Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects

1. Andrew McCutchen, of
2. Neil Walker, c
3. Brad Lincoln, rhp
4. Yoslan Herrera, rhp
5. Josh Sharpless, rhp
6. Steven Pearce, 1b
7. Brian Bixler, ss
8. Brad Corley, of
9. Todd Redmond, rhp
10. Mike Felix, lhp
Best Hitter for Average Andrew McCutchen
Best Power Hitter Neil Walker
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Jim Negrych
Fastest Baserunner Rajai Davis
Best Athlete Andrew McCutchen
Best Fastball Brad Lincoln
Best Curveball Brad Lincoln
Best Slider Josh Sharpless
Best Changeup Todd Redmond
Best Control Josh Shortslef
Best Defensive Catcher Matt Clarkson
Best Defensive Infielder Javier Guzman
Best Infield Arm Javier Guzman
Best Defensive Outfielder Andrew McCutchen
Best Outfield Arm Austin McClune
Catcher Ronny Paulino
First Base Adam LaRoche
Second Base Freddy Sanchez
Third Base Neil Walker
Shortstop Jack Wilson
Left Field Jason Bay
Center Field Andrew McCutchen
Right Field Xavier Nady
No. 1 Starter Brad Lincoln
No. 2 Starter Ian Snell
No. 3 Starter Zach Duke
No. 4 Starter Tom Gorzelanny
No. 5 Starter Paul Maholm
Closer Matt Capps
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Kris Benson, rhp Orioles
1998 Kris Benson, rhp Orioles
1999 Chad Hermansen, of Sioux Falls (Amer. Assoc.)
2000 Chad Hermansen, of Sioux Falls (Amer. Assoc.)
2001 J.R. House, c Astros
2002 J.R. House, c Astros
2003 John Van Benschoten, rhp Pirates
2004 John Van Benschoten, rhp Pirates
2005 Zach Duke, lhp Pirates
2006 Andrew McCutchen, of Pirates
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 J.J. Davis, of Out of baseball
1998 Clint Johnson, lhp/of Out of baseball
1999 Bobby Bradley, rhp Out of baseball
2000 Sean Burnett, lhp Pirates
2001 John Van Benschoten, rhp/of Pirates
2002 Bryan Bullington, rhp Pirates
2003 Paul Maholm, lhp Pirates
2004 Neil Walker, c Pirates
2005 Andrew McCutchen, of Pirates
2006 Brad Lincoln, rhp Pirates
Bryan Bullington, 2002 $4,000,000
Brad Lincoln, 2006 $2,750,000
John Van Benschoten, 2001 $2,400,000
Bobby Bradley, 1999 $2,225,000
Paul Maholm, 2003 $2,200,000
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Pittsburgh Pirates

For years, the Pirates have said the key to building a winning team is scouting and player development. Yet seemingly each winter, they would add fading veterans to provide quick fixes.

After going 67-95 in 2005, Pittsburgh traded for Sean Casey and signed Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa. That plan backfired badly, as the three combined to hit just 23 home runs and drive in 106 runs en route to another 67-95 season in 2006. But those failures finally spurred the Pirates to do more than just pay lip service to the idea of building from within. After a 30-60 record before the all-star break, they benched Burnitz and Randa and traded Casey to the Tigers. Pittsburgh went 37-35, its first winning record after the break since 1992–which also happens to be the last season it finished on the positive side of .500.

For a change, the Pirates went into the offseason legitimately feeling they had put together a nucleus of young players who could help the franchise end its string of 14 consecutive losing seasons. That’s just two shy of the major league record set by the 1933-48 Phillies.

The biggest reason for optimism is that Pittsburgh finished the season with four starting pitchers 24 or younger in Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Ian Snell. The Pirates also have the 23-year-old heir apparent to closer Mike Gonzalez in Matt Capps, who set a franchise rookie record by pitching in 89 games.

Gonzalez was used to acquire 27-year-old first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit 32 home runs for the Braves last season. He’ll add punch to a lineup made up entirely of players 28 or younger, led by Jason Bay, who has one National League rookie of the year award and two all-star berths in three years, and surprise National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez.

After infusing so much youth into their big league roster, however, the Pirates now have a thin farm system with few premium prospects. Most of their younger players were drafted during Mickey White’™s three-year run as scouting director from 1999-2001, which included taking Snell in the 26th round in 2000 and Duke in the 20th round in 2001.

One of Dave Littlefield’™s first moves after taking over as general manager midway through the 2001 season was to fire White and replace him with Ed Creech. Creech’s last three first-round picks’"outfielder Andrew McCutchen (2005), catcher Neil Walker (2004) and righthander Brad Lincoln (2006)’"are Pittsburgh’s best prospects, but his drafts haven’t been as deep as White’s.

It’s hard to pin all the blame on Creech, though. Pirates ownership went through a period where it overruled the scouting department’™s desire to draft high-ceiling prospects in favor of going the conservative route with college players. The franchise now has new owners in charge, with the Nutting family buying out most of the team’s other partners and installing Robert Nutting as chairman of the board. He replaces Kevin McClatchy as the club’s controlling owner, though he has said the revamped ownership group supports McClatchy (who remains the club’s CEO) and Littlefield.