John Perrotto took your Pirates questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
The Pirates have been stressing the importance of a small-market franchise
being able to build from within ever since Kevin McClatchy put together
an ownership group that took control of the club on the first day of
spring training in 1996. After years of trying, Pittsburgh began practicing
what it has preached the second half of the 2005 season.
The Pirates began the season without one rookie on their roster. Before
their 13th consecutive losing season ended, though, 12 players had made
their major league debuts. That began a full-scale youth movement that
the Pirates believe eventually can lead them back to respectability.
Pittsburgh’s long-suffering fans were enthused by the play of
such youngsters as lefthanders Zach Duke and Paul Maholm; catcher Ryan
Doumit; first baseman Brad Eldred; and outfielders Chris Duffy and Nate
McLouth. Duke had the best debut at 8-2, 1.81 and finished fifth in
the National League rookie of the year race. Lefty Tom Gorzelanny, righties
Bryan Bullington, Matt Capps and Ian Snell, catcher Ronny Paulino, third
baseman Jose Bautista and infielder J.J. Furmaniak also made cameo appearances.
“As far as having players who can help us in the future, this
is the best position we’ve been in since I got here,” said
general manager Dave Littlefield, who replaced Cam Bonifay midway through
the 2001 season.
While the focus was on the rookies at the end of 2005, Pittsburgh also
saw other players make significant progress in their second full major
Left fielder Jason Bay built on his NL rookie-of-the-year award by
hitting .306-32-101 with 21 steals in 22 attempts while starting all
162 games. Second baseman Jose Castillo began to develop power, hitting
.268-11-53 in 101 games before a knee injury ended his season in late
The Pirates also have high hopes for 23-year-old lefthander Oliver
Perez, who slipped to 7-5, 5.85 in 20 starts and missed nearly two months
with a broken big toe after he kicked a metal laundry cart in frustration.
He went 12-10, 2.98 with 239 strikeouts in 196 innings in 2004.
The Pirates stressed patience in player development when Littlefield
took over and brought in Brian Graham as farm director and Ed Creech
as scouting director. Instead of fast-tracking players to the majors,
they moved them one level at a time for the most part. The players who
arrived in Pittsburgh in 2005 didn’t appear overwhelmed by the
Under Graham, Pirates farm clubs have posted a combined winning record
in each of the last four seasons. Prior to that, they finished above
.500 just once in 33 years.
Pittsburgh’s strength in recent years clearly has been pitching.
However, that’s starting to change as the Pirates used the 11th
overall pick in the last two drafts on a pair of high school position
players, catcher Neil Walker (2004) and center fielder Andrew McCutchen
(2005). They rank 1-2 on our Pirates Top 10 Prospects list this year.
WALKER , cAge:
20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 B-T: B-R
HS—Gibsonia, Pa., 2004 (1st round) Signed
by: Jon Mercurio
Background: Walker was born to play baseball,
and it has been his dream to play in the majors since he attended the
1994 All-Star Game at old Three Rivers Stadium. His father Tom pitched
in the big leagues for six seasons with four teams from 1972-77. His uncle,
Chip Lang, pitched for the Expos in 1975-76. His brother Matt was an outfielder
in the Tigers and Orioles systems. Walker was the first Pittsburgh-area
player ever selected in the first round by the Pirates after hitting .657-13-42
in his senior season at Pine-Richland High, and his charismatic nature
has enabled him to handle the attention with aplomb. In addition to being
a prep All-American in baseball, Walker was an all-state wide receiver
in high school and received plenty of interest from major college football
Strengths: Walker is a rare commodity, a switch-hitter who can
produce for both average and power. Though he’s a natural righthanded
hitter, he showed outstanding power as a lefthanded batter in 2005 and
really has no weak side. He relishes the opportunity to hit with runners
on base and projects as a middle-of-the-order run producer who should
hit in the neighborhood of .300 with 30 homers per season. Walker has
a strong arm and threw out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal
in 2005. Though not a burner, he also runs well, particularly for a
Weaknesses: Walker could stand to take a few more walks, though
he has been able to overcome that by his ability to make consistent
hard contact. His defense needs plenty of work. His throwing mechanics
are often inconsistent and he occasionally lapses into bad habits where
he doesn’t move his feet and stabs at pitches. While the Pirates
believe Walker can stay behind the plate and reach the majors, they
also believe they would receive more long-term production if they removed
him from the rigors of catching. With that in mind, Walker began taking
ground balls at third base in the Arizona Fall League with an eye on
eventually moving to the hot corner or a corner-outfield position. He
has the athleticism to handle the transition to any of those spots.
The Future: How quickly Walker reaches Pittsburgh depends upon
what position he ultimately plays. If he stays behind the plate, he
likely won’t be ready until 2008. If he moves to third base or
the outfield, that timetable easily could speed up to 2007. He’ll
probably open 2006 at high Class A Lynchburg with the likelihood of
moving to Double-A Altoona during the season. Walker excelled in his
first season of full-season ball in 2005, then held his own as one of
the youngest players in the AFL. That leads to the feeling he could
get to the majors quickly and provide the Pirates with a sorely needed
second elite hitter to go with Jason Bay in the heart of the batting
order. They haven’t had a starting position player from the Pittsburgh
area since third baseman/outfielder Bill Robinson from 1975-82, and
the win-starved fans would relish having one of their own to cheer.
