Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects With 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, 2011.

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The Pirates' management team is aiming for a "flood" of talent in the system, to borrow general manager Neal Huntington's oft-used term. The organization currently has a wave of hitting that has just crested over the top, a wave of pitching coming from the bottom and a whole lot of question marks in between.

Pittsburgh went 57-105 in 2010, the third-highest loss total in the franchise's 124 years and one described by team president Frank Coonelly as an "embarrassment to the city." Few who witnessed the franchise's 18th straight losing season would argue, given that the Pirates ranked last or next-to-last in the majors in scoring, runs allowed and defensive efficiency.

Manager John Russell was fired despite having another year left on his contract—he was replaced by Clint Hurdle—while Huntington was allowed to stay for the same term. Coonelly explained retaining Huntington by saying that while there have been misses among the team's many veteran-for-prospect trades, he remained supportive of his broader work in building up the system.

In Pittsburgh last year, those efforts were reflected in the promising rookie showings of third baseman Pedro Alvarez (No. 2 overall pick in 2008), outfielder Jose Tabata (trade acquisition) and second baseman Neil Walker (first-round pick in 2004). With Andrew McCutchen continuing to shine after a strong rookie performance in 2009, the Pirates have the most promising top four in their lineup in a generation. All four players are 25 or younger.

While Pittsburgh's 2010 Opening Day payroll of $35 million was the lowest in the majors, the club once again spent significant money at the amateur level. Coonelly helped enforce the informal slotting system when he worked for MLB, but in his three years as president, the Pirates have led all of baseball by spending $30.7 million on draft bonuses.

That includes $11.9 million in 2010, a franchise record and just $27,000 shy of the all-time draft mark the Nationals set last summer. Pittsburgh gave No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon $6.5 million, the second-largest bonus in draft history, and paid second-rounder Stetson Allie $2.25 million, nearly as much as it gave No. 4 overall choice Tony Sanchez a year earlier. The Pirates also signed Mexican righthander Luis Heredia for $2.6 million, shattering the team's previous international record of $400,000 given to Venezuelan outfielder Exicardo Cayonez in 2008.

Those three pitchers offer Pittsburgh its best hope for a legitimate ace since Doug Drabek in the early 1990s, adding top-end quality to an already-encouraging quantity of pitching in the system. Double-A Altoona won the Eastern League championship largely because of a prospect-filled rotation of Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson, and Pirates minor league starters ranked 10th in baseball with a collective 4.18 ERA.

However, scouts outside the organization aren't nearly as excited about the collection of arms as those on the inside. Some say it isn't as talented as the group that brought Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm to Pittsburgh a few years ago.

Of greater concern was a spate of injuries in 2010. The top position prospects in the system, catcher Tony Sanchez and center fielder Starling Marte, missed two months each. Several other players missed long stretches, including center fielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Victor Black, Colton Cain and Quinton Miller.

1.  Jameson Taillon, rhp   Born: Nov. 18, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 223
 Drafted: HS—The Woodlands, Texas, 2010 (1st round)Signed by: Trevor Haley
Jameson TaillonBackground: Taillon entered 2010 as the highest-upside pitching prospect in the draft and cemented that status with a dominating season at The Woodlands (Texas) High. He went 8-1, 1.78 with 114 strikeouts in 62 innings. That included a 19-strikeout no-hitter and a 13-strikeout playoff win in his final start. The Pirates took Taillon with the No. 2 overall pick, and their scouts liked him better than No. 1 choice Bryce Harper. After a long but amicable negotiation, he agreed to a $6.5 million bonus—the second-largest in draft history—on the evening of the Aug. 16 deadline. Because he signed late, management decided not to have Taillon pitch in the minors. Instead, Pittsburgh sent him and second-rounder Stetson Allie, another high school righthander with electric stuff, to short-season State College to observe the Spikes. Taillon's first professional work off a mound came during instructional league in October.

