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2009 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 Prospects

The signing of Zach Von Rosenberg means the Pirates have inked all the 2009 draftees they picked who'd fit into this list right away, so I'll go ahead and post this now. A couple notes:

Prospect rankings are, by their nature, speculative, and this list is more speculative than most, since such a large percentage of the Pirates' actual prospects were selected in the last two drafts. Obviously, it's extremely hard to tell how an 18-year-old pitcher will fare in the majors, and comparing a high-upside high school pitcher to a more polished AA or AAA player is extremely tricky and may say more about the ranker's personal preferences than anything else.

About the grades: basically, they're modeled off of John Sickels', and they could mean any number of things. A Grade A prospect is a can't miss prospect with tremendous upside. Pedro Alvarez approaches that level for me but doesn't quite reach it because of his strike-zone issues, but I'd still rank him among the best prospects in all baseball. Ranking prospects when you get to the C+/C range is very tough, because those grades could a couple of things. Argenis Diaz, for example, gets a C for being very likely to make it to the majors but not having much upside once he gets there, while Trent Stevenson also gets one for being a complete lottery ticket--he has a small chance of reaching the majors but considerable upside if he does. Same grade, two different meanings.

The grades are provided not so much to judge the player as to provide a frame of reference. A system with a considerable number of players with grades of C+ or better generally has a lot of depth; that's the case with the Pirates right now. Many other systems in baseball would have more grades of B+ or higher, however.

This list does not include players who have spent significant time in the big leagues, such as Jeff Clement, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio or Charlie Morton.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Altoona. Grade: A-. An easy choice for the top spot, despite Alvarez' early struggles at Lynchburg. Alvarez has mostly righted the ship after being promoted to Altoona, hitting for a much higher average without sacrificing any power. His strikeouts and defensive issues are still a concern, but I'm a lot more convinced than I was two months ago that he's going to hit 30 bombs a year in the majors.

2. Tony Sanchez, C, West Virginia. Grade: B+. This is, I admit, an aggressive ranking, but that has more to do with my skepticism about Tabata and Alderson than anything else. Still, Sanchez's performance at West Virginia so far has been promising, and although Sanchez lacks star power, he seems to be a good bet to reach the big leagues quickly and perform well once he gets there.

3. Jose Tabata, OF, Indianapolis. Grade B+. Tabata had a decent year without putting to rest any of the questions about him--Can he hit for power? Can he keep his personal life in order? Tabata is still young and very promising, but he has a lot to work out. 

4. Tim Alderson, SP, Altoona. Grade: B+. This is a good pitching prospect, but I have doubts about his ability to continue to strike out batters as he moves up the chain. If he doesn't get hurt--always an "if" with pitchers just a couple years out of high school--he's a good bet to post solid walk numbers in the majors, if nothing else. 

5. Brad Lincoln, SP, Indianapolis. Grade: B. Lincoln has struggled a bit since his promotion to Class AAA, and it's worth keeping in mind that he's already 24. He'll probably make his Pirates debut next year, but judging from his minor league profile, he looks more like a mid-rotation starter than an emerging ace.

6. Robbie Grossman, OF, West Virginia. Grade: B. Grossman strikes out too much, but 19-year-olds who can hold their own in full-season ball don't grow on trees, and Grossman's .381 OBP bodes well for his future.

7. Rudy Owens, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: B. As with Alderson, this is a good pitching prospect. The numbers don't lie: Owens now has 101 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 1.55 ERA in 110 innings this year. But it will be interesting to see how Owens' stuff and flyball tendencies play at higher levels.

8. Starling Marte, OF, West Virginia. Grade: B-. Marte, who was hyped as a prospect even before he made it to the states, hasn't exactly quieted the buzz by posting a .333 average in his first 132 at bats for the Power.

9. Zach Von Rosenberg, SP. Grade: B-. Von Rosenberg is probably the highest-upside member of the Pirates' 2009 draft class. Obviously, though, he's a million miles from the majors, and it's unwise to put one's hopes in one basket where teenage pitching prospects are concerned.

10. Gorkys Hernandez, OF, Altoona. Grade: C+. Hernandez has been a disappointment since arriving in the Nate McLouth trade, but at age 21, he still has time to develop some power and refine his on-base skills.

11. Jeff Locke, SP, Lynchburg. Grade C+. Another addition from the McLouth trade, Locke is still just 21 and is more interesting than his 5.23 ERA this year suggests. He gets a fair number of grounders and strikeouts, and has improved his walk rate since arriving from the Braves.

