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A first-team All-American and Florida's high school player of the year in 2005, McCutchen hit .709 with 11 homers as a senior at Fort Meade High, located in the heart of phosphate mining country in Central Florida. He spent time singing in the choir at the church where his father is a youth minister, writing poetry and drawing when he wasn't leading the state in hitting. McCutchen also was a potential big-time football recruit as a wide receiver until suffering a serious right knee injury in his sophomore season and undergoing reconstructive surgery. He comes from a very athletic background, as his father was a running back at Division II power Carson-Newman (Tenn.) and his mother was a Florida junior college volleyball standout. The 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft, McCutchen signed for $1.9 million and immediately jumped on the fast track to the major leagues. Baseball America rated him the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2005 and in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2006. He skipped a level and jumped to Altoona last August, and he had no trouble performing in Double-A as a 19-year-old. McCutchen already has shown the ability to hit for average with his quick wrists and simple swing, and he's also developing over-the-fence power as his body begins to fill out. He already drives the ball to all fields, and scouts project him as a .300 hitter with 20-25 homers per season in the major leagues. He especially wears out lefthanders, batting .318/.469/.549 with eight home runs in 154 at-bats against them in 2006. McCutchen has tremendous speed, which he uses to cover plenty of ground in center field. He's a potential Gold Glover. His arm is his only tool that isn't a plus, but it's average and he hits the cutoff man and throws to the right base. He also wins high marks for his attitude, maturity and passion for the game. While McCutchen has a better concept of the strike zone than most hitters his age, his plate discipline slipped in his first full season and will need some refinement. Though he has succeeded on 40 of 50 (80 percent) steal attempts in pro ball, he has the speed to be much more dangerous on the basepaths. He says his primary goal for 2007 is to improve his basestealing knowledge. Once he does, there's no reason he couldn't contend for stolen base titles once he reaches the majors. McCutchen has advanced faster than the Pirates ever could have hoped when they drafted him. He'll likely open 2007 back in Double-A, putting him in position to spend September in the majors if he continues to progress. He has leadoff skills but he has hit primarily out of the No. 3 slot in pro ball. With his power continuing to develop, Pittsburgh envisions him as a middle-of-the-order hitter.
After starring at Pine-Richland High, Walker became the first Pittsburgh-area player ever selected in the first round by the Pirates. He hurt his left wrist swinging a bat in the Arizona Fall League after the 2005 season and had surgery that November. He missed the first six weeks of 2006 and had limited power all season, though he did make it to Pittsburgh for the Futures Game. Walker is a rarity, a switch-hitting catcher with the potential to hit 30 home runs a season. He has plus power from the left side, though it was muted as he recovered from his wrist surgery. He also makes good contact at the plate. He's a good athlete with average speed. His arm is strong and he has a quick release. Because he doesn't walk much, pitchers at higher levels could exploit Walker's lack of patience. He threw out just 29 percent of basestealers in 2006 because his sloppy footwork costs him accuracy. His receiving also needs refinement, though he's doing better at shifting for balls. The Pirates might get more long-term production out of him by shifting him to another position, and he has the athleticism to handle third base or the outfield. Ronny Paulino's presence might also dictate a move for Walker, but he'll start 2007 as a catcher in Double-A.
Lincoln was the Conference USA player of the year in 2006, when he went 12-2, 1.69 and hit .295 with 14 homers as a first baseman/DH. He went fourth overall in the draft and signed for $2.75 million, but he was limited in his pro debut and instructional league by a strained right oblique. Lincoln's fastball sits at 92-93 mph and touches 97, breaking bats with its boring action. He also has a two-seam, 88-91 mph version that induces grounders. His hard curveball may be a better pitch than his fastball, but he commands them both well. Though he's just 6 feet tall, he does a good job of throwing downhill. As a hitter, he has more raw power than almost any Pirates farmhand. His biggest need is to gain more consistency with his changeup, which should come as he uses it more often in pro ball. It should become an average pitch. His velocity was down in his pro debut, but that was likely just the combination of fatigue after pulling double duty in college and his oblique injury. The Pirates usually downplay their draft picks, but they believe Lincoln could be a No. 1 starter. He likely will begin 2007 at high Class A Lynchburg with an eye on making his major league debut no later than 2008.
