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, 2008.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates finally completely blew up their organization following the 2007 season, after years of poor drafts and the farm system's failure to produce star-quality players contributed to a continuing downward spiral for the franchise.

Team president Kevin McClatchy, who put together the group that bought the team in 1995, was nudged aside by majority owner Bob Nutting and replaced by Frank Coonelly, who had been a Major League Baseball vice president and chief labor counsel. Nutting, whose family had quietly taken over majority interest in the Pirates many years earlier, also became the public face of the franchise when he assumed the role of controlling owner.

General manager Dave Littlefield was fired after six unsuccessful years on the job, capped by a bizarre deal at the trade deadline. He acquired Matt Morris, who had $13.7 million left on his three-year, $27 million contract and was winless in his previous eight starts, from the Giants for a pair of marginal prospects in outfielder Rajai Davis and righthander Steven MacFarland.

Neal Huntingon, a special assistant to Indians GM Mark Shapiro, was hired to replace Littlefield. Huntington jettisoned manager Jim Tracy, who compiled a 135-189 record in two years, and hired John Russell, manager of Philadelphia's Triple-A farm club and a former Pirates third-base coach, to replace him.

Huntington also fired farm director Brian Graham and scouting director Ed Creech, who in six years together couldn't produce the talent necessary to end a string of 15 straight losing season, one short of the major league record set by the Phillies from 1933-48. After a long search, Huntington named Indians assistant farm director Kyle Stark to replace Graham and former Tigers scouting director Greg Smith to take over for Creech.

"We need to change the culture of the organization," Huntington said. "It's not always easy to make changes. I had to let go some very good baseball people and that was very difficult. However, it has become fairly obvious that we need a fresh start here, new people and some new ideas."

Huntington believes player development and scouting will be the lifeblood of the small-market franchise. He also plans to hire more area scouts in an effort to improve the flow of talent into a farm system that hasn't signed an impact hitter since third baseman Aramis Ramirez out of the Dominican Republic in 1995.

Pittsburgh has been somewhat better at producing pitchers in recent years. They drafted each of their top three starters in 2007—Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm—as well as closer Matt Capps.

"I feel we're building an organization that is going to be very cohesive, with the scouting and player development departments on the same page in their goal of finding talent, developing and sending it to the major leagues," Huntington said.

"I think these are good people with a lot of good ideas. It will be a cohesive group, everyone committed to making the Pittsburgh Pirates a winning organization again, but also a group that has people that will challenge each other and be willing to step outside their individual boxes."

1.  Andrew McCutchen, of   Born: Oct. 10, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 170
 Drafted: HS—Fort Meade, Fla., 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Rob Sidwell
Andrew McCutchenBackground: McCutchen was such a prodigy that he led Polk County, Fla., high schoolers in hitting with a .507 average as an eighth-grader. As a senior, he won state player of the year and national All-America honors after hitting a mind-boggling .709 with 16 homers. The Pirates drafted him 11th overall and signed him for $1.9 million. McCutchen ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and low Class A South Atlantic leagues in his first two pro seasons, and reached Double-A Altoona at age 19 at the end of 2006.

He struggled for the first time as a pro in 2007, getting off to a poor start while fighting cold early-season weather when he returned to the Eastern League. But he recovered and produced as he had in the past during the second half, which included a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis. McCutchen is a multitalented individual who writes poetry and freestyle rap and is an outstanding singer and artist. He comes from athletic bloodlines, as his father was a running back at small-college power Carson Newman (Tenn.) and his mother was a standout volleyball player at Polk County Community College.

Strengths: McCutchen is an outstanding athlete with a quick bat, outstanding speed, good instincts and intelligence. He sprays the ball from gap to gap and also has enough power to hit home runs. He has outstanding first-step quickness that helps him both in the field and on the bases, where he has succeeded in 81 percent of his pro steal attempts. His range is outstanding in center field and he gets to balls that few other outfielders can reach. His arm strength is average, which makes it better than most center fielders'. After hitting .184 in April, he didn't panic, raising his batting average in each subsequent month and thriving in his first taste of Triple-A.