2005 Club (Class)
Hickory (Lo A)
Lynchburg (Hi A)
19 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt.: 175
HS—Fort Meade, Fla., 2005 (1st round) Signed
by: Rob Sidwell
Background: The Pirates made McCutchen their
top pick after he hit .709-11-28 as a high school senior. He has good
athletic genes; his father played football at small-college power Carson-Newman
(Tenn.) and his mother played volleyball in junior college in Florida.
He ranked as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in
Strengths: McCutchen has a good blend of power and speed,
often drawing comparisons to Marquis Grissom. He has wiry strength
and his extra-base hit total should increase once his body fills
out. He has outstanding speed (he covers 60 yards in 6.35 seconds)
and a quick first step, enabling him to cover plenty of ground
in center field.
Weaknesses: McCutchen played at a small rural high school
and is still somewhat raw in all aspects of the game. His arm
is his weakest tool but still grades out as average.
The Future: McCutchen is ready to log a full season at
low Class A Hickory. His talent and maturity could get him to
the major leagues as soon as 2008.
2005 Club (Class)
GCL Pirates (R)
23 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 207
Triton (Ill.) JC, 2003 (2nd round) Signed by: Mark Germann
Background: After starting his college career
at Kansas, Gorzelanny turned into a high-round pick after academic woes
prompted him to transfer to Triton JC near his Chicago-area home. He made
his big league debut in September, barely more than two years after being
drafted, and set a Double-A Altoona record by striking out 13 in an Eastern
League playoff game.
Strengths: Gorzelanny throws hard; his fastball sits at
90-92 mph with excellent movement and reaches as high as 95. His
slider can be unhittable at times, and he really took a step forward
in 2005 after he dramatically improved his changeup. He also has
good mound presence and refuses to give in to hitters.
Weaknesses: Gorzelanny needs to tighten up his breaking
ball because it gets slurvy at times. He can solve that problem
by developing a more consistent arm slot.
The Future: Though he got a major league look, Gorzelanny
needs to spend the majority of 2006 at Triple-A Indianapolis to
become a finished product. He has the chance to become a fine
No. 2-3 starter.
Mississippi State, 2003 (1st round) Signed by: Everett
Background: Maholm’s 2004 season was cut
short when a line drive struck him in the left eye in mid May while he
was in high Class A, and his 2005 was eventful as well. An outstanding
spring training led to him beginning the season in Double-A. After a trip
to the Futures Game and a stopover in Triple-A, Maholm landed in Pittsburgh.
Off the field, his mother died of colon cancer and his new house in Holly
Springs, Miss., narrowly missed being heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Strengths: Maholm has outstanding mound presence and very
good command of three pitches that can be above average at times.
He runs his 88-91 mph fastball in on righthanders. He also has
a good curveball and a slider that’s improving.
Weaknesses: Righthanders hit .265 against Maholm—compared
to .173 by lefties—in part because the quality of his changeup
fluctuates. He’s not overpowering, so he doesn’t have
much margin for error.
The Future: Maholm showed he’s ready to be a major
league starter, but the Pirates’ depth might force him back
to Triple-A to start 2006.
Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2000 (20th round) Signed by:
Background: Bautista got needed at-bats at Double-A
in 2005 after getting just 88 while bouncing around the majors with four
teams in 2004 as a Rule 5 draft pick. Baltimore selected Bautista from
the Pirates, and he wound up going to Tampa Bay and Kansas City on waiver
claims before landing back in Pittsburgh in the Kris Benson trade. Bautista
got just 165 at-bats in 2003 because of a broken hand.
Strengths: Bautista has a quick bat and began to show
plus power in 2005. He has the tools to be an above-average defensive
third baseman with good range and a strong arm. An average runner,
he’s versatile with the ability to play second base and
all three outfield positions.
Weaknesses: He needs to smooth out some rough edges. Bautista
lacks plate discipline and can be made to chase bad pitches. His
hands are also a little stiff and he makes too many errors on
The Future: The Pirates have a big need at third base but
believe Bautista needs to spend at least a half-season in Triple-A.
He could get an extended look after the all-star break.
HS—Whitehall, Mich., 2000 (25th round) Signed
by: Duane Gustavson
Background: McLouth shared Mr. Baseball honors
in Michigan in 2000 but teams shied away from drafting him because of
his commitment to the University of Michigan. However, the Pirates drafted
him in the 25th round and persuaded him to sign for $500,000. He made
his big league debut last season and hit four home runs in his final six
Strengths: McLouth’s tools all grade out at average
or just a little above. He plays above his tools because of his
outstanding work ethic and baseball acumen. He handles the bat
well, makes consistent contact, runs well and is an exceptional
Weaknesses: A tweener, McLouth lacks the desired power
for an outfield corner and the range for center field. His best
position is probably right field, where his arm is just adequate.