Lillibridge was a three-time all-Pac-10 Conference selection at Washington, as a center fielder in his freshman season then as a shortstop the next two years. After a so-so pro debut, he had an outstanding first full season, leading the system in hitting (.319), runs (106), walks (87) and on-base percentage (.419) while adding 53 steals in 64 tries. Lillibridge hits for average, has solid gap power and showed improved plate discipline in 2006. He has above-average speed and very good instincs on the bases Defensively, he has outstanding range, especially to his right, and a solid arm. He projects as a possible leadoff hitter, but to fill that role Lillibridge will need to shorten his swing and cut down on his strikeouts. Though he can make acrobatic plays at shortstop, he sometimes tries to pull off impossible ones, leading to 47 errors in 169 pro games. He'll return to Double-A after participating in the Eastern League playoffs at the end of 2006. Though Pirates incumbent Jack Wilson has three years and $19.6 million remaining on his contract, Lillibridge could enter the picture by September.
Herrera defected from Cuba after being left off the Olympic roster in 2004 because of injury. He impressed Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield during a workout last August in the Dominican Republic, and signed a three-year, $1.92 million major league contract (including a $750,000 bonus) in December. Loathe to participate in the international market in recent years because of soaring costs, the Pirates hadn't signed a Cuban since the 1950s. Herrera has a good feel for pitching with an above-average curveball and a splitter that drops off the table. He has good mound presence and was a disciple of Jose Contreras when both pitched for Pinar del Rio in Cuba. His fastball has fringy velocity, sitting at 88 mph and touching 92, though some scouts project Herrera to work in the low 90s once he gets established in the United States. He'll have to adapt to a new culture, a challenge that has undone several Cuban defectors in the past. Herrera will have a chance to compete for a job in Pittsburgh's rotation this spring, though he may need some minor league seasoning after not pitching competitively for nearly three years. He projects as a possible No. 3 starter.
Sharpless was lightly recruited by colleges out of high school in suburban Pittsburgh, and he pitched just 19 innings as a senior after getting mononucleosis. He spent four years at Division III Allegheny (Pa.) before signing for $1,500 as a 24th-rounder. He returned home twice in 2006, first for the Futures Game in July and then when the Pirates called him up in August. Sharpless put up video-game numbers in the minors (2.20 ERA, 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings) and succeeded in the majors because hitters have such a difficult time picking up his pitches. He throws straight over the top, and his outstanding slider breaks so big and so late that batters have almost no time to react. His 92 mph fastball occasionally hits 95 and looks faster because of his long wingspan. He has struggled with his control at times, most notably after his big league callup. However, Sharpless began throwing more strikes after Pirates pitching coach Jim Colborn made a mechanical adjustment late in 2006. He's not athletic and doesn't field his position well. Sharpless has a good chance of winning a middle-relief job in Pittsburgh during spring training. If can find the strike zone consistently, he has the ability to eventually become a set-up man and perhaps even a closer.
Pearce turned down the Red Sox as a 10th-round pick after hitting .346 with 21 homers for South Carolina's 2004 College World Series team, then batted .358 with 21 homers as a senior and went in the eighth round in 2005. He has continued to slug his way through the lower minors, leading the short-season New York-Penn League with 26 doubles in his pro debut and hitting 26 homers in his first full season. Pearce generates his power with bat speed and an aggressive approach. Though he looks to punish pitchers, he's also willing to take a walk. Pearce is solid defensively at first base, with decent range and soft hands. Pitchers can fool Pearce with offspeed stuff and he has particular trouble staying back against changeups. At 5-foot-11, he presents a small target for a first baseman. He's a below-average runner but will take an extra base on occasion. Like most of Pittsburgh's best prospects, Pearce will open 2007 in Double-A. That will be a good test after he has been old for his previous levels. The Pirates lack power on their major league club, so an opportunity awaits when he's ready.
