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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 Prospects: September 2010 Edition

The last prospect list from July wasn't much fun to write, as a huge swath of the Pirates' farm system had fallen victim to injury. This one was a lot better, not only because there were a lot more players to pick from after an excellent draft, but because most of the other players were as good as or better than they were expected to be. As always, the grades just provide a rough guide, and most unproven players get C's as a default, not because they did anything wrong. Also, the rankings and grades on the recent draftees will obviously be pretty speculative until we get to see more of them.

1. Jameson Taillon, SP. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: A-. Previous ranking: N/A. The Bucs' top 2010 draft pick is an easy choice for the top of the list. He's huge, his fastball is in the high 90s and moves all over the place, he has two good breaking pitches, and he has a change (which he didn't need to use much in high school). He's awesome. He's rated an A- instead of an A only because I don't think it's responsible to make a high school draftee who hasn't pitched a pro inning an A, and he'll have to run the injury gauntlet here in the next couple of years. In the limited number of scouting videos I've seen of him, he also leaves his fastball up a lot, which of course poses no problem with high school hitters who aren't able to catch up to it. We'll see how that works in the minors.

2. Tony Sanchez, C. Likely 2011 level: Altoona. Grade: B+. Previous ranking: 1. Despite Sanchez missing a big chunk of the season after getting hit in the face with a pitch, there isn't much reason to dislike him at this point; he's a very good defensive catcher, and he hit very convincingly at Bradenton this year. One potential problem is that his swing is a bit slow, which could lead to lower averages in the majors. In any case, his glove should easily carry him to the majors.

3. Bryan Morris, SP. Likely 2011 level: Indianapolis. Grade: B+. Previous ranking: 2. Morris' ERA rose a bunch at Altoona compared to his brilliant start at Bradenton, mostly due to walks and homers, but he has the right combination of numbers, pedigree and stuff to make it as a starter in the big leagues, hopefully beginning in late 2011.

4. Stetson Allie, SP. Likely 2011 level: State College / West Virginia. Grade: B. Previous ranking: N/A. Like Taillon, Allie throws incredibly hard, but concerns over whether he can maintain his stuff over the duration of an entire start make him a slightly lesser prospect. Still, he was arguably the second-best prep pitcher available in the draft last year.

5. Starling Marte, OF. Likely 2011 level: Altoona. Grade: B. Previous ranking: 3. There's still a lot to like about Marte, but thanks to his hand injury, this season answered very few questions about him. He still doesn't walk nearly enough, but it's tough to complain about that until he finds a level where he can't bat .315. Hopefully he'll stay healthy throughout 2011.

6. Luis Heredia, SP. Likely 2011 level: GCL. Grade: B. Previous ranking: N/A. It's always hard to know what to make of a 16-year-old pitcher, but this kid is 6-foot-6 and throws 93 MPH, his bonus was many times larger than any the Bucs had ever given a (non-Cuban) Latin amateur before, and the Pirates are convinced he can survive against much older competition.

7. Rudy Owens, SP. Likely 2011 level: Indianapolis. Grade: B. Previous ranking: 4. Owens moves down three slots due to the additions of Taillon, Allie and Heredia, but moves up from a B- to a B. Owens might not be the hardest thrower, but 92-MPH velocity isn't bad for a lefty, especially given that Owens mixes it with a good curveball and excellent command. He's been the Pirates' minor league pitcher of the year twice in a row; it's time for me to ease up on my skepticism about him.

8. Zack Von Rosenberg, SP. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia: Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 6. Von Rosenberg struggled in his first few starts this year for State College, but was brilliant in his last ten, with a 2.11 ERA and 3.5 strikeouts per walk. He's a good breakout candidate next year.

9. Andrew Lambo, OF. Likely 2011 level: Indianapolis. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: N/A. Lambo plainly has some work to do after posting a .732 OPS in Class AA this season, but he was once the Dodgers' top prospect and he held his own in Class AA as a 20-year-old. He'll be in the Arizona Fall League, and after that, maybe Kyle Stark and the Pirates' development program can help him take the step forward that he hasn't these past couple of years.