Weaknesses: McCutchen's power potential may already be topping out. He has good bat speed but lacks the size of most power hitters. He can be made to chase breaking balls off the plate, particularly from righthanders. The outstanding plate discipline he showed when he first came into pro ball is eroding as he moves higher in the farm system. He projects more as No. 1 or 2 hitter than someone who'll bat in the middle of a major league order, so he'll need to show more patience and draw more walks. With his speed, he could steal more bases than the 61 he has swiped in 327 pro games. He also can improve his instincts as the outfield, as his quickness allows him to make up for a relative lack of savvy.

The Future: Despite his subpar 2007, McCutchen remains on the fast track as the Pirates' one true impact prospect. He'll be given a chance to win the starting job in center field in Pittsburgh in spring training despite being 21 and having just 17 games of experience above Double-A. If he doesn't win it, he still should make his big league debut later in the year.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Altoona (AA) .258 .327 .383 446 70 115 20 3 10 48 44 83 17
Indianapolis (AAA) .313 .347 .418 67 7 21 4 0 1 5 4 11 4
2.  Neil Walker, 3b   Born: Sept. 10, 1985B-T: B-RHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Gibsonia, Pa., 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Jon Mercurio
Neil WalkerBackground: In 2004, the Pirates made Walker their first-ever first-round pick from the Pittsburgh area. He moved from catcher to third base on the first day of spring training in 2007 because the Bucs wanted to get his bat to the big leagues more quickly.

Strengths: Walker has worked hard to become productive from both sides of the plate. He has good power and should hit more home runs as he matures. He also improved his plate discipline greatly. His makeup is off the charts and he is a popular figure in the clubhouse. His arm strength plays well at third base. A college football prospect as a wide receiver, he's a good athlete and has average speed.

Weaknesses: Walker still is getting the hang of playing third base and has some trouble with difficult plays such as slow rollers and balls to his backhand side. He also seems to have lost a bit of pop in his bat since tearing a ligament in his left wrist while in the Arizona Fall League in 2005.

The Future: The Pirates could use help at third base, and Walker has an outside chance to make the club in spring training. He'll more likely work on his defense in Triple-A before a midseason callup to Pittsburgh.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Altoona (AA) .288 .362 .462 431 77 124 30 3 13 66 53 73 9
Indianapolis (AAA) .203 .261 .250 64 7 13 3 0 0 0 2 13 1
3.  Steve Pearce, 1b/of   Born: April 13, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 209
 Drafted: South Carolina, 2005 (8th round)Signed by: Jack Powell
Steve PearceBackground: Pittsburgh drafted Pearce as a college senior after he hit 42 homers in two years at South Carolina and turned down the Red Sox as a 10th-rounder in 2004. He has 64 longballs as a pro, including 31 in a breakout 2007 season in which he also hit .333 with 113 RBIs in the minors and made his big league debut.

Strengths: Pearce is an aggressive hitter with power to all fields. He always looks fastball first but has learned to adjust to breaking and offspeed pitches. He's a solid defensive first baseman with decent range, good hands and rare arm strength for the position. He has slightly below-average speed but good baserunning instincts and stole 16 bases last season.

Weaknesses: With Adam LaRoche at first base, the Pirates started to deploy Pearce in right field once he reached Triple-A. He's a little shaky in chasing fly balls, but he did show considerable improvement.

The Future: Pearce's bat is ready for the major leagues. He just needs to show he can handle right field to open the season with Pittsburgh.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lynchburg (Hi A) .347 .412 .867 75 19 26 4 1 11 24 8 13 2
Altoona (AA) .334 .400 .586 290 57 97 27 2 14 72 33 45 7
Indianapolis (AAA) .320 .366 .557 122 18 39 9 1 6 17 6 12 5
Pittsburgh .294 .342 .397 68 13 20 5 1 0 6 5 12 2
4.  Brad Lincoln, rhp   Born: May 25, 1985B-T: L-RHt: 6-0Wt: 216
 Drafted: Houston, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Everett Russell
Brad LincolnBackground: The Pirates were happy to get Lincoln with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, but after he signed for $2.75 million, he worked just 24 innings in his pro debut because of an oblique injury. The medical news got worse in 2007, as he followed in the footsteps of recent Pirates first-round pitchers in needing major arm surgery. He had Tommy John surgery in April.