Bixler was the Mid-American Conference player of the year in 2004, setting Eastern Michigan records for hitting (.453) and runs (74) and league marks for hits (110) and hitting streak (32 games). After a lackluster first 1 1/2 pro seasons, he made the high Class A Carolina League all-star team and reached Double-A in 2006, batting better than .300 at both stops. The most improved player in the system in 2006, Bixler tightened his strike zone, which allowed him to be more productive at the plate. He has gotten stronger over the last two years, giving him decent gap power. With above-average speed, he's a threat to steal bases and beat out infield hits. Bixler strikes out too much, particularly for a top-of-the-order hitter. He can improve the frequency and the success rate (71 percent) with which he steals bases. His arm and range are average at best, so he faces an eventual move to second base. Coupled with Pittsburgh's lack of middle-infield prospects in the upper levels, a good spring performance could push Bixler to Triple-A Indianapolis to start 2007. With shortstop Jack Wilson signed through 2009 in Pittsburgh, it would be easier for Bixler to push underachieving Jose Castillo off second base.
Corley set himself up as a possible first-round pick by hitting .380 with 19 homers as a Missisippi State sophomore, but he hit just five homers as a junior after breaking a thumb while trying out for Team USA the previous summer. He led both the system and the South Atlantic League with 100 RBIs in 2006, his first full pro season. Corley has good tools, including plus power and a strong arm. He struggled early in his pro debut, leading to talk the Pirates had overdrafted him in the second round, but he shortened his swing and began to hit better. Primarily a right fielder, he has enough speed to get by in center if needed. The knock on Corley in college was that he lacked plate discipline, and his 109-18 K-BB ratio as an older player in the SAL shows that he hasn't made much progress. Pitchers continually get him to chase high fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt. His tools are intriguing, especially in an organization lacking power-hitting prospects, but Corley will have to make more consistent contact to become a big league regular. He'll move up to high Class A to start 2007.
Redmond led St. Petersburg (Fla.) to a runner-up finish at the Junior College World Series championship in 2005, then signed with the Pirates as a draft-and-follow. He finished second in the New York-Penn League in ERA during his pro debut, and continued to impress in 2006, ranking fourth in the South Atlantic League in wins and ERA. Redmond has exceptional command of his low-90s fastball and gets a lot of swings and misses with it, particularly up in the strike zone. He complements his fastball with an outstanding changeup and a solid curveball. He's very efficient with his pitches, which should allow him to work deeper into games as he gets older, and wins high marks for his competitiveness. He lacks a dominant pitch, and Redmond's stuff may not play as well against more experienced hitters. He gives up a lot of fly balls, which could be a problem if he stops missing bats. Redmond likely will start 2007 in high Class A and should make a midseason move to Double-A. If he continues to prove himself, he could fit into the majors as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
After barely playing as a sophomore at Auburn, Felix transferred to Troy at the urging of high school teammate Jared Keel. Felix starred as a two-way player for the Trojans in 2006, and the Pirates jumped on him in the second round of the draft and signed him for $725,000. Pittsburgh also landed Keel in the 31st round and sent them both to short-season Williamsport. Felix has a big-breaking curveball that is tough on lefthanders, though they batted .379 against him in his pro debut. At times, his fastball will reach as high as 93 mph. He's a good athlete, drawing comparisons to Mike Hampton for his hitting and fielding ability. Except for the curveball, the rest of Felix's arsenal is nondescript. His fastball usually sits around 88 mph and his changeup is below-average. He's inconsistent with his control and command, regressing after making progess at Troy during the spring. Felix will open his first full season as a starter in low Class A. If he can't improve his command and his changeup, his ceiling will be limited to being a setup man. With his curveball alone, he should be able to become at least a lefty specialist.
