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2001 Top 10 Prospects
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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By John Perrotto

1. J.R. House, c

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 202. Drafted: HS–Daytona Beach, Fla., 1999 (5th round) Signed by: Rob Sidwell.

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Pirates Top Prospects

1992 Steve Cooke, lhp
1993 Kevin Young, 1b
1994 Midre Cummings, of
1995 Trey Beamon, of
1996 Jason Kendall, c
1997 Kris Benson, rhp
1998 Kris Benson, rhp
1999 Chad Hermansen, of
2000 Chad Hermansen, of
2001 J.R. House

Background: House made more headlines for what he didn’t do last summer than for what he did. He flirted with the idea of becoming a two-sport athlete through the first three months of the season, giving heavy consideration to playing quarterback for West Virginia. House finally decided on baseball as a full-time vocation and said he wouldn’t change his mind. House is the nation’s all-time leading prep passer, throwing for 14,457 yards at Nitro (W. Va.) High from 1995-98. Because he had dual residency, House played baseball at Seabreeze High in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Pirates lured House away from football with a $266,000 signing bonus as their fifth-round pick in 1999. He rankled veterans in the major league clubhouse when he received an audience with owner Kevin McClatchy before making his decision to stick with baseball.

Strengths: House has the potential to hit for both power and average, and he showed it in 2000 when he was co-MVP of the South Atlantic League despite missing a month with mononucleosis. He has particularly good power to the opposite field. House made strides defensively last season, particularly with his handling of pitchers. He also has a confident aura about him, something that becomes obvious when you are around him.

Weaknesses: House’s strike-zone judgement regressed as he jumped from low Class A to Double-A Altoona in 2001, though that’s not unusual for a young player making that kind of leap. He also still has work to do defensively as his throwing is average at best. House has seen action at first base, but his bat is much more valuable at catcher. Typical of a backstop, House doesn’t run well. He had injury problems early in 2001 as he was hampered by hamstring and ribcage strains.

The Future: House struggled to adjust against advanced pitching in 2001 and seemed lost at times. With catcher Jason Kendall staying behind the plate for now, House doesn’t need to be rushed. He seemed to be on the fast track prior to 2001. Now it’s not out of the question that House could go back to Altoona, at least to start the season, to give him a better chance of dominating the competition before moving up to Triple-A Nashville.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Altoona (AA).258426511102511156371031

2. Jon VanBenschoten, rhp

Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Kent State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Duane Gustavson.

Background: VanBenschoten led NCAA Division I with 31 home runs while also serving as Kent State’s closer. The Pirates, unlike most teams, liked VanBenschoten better for his arm and drafted him eighth overall as a pitcher. He was the No. 1 prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he also got 75 at-bats as a DH.

Strengths: Tall with broad shoulders, VanBenschoten has a good pitcher’s frame. He’s a hard thrower, running his fastball up to 94 mph with the chance to add more velocity as he builds up regular innings and arm strength. His curveball has a chance to be a good pitch with its tight rotation.

Weaknesses: VanBenschoten lacks experience against top-flight competition, as he was primarily a reliever at a mid-major college program. He was a star pitcher in high school but needs time to settle in as a full-time pitcher. He also must develop a changeup.

The Future: The Pirates believe they made the right choice in drafting VanBenschoten as a pitcher. He’s a work in progress and likely will start this season at low Class A Hickory. If he bombs as a pitcher, the Pirates always have the option of making him a hitter.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Williamsport (A)023.51990026231019

3. Sean Burnett, lhp

Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 172. Drafted: HS–Wellington, Fla., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Rob Sidwell.

Background: Burnett has followed Bobby Bradley over the past two years. Burnett was a junior and the No. 2 starter and Bradley was a senior and the No. 1 starter when they pitched Wellington Community High to the Florida Class 6-A state title in 1999. Bradley was the Pirates’ first-round pick in 1999 and Burnett went in the first round to Pittsburgh the following year. He was the Pirates’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2001.

Strengths: Like Bradley, Burnett has a good feel for pitching and outstanding mound presence. His best pitch is a changeup that he disguises well. It also has late tumbling action. His fastball generally reaches 88 mph, but he can get it as high as 91 mph after adding 15 pounds of muscle.