Scouting Report: Scouts compare Taillon to Josh Beckett at the same stage of his career. The two Texans had similar stuff, but Taillon has a classic pitcher's body and is markedly bigger, with room to fill out. His fastball, which is heavy and comes with explosive movement, sits at 93-97 mph and touches 99. His mid-80s hammer curveball is just as devastating, and the consensus among scouts was that he had the two best pitches in the draft (with Allie not far behind). Taillon's curve opens on the same plane as his fastball, making it that much tougher to hit. He also has a hard slider that looked nearly as good as his curve during instructional league. Both breaking balls have late bite and depth, with the curve being a little bigger and the slider shorter with more tilt. He'll need to develop a changeup. He has flashed a decent one in the past, but the rest of his repertoire rendered it moot at the amateur level. Taillon's delivery, mostly from a three-quarters arm slot, is a work in progress. He throws his fastball with the ease of someone playing catch, but good command of all pitches will come only after he consistently trusts his natural strength rather than trying to do too much. He also has plenty of moving parts, including a trademark dip in his back shoulder, though he also has the athleticism to make it all work. Any mechanical issues are minor—Pittsburgh simply wants to allow him to locate the ball down in the zone with plane—and he should develop into a solid strike-thrower. The Pirates quickly have become enamored with Taillon's intangibles. Though he still could be a little meaner on the mound—think, again, of a young Beckett—he has exemplary makeup. He had no trouble assimilating into pro ball and soaking up teaching in instructional league.

The Future: Taillon is projected as the franchise's first ace since Doug Drabek in the early 1990s, but Pittsburgh pledges to bring him along slowly. Then again, he's so gifted that his talent may dictate otherwise. He'll likely make his pro debut at low Class A West Virginia, where he'll pitch out of the rotation with a highly conservative inning count. His focus will be almost entirely on building up durability and learning the pro game, so a midseason promotion appears unlikely.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
2.  Tony Sanchez, c   Born: May 20, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 220
 Drafted: Boston College, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Chris Kline
Tony SanchezBackground: Sanchez was a surprise pick at No. 4 overall in the 2009 draft, but he has demonstrated advanced defense and surprisingly consistent offense since signing for $2.5 million. His first full pro season ended in late June when a fastball from the Mets' Brad Holt struck him in the face. Sanchez's jaw was broken and he lost 20 pounds, but he returned for a full, productive Arizona Fall League showing.

Scouting Report: Sanchez is exceptional at blocking pitches, thanks to quick reflexes and sound technique. He has above-average arm strength and a quick exchange. He threw out only 15 percent of basestealers in 2010, but that owed to a sore shoulder early in the season. He's still learning to call games, something he didn't do in high school or at Boston College. At the plate, Sanchez has shown good recognition of the strike zone and how pitchers are trying to work him. He has some gap power and should be able to reach double digits in homers, though his strength will remain hitting to all fields for good average. His running is below average, as with most catchers. His leadership traits are universally lauded.

The Future: Sanchez will open this season with Double-A Altoona and remains on target for a big league arrival in 2012. He has the potential to become Pittsburgh's first Gold Glove catcher since Mike LaValliere in 1987.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Bradenton (Hi A) .314 .416 .454 207 31 65 17 0 4 35 28 41 2
3.  Stetson Allie, rhp   Born: March 13, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 225
 Drafted: HS—Lakewood, Ohio, 2010 (2nd round)Signed by: Brian Tracy
Stetson AllieBackground: The Pirates were pleasantly surprised Allie lasted 52 picks in the 2010 draft despite having a live arm to rival Jameson Taillon's. They went well above slot to sign him for $2.25 million in the second round. He didn't pitch last summer after signing but looked good during instructional league. His father Dan is a former scout who was his coach at St. Edward High (Lakewood, Ohio).

Scouting Report: Some teams were scared off by Allie's lack of command, but his pure stuff is undeniable. He threw 98-99 mph fastballs as the draft approached, and also displayed an 88-89 mph slider. The source of his power is his big, strong, physical frame, as well as an aggressive mentality that leads to explosiveness in the delivery. He'll need something to slow down opponents' bats, which is why Pittsburgh began stressing a changeup in instructional league. While his stuff is in Taillon's class, Allie doesn't have the same polish. He also was a prospect as a third baseman with plus power and a strong arm, but he realized in 2010 that his future was on the mound.

The Future: Though it's easier to project Allie as a closer, the Pirates hope he can become a starter and he'll begin 2011 in the West Virginia rotation. That role will give him the innings to work on his changeup and make the transition from thrower to pitcher.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
4.  Starling Marte, of   Born: Oct. 9, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 179
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007Signed by: Rene Gayo/Josue Herrerav
Starling MarteBackground: Signed for a relatively low $85,000, Marte has shown five-tool potential since coming to the United States in 2009, becoming the franchise's most anticipated Latin American prospect since Jose Guillen. Marte was in a 1-for-18 slump last May when he was diagnosed with a broken hamate bone in his left hand. Surgery cost him two months but he quickly returned to form afterward.