The Pirates bucked conventional draft wisdom by taking Van Benschoten as a pitcher in 2001, after he hit a Division I-leading 31 home runs and stole 23 bases in his junior season at Kent State. He showed great promise early in his pro career and was ranked as the Pirates' top prospect going into the 2003 and 2004 season, but he has been beset by injuries the past two years, having two arthroscopic surgeries on his right shoulder and one on his left. After sitting out all of 2005, Van Benschoten made five minor league starts at the end of the 2006 season, and the Pirates were pleased that his fastball velocity was close to its previous 91-94 mph. He also has a plus curveball and a slider that can be an out pitch when he throws it for strikes. He's athletic, capable of helping himself at the plate and in the field. Van Benschoten's biggest problem isn't only that he hasn't been able to stay healthy, but also that he hasn't been able to gain the experience necessary for someone who pitched only as a reliever in college. He also hasn't been able to develop a feel for his changeup. He still has the talent to be a No. 2 starter but needs to get on the mound consistently. He'll likely begin the season in Triple-A.
Bullington has been under the microscope since the Pirates used the first overall pick to take him rather than B.J. Upton in the 2002 draft. They signed him for a club-record signing bonus of $4 million. After four seasons in the organization, he has pitched in just one major league game, though he's 34-17, 3.33 in 69 minor league games. However, he missed all of last season after shoulder surgery in October 2005. Bullington's fastball was clocked as high as 95 mph at Ball State, but he has never touched that in pro ball. His heater now sits at 88-91, far from overpowering, though he has good command of it. He rediscovered his slider in Triple-A in 2005 and it became a strikeout pitch for him. His curveball and changeup are also serviceable pitches. While he's getting older and his chance of becoming a star has likely passed, he could still develop into a decent starter if healthy. He'll go back to Triple-A to start the 2007 season.
Starling was a highly regarded high school player in the Houston area, and he and James Loney led Elkins High (Missouri City, Texas) to a Texas state title and national championship in 2002. Starling opted to attend Odessa (Texas) Junior College, then signed with the Pirates as a draft-and-follow just before the 2003 draft. Consistency had been Starling's biggest problem since coming into pro ball, but he made gains in that department last season. He pitched well in his second try at high Class A, then continued to get hitters out at Double-A. His fastball velocity was erratic earlier in his career but stayed consistently at 91- 93 mph in 2006. He also improved his changeup. Starling's curveball continues to be inconsistent and occasionally gets loopy. The downside to what was otherwise a breakout season was that his strikeout rate dropped and he tended to tire after five innings. He's likely to go back to Double-A to start the season. If he continues to show improvement, he'll be in line for a promotion to Triple-A, putting him on the cusp of the major leagues, where he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
The Pirates were happy just to shed themselves of Mark Redman's $4.5 million salary when they traded him to Kansas City in 2005. They got two minor league relievers in return, and it turns out they got a useful piece in Bayliss, who finished fourth in the Triple-A International League in saves last season. His career took a major step forward in 2005 when the Royals converted him from starter to reliever. Bullpen work fits the former high school hockey star's mentality better and allows him to more often use his best pitch, a fastball that picked up a few ticks in 2006 to 94-95 mph with good movement. Bayliss, befitting a former starter, still has a slider, split-finger fastball and changeup in his arsenal. While the slider became more reliable last season, he needs to throw it for strikes more often. The other pitches are now pretty much just for show. Bayliss enjoys the challenge of closing and will handle that role again if he's sent back to Triple-A to begin this season. However, he'll have a good shot to earn a spot on the major league roster in spring training and work in middle relief.
