Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By John Perrotto
1. Chad Hermansen, OF
Strengths: As evidenced by his season against more experienced pitchers at Triple-A, Hermansen has outstanding power potential. He also has above-average speed and the potential to be a 30-30 player in the major leagues. He has good baserunning instincts, as he was thrown out just four times in 25 attempts last season. Though he has been a nomad defensively, Hermansen has good range and a good arm. If he doesn't cut it in center field, he should be able to play at least an average left field. Topping off Hermansen's package is the fact he is extremely mature and one of the most likable players in the organization.
Weaknesses: Hermansen is a free swinger who needs to cut down on his strikeouts to be an effective major league hitter. He must become more patient and work on hitting breaking balls and off speed pitches. In particular, hard sliders give him problems. Hermansen is still getting used to playing the outfield but experience should smooth out the rough spots.
The Future: Still in need of fine-tuning at the plate and settling in one spot in the field, Hermansen will repeat this season in Triple-A. Expect him to be in the big league lineup by Opening Day, 2000.
2. Warren Morris, 2B
Age: 25 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190
Drafted: Louisiana State, 1996 (5th round) Signed by: Randy Taylor (Rangers)
Background: Morris will always be part of college baseball lore for his game-winning home run in the championship of the 1996 College World Series. After college, Morris thrived in the Rangers organization until he was traded in July for major league righthander Esteban Loaiza.
Strengths: Morris has outstanding power for a second baseman and scouts believe he has the potential to hit 20 home runs a year in the big leagues. He has a fluid stroke that should make him a perennial .300 hitter. His speed is also a tick above average and he steals his share of bases. Though Morris gets knocked for his defense, he hangs in well while turning the double play.
Weaknesses: Morris' range is only average and his hands are somewhat stiff. However, he showed in the final two months of '98 that he can be adequate in the field.
The Future: Morris will compete with two-time National League stolen base champion Tony Womack for the Pirates starting second baseman's job this spring. Look for Morris to start in Triple-A before an in-season callup.
3. Kris Benson, RHP
Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Drafted: Clemson, 1996 (1st round) Signed by: George Swain
Background: Benson was one of the greatest college pitching prospects of all time. The Pirates gave him a $2 million signing bonus, then a draft record, after making him the first overall pick in 1996. He pitched well in his debut in Class A, but has struggled in Double-A and Triple-A--going 11-15, 5.25 overall.
Strengths: Benson has the full assortment of pitches--a 95-mph fastball, a big-breaking curveball, a sharp-breaking slider and a changeup that shows signs of being a plus pitch. He is the thinking man's pitcher, typing up copious notes on a laptop computer after each of his starts.
Weaknesses: Benson's pitches catch too much of the plate--and hitters at higher levels take advantage. He needs to spot his fastball more on the inside corner and stay on top of his curveball to prevent it from flattening out. Benson also tends to think too much and might be better served by letting his natural ability to take over.
The Future: With new doubts about whether Benson can become a dominant No. 1 starter, he will go back to Nashville in 1999. It's a big year for him, one that will prove whether he will justify his collegiate hype.
4. Abraham Nunez, SS
Age: 23 B-T: B-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 177
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994 Signed by: Epy Guerrero (Blue Jays)
Background: Nunez was acquired from the Blue Jays in a nine-player trade following the 1996 season. He went all the way from Class A to the majors in '97 and had a fine spring with the big league club, but he sprained his left wrist and was hampered for a majority of the season.
Strengths: Nunez has Gold Glove qualities in the field. He has outstanding range, soft hands and a strong arm. He also has the aptitude to know where to play hitters. Additionally, he has above-average speed and is a decent bunter.
Weaknesses: The biggest question about Nunez is whether he will hit in the majors. He has little pop from either side of the plate and needs to develop the discipline to lay off high fastballs. Still trying to learn how to read pitchers' pickoff moves, he gets thrown out on the bases too frequently.
The Future: Nunez will compete with journeymen Mike Benjamin and Rafael Bournigal for the Pirates starting shortstop job in spring training. The Pirates, though, would prefer that he spend more time in Triple-A.
5. Jeff Wallace, LHP
Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 237
Drafted: HS--Minerva, Ohio, 1995 (25th round) Signed by: Jerry Stephens/Joe Emanuele (Royals)
Background: Wallace was picked up from the Royals as part of a six-player trade after the 1996 season and, like Nunez, went from Class A to Pittsburgh the next year. He missed the 1998 season after having reconstructive surgery March, but pitched briefly in instructional league.
Strengths: In instructional league, Wallace's radar-gun readings were close to what he hit before the injury--a 97 mph fastball and an 87 mph slider. He has the ideal temperament for a short reliever and he showed outstanding poise and mound presence in the majors in '97.
Weaknesses: Major surgery at age 23 leaves a cloud of uncertainty over Wallace's chances for long-term health. Even when healthy, his control has been spotty throughout his career and he sometimes has trouble commanding his slider. He is a bit on the heavy side and will continually have to watch his weight.