Weaknesses: Burnett wore down at the end of the 2001 season and pitched sparingly in instructional league. That was only natural for an 18-year-old in his first full season of pro ball. He has the beginnings of a good curveball but needs to tighten its rotation.

The Future: Burnett has made a seamless adjustment into pro ball and his next step is to show he get more advanced hitters out on a regular basis. He’ll get that chance in 2002 at high Class A Lynchburg.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Hickory (A)1182.6226261016116433134

4. Bobby Bradley, rhp

Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HS–Wellington, Fla., 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Rob Sidwell.

Background: Both of Bradley’s full seasons have been cut short by elbow problems. He sat out two months at Hickory in 2000 and was limited to nine starts with Lynchburg a year later before exploratory arthroscopic surgery in July. He continued to feel pain during instructional league and had Tommy John surgery in mid-October.

Strengths: Bradley has a great feel for pitching and is an outstanding competitor. His best pitch is a curveball and he throws two different kinds, a big bender and one with a shorter break. His fastball can touch 95 mph but usually sits around 88-89 mph. He’s able to sink and cut the fastball while moving it in the strike zone. His changeup is an adequate pitch.

Weaknesses: Bradley won’t be able to pitch until 2003 after having surgery so late in the year. He has been throwing curves since early childhood and no one knows if the pitch will have the same bite once he returns. He also has to adjust against advanced hitters who aren’t so apt to chase curveballs in the dirt and fastballs off the plate.

The Future: Bradley once was on a fast track to the major leagues. While pitchers now routinely return from major elbow surgery, it’s far too early to determine when Bradley might get to PNC Park.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Lynchburg (A)123.12990049442046

5. Jose Castillo, ss

Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185. Signed: Venezuela, 1997. Signed by: Jose Luna.

Background: Castillo burst into prospect status in 2000 but struggled in the first half of the 2001 season at Lynchburg, hitting .200 in the first two months as he played with a torn wrist ligament. He finished strong before having arthroscopic surgery in early September.

Strengths: Castillo has plenty of tools, chief among them a quick bat with good pop. He also continues to make improvement on the defensive side. He has above-average range, soft hands and a strong arm that enables him to make throws from deep in the hole at shortstop. Castillo is a plus runner who can steal a base.

Weaknesses: Wrist injuries can linger and the hope is Castillo can regain the power in his bat. He also needs to show more consistency on defense, though he did cut his errors from 60 in 2000 to 37.

The Future: Castillo showed enough in the second half of the 2001 season, despite playing hurt, to make the Pirates believe he still has a bright future. That could wind up being at second base, especially because Pittsburgh liked rookie shortstop Jack Wilson’s defense this year. Castillo probably will go back to Lynchburg to start 2002, with a promotion to Altoona likely once he proves he’s healthy.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Lynchburg (A).24548557119207749219423

6. Tony Alvarez, of

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 202. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Jose Luna.

Background: Alvarez first came into prominence in 1999, when he was named New York-Penn League MVP. He has continued to progress up the ladder and was promoted to Double-A last June. Alvarez missed the final month of the 2001 season to return home to Venezuela, where his father was fighting cancer. He has settled in as an outfielder after also playing third and second base earlier in his career.

Strengths: Alvarez has the potential to be a power/speed player. He has good pop in his bat and it should improve as his body fills out. Alvarez also runs well and is aggressive on the bases. He has the speed to play center field but seems more comfortable in left, where he’s adept at turning doubles into singles by moving quickly to the foul line.

Weaknesses: Alvarez is known to have mental lapses. He tends to run in situations where he should play it safe and swings at too many bad pitches.

The Future: Alvarez almost certainly will begin the 2002 season back at Altoona after missing time at the end of this season. However, he’s moving quickly and could reach Triple-A later in the year.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Altoona (AA).319254348116162593017
Lynchburg (A).344931032402117117

7. Ryan Vogelsong, rhp

Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Kutztown (Pa.), 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Alan Marr (Giants).

Background: San Francisco traded Vogelsong and Armando Rios to the Pirates for veterans Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal. Vogelsong was sent to Nashville to build up arm strength as a starter after serving as a reliever for the Giants. He was part of Pittsburgh’s late-season callups and tore an elbow ligament in his second start, necessitating Tommy John surgery in mid-September.