12. Daniel McCutchen, SP, Indianapolis. Grade: C+. McCutchen has had a solid season from Indianapolis, but at age 26, he's running out of time to separate himself from the Virgil Vasquezes of the world.

13. Brett Lorin, SP, West Virginia. Grade: C+. Lorin has been lost in the shuffle somewhat because he was one of about a million young players acquired within a 48-hour period, but it's worth pointing out that he now has a 2.32 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 100.7 innings this year.

14. Colton Cain, SP. Grade: C+. Cain is another high-upside arm from the 2009 draft, paid a bonus of over $1 million. He hasn't yet pitched professionally.

15. Bryan Morris, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C+. I haven't the slightest idea what to make of Morris, but his season has been a complete bust. He's still young and still has a first-round pedigree, though, so it would be unwise to write him off completely.

16. Chase D'Arnaud, SS, Lynchburg. Grade: C+. D'Arnaud has had a serviceable first full season for an early-round draftee from a major college program. That might be faint praise, but at least it's praise. His game (strike zone control, the ability to play shortshop) should someday earn him a spot as a bench infielder, at the very least.

17. Quinton Miller, SP, West Virginia. Grade: C+. Miller's stats at West Virginia haven't been so hot, but I'm not sure I'd worry much about those yet; he still has a great fastball, and he's young for the level.

18. Brooks Pounders, SP, Bradenton. Grade: C. Pounders, a 2009 second-round pick, earns a spot with a great debut for so far in rookie ball. As with Alderson and Owens, he's not supposed to have blazing stuff, so he could be tested as he moves up.

19. Trent Stevenson, SP. Grade: C. Another live-armed bonus baby from the 2009 draft, although Stevenson is probably even riskier than Von Rosenberg or Cain, since he may need to alter his mechanics a bit.

20. Quincy Latimore, OF, West Virginia. Grade: C. Latimore hasn't yet had a season in which he's really been dominant, but he's hit for a good average and excellent power at a young age this year. Strike-zone issues might be his achilles heel.

21. Josh Harrison, 2B, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Harrison is small, but he's posted an .825 OPS so far this year. He's a longshot, but he's Freddy Sanchez if absolutely everything breaks right for him.

22. Ronald Uviedo, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C. Uviedo pitched his way onto the Bucs' 40-man roster with a good performance at Hickory last year, and he's doing it again this year, this time as a starter. He should join Altoona's rotation in 2010.

23. Nathan Adcock, SP, Lynchburg. Grade: C. You can forget about that ugly ERA at High Desert, which is one of the toughest places for pitchers anywhere in the minor leagues. Instead, check out those 82 strikeouts in 77.3 innings last year in Class A, or his solid first two starts for the Hillcats. This guy is a prospect until he proves otherwise.

24. Jarek Cunningham, IF, Bradenton. Grade: C. Cunningham is out for the year, but don't forget about him. He had easily  the strongest 2008 performance of anyone from that year's draft class, and he'll be back at full strength next year.

25. Exicardo Cayonez, OF, VSL. Grade: C. He's all the way down at the VSL, but as a 17-year-old bonus baby with a .396 OBP and bunches of doubles, he's got a shot.

26. Neil Walker, 3B, Indianapolis. Grade: C. 2004 first-round pick is having the same crap year he had last year. He has power and defensive ability, neither of which will do a bit of good unless he can hit for average or draw some walks.

27. Argenis Diaz, SS, Indianapolis. Grade: C. Sure, he can field, but can he hit? At all?

28. Michael Dubee, RP, Altoona. Grade: C. A reliever, yes, but one who has 73 strikeouts and 11 walks to go with a 1.87 ERA so far this year. He deserves more attention.

29. Rogelios Noris, OF, Bradenton. Grade: C. Mexican outfielder hit well in the VSL in 2008 and has posted a .980 OPS so far this year in the Gulf Coast League.

30. Victor Black, SP, State College. Grade: C. A top pick from the 2009 draft, Black throws hard and has a strikeout per inning so far for the Spikes.

Others worth watching: Evan Chambers, Zackry Dodson, Nate Baker, Diego Moreno, Ramon Cabrera, Nelson Pereira, Mitchell Fienemann, Jhonathan Ramos, Zachary Fuesser, Jonathan Barrios, Roberto Espinoza, Jorge Bishop, Calvin Anderson, Jordy Mercer, Hunter Strickland, Casey Erickson, Aaron Pribanic, Brian Friday, Jeff Sues, Tyler Herron, Eric Hacker, Danny Moskos, Benjamin Gonzalez. There are also several 2009 draftees still unsigned who would fit into this list, although not in the top 30.