Strengths: Before he got hurt, Lincoln had a four-seam fastball that routinely sat at 92-94 mph range and topped out at 98, as well as a two-seamer with plus sink. He also had a hard curveball that many scouts graded as his best pitch. He's aggressive and willing to challenge hitters. A two-way star in college, he is a better athlete and hitter than most pitchers.

Weaknesses: Lincoln's changeup has good sink, but he has trouble commanding it a times. Though the track record of Tommy John survivors is encouraging, he won't arrive in Pittsburgh as fast as the team hoped.

The Future: The Pirates projected Lincoln as a possible No. 1 starter before he got hurt, and they'll be cautious with his comeback. He was throwing at distances of up to 150 feet by the end of instructional league and was on course to begin working off a mound in January.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Injured
5.  Daniel Moskos, lhp   Born: Aril 28, 1986B-T: R-LHt: 6-1Wt: 210
 Drafted: Clemson, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Greg Schilz
Daniel MoskosBackground: Pittsburgh created quite a stir by selecting Moskos with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft, passing up Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters because of his price tag. Then-GM Dave Littlefield caused more outrage when he announced Moskos, who signed for $2.475 million, would be a reliever. Clemson moved him into its rotation during the spring and several clubs believed he has the pitches to start as a pro.

Strengths: Moskos has a live arm with a fastball that touched 97 mph in college and was consistently in the 91-95 range. He has a wipeout slider that reaches 87 mph, along with a decent curveball and a changeup with good fade. He wins high marks for his competitiveness.

Weaknesses: In his pro debut, Moskos' fastball rarely hit 90 mph until his last few outings. The Pirates insist the loss of velocity was a matter of fatigue and not something more serious. His curveball and changeup need polish, though that's less of an issue if he's not a starter.

The Future: His fastball and slider are major league pitches, so Moskos will ride the fast track if he remains a reliever. He'll likely open at high Class A Lynchburg and should reach the majors by no later than 2009.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Pirates (R) 0 0 0.00 2 0 0 0 2 4 0 0 3 .333
State College (SS) 0 0 4.26 11 0 0 1 13 19 1 6 13 .328
6.  Shelby Ford, 2b   Born: Dec. 15, 1984B-T: B-RHt: 6-3Wt: 173
 Drafted: Oklahoma State, 2006 (3rd round)Signed by: Mike Leuzinger
Shelby FordBackground: Ford was a three-time all-state selection as the son of a high school coach in Fort Worth, then stayed home to begin his college career at Texas Christian before transferring to Oklahoma State. He put together a strong first full pro season in 2008 before missing the final month with a strained muscle in his lower back.

Strengths: Ford has good pop for a middle infielder and the ability to hit with power to the opposite field. While he has a slightly better swing lefthanded, there's virtually no dropoff when he bats from the right side. He's a good second baseman with decent range and an above-average arm. If he winds up as a utilityman, he already has experience at shortstop from high school and third base from TCU. His speed is average.

Weaknesses: Ford can be made to chase pitches out of the strike zone, though he showed better plate discipline last season. His footwork is a bit shaky on the double-play pivot, though he has improved in pro ball.

The Future: Ford will begin 2008 in Double-A, and he's advanced enough that he could make his major league debut at some point in 2009. However, he's blocked by all-star second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who has two more years before he can become a free agent.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lynchburg (Hi A) .281 .360 .433 360 64 101 26 7 5 55 34 68 14
7.  Jamie Romak, of   Born: Sept. 30, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 220
 Drafted: HS—London, Ontario, 2003 (4th round)Signed by: Lonnie Goldberg (Braves)
Jamie RomakBackground: Romak had the lowest profile among the players in the January 2007 trade that brought him and Adam LaRoche from the Braves for Mike Gonzalez and shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge. Despite missing three weeks with a bruised left hand after getting hit by a pitch, Romak increased his home run production for the fourth straight season.

Strengths: Romak has outstanding raw power and can hit the ball out of the park to all fields. He also has an exceptionally strong arm, which makes him a prototypical right fielder. He's willing to work counts and take a walk.

Weaknesses: Romak has holes in his swing and can be fooled with by offspeed and breaking pitches off the plate. He's too passive at the plate at times and will take hittable pitches. Romak offers little speed or range.