The Future: Based on the way he threw in instructional league, Wallace has an excellent chance to win a set-up job with the Pirates this season. Lefthanders rarely develop into closers but Wallace has the stuff to become an exception to that rule.
6. Kevin Haverbusch, 3B
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200
Drafted: Maryland, 1997 (20th round) Signed by: Steve Fleming
Background: An unheralded mid-round pick, Haverbusch has enjoyed immediate success in pro ball. He was the MVP of the short-season New York-Penn League as a shortstop in 1997 then moved to third base last spring and continued to scald the ball despite having abdominal and leg strains throughout the year.
Strengths: Haverbusch has a quick bat with a line-drive stroke and the potential to hit for power. He is an extremely intense player who pushes himself to get better. With a strong arm, good reflexes and decent range, he is ideally suited for third base.
Weaknesses: Haverbusch hasn't shown great plate discipline in his brief career but he was more selective last season once he got to Double-A. He also needs to work on a quicker release on his throws. Haverbusch is an average runner, at best.
The Future: His strained abdominal muscle restricted him to to 42 at-bats in the Maryland Fall League season, so he likely will return to Double-A this season. With Aramis Ramirez scheduled to spend 1999 as Nashville's third baseman, Haverbusch may get a full season there. Ramirez' presence also could block Haverbusch in this organization.
7. J.J. Davis, OF
Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 230
Drafted: HS--Baldwin Park, Calif., 1997 (1st round) Signed by: Doug Takaragawa/George Swain
Background: Davis was a pitcher/first baseman in high school, but the Pirates shifted him to the outfield soon after drafting him.
Strengths: Davis is a Pirates specialty--a tools player with plenty of raw ability. In addition to his power potential, he is expected to hit for average as he gets older. He also has a strong arm from right field, which falls in line with his pitching pedigree.
Weaknesses: Davis's talent is unrefined. He is still learning the nuances of the game, like working the count in his favor and recognizing breaking balls quicker. He also has only average speed and his routes on fly balls are shaky. His work ethic has been questioned, but Pirates officials expect the problem to be solved as he gains experience.
The Future: Former Pirates scouting director Leland Maddox projected Davis to be in the majors by 2001. That was optimistic. The Pirates will take it slowly with Davis, moving him a level at a time with 2003 a more likely estimated time of arrival.
8. Alex Hernandez, OF
Age: 21 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Levittown, P.R., 1995 (4th round) Signed by: Jose Luna
Background: Hernandez is destined to play the outfield in Pittsburgh. After all, he grew up playing baseball at the Roberto Clemente Sports City in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Strengths: Like Davis, Hernandez has plenty of raw athletic ability. With his long and lanky frame, his power is still untapped. He has above-average speed and could develop into a leadoff hitter if his power doesn't blossom as expected. Hernandez is also regarded as the best defensive center fielder in the system; he has great range and an exceptional arm.
Weaknesses: Hernandez hasn't figured out to how to harness his natural gifts yet. He swings at far too many bad pitches and also needs work as a baserunner at reading pitchers' moves.
The Future: The Pirates may have rushed Hernandez a bit when they jumped him from short-season ball to high Class A in 1997. They plan to slow his progress this season, starting him off at Double-A again.
9. Jeremy Cotten, 3B
Age: 18 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225
Drafted: HS--Fuquay-Varina, N.C., 1998 (2nd round) Signed by: George Swain
Background: The Pirates brought Cotten to Three Rivers Stadium for a pre-draft workout last June and he put on a show by launching balls into the upper deck. Pittsburgh almost took him in the first round, but he was still available a round later.
Strengths: Cotten has outstanding power to all fields and could eventually hit 30 home runs a year. He handles breaking balls and offspeed stuff well for a young hitter, and also has a strong arm and good defensive instincts.
Weaknesses: Like most young hitters, Cotten just needs experience and at-bats. That showed late last season when he was promoted to short-season Erie and struggled against more advanced pitchers. He needs to refine his footwork at third base and curb a temper that can occasionally be a problem.
The Future: Scouts say Cotten could get to the big leagues at an accelerated pace. With Ramirez and Haverbusch in front of him on the third-base depth chart, it will be interesting to see what the Pirates do.
10. Ron Wright, 1B
Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 230
Drafted: HS--Kennewick, Wash., 1994 (7th round) Signed by: Butch Baccala (Braves)
Background: The Pirates acquired Wright in a four-player deal with the Braves involving lefthander Denny Neagle in August 1996. He hit 68 homers in 1995-96 but injuries have plagued him since. A broken wrist ended his 1997 season and he had back surgery in a severely limited '98.
Strengths: Wright is a one-tool player. He has outstanding over-the-fence power with the brute strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park.
Weaknesses: Wright already was a slow runner, and back surgery figures to reduce his speed even more. He also is prone to strikeouts, which is not unusual for a young power hitter. Wright had a rap as a poor defensive first baseman, but he worked hard on that part of his game and had become at least passable.
The Future: Wright was cleared to begin working out at the first of the year. It's hard to say how close or far he is to being ready for 1999 until he reports to spring training. The Pirates desperately need his power.
Rest of the Best:
11. Clint Johnston, lhp
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