2015 Southern League Top 20 Prospects
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Pirates Prospects 2-10
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSWellington, Fla., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Rob Sidwell.
Background: The Pirates took Burnett out of Wellington Community High, a year after they took righthander Bobby Bradley in the first round from the same school. Burnett has been Pittsburghs minor league pitcher of the year each of the past two seasons and was the high Class A Carolina Leagues pitcher of the year in 2002. His ERA last year was second in the minor leagues behind Bubba Nelson of the Braves.
Strengths: Burnett has improved the velocity on his heavy fastball to the point that it hit 93 mph in the Futures Game last year, though it sits more comfortably at 88-89. He also has become more willing to throw his fastball inside to hitters. Burnetts best pitch is a Tom Glavine-like changeup that hitters continually beat into the ground. He also has a good slider.
Weaknesses: Burnett doesnt have overpowering velocity, which sometimes limits him in situations when he needs a strikeout. Hes also on the smallish side, raising mild concerns about his durability.
The Future: Burnett mastered Class A in his teens and now will go to try Double-A Altoona. Hes on track to take a spot in the major league rotation in 2005.
3. Bryan Bullington, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Ball State, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Duane Gustavson.
Background: After winning Mid-American Conference player-of-the-year honors by going 11-3, 2.84 at Ball State and setting a league record with 139 strikeouts in 105 innings, Bullington was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft. He signed in late October for a club-record $4 million, but missed the minor league season and instructional league while negotiating.
Strengths: Bullington dominated college hitters by throwing a heavy 95 mph fastball. He also has a sharp slider to complement his heater. Bullington won plenty of admiration for his toughness in the 2001 MAC tournament, when he was hit in the face by a line drive in the opening round and came back to pitch two days later.
Weaknesses: It remains to be seen how much of an effect sitting out all of last summer will have on Bullington in 2003. He needs to tighten his curveball and refine his changeup in order to have something to offset his hard stuff.
The Future: The Pirates will start Bullington off in low Class A. He could be on the fast track and likely will be ready to break into majors in 2005, along with touted prospects John VanBenschoten and Sean Burnett.
4. Jose Castilllo, ss
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Signed: Venezuela, 1997. Signed by: Jose Luna.
Background: Castillo repeated high Class A after having arthroscopic wrist surgery following the 2001 season. Though he was disappointed to be back at Lynchburg, he helped lead the Hillcats to the league championship. Managers named him the Carolina Leagues most exciting player and best defensive infielder.
Strengths: Castillo can hit for both average and power, with scouts estimating hell hit 20-25 homers a year in the majors. He has plus range at shortstop and an outstanding arm, which enables him to make plays from deep in the hole. Castillo is a slightly above-average runner, though he doesnt project as a big basestealer.
Weaknesses: Castillo needs to improve his plate discipline and cut down on trying to make too many flashy plays in the field. He has a thick lower body, leaving some to wonder if he may eventually have to move to third base.
The Future: With nothing left to prove at Class A, Castillo will move to Double-A this season. The Pirates have a young shortstop in Jack Wilson, but if he doesnt improve his hitting then Castillo will be ready to take over in 2005.
5. Duaner Sanchez, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Junior Noboa (Diamondbacks).
Background: Sanchez was a struggling starter until the Diamondbacks converted him into a reliever last spring and watched his fastball reach 102 mph. Arizona traded Sanchez to the Pirates last July for veteran reliever Mike Fetters.
Strengths: Sanchez fastball gained velocity and movement once he was used in shorter bursts. The heater normally sits in the 93-94 mph range, though he can dial it up to 97 when necessary. Sanchez also has a plus slider, though the Pirates asked him to shelve it in favor a curveball after he was called up in September.
Weaknesses: Sanchez has extremely thin legs, which causes some to wonder about his long-term durability. His command also needs work. Hes a bit of a free spirit who has yet to totally accept that he is now a reliever instead of a starter.
The Future: Sanchez will compete for a middle-relief job in the Pittsburgh bullpen, though he may need a few more months at Triple-A.
6. Tony Alvarez, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Jose Luna.
Background: Alvarez burst onto the scene as the short-season New York-Penn Leagues MVP in 1999 at Williamsport and has continued to blossom into a prospect. He was second in the Double-A Eastern League in hits and batting last season while ranking third in doubles. Alvarez also impressed during a September callup, his first major league action.
Strengths: Alvarez can hit for average and find the gaps with his line-drive swing. He has the potential to become a power hitter with more strength and experience. Alvarez also has speed and basestealing ability. He has good range and a decent arm in center field.
Weaknesses: Alvarez plays with great enthusiasm but sometimes gets out of control and overswings or dives for balls he has no chance of catching. Hes a good two-strike hitter but needs to learn to work counts better and stay back on breaking balls.
The Future: Though the Pirates didnt find a regular center fielder last season, theyll resist the temptation to move Alvarez into the lineup at the start of 2003. Hell begin this season at Triple-A Nashville.
7. Jose Bautista, 3b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Chipola (Fla.) JC, D/F 2000 (20th round). Signed by: Jack Powell.
