Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects With  Scouting Reports

Pittsburgh Pirates: Scouting Reports




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, 2009.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are likely to set a record for infamy in 2009 as their never-ending rebuilding process continues. Unless they manage to surpass expectations and win 81 games, they'll endure their 17th straight losing season, giving them sole possession of the U.S. major professional sports mark that they currently share with the 1933-48 Phillies.

Pittsburgh went 67-95 last year, its first under a new regime. Frank Coonelly was hired away from his role as Major League Baseball's chief labor lawyer to oversee the franchise as club president. Coonelly installed Indians assistant general manager Neal Huntington as GM. Huntington gave John Russell, manager of the Phillies' Triple-A Ottawa farm club, his first crack as a major league skipper.

The Pirates began another reconstruction under their new administration. Their most visible moves came in late July, when they sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees in trades that netted eight young players. Craig Hansen, Jeff Karstens, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Ross Ohlendorf all saw action with the major league club—and no longer qualify for this list—while outfielder Jose Tabata and righthanders Bryan Morris and Daniel McCutchen all rank among the system's top 10 prospects.

Pittsburgh went 17-37 over the final two months while fielding a young lineup.

The Pirates showed a new commitment to strengthening their player-development and scouting departments under new leadership. Huntington named Indians assistant farm director Kyle Stark as farm director and former Tigers scouting director Greg Smith as scouting director.

Pittsburgh began building a new academy in the Dominican Republic that Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo said would be among the top two facilities in the island nation. The Pirates also spent $9.8 million on draft bonuses, more than any club had ever spent before last summer (albeit the fourth-highest total in 2008). That total included a $6 million bonus as part of a $6.355 million major league contract for No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez—which included as much drama as it did cash.

The Pirates originally announced that Alvarez had agreed to a straight $6 million bonus minutes before the signing deadline on Aug. 15. Twelve days later, agent Scott Boras claimed Alvarez reached his deal two minutes after the midnight deadline, prompting the MLB Players Association to file a grievance.

The two sides settled on Sept. 24 after plenty of rancor between Boras and Coonelly, who conceded afterward that the deal was consummated at 12:02 a.m. on Aug. 16. There were enough ill feelings that Pittsburgh didn't hold a press conference to introduce Alvarez, and neither Coonelly nor Huntington were present when Alvarez signed his contract at PNC Park.

In an effort to pump up a thin farm system, the Pirates exceeded MLB's bonus recommendations to sign a pair of high school seniors: outfielder Robbie Grossman ($1 million in the sixth round) and righthander Quinton Miller ($900,000 in the 20th). Their search for talent extended to a nation that has yet to produce a big leaguer, as they signed switch-hitting South African shortstop Mpho Ngoepe after scouting him at MLB's European Baseball Academy in Italy.

1.  Pedro Alvarez, 3b   Born: Feb. 6, 1987B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 235
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Trevor Haley
Pedro AlvarezBackground: Though his family lived in a two-bedroom apartment and his father drove a livery cab, Alvarez decided to attend Vanderbilt rather than sign with the Red Sox for sandwich-round money as a 14th-round pick in 2005. He had a storied career with the Commodores, winning Baseball America's 2006 Freshman of the Year award and earning All-America honors in his first two seasons. He entered his junior year rated as the top prospect in the 2008 draft and maintained that distinction despite missing 23 games when an errant pitch broke the hamate bone in his right hand in Vanderbilt's season opener. The Rays passed on Alvarez with the No. 1 overall pick because they already had Evan Longoria at third base. The Pirates, who famously passed on Scott Boras client Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft, didn't hesitate to take Alvarez at No. 2 despite reports Boras was seeking a $9 million major league contract. Pittsburgh announced that Alvarez had agreed to a club-record $6 million bonus shortly before the Aug. 15 signing deadline, but 12 days later Boras claimed Alvarez hadn't signed until 12:02 a.m. After the MLB Players Association filed a grievance, the two sides settled it on Sept. 24, with Alvarez receiving the same bonus as part of a $6.355 million contract. (Club president Frank Coonelly later acknowledged that Alvarez had signed two minutes after the deadline.) He saw his first action with the Pirates in instructional league

Strengths: Alvarez's quick hands let the ball travel deep into the strike zone and enable him to draw comparisons to Albert Pujols. While he doesn't have a lot of loft in his swing, his bat speed and strength enable him to hit with power to all fields. He has an advanced, professional approach at the plate and makes consistent hard contact. Alvarez's best defensive tool is his strong arm and the Pirates believe he'll be a solid third baseman. He shows fairly quick feet for a big man and has worked hard to improve his defense. Despite his contentious negotiations, Alvarez has a reputation for outstanding character and leadership.