Scouting Report: One club official unflinchingly calls Marte the best player in the system. He stands out most with his plus-plus speed, particularly in center field, where he also has an above-average arm. Some scouts believe he could play defensively in Pittsburgh right now. His basestealing isn't polished, but he'll be dangerous once he masters reads and jumps. At the plate, Marte drives ball from gap to gap. He has hit just five homers in two seasons in the United States, but he has the strength and swing pass to hit 15-20 annually. The Pirates want him to focus on his on-base skills, because he doesn't control the strike zone or square up many breaking balls.

The Future: Marte's defense will accelerate his rise, as will his intelligence and ambition. But his strike-zone discipline will have to keep pace. Ticketed for Double-A in 2011, he could push Andrew McCutchen to an outfield corner when he arrives in Pittsburgh.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Bradenton (Hi A) .315 .386 .432 222 41 70 16 5 0 33 12 59 22
GCL Pirates (R) .346 .393 .692 26 6 9 3 0 2 5 1 6 4
5.  Luis Heredia, rhp   Born: Aug. 9, 1994B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 185
 Signed: Mexico, 2010Signed by: Rene Gayo/Jesus Valdez
Luis HerediaBackground: Signing Heredia for $2.6 million bonus in August was a landmark deal for the Pirates, who never had spent more than $400,000 on an international amateur. It also was the culmination of years of intense scouting by Rene Gayo and Jesus Valdez, who forged a close relationship with Heredia and fended off more than a dozen other interested teams.

Scouting Report: Heredia doesn't have one singularly superb trait, aside from doing so much so well with such size at his age. His frame, coordination and delivery are highly advanced, and he has excelled against older competition all his life. That makes his ceiling hard to define. Heredia's fastball sits at 92-93 mph, peaking at 95 mph with some cut inward on righthanders. Moreover, the velocity comes with minimal effort, as the ball appears to explode from his hand. He has a plus curveball on which he leans heavily, perhaps too much. He also demonstrates good velocity, if precious little polish, on a slider and changeup.

The Future: Because Heredia was limited to pitching in weekly exhibitions for most of the past year, Pittsburgh kept him off the mound until instructional league in October, then sent him to its Dominican academy for more work. He impressed management enough with his poise that he may pitch in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2011.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
6.  Bryan Morris, rhp   Born: March 28, 1987B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: Motlow State (Tenn.) CC, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Marty Lamb (Dodgers)
Bryan MorrisBackground: A Dodgers first-round pick in 2006, Morris had the highest ceiling of the four prospects the Pirates acquired in the otherwise disastrous Jason Bay trade two years later. He had Tommy John surgery in 2007, biceps tendinitis in 2008, then foot surgery and a weeklong suspension for berating an umpire in 2009. He rebounded in a big way last year, pitching in the Futures Game and helping Altoona win the Eastern League championship.

Scouting Report: Morris has the stuff a frontline starter. He has a 92-94 mph fastball that has hit 96 mph when he has worked in relief. His curveball has a powerful downward arc, and he mixes it well with his fastball, which has some cutting life. He throws an average slider with late downward break. He has a changeup, too, but he shows little feel for it. Scouts love Morris' intensity, though some want to see him tone down his delivery a bit before fully believing he can hold up as a starter. Pittsburgh moved him to the bullpen late in the summer, primarily to limit his innings but also to address minor mechanical issues.

The Future: Morris will start 2011 at Triple-A Indianapolis with the chance to make his big league debut later in the season. He still might salvage something out of the Bay deal.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bradenton (Hi A) 3 0 0.60 8 8 0 0 45 37 0 7 40 .220
Altoona (AA) 6 4 4.25 19 16 0 0 89 87 9 31 84 .258
7.  Rudy Owens, lhp   Born: Dec. 18, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 215
 Drafted: Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC, D/F 2006 (28th round)Signed by: Ted Williams
Rudy OwensBackground: Signed for $390,000 as a draft-and-follow, Owens posted a 5.06 ERA in his first two pro seasons but has been named Pirates minor league pitcher of the year in each of the last two. In 2010, he led the Eastern League in ERA (2.46) and fewest baserunners per nine innings (9.1). He grew stronger as the season progressed, giving up just six runs and four walks in his final eight starts.

Scouting Report: Owens grew stronger as the season progressed in another way, too, as his fastball went from 87-90 to 90-93 mph down the stretch. The extra velocity highly encouraged the Pirates, who proclaimed that his soft-tossing-lefty tag no longer applied. His fastball command is solid—occasionally, it's excellent—and the pitch has some late run. His secondary offerings, a slurvy breaking ball and a changeup, are no better than average pitches but he locates them well. Owens' pinpoint control comes from easily repeating his delivery, and the way he uses it to pick apart hitter's weaknesses is reminiscent of a young Zach Duke.