Background: The Pirates selected Bautista as a draft-and-follow in 2000 and signed him prior to the 2001 draft after he was named Floridas junior college player of the year. He has led short-season Williamsport and Hickory to league titles in his first two pro seasons.
Strengths: With a quick bat, Bautista has hit for average while also flashing power and RBI potential as a pro. He has a good eye for a young hitter and should develop into a high on-base percentage guy with experience. Bautista is a good defensive third baseman with above-average range, arm and athleticism. To add versatility, he began playing center field this winter in the Dominican League.
Weaknesses: Bautista hasnt been able to translate his bat speed into power yet, though that should come as his body fills out. He doesnt have great speed but also doesnt clog the bases.
The Future: Bautista will continue his climb up the ladder this season in high Class A. Hes on course to reach the major leagues in 2006, just when Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez is eligible for free agency.
8. J.J. Davis, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 250. Drafted: HSBaldwin Park, Calif., 1997 (1st round). Signed by: Doug Takaragawa.
Background: Davis was highly regarded as both a pitcher and hitter in high school, and the Pirates used the eighth overall pick in 1997 to select him as an outfielder. Davis was long considered an underachiever until a heart-to-heart talk with Altoona manager Dale Sveum last May turned his career around. By September, Davis was making his major league debut.
Strengths: Davis has plenty of tools, most notably a power bat and a cannon arm in right field. Hes capable of hitting tape-measure homers, and Eastern League runners quit trying to take extra bases on him last year. He has above-average speed, though hes somewhat awkward on the bases.
Weaknesses: Davis made strides last season but still needs a better understanding of the strike zone and better discipline in chasing bad pitches. He tends to get late jumps and takes bad routes on fly balls.
The Future: Davis future has never been brighter now that he has adjusted his attitude and quit lobbying for a switch to the mound. A good Triple-A performance this year would put him in position to give Pittsburgh much-needed power in the outfield in 2004.
3. Mike Gonzalez, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Drafted: San Jacinto (Texas) JC, 1997 (30th round). Signed by: Steve Riha.
Background: Gonzalez made slow progress and had arthroscopic shoulder surgery after the 2000 season. He earned a spot on the 40-man roster following an outstanding Arizona Fall League in 2001. Gonzalez missed two months last season because of arthroscopic knee surgery, but finished the season in Double-A before shining again in the AFL.
Strengths: Gonzalez throws hard for a lefthander, with his fastball routinely reaching 95 mph. He also has a slider with good late life and an adequate changeup. Gonzalez isnt afraid to pitch inside and knock hitters off the plate.
Weaknesses: Gonzalez needs to improve the command of his pitches and polish up his changeup if hes to stay in the rotation. He was skittish facing major leaguers during exhibition games last spring, a sign he could use a shot of confidence.
The Future: Gonzalez probably will go to Triple-A this season, though hell have an outside shot to make the big league club in the spring. Gonzalez initially will pitch in relief once he reaches the majors and could become a rare lefthanded closer.
10. Ian Oquendo, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 160. Drafted: HSCamden, Del., 2000 (26th round). Signed by: Dana Brown.
Background: Known as Ian Snell when drafted by the Pirates, Oquendo took his wifes surname when he got married after the 2000 season. By any name, Oquendo is a winner as he has compiled a 22-6 record as a pro, including 11-0 in his first two seasons.
Strengths: Oquendo is a battler who challenges hitters. His fastball routinely reaches 95 mph and looks deceptively faster because of his smooth delivery. He also throws an outstanding curveball, along with a changeup. Oquendo is considered one of the top athletes in the system and fields his position well.
Weaknesses: Oquendo occasionally loses focus in games and can be prone to big innings. Maturity is an issue with him, though the Pirates hope he can grow out of it. Hes also on the smallish side, causing some to wonder if he can handle a starters workload over the long haul.
The Future: Oquendo will move up to high Class A, where Pittsburgh wants to see him take another step forward. Because of his youth, the Pirates wont rush Oquendo and he may not see the majors until 2006.
Best of the Rest
Righthanders Bobby Bradley and Ryan Vogelsong and catcher J.R. House once ranked among the Pirates top prospects. They still remain prospects, but their futures are murkier following visits with Dr. James Andrews scalpel. The three are in various stages of recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Vogelsong went under the knife first, in September 2001. He made just two starts for the Pirates after being acquired from the Giants in a July 2001 trade for Jason Schmidt. He pitched well in August as he tried to get his 94 mph fastball and good slider back. Bradley had surgery in October 2001 and sat out all of last season before pitching in instructional league. His outstanding curveball had its old snap, but he took longer to recover between outings than normal. Despite the hype that has surrounded him since he was a 1999 first-round draft pick, Bradley has made just 29 starts in four years as a pro. House ranked No. 1 on the organizations prospect list for two years before having a forgettable 2002 season. He played in just 35 game as he had three surgeries: to repair a hernia in May, to clear out related scar tissue in June, and to reconstruct his elbow in September. House should return to Double-A by midseason but will get a lot of time at DH to protect his elbow from the rigors of catching.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.