Weaknesses: The biggest question with Alvarez is whether he can stay at third base. He'll have to work hard to maintain his range and agility, which are just decent, and some scouts think he'll be forced to move to an outfield corner or first base. He reported to instructional league overweight, adding fuel to the idea that a position switch could be in his future. He's a below-average runner but moves well enough that he doesn't clog the bases.

The Future: Alvarez has the talent and charisma to become the face of a struggling franchise that has lacked star power since Barry Bonds left as a free agent following the 1992 season. Pittsburgh hopes to build a lineup around him that can end a streak of losing seasons that began after Bonds departed. Alvarez likely will start his pro career at high Class A Lynchburg and could make his big league debut by September. He almost certainly will be the Pirates' starting third baseman in 2010.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed late
 
2.  Andrew McCutchen, of   Born: Oct. 10, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175.
 Drafted: HS—Fort Meade, Fla., 2005 (1st round). Signed by: Rob Sidwell.
Andrew McCutchenBackground: McCutchen ranked No. 1 on this list the past two years, as well as in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2005 and the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2006. He reached Double-A as a teenager and rated as the No. 2 prospect in the Triple-A International League, where managers tabbed him as the league's most exciting player.

Strengths: McCutchen has quick hands and recognizes pitches extremely well, giving him the ability to wait for the ball to get deeper in the zone while drawing his share of walks. He has outstanding speed that make him a basestealing threat and a potential Gold Glover. He has outstanding instincts and an average arm in center field.

Weaknesses: McCutchen is susceptible to breaking pitches, in part because he gets pull-happy, and his power hasn't developed as hoped. He's slow getting out of the batter's box, which prevents him from getting as many infield hits as his speed suggests he should. He still has work to do as a basestealer after leading all Triple-A players by getting caught 19 times in 2008.

The Future: Though he's the Pirates' center fielder of the near future, McCutchen is slated to return to Indianapolis to start the season. He once looked like a No. 3 hitter but now profiles as a leadoff man.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Indianapolis (AAA)
.283
.372
.398
512
75
145
26
3
9
50
68
87
34
 
3.  Jose Tabata, of   Born: Aug. 12, 1988. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 160.
 Signed: Venezuela, 2005. Signed by: Ricardo Finol (Yankees).
Jose TabataBackground: Once the Yankees' top position prospect, Tabata fell out of favor last April. Upset by a slow start, he left Double-A Trenton in the middle of a game and was suspended three games. New York traded him along with Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and righthander Daniel McCutchen to acquire Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in July. After recovering a strained hamstring, Tabata regained his luster with a strong August.

Strengths: Tabata has strong, quick wrists, which makes his current gap power likely to turn into home run pop as his body matures. He's an above-average defender who gets good jumps in center field and has the arm strength to play in right. He has average speed.

Weaknesses: Though Tabata didn't have any issues after the trade, he still has to live down a reputation for having attitude problems and being unreliable. He tends to chase breaking pitches out of the zone. He has slowed down as his body has matured and probably will end up as a below-average runner.

The Future: The Pirates are leaning toward sending Tabata back to Double-A Altoona to start 2009, but he should reach Triple-A and perhaps the majors by the end of the year. They're convinced he can be a star, and he certainly looked like one after the trade.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Trenton (AA)
.248
.320
.310
294
40
73
9
0
3
36
26
49
10
Pirates (R)
.455
.538
1.091
11
4
5
1
0
2
7
2
0
0
Altoona (AA)
.272
.339
.368
383
56
104
15
2
6
49
34
67
18
 
4.  Brad Lincoln, rhp   Born: May 25, 1985. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 215.
 Drafted: Houston, 2006 (1st round). Signed by: Everett Russell.
Brad LincolnBackground: The fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Lincoln signed for $2.75 million. He needed Tommy John surgery the following April, joining a long list of Pirates first-round picks to suffer a major arm injury. After missing the entire 2007 season, he came back last year and made 19 starts without any problems.

Strengths: Lincoln has two plus pitches in a 90-93 mph fastball that touches 95 and a power curveball that he can either bury in the strike zone or make hitters chase. A good athlete who was an excellent hitter in college, he has no problem throwing stirkes. He's an outstanding competitor who relishes challenging hitters.

