsummer, but overall he pitched well, especially given that he started in 2009 after relieving in 2008.

23. Victor Black, SP, State College. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 30. Black, a compensation pick for losing out on Tanner Scheppers last year, finished very strongly for the Spikes, and it'll be interesting to see how he does with a heavier workload at West Virginia next year. Baseball America ranked him the sixth-best prospect in the New York-Penn League.

24. Jarek Cunningham, IF, Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 24. Cunningham sat out the year with a torn ACL, but now he's back, playing in the Florida Instructional League. Watch out for him next year.

25. Quincy Latimore, OF, West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 20. Latimore completely fell apart in August and September. As with a few other players on this list, it's possible he was just tired in his first full season. But Latimore's strike zone control was atrocious the whole year, and that can be the sort of stuff that collapses are made of too. Still, he was young for his level and has terrific power.

26. Exicardo Cayonez, OF, VSL Grade: C. Previous ranking: 25. The VSL season ended soon after the last ranking, so there's no reason to move Cayonez around too much.

27. Nathan Adcock, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 23. Adcock, another of the pitchers acquired in the Jack Wilson deal, struggled a bit down the stretch, although that's no reason for grave concern, since he pitched about 50 more innings in 2009 than he did in 2008. He'll presumably start out at Lynchburg again in 2010, but a quick start could have him in Altoona by summer.

28. Evan Chambers, OF, State College. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NR. The Pirates' 2009 third-round pick makes the list this time by improving throughout the year for the Spikes--after a .631 OPS in July, he posted an .881 in August and .867 in September. He walked in 20% of his plate appearances, which is impressive for a 19-year-old at any level, but he also struck out 78 times in 200 at bats. It appears he needs to work on finding pitches he can hit earlier in the count. He also struggled against righties.

29. Brock Holt, SS, State College. Grade: C. Previous ranking: NR. Like Chambers, Holt improved throughout State College's season, posting a .738 OPS before the break and a 1.052 OPS after it. He is also, for now, a shortstop. As WTM likes to point out, State College's home park appears to favor lefties like Holt, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts at State College. (Chambers is a righty, and he hit better on the road than at home; for Holt, it was the opposite.)

30. Josh Harrison, IF, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 21. Harrison has been plain awful since the last ranking, and the chief reason why is that he struck out 19 times compared with only one walk since arriving from the Cubs system in the John Grabow deal. He has controlled the strike zone fairly well in the past, so I'm not sure what happened there. He's not old, but there's a lot working against him, particularly his size and the fact that he's unlikely to ever have enough power to be a regular third baseman.

OFF THE LIST FOR NOW: OF Rogelios Noris, RP Michael Dubee, SS Argenis Diaz.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING (and thanks to WTM and his awesome list of prospects in the Dominican and Venezuelan leagues): C Ramon Cabrera, C Joseph Schoenfeld, 1B Aaron Baker, 1B Calvin Anderson, SS Jordy Mercer, SS Jonathan Barrios, SS Brian Friday, SS Benjamin Gonzalez, SS Jordaneli Carvajal, IF Jim Negrych, 3B Eric Avila, OF David Pino, OF Jesus Vasquez, SP Zack Dodson, SP Jeff Inman, SP Nate Baker, SP Nelson Pereira, SP Mitchell Fienemann, SP Zachary Fuesser, SP Hunter Strickland, SP Aaron Pribanic, SP Jhonathan Ramos, SP Roberto Espinoza, SP Clario Perez, SP Porfirio Lopez, SP Fraylin Campos, SP Jason Erickson, SP Daniel Moskos, SP Eric Hacker, SP Tyler Herron, RP Diego Moreno, RP Casey Erickson, RP Anthony Claggett, RP Jeff Sues