Strengths: Vogelsong doesn’t have one dominant pitch but has command of four good ones. His fastball reaches 94 mph and he throws it to both sides of the plate. He also has a fine curveball, a late-breaking slider and an improving changeup. Vogelsong has outstanding makeup, as he’s intelligent and noted for his competitiveness.

Weaknesses: Vogelsong’s future is cloudy after surgery. He’ll miss all of 2002, which figured to be his first full season in the major leagues.

The Future: The Pirates hope Vogelsong eventually can slot into the middle of their rotation, maybe even as a No. 2 starter.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Pittsburgh0212.00220061067
San Francisco035.651300029291417
Nashville (AAA)233.98660032261533
Fresno (AAA)332.7910100058351853

8. Adrian Burnside, lhp

Age: 25. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Signed: Australia, 1995. Signed by: Brian Cakebread (Dodgers).

Background: Burnside may have looked like a throw-in in the deadline deal that saw the Pirates ship Terry Mulholland to the Dodgers for Mike Fetters. But the Pirates coveted Burnside, and he was the primary reason they made the deal. He made six starts with Altoona after the trade, and the Pirates were pleased with what they saw there and in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Burnside is a rare lefthander in that his fastball reaches 93 mph and he isn’t afraid to throw inside. He also has a hard slider with a sharp break. He proved he was healthy in 2001 after arthroscopic elbow surgery that cost him the chance to pitch for his native Australia in the Sydney Olympics.

Weaknesses: Burnside has yet to develop his changeup, which could prevent him from becoming a major league starter. He also didn’t take up baseball until his late teens and is still learning the game. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy, causing some to question his intensity.

The Future: Burnside figures to begin the 2002 season in the Nashville rotation. Whether he winds up a starter or reliever remains to be seen, but he has a decent chance to reach Pittsburgh in 2002.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Altoona (AA)023.62660032281432
San Antonio (AA)432.6613120068443067

9. Humberto Cota, c

Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Signed: Mexico, 1995. Signed by: Jorge Calvo (Braves).

Background: Acquired from the Devil Rays in a trade for Jose Guillen in midseason 1999, Cota has risen rapidly through the Pirates system. He was their minor league player of the year in 2001, when he also appeared in the Futures Game.

Strengths: Cota is becoming a good offensive catcher. He’s showing the ability to hit for average while adding more power to his game each season. Cota also is developing the reputation of being a good clutch hitter. He’s mobile behind the plate and very good at blocking balls.

Weaknesses: Like so many hitters in the Pirates system, Cota has weak strike-zone judgment. He’s impatient and can be made to swing at bad pitchers. While Cota has made strides as a catcher, he has a below-average arm and can be scattershot with his throws to second base.

The Future: Cota is in a tough spot as a catcher, with Jason Kendall and Keith Osik ahead of him in Pittsburgh and highly regarded J.R. House behind him in the minors. Cota almost certainly will go back to Triple-A in 2002 and have to wait until 2003 to get his crack at the majors.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Pittsburgh.2229020001050
Nashville (AAA).29737761112222147225747

10. Chris Young, rhp

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-10. Wt.: 255. Drafted: Princeton, 2000 (3rd round). Signed by: Dana Brown.

Background: The Pirates signed Young away from a potential career as an NBA center by giving him a $1.65 million bonus. He had been an all-Ivy League basketball player at Princeton. Young signed too late to play in 2000 and made his pro debut at Hickory last June after finishing the spring semester at Princeton.

Strengths: Young has an intriguing body as he stands 6-foot-10, drawing inevitable comparisons to Randy Johnson. He’s also a bright guy, as expected from an Ivy Leaguer, and throws a heavy ball with boring action that breaks bats when he’s healthy. His command is surprisingly good for a tall pitcher who had been torn between two sports.

Weaknesses: Young is raw, as he pitched sparingly in college. His velocity was a concern in 2001 as his fastball topped out at 86 mph, though arthroscopic elbow surgery to remove a bone spur should solve that problem. His breaking pitches and changeup need work.

The Future: Young probably will rejoin the Hickory rotation to start 2002, though a good spring could push him to Lynchburg. Needing just one semester to graduate, Young will spend the entire 2002 season concentrating on baseball and should make up for lost time.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Hickory (A)534.1212122074792072


Rest of the Best:

11. Justin Reid, rhp
12. Nate McLouth, of
13. Aron Weston, of
14. Jose Bautista, 3b
15. Domingo Cuello, 2b

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