With a couple weeks' worth of baseball out of the way, enough has happened in the minors for the results to mean... well, at least a little something.
Class AAA Indianapolis: Luis Cruz is off to a good start since losing his big-league roster spot to Delwyn Young, but he's staying cool about it:
The Pirates should be happy Cruz has such a level head on him. He told me that Brian Bixler is the next everyday shortstop in Pittsburgh and Cruz wants to be their utility guy. It's unusual to find someone who understands his role and accepts it.
I doubt Bixler will be an everyday player in the majors, but he's off to a great start too, hitting .340 AVG / .440 OBP / .532 SLG. Andrew McCutchen has been brilliant, hitting a remarkable five triples en route to a .630 slugging percentage. Maybe Steve Pearce should have sat out the first two weeks--four of his seven hits this season came in the last two games. Before that, he couldn't hit anything. After a hot start, Neil Walker is hitting .220/.259/.440, showing about the same blend of power and out-making that plagued him last year. I'll take Andy LaRoche right now, thanks. The most interesting pitchers have been Daniel McCutchen, Tom Gorzelanny and Evan Meek, but they're all walking too many batters. McCutchen has 20 strikeouts in 16 innings, but he's also allowed nine walks and three homers, and he has twice as many flyball outs as groundball outs. That won't play in the majors. He really needs to work on keeping the ball down.
Class AA Altoona: Lots of slow starts here, from Jose Tabata to Jamie Romak to Steve Lerud, but Jim Negrych has been on his game so far, at least at the plate. If Negrych could play shortstop, he'd instantly become one of the best utility players in all of baseball, but unfortunately, he can barely handle second. He'll probably hit wherever he goes--it's his glove that will hold him back. Brad LIncoln has pitched pretty well; it still amazes me how little Pirates fans talk about him. But he will soon be 24. Michael Crotta is already 24, but he's been solid in his first two starts. With his sinker and past troubles pitching to lefties, he may eke out a big-league career as a sort of ROOGY ("righty one-out guy," which isn't usually the sort of pitcher big-league teams can spend a roster spot on--"righty two-out guy," maybe?). Jeff Sues has struck out 14 batters in 10.7 innings; he's 26 in June and pitched 43 innings for Altoona last year, so one would think the Pirates would be looking to move him to Indianapolis soon. Danny Moskos is still the stupidest waste of a draft pick of all time.
Class A+ Lynchburg: Pedro Alvarez is still doing fine, with an .868 OPS. 2008 third-rounder Jordy Mercer is quietly having a solid season despite being promoted aggressively. The Pirates had the bright idea to make a starter out of Ronald Uviedo, whose excellence in Hickory's bullpen last year earned him a spot on the 40-man roster, and Uviedo has responded, posting a 1.20 ERA in three starts and shutting down Frederick yesterday. It probably doesn't mean much, but 2008 14th-rounder Mike Colla (not to be confused with Crotta, above) has eight strikeouts in 5.7 innings, to go with a bunch of ground balls.
Class A West Virginia: 2008 draft picks Chase D'Arnaud (a shortstop) and Calvin Anderson (a first baseman) have both hit like crazy so far. Catcher Andrew Walker has a .455 OBP, but that might be due to him being 23 and having a fairly advanced approach at the plate. He only has a .394 SLG so far, and he needs to prove he can do more than just take a pitch. From a prospect standpoint, the pitching at West Virginia is awful. The most interesting performances so far have come from Rudy Owens and Gabriel Alvarado, who are fortunately among the few pitchers at that level young enough to be prospects. They're both starting, so they bear watching for now. 2007 14th-rounder Kyle McPherson made his 2009 debut on Monday and was great, striking out four batters in three innings. He's only 21 and was one of the few good performers at State College last year, so he, too, is somewhat intriguing.