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Way Under the Radar: Five Prospects to Watch in 2010

The Pirates' minor league system is now so widely discussed on the internet that a lot of casual fans even know about guys like Rudy Owens and Robbie Grossman, to say nothing of high-profile prospects like Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata. Here's a list of a few more obscure prospects who nonetheless might surprise us in 2010. None of them are on my Top 30 list from October.

1. Rogelios Noris, OF. Likely 2010 assignment: West Virginia. Noris is an interesting prospect; he hit very well in Venezuela in 2007, but the Bucs left him there in 2008, where he had about the same season. He came to the U.S. to play rookie ball in 2009 and hit for excellent power, although his strike zone control left a lot to be desired. He's a corner outfielder only, so he'll have to hit a lot to make it as a prospect. He hit brilliantly in Mexico this winter, though. That's something, even given the microscopic sample size, because the players who surrounded him were generally much more advanced. His teammates, for example, included Brian Bixler, Rays prospect Reid Brignac, Angels AAA third baseman Freddy Sandoval, and former Yankees super-prospect Ruben Rivera. Noris outhit all of them. You can laugh if you want about a prospect who outhits Brian Bixler and Ruben Rivera, and again, the sample size is way too small to make solid judgments, but a rookie-league player who performs that well against advanced competition is certainly worth watching.

2. Nate Baker, SP. Likely 2010 assignment: West Virginia. Baker makes the list because of the reasonable chance that he charges through a couple of levels and winds up at Bradenton (the new high-A team) or even Altoona by year's end. There are interesting parallels between Baker and Justin Wilson, who like Baker was a college lefty with good velocity who the Pirates selected in the fifth round. The Bucs started Wilson at Lynchburg in 2009 and he struggled a bit so, as WTM points out, Baker's assignment this spring may turn out to be important. I'd probably send him to West Virginia to start, but Bradenton is also a possibility.

3. Jeff Inman, SP. Likely 2010 assignment: West Virginia. He would have been a reasonable inclusion on the Top 30 list, but he didn't quite make the cut because of his struggles in his junior year at Stanford. Still, his signing was weirdly low-profile, given that he was once regarded as a potential first-round pick and that the Pirates paid a way-above-slot $425,000 for him. WTM reports that he was throwing 93-95 for State College.

4. Jorge Bishop, SS/2B. Likely 2010 assignment: Gulf Coast League. Maybe "under the radar" isn't the best descriptor, since message boards were buzzing about Bishop all summer, but I'll stick him here nonetheless. There are some enormous caveats here--it's hard to know what to make of stats from the Dominican and Venezuelan leagues, it's hard to predict who the Pirates will choose to come north regardless of the stats, and Bishop is listed at 5'10" and 152 pounds. For all we know, Bishop might be back in the VSL, or we might never hear from him again. But there's very little to dislike about his performance in the VSL last year--he hit for average and terrific power, and he stole bases. And he was born in 1991. Jonathan Barrios, another middle infielder from the VSL, would also be a good choice for this list, and he's an even better bet to make it to the states this year (although, again, though he didn't make my Top 30 list, "under the radar" might not be the best descriptor--he signed for a huge bonus). The Pirates also have a bunch of interesting pitchers in the Dominican and in Venezuela, but I'm not even going to speculate about which ones will make the leap.

5. Ramon Cabrera, C. Likely 2010 assignment: State College. Cabrera has done nothing but hit, both in the VSL and in rookie ball last year, but he hasn't gotten much attention yet. He's shown excellent strike zone control, which is a very good indicator going forward, although he's only 5'7", so it remains to be seen how much power he'll develop. (His meager-looking power numbers from the VSL shouldn't necessarily be dismissed, though: not many players hit for power there.) It'll be interesting to see if the Pirates send Cabrera to State College or West Virginia--West Virginia doesn't really have any catching prospects it needs to play, so if Cabrera impresses the Bucs in camp it might be possible that they'd send him there.