Weaknesses: Lincoln isn't very tall and at times he has to fight to keep his arm slot high and throw his pitches on a downhill plane. He tends to catch too much of the strike zone at times, making him susceptible to home runs. His changeup isn't as effective as his other pitches and needs more consistency.

The Future: The Pirates believe Lincoln is close to major league-ready and will send him to Double-A. He could be in their Opening Day rotation in 2010 and should eventually settle in as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hickory (LoA)
5
5
4.65
11
11
0
0
62
72
8
6
46
.288
Lynchburg (HiA)
1
5
4.75
8
8
1
0
41.2
42
5
11
29
.259
 
5.  Bryan Morris, rhp   Born: March 28, 1987. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
 Drafted: Motlow State (Tenn.) CC, 2006 (1st round). Signed by: Marty Lamb (Dodgers).
Bryan MorrisBackground: The Pirates acquired three big leaguers (Andy LaRoche from the Dodgers, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss from the Red Sox) and Morris in the three-way trade that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles. Like Lincoln, Morris was a 2006 first-rounder who missed all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery. The Pirates shut him down late in '08 when he felt  shoulder pain.

Strengths: Morris' similarities to Lincoln extend to his stuff and his background as a two-way standout in college. He has a live arm and regained full velocity on his fastball after surgery, sitting at 91-93 mph and touching 95. His hard, big-breaking curveball is his money pitch. He scores points for his competitiveness and work ethic.

Weaknesses: Pittsburgh attributes Morris' shoulder soreness to  fatigue, but he still will have to prove he can hold up over a full season. As with many young pitchers, his changeup is a work in progress. His mechanics aren't quite ideal, and he sometimes struggles to repeat them and flies open in his delivery. He lacks consistent control and command at this point.

The Future: One of the few high-ceiling arms in the system, Morris likely will begin 2009 in high Class A. He could move quickly once he starts throwing strikes. He figures to be a fixture in the middle of Pittsburgh's rotation by 2011 or 2012.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Great Lakes (LoA)
2
4
3.20
17
17
1
0
81.2
74
5
31
72
.247
Hickory (LoA)
0
2
5.02
3
3
0
0
14.1
17
2
12
11
.288
 
6.  Neil Walker, 3b   Born: Sept. 10, 1985. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 217.
 Drafted: HS—Gibsonia, Pa., 2004 (1st round). Signed by: Jon Mercurio.
Neil WalkerBackground: Originally signed as a catcher for $1.95 million with the 12th overall pick in 2004, Walker moved to third base on the first day of spring training in 2007. He has made a smooth transition defensively but hit the wall offensively in Triple-A. The first-ever Pirates first-rounder from the Pittsburgh area, he's the son of an ex-big leaguer (Tom) and the nephew of another (Chip Lang).

Strengths: Walker has pop from both sides of the plate but needs to display it with more consistency. Recruited by college football programs as a wide receiver, he has outstanding athleticism and a strong arm. Managers rated him the International League's best defensive third baseman last season. He's an average runner with good instincts on the bases. He's intelligent and works hard.

Weaknesses: Walker has been inconsistent throughout his career and has yet to put up a truly big season. His plate discipline never has been strong and fell apart last season. He seemed to panic if he fell behind in the count and chased too many pitches outside the zone.

The Future: Walker lost some of his value when he moved from behind the plate, and his future at third base is clouded after the Pirates drafted Pedro Alvarez and traded for Andy LaRoche. Ticketed to return to Triple-A, Walker eventually could wind up in right field because of his athletic ability and strong arm.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Indianapolis (AAA)
.242
.280
.414
505
69
122
25
7
16
80
29
102
10
 
7.  Jeff Sues, rhp   Born: June 8, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 228.
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2005 (5th round). Signed by: Jack Powell.
Jeff SuesBackground: Just before he was scheduled to make his first pro start in 2005, Sues injured his shoulder. Following surgery and a long rehab, he finally made his debut in mid-2007. The Pirates made him a reliever last season and were enthused by the results.

Strengths: Sues throws extremely hard, as his fastball sits at 93-95 mph and tops out at 98. He has added velocity now that he no longer has to pace himself coming out of the bullpen. He also has a power curveball and has the competitive nature to thrive in the late innings.

Weaknesses: Sues tends to throw first-pitch fastballs a little too often and Pittsburgh would like him to go with his curveball more often early in counts to keep hitters more off balance. While he's hard to hit, he's too generous with walks. His changeup is mediocre but rarely comes into play in his new role.