The Future: How well Owens retains his added velocity will determine if he's a mid-rotation starter or more of a back-end option. He'll begin 2011 in Triple-A and could reach Pittsburgh by the end of the season.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Altoona (AA) 12 6 2.46 26 26 0 0 150 124 11 23 132 .226
8.  Jeff Locke, lhp   Born: Nov. 20, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 175
 Drafted: HS—Conway, N.H., 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Lonnie Goldberg (Braves)
Jeff LockeBackground: Locke looks like he'll be the best of the three players acquired in the 2009 Nate McLouth trade with the Braves, surpassing Charlie Morton and outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez. After getting hit hard upon his arrival, Locke has settled to become one of the system's most consistent starters. He easily handled a midseason promotion to Double-A last year, and he recorded a 1.54 ERA in two playoff starts for Eastern League champion Altoona.

Scouting Report: Locke came from Atlanta with a 91-94 mph fastball, but he now mostly sits at 90 mph and peaks at 92. His fastball is still effective, however, because it has running life and comes with some deception. Filling out his skinny frame could restore some velocity, though his narrow shoulders suggest that he won't add much more strength. Locke also uses a slurvy curveball and a changeup, both of which are average. He has a slight build and a herky-jerky delivery with good finish out front. He may not have a plus pitch, but he consistently throws strikes and keeps the ball down in the zone.

The Future: Unless he regains his former fastball, Locke may not be more than a No. 4 starter. He'll return to Altoona in 2011, with the chance for another midseason promotion.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Bradenton (Hi A) 9 3 3.54 17 17 0 0 86 82 6 14 83 .248
Altoona (AA) 3 2 3.59 10 10 0 0 58 57 5 12 56 .257
9.  Zack Von Rosenberg, rhp   Born: Sept. 24, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS—Zachary, La., 2009 (6th round)Signed by: Jerome Cochran
Zack Von RosenbergBackground: Von Rosenberg won four state championship games in four years at two Louisiana high schools, showing top-two-rounds talent. But his commitment to Louisiana State caused him to slide until the sixth round of the 2009 draft, and it cost the Pirates a $1.2 million bonus. After signing late and pitching just one pro inning that summer, he opened 2010 in extended spring training before reporting to State College. Kept on tight pitch counts, he recovered from a slow start to post a 0.96 ERA in his final six outings.

Scouting Report: Von Rosenberg offers an advanced feel for pitching and a wiry, projectable frame that portends improved stuff in the future. His fastball currently ranges from 87-91 mph and he's able to locate it to both sides of the plate. His changeup took a big step forward last summer, showing nice spin and deception. His curveball has 11-to-5 break at times, though it also can get loopy. A good athlete who was an all-state pitcher in high school, he has a loose, easy arm action.

The Future: Pittsburgh will continue to handle Von Rosenberg with care, though he'll make his full-season debut at West Virginia in 2011. If he can get stronger and add some more power to his pitches, he could become a No. 3 starter and possibly more.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
State College (SS) 1 6 3.20 13 13 0 0 59 60 4 13 39 .267
10.  Chase d'Arnaud, ss/2b   Born: Jan. 21, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 180
 Drafted: Pepperdine, 2008 (4th round)Signed by: Rick Allen
Chase d'ArnaudBackground: After cruising through his first two pro seasons, d'Arnaud hit the wall hard in Double-A last year. He batted .209 in the first two months and some dubious defense got him moved from shortstop to second base in August. Still, he showed some flashes, including a 19-game on-base streak in June, a grand slam in the Eastern League all-star game and three homers in the playoffs. His brother Travis plays in the Blue Jays system and is one of the game's top catching prospects.

Scouting Report: D'Arnaud's best tools are his plus speed and arm strength, and he covers a good amount of ground at shortstop. But he made 28 errors in 115 games at short last year, in part because he didn't maintain his focus. His offensive ceiling is as a No. 2 hitter, but he'll have to make adjustments to reach it. D'Arnaud guesses and strikes out too often. He's most effective when he doesn't try to do too much, keeps his hands inside the ball and uses the opposite field. He has some strength but below-average power, mostly because he hasn't learned to turn on pitches.

The Future: Despite his struggles, the Pirates still believe d'Arnaud can be an everyday shortstop. He'll have to rebound in 2011, or a utility role will be in his future. He could return to Double-A to start the season.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Altoona (AA) .247 .331 .377 530 91 131 33 9 6 48 56 102 33

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