Bresnehan led the state with 109 strikeouts in 49 innings during his sophomore season of high school in 2001 in Dover, Mass. He went to school in Connecticut for a year, then he struck out 21 in a one-hitter during the first start of his senior year back in Massachusetts. Because of his commitment to Arizona State, however, he lasted until the 23rd round of the 2003 draft, and he didn't sign with the Royals. He had an up-and-down career with the Sun Devils, going 10-9, 5.01 in 193 innings over three seasons before Pittsburgh signed him for $202,500. He got on a roll in pro ball, finishing the summer with 34 straight scoreless innings. Bresnehan's fastball consistently hits 91 mph and tops out at 94, and it looks even faster because of its exceptional movement. He also has a hard slider to go along with a curveball and a changeup. He had control problems throughout his college career, but Williamsport pitching coach Bruce Tanner suggested some mechanical adjustments which seemed to help. Bresnehan has a maximum-effort delivery and tends to throw across his body, which raises long-term injury concerns. But he was a pleasant surprise in his first pro season, and will begin 2007 in low Class A. His arsenal suggests his future could be in the bullpen--and his stuff held up better in that role in college--but mastering the changeup would make him a viable starter.
The Pirates saw plenty of upside in Davidson when they drafted him out of Canada, but he didn't have much opportunity to show his ability until last year. He signed too late to play professionally in 2002, then was limited in his first three seasons because of a variety of injuries. The Pirates decided to move him to the bullpen last season because of his durability problems, and he had a 2.01 ERA and 96 strikeouts in a combined 76 innings at three levels. Davidson's fastball rarely tops 90 mph, but he has an outstanding curveball that eats up hitters from both sides of the plate. He struggled in the past to command his pitches, illustrated by his 50 walks in 62 innings in his first three seasons. But having the chance to pitch more consistently helped him cut that rate to 3.9 per nine innings in 2006. He lacks experience with a changeup, though he won't need it in the bullpen. He has a good chance to begin the 2007 season in Triple-A and be knocking on the door of the major leagues by midseason.
The Pirates thought they drafted a potential star when they took Boone in 2005, but he hasn't seen the field much in his two seasons because of injuries. A cousin of former American League batting champion Carney Lansford, Boone had a pinched nerve in his final season at Missouri, and it affected him during his first year in pro ball as well when he spent time on the disabled list at Williamsport. A broken foot kept him on the DL at low Class A Hickory until May 24 in 2005, and he played just 28 games before shoulder problems sidelined him for the rest of the year. Boone has a multitude of tools, as he's a switch-hitter with the potential to hit for average and power. He's also an above-average center fielder with good range and a decent arm. He has good speed, though it hasn't translated into many stolen bases yet. Boone will go back to low Class A after his aborted 2006 season. While his future is intriguing and his work ethic is outstanding, he's at an age where he'll need to start moving up the organizational ladder quickly to have a chance to be a major league regular.
Shortslef has made slow progress through the Pirates system since being drafted in 2000, leading the New York-Penn League with 10 wins in 2002 but also being beset by a series of arm injuries. He showed enough at Double-A in 2006--despite being sidelined for 10 weeks by a strained forearm--to be placed on the 40-man roster at the end of the season and sent to the Arizona Fall League. Shortslef's fastball reaches 93 mph and usually sits at 89-91. He also has a big-breaking curveball that's particularly effective against lefthanders, who hit just .188 against him last season. His changeup still needs work. Shortslef was a good athlete in high school, averaging 21 points a game as a power forward in basketball during his senior year, but he has gotten heavier in recent years, leading to concern about his conditioning. He needs more time at Double-A to start the season but could move quickly to Triple-A if he pitches well early in the season. The Pirates still think he can be a major league starter, but his ability to get lefthanders out could mean a move to the bullpen.
