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Top Ten Prospects: Pittsburgh Pirates
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Perrotto
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, 2005.
The Pirates have talked for several years about turning their fortunes around by producing players from within.
While Pittsburgh went 72-89 in 2004, its 12th consecutive losing season, the good news was that it did have an influx of young players after relying on veteran fill-ins in recent years.
The Pirates began 2004 with seven rookies. By the end of a season that included flameouts by such veteran free agents as Raul Mondesi, Randall Simon and Chris Stynes, they had 13 rookies on the roster.
Leading the rookie brigade was outfielder Jason Bay, named National League rookie of the year after being acquired from the Padres in 2003 as part of a three-player package for Brian Giles. Bay hit .282-26-82 as Pittsburgh became the last pre-expansion era franchise to have a rookie of the year.
Lefthander Sean Burnett turned in five consecutive quality starts, including a shutout of the Expos, until fading and then injuring his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. Jose Castillo showed promise as the starting second baseman, while lefthanders Mike Gonzalez and John Grabow were mainstays in the bullpen.
“I think it was a very encouraging year from the standpoint that we had so many young players not only get experience, but contribute,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
In the minors, the Pirates weren't able to repeat their 2003 success, when all six of their farm clubs qualified for the playoffs. However, their affiliates combined to go 354-339 for a third straight winning year, a significant achievement after Pittsburgh farm clubs had finished above .500 just once in the previous 33 seasons. Two affiliates made the postseason, with low Class A Hickory winning the South Atlantic League championship and Double-A Altoona reaching the Eastern League finals.
The Pirates also had two of the top performers in the minor leagues in lefthander Zach Duke and first baseman Brad Eldred, who split the season between high Class A Lynchburg and Altoona. Duke topped the minor leagues in ERA by going a combined 15-6, 1.46 with 142 strikeouts in 148 innings. Eldred was the overall RBI leader as he hit .301-38-137.
The Pirates system continues to be tilted toward pitching, as six of the top seven prospects and 16 the top 30 are pitchers. That's less pronounced than a year ago, when 10 the top 15 and 20 of the top 30 were pitchers.
Pittsburgh looked for hitters in the draft after taking pitchers with their previous six first-round picks. They went for switch-hitting catcher Neil Walker, a high school player from suburban Pittsburgh, in the first round, then selected Eastern Michigan shortstop Brian Bixler in the second and Atlanta-area third baseman Eddie Prasch in the third.
“We’re looking for better balance and we brought some very interesting bats into the organization,” scouting director Ed Creech said.
While general manager Dave Littlefield, farm director Brian Graham and Creech continue to do their best to resurrect the team, the Pirates and Brewers still have gone longer than any two franchises in major professional sports without reaching .500. Pittsburgh's streak doesn't look like it will end in 2005, but at least there's more hope for the future than in recent years.
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