The Future: Though he's still rather raw, Romak is one of the few power-hitting prospects in the system. He'll spend 2008 in Double-A, and his ability to make adjustments when he doesn't get fastballs will tell the tale of his long-term chances in the majors.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hickory (Lo A) .275 .393 .551 69 16 19 4 0 5 15 9 24 0
Lynchburg (Hi A) .252 .380 .483 294 49 74 21 1 15 45 55 90 2
8.  Brian Bixler, ss/2b   Born: Oct. 22, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 196
 Drafted: Eastern Michigan, 2004 (2nd round)Signed by: Duane Gustavson
Brian BixlerBackground: Bixler was slated to begin 2007 in Double-A but jumped to Triple-A after an impressive showing during his first major league spring training. The International League named him to its postseason all-star team, and he played for Team USA in the World Cup in November.

Strengths: He has shown the ability to hit for average since nearly winning the NCAA Division I batting title with a .453 average in 2004, and Bixler is developing gap power as he gets older. He's an above-average runner and a high-percentage basestealer with good awareness on the basepaths. He has outstanding instincts and makeup, understands the nuances of the game and is a hard worker.

Weaknesses: Bixler strikes out too much, especially for someone with only modest power. He also can be inconsistent in the field, especially with his throws. His range and arm are fringy, so he'll likely wind up at second base in the long run.

The Future: There are a number of different scenarios for Bixler in 2008. He could be the Pirates' starting shortstop if Jack Wilson is traded, their utility infielder or their Triple-A shortstop.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Indianapolis (AAA) .274 .368 .396 475 77 130 23 10 5 51 54 131 28
9.  Duke Welker, lhp   Born: Feb. 10, 1986B-T: L-RHt: 6-7Wt: 220
 Drafted: Arkansas, 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: Mike Leuzinger
Duke WelkerBackground: Welker missed most of his senior high school season in Washington with back problems, then had his freshman season at Seminole State (Okla.) Junior College shortened by arthroscopic shoulder surgery. He blossomed after transferring to Arkansas in 2007, then signed with the Pirates for $477,000. Pittsburgh shut him down in mid-August with elbow soreness.

Strengths: Welker has a projectable pitcher's body with a long, loose frame. His fastball sits at 91-92 mph and he uses his height to get a good downward plane. He can dial the heater up to 95 mph on occasion, giving hope he could add velocity. He made progress with his secondary pitches during the spring.

Weaknesses: He has a reputation for being soft, but the Pirates say Welker has a bad rap and that his mound presence is fine. His curveball and changeup still need work. His curve tends to get loopy and his changeup sometimes lacks deception. He has been healthy for just one of the last four years, though Pittsburgh isn't worried about his elbow.

The Future: Welker will begin the season in low Class A with a chance for a midseason promotion. He projects as a possible No. 3 starter with a major league ETA of 2010.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
State College (SS) 2 2 2.35 7 7 0 0 31 29 2 10 27 .259
10.  Brad Corley, of   Born: Dec. 28, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 216
 Signed: Mississippi State, 2005 (2nd round)Signed by: Everett Russell
Brad CorleyBackground: Corley was Kentucky's high school player of the year in 2002 and a first-team All-American as a sophomore two years later at Mississippi State. His statistics slipped as a junior while he recovered from a broken thumb, yet the Pirates took him in the second round. He has registered 193 RBIs in his two full pro seasons.

Strengths: Corley can pull inside pitches over the fence and has good gap power to the opposite field. He has shortened his swing since turning pro. He also has a strong arm, fitting for a guy who was used as a closer in college. He owns solid speed and right-field range.

Weaknesses: He believes his aggressiveness helps him be a run producer, but swinging at everything is going to hurt Corley as he moves up the ladder. He has drawn just 32 walks while striking out 214 times in full-season leagues. He's a sucker for high fastballs.

The Future: Corley will begin 2008 in Double-A after finishing there last season. If he doesn't exhibit some semblance of plate discipline against advanced pitchers, his career could stall.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lynchburg (Hi A) .285 .319 .462 485 73 138 36 4 14 89 14 99 3
Altoona (AA) .256 .256 .308 39 3 10 2 0 0 4 0 6 1

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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Photo Credits: Kevin Pataky (McCutchen, Pearce)
Rodger Wood (Walker, Ford, Welker)
Steve Moore (Lincoln)
Bill Mitchell (Moskos, Bixler)
Carl Kline (Corley)