10. Jeff Locke, SP. Likely 2011 level: Altoona. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 10. In my last list, I wrote that Locke had been at Class A+ for too long and needed to be moved up. Well, the Pirates promoted him to Class AA, and he posted almost the same excellent statistics there that he'd had at Bradenton. My guess is that the Pirates will have Locke start at Altoona again, but a handful of good starts should earn him a promotion to Indianapolis.

11. Justin Wilson, SP. Likely 2011 level: Indianapolis. Grade: B-. Previous ranking: 5. Wilson drops pretty severely here with all the additions, but he had a perfectly nice year. After struggling a bit in his first few starts, Wilson was spectacular in May and June before adding a few walks and tailing off a bit, but only a bit, down the stretch. He ended his season with a very good start in the Eastern League championships. Command and control will be his biggest issues going forward - this year he had about a walk every other inning, which is perhaps partially a result of getting a lot of movement on his pitches, but he needs to do better to be more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

12. Colton Cain, SP. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 8. Cain had a strange, but mostly promising, season at State College in which he mixed occasional starts where he got hit hard with more frequent ones in which he dominated. He, Von Rosenberg and Taillon should form the core of an excellent West Virginia rotation this year.

13. Alex Presley, OF. Likely 2011 level: Indianapolis. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 18. Presley has tailed off a bit since the last list was published in early July, but he hit well enough in Indianapolis overall to show that his performance at Altoona to start the year wasn't a complete fluke. His size and unimpressive pedigree still limit his upside going forward, so the Pirates will probably want him to keep proving himself at Indianapolis next April.

14. Nathan Adcock, SP. Likely 2011 level: Altoona. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 7. Ranking Adcock No. 7 last time was probably a bit too aggressive; he doesn't throw particularly hard, which could keep him from moving forward at the higher levels. He deserves a chance to prove that, however, since he now has two full years at Class A+ under his belt.

15. Robbie Grossman, OF. Likely 2011 level: Bradenton. Grade: C+. Previous ranking: 13. Grossman's numbers this year don't look impressive, but he's still a good prospect, and he made significant strides cutting down his strikeouts in 2010 despite being young for his level. He'll clearly draw plenty of walks, so he has the potential to be a serious pest if he can keep the strikeouts in check.

16. Mel Rojas, OF. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: N/A. Rojas didn't hit much at State College, but he was the best, toolsiest position player the Bucs chose in the 2010 draft (which admittedly might not be saying a whole lot, since it was a very pitching-heavy draft). Also, he came from a junior college, so his initial struggles in pro ball might not portend any serious problems.

17. Jarek Cunningham, IF. Likely 2011 level: Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 11. Cunningham got hot in June and July but tailed off badly in August. Still, his overall line (.258/.309/.436) wasn't bad, particularly given that he missed all of 2009. The ball jumps off his bat, and his power is surprising for a player with his size and build, but he struck out four times as often as he walked this year, and he'll need to control his strikeouts if he wants to display that power in the majors.

18. Nick Kingham, SP. Likely 2011 level: State College. Grade: C. Previous ranking: N/A. The Pirates' fourth-round pick has good stuff and a big, projectable body. He made a couple of appearances in the Gulf Coast League this year and pitched well. If the Pirates' treatment of past high school pitching draftees is any indication, don't expect to see Kingham until midseason.

19. Chase D'Arnaud, SS. Likely 2011 level: Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 9. I thought D'Arnaud's slow start was nothing to worry about, but it lasted most of the season. He could be at either Altoona or Indianapolis next year; Pedro Ciriaco, Brian Friday and Argenis Diaz will all vie for time in the middle infield in Indianapolis and in Pittsburgh, while D'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison and Brock Holt could all be at Altoona or Indianapolis, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out in camp, assuming all those players are still with the Pirates then.