The Future: Pretty much a finished product, Sues will get the opportunity to win a middle-relief job with Pittsburgh this spring. If he doesn't make the team, he'll go to Triple-A and be groomed as a potential closer. He's more overpowering if not as polished as Pirates incumbent Matt Capps.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lynchburg (HiA)
1
1
2.11
13
0
0
2
21.1
11
3
6
17
.153
Altoona (AA)
3
1
3.77
24
0
0
1
43
35
3
20
55
.219
 
8.  Shelby Ford, 2b   Born: Dec. 15, 1984. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190.
 Drafted: Oklahoma State, 2006 (3rd round). Signed by: Mike Leuzinger.
Shelby FordBackground: Ford has been productive as a pro when he's been able to stay healthy. He sat out the final month of 2007 with a strained lower back and missed the first six weeks of 2008 with a strained hip flexor. He went on the disabled list again for two weeks in late July with a high ankle sprain.

Strengths: Ford is an offense-first second baseman with good gap power from both sides of the plate. While he's not a burner, he runs well and uses above-average instincts to steal bases or stretch extra-base hits. He has shown improvement defensively at second base.

Weaknesses: Ford still is mastering the nuances of second base, such as the double-play pivot, after playing on the left side of the infield in college. He needs to do a better job of turning on fastballs on the inner half of the plate. He makes good contact but doesn't walk enough.

The Future: Ford will begin this season in Triple-A, one step away if the Pirates decide to trade Freddy Sanchez, who can become a free agent at the end of 2009 if he doesn't trigger playing-time clauses in his contract. Ford is clearly the heir apparent at second base.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Altoona (AA)
.285
.338
.458
319
43
91
23
10
4
32
20
49
19
 
9.  Daniel McCutchen, rhp   Born: Sept. 26, 1982. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195.
 Drafted: Oklahoma, 2006 (13th round). Signed by: Mark Batchko (Yankees).
Daniel McCutchenBackground: One of four players acquired from the Yankees in in the late-July trade for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, McCutchen spent part of September with the major league club but didn't get activated. The Pirates didn't want to have to place him on the 40-man roster and wanted him to rest after pitching 171 innings in the minors.

Strengths: McCutchen has good control of a three-pitch arsenal and has averaged a mere 2.0 walks per nine innings. His best pitch is a fastball that sits at 90-91 mph and reaches 93. He has a hard curveball that breaks quickly.

Weaknesses: McCutchen still needs to work on his command. He's hittable and prone to giving up homers—he surrendered 12 in 48 innings after the trade—because he sometimes catches too much of the plate with his fastball. His changeup is just serviceable and could use more polish.

The Future: McCutchen doesn't have a lot left to prove in the minors and will compete for a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation during spring training. He eventually should become a No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Trenton (AA)
4
3
2.55
9
9
0
0
53
43
4
18
52
.219
Scranton/W-B (AAA)
4
6
3.58
11
11
2
0
70.1
73
10
11
58
.265
Indianapolis (AAA)
7
9
4.03
19
19
2
0
118.1
122
22
18
99
.263
 
10.  Robbie Grossman, of   Born: Sept, 16, 1989. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
 Drafted: HS—Cypress, Texas, 2008 (6th round). Signed by: Mike Leuzinger.
Robbie GrossmanBackground: After leading Cy-Fair High to the Texas 5-A title, topping the U.S. junior national team in hitting (.450) and excelling on the showcase circuit in 2007, Grossman looked like a potential first-round pick. After he committed to Texas and didn't have as strong a senior season, he dropped to the sixth round last June. The Pirates loved his athleticism and signed him for $1 million.

Strengths: Grossman has good gap power from both sides of the plate and knows how to turn on a pitch, especially as a lefthanded hitter. He impressed Pirates scouts by homering over the right-field bleachers at PNC Park during a workout last summer. He's also willing to take a walk when he's pitched around. Grossman has good instincts on the bases and in the field and shows enough range to play center field, though he isn't a burner.

Weaknesses: Whether Grossman can be a long-term center fielder is in question after he lost a step between his junior and senior seasons, with his plus speed becoming average. He has a below-average arm, which would move him to left field if he can't stick in center.

The Future: With a good showing in spring training, Grossman could begin his first full season in low Class A. He reminds some scouts of center fielder Nate McLouth, who made the all-star team and won a Gold Glove in his first full season as a Pirates starter.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Pirates (R)
.188
.381
.250
16
3
3
1
0
0
1
4
7
1

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Pre-Order the 2009 Prospect Handbook
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Photo Credits: Bill Mitchell (Alvarez)
Rodger Wood (Tabata, Sues, Ford)