He has shown the ability to hit doubles in the minors and needs
to start translating that into over-the-fence power.
The Future: McLouth may not profile extremely well, but
he consistently has overcome his doubters and should become at
least a good fourth outfielder. He’ll compete for a big
league job in spring training.
Ball State, 2002 (1st round) Signed by: Duane
Background: Though some members of the organization
preferred B.J. Upton, the Pirates made Bullington the No. 1 pick in the
2002 draft and gave him a club-record $4 million bonus. After missing
the first six weeks of the 2005 season with a sore shoulder, he had a
fine year at Triple-A and made his big league debut in September. However,
he needed shoulder surgery to repair damage to his labrum in October and
won’t be able to pitch until June.
Strengths: Bullington regained the touch on his slider
in 2005. With its late break and good tilt, it became his out
pitch. He has a smooth delivery and his pitches have good movement
coming from a three-quarters arm slot.
Weaknesses: Bullington’s fastball hit 95 mph in college,
but he never has thrown that hard since coming into pro ball.
The Pirates hope he might regain velocity following his shoulder
surgery. Bullington’s curveball tends to get loopy and his
changeup can be erratic.
The Future: Bullington will begin the season rehabbing
his shoulder, slowing down his timetable. Look for him to spend
most of 2006 in the minors, with a September callup to the majors
2005 Club (Class)
VAN BENSCHOTEN, rhpAge:
25 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 217
Kent State, 2001 (1st round) Signed by: Duane Gustavson
Background: Van Benschoten missed the entire
2005 season because of three arthroscopic shoulder surgeries, one on his
throwing arm and two on his left arm. He led NCAA Division I with
31 home runs at Kent State during his junior season in 2001, and the Pirates
surprised many clubs by drafting him eighth overall as a pitcher that
June. After pitching strictly in relief in college, he reached the majors
as a starter in three years.
Strengths: Van Benschoten has the ideal pitcher’s
build and a consistent 91-94 mph fastball. His best pitch is a
late-breaking slider that causes many swings and misses. He also
has a solid curveball.
Weaknesses: Despite trying several grips, Van Benschoten
never has gained complete feel for a changeup. Despite his age,
he lacks pitching experience because of his college background.
His mechanics can wander at times, leading to a loss of location.
The Future: Van Benschoten should be ready to pitch by
the time spring training begins. He went just 4-11, 4.72 in Triple-A
in 2004 and needs more time in the minors. He should challenge
for a spot in the Pittsburgh rotation in 2007.
2005 Club (Class)
Did Not Pitch-Injured
25 B-T: B-L Ht: 5-10 Wt.: 183
Arizona State, 2001 (8th round) Signed by: Ted
Background: Duffy has continued to impress the
Pirates since leading the short-season New York-Penn League in steals
in his pro debut in 2001. He had a strong big league camp and hit .300
for the fourth time in five years in 2005. Installed as the Pirates’
center fielder in mid July, he hit .341 until his season ended in late
August with a torn left hamstring.
Strengths: Duffy has outstanding speed that he uses to
his advantage both on the bases and in the field. Though he never
batted lefthanded until he got to Arizona State, he has hit consistently
throughout the minors. He’s an outstanding center fielder
who covers both gaps and makes highlight-reel plays. He’s
also a good basestealer, though he was hesitant to run in the
Weaknesses: Duffy strikes out a lot for a top-of-the-order
hitter who relies on speed. His arm is below average, though he
compensates by making accurate throws.
The Future: The Pirates’ center-field job will be
Duffy’s to lose in spring training. He’s their best
defensive center fielder since Andy Van Slyke, though his bat
will determine his long-term future.
2005 Club (Class)
CAPPS , rhpAge:
22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 231
HS—Douglasville, Ga., 2002 (7th round) Signed
by: Jack Powell
Background: Capps made an amazing rise after
posting a 10.07 ERA in eight low Class A Hickory starts in 2004. Converted
to a reliever during spring training in 2005, he began the season back
at Hickory and finished it in the Pittsburgh bullpen.
Strengths: Capps attacks hitters and doesn’t back
down, a style that works much better for him in short relief.
His fastball routinely hits 95 mph and looks even quicker because
he comes straight over the top with it. He does an exceptional
job of throwing strikes.
Weaknesses: Capps hasn’t been able to come up with
a consistent breaking ball. He’ll need another pitch, possibly
a splitter, to go with his fastball in order to get major league
hitters out. He’s more hittable than he should be with his
velocity because hitters can sit on his heater.
The Future: Though Capps got a taste of the major leagues
at the end of 2005, he needs more seasoning and will begin 2006
in Double-A. He has a chance to eventually become a major league
closer if he can find a complement for his plus fastball.
2005 Club (Class)
Hickory (Lo A)
Cruz, Gallardo, Inman: Bill Mitchell
Braun, Escobar: Sports On Film
Rogers: Rodger Wood
Fielder: Andrew Woolley