20. Diego Moreno, RP. Likely 2011 level: Altoona. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 14. Moreno has missed time since the last list with injury and an unspecified disciplinary problem, but he still has outstanding upside for a reliever.

21. Quinton Miller, SP. Likely 2011 level: Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 15. It was a lost season for Miller, who missed lots of time due to injury and then didn't have a good overall line at West Virginia when he was healthy, but don't forget about him. Even in a bad 2010 season, he had a number of starts in which he posted great numbers, and he was apparently still throwing hard. I'm just guessing he'll be sent to Bradenton, in part because there will be a lot of starters at West Virginia already, but that might depend on how Miller looks in camp.

22. Trent Stevenson, P. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 12. You know the story with this guy: ridiculously tall, projectable, doesn't strike a lot of batters out yet, good control, needs to eat as much as possible. He remains an interesting project.

23. Nate Baker, SP. Likely 2011 level: Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 25. The Pirates promoted Baker to Bradenton midway through his first full pro season and he survived. He could easily be in the Pirates' rotation in two years, but doesn't seem likely to have much upside once he gets there.

24. Zack Dodson, SP. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: N/A. The 2009 fourth-rounder posted solid numbers at State College despite being unable to rely on his curveball, which is his best pitch. He had trouble with his control, but as WTM points out, he improved as the season progressed, with only nine walks in 26 innings in August.

25. Zachary Fuesser, SP. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: N/A. Fuesser has flown under the radar since being drafted in 2009, probably in part because he was about the eighteenth "Zachary" the Pirates took, but he quietly had a very good year at State College, posting big strikeout numbers for a 19-year-old. He did walk a batter every two innings, however.

26. Exicardo Cayonez, OF. Likely 2011 level: State College. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 20. Cayonez faded a bit down the stretch but still managed to hold his own in the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old. He's already in a corner outfield spot, so he'll need to hit a lot as he moves up the ladder, but he appears to have the tools to do it.

27. Victor Black, SP. Likely 2011 level: Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 19. He was the Pirates' second pick in the 2009 draft, he has a big arm, he was hurt, don't forget about him, etc.

28. Brooks Pounders, SP. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 16. Pounders has been pretty much as he was advertised when the Bucs drafted him. He doesn't rack up strikeouts despite his big frame, but he throws strikes. His season at State College revealed a disturbing trend, though - he registered about two outs in the air for every one on the ground, and he allowed five homers in 41 innings, which is too many. These tendencies could eat him alive when he faces hitters with more power.

29. Tim Alderson, SP. Likely 2011 level: Bradenton. Grade: C. Previous ranking: 17. If Alderson doesn't improve out of the gate next year, he might not make another one of these lists, but until then, he deserves to be here. Despite his atrocious 2010 season, he has achieved a lot for someone so young.

30. Matt Curry, OF/1B. Likely 2011 level: West Virginia. Grade: C. Previous ranking: N/A. Curry had the most impressive debut of any 2010 draftee and appears to have a broad set of hitting skills that includes power, patience and the ability to hit for average. We'll see next year if he was just beating up on the less experienced competition at State College.

Don't forget about: C Joey Schoenfeld, 1B Jared Lakind, 1B Matt Hague, SS Pedro Ciriaco, IF Josh Harrison, IF Jordy Mercer, SS Brock Holt, SS Drew Maggi, SS Jorge Bishop, SS Yhonathan Barrios, 3B Jeremy Farrell, 3B Eric Avila, OF Gorkys Hernandez, OF Quincy Latimore, OF Evan Chambers, OF Rogelios Noris, OF Dan Grovatt, OF Adalberto Santos, OF Willy Garcia, SP Ryan Hafner, SP Brandon Cumpton, SP Tyler Waldron, SP Vincent Payne, SP Brett Lorin, SP Joe Martinez, SP Phillip Irwin, SP Jeff Inman, P Tony Watson, P Jhonathan Ramos, RP Danny Moskos, and probably some others I myself have forgotten about.