Bauserman was a high school standout in both baseball and football. His father moved the family from Winchester, Va., to Tallahassee, Fla., after his son's sophomore year in order to increase his exposure and chances of getting a scholarship. It worked, as Bauserman signed to play quarterback at Ohio State, but he wound up choosing baseball when the Pirates gave him a $300,000 signing bonus as their fourth-round pick in 2004. He missed the final month of last season with shoulder tendinitis, but the condition wasn't considered serious and he has a solid build. Bauserman's fastball was clocked as high as 96 mph in high school, but has usually been at 90-92 in pro ball. He has outstanding secondary pitches and has continually tightened his curveball since becoming a pro. He also throws a good changeup that has the potential to become an above-average pitch. He needs to pitch off his fastball more because his curve and change are so good that he tends to rely too much on them at times. Bauserman is making steady progress and will begin 2007 in high Class A. He projects as a solid mid-rotation starter in the major leagues.
Ford was a three-time all-state selection as a high school player in Fort Worth and decided to stay home to play at Texas Christian. He transferred to Oklahoma State following his sophomore season, however, and played one year with the Cowboys before being drafted in the third round. Signed for $450,000, he spent just seven games at Williamsport after signing before he was promoted to low Class A. He has good power potential for a middle infielder. He hit 35 home runs in three college seasons, including 16 as a freshman, then slugged .452 in his pro debut. More experienced pro pitchers were able to get Ford to chase pitches, though plate discipline wasn't an issue in college. Ford converted to second base as a junior at Oklahoma State after playing third base at Texas Christian and shortstop in high school, and the Pirates plan to keep him there. He has his share of rough edges at second, particularly with footwork and turning the double play, but he has a plus arm. Ford has decent speed but isn't a burner. Ford will begin this season in high Class A, and if he continues to improve defensively and cut down on his strikeouts, he could move quickly through the system.
Holden was considered a potential high draft pick last year, with some projecting him to go as early as the second round, before triceps tendinitis ended his senior high school season early. He pitched just 28 innings, though he went 5-0, 0.99 with 45 strikeouts and led Florida's Douglas High to a national ranking when he was healthy. The Pirates took a flyer on Holden in the 13th round and wound up signing him for $155,000 in mid August. Because of his late signing and injury questions, he didn't play last summer. Holden's fastball is firm and sits at 88-93 mph, though he'll need to command it better. His out pitch is a big-breaking curveball that overwhelmed high school hitters. Like many young pitchers, he needs to work on his changeup. Because of his arm problems in 2006, there's a natural cause for concern that Holden is an injury risk, though the Pirates are convinced he's healthy. He showed a loose, quick arm in high school, though his mechanics will need to be cleaned up a bit. The Pirates will take it slowly with Holden after last spring, and he likely will remain in extended spring training and make his pro debut in June in the Gulf Coast League.
Lerud's 60 home runs at Galena High in Reno broke the Nevada career record that had been held by longtime big leaguer Matt Williams. Interestingly, Lerud's parents once shared a duplex with Williams' parents in Carson City, Nev., after they were first married. Lerud has outstanding power potential from the left side, a rarity for a catcher, but he has yet to match his high school home run proficiency because of inconsistency and injuries. He had a broken foot that delayed the start of his career and a broken arm that ruined his 2005 season. He has loft in his batting stroke that will enable him to hit 20-25 home runs a year if he cuts down on his strikeouts. Lerud has struck out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances in the minors. While he sometimes chases bad pitches, he also goes through spells when he's hesitant to swing and gets himself behind in the count. Lerud had 35 passed balls last season and needs to improve his footwork behind the plate, though he's a willing worker. He lacks experience because of his injuries, and he has a fringe-average arm. He's a belowaverage runner. Lerud will move up to high Class A this season. His age and power potential make him a candidate for a position switch if his defense doesn't improve.
Chavez was the Cubs' 39th-round pick in 2001 out of high school in Fontana, Calif. He went to nearby Riverside Community College but didn't sign with the Cubs. He went in the 42nd round to the Rangers in 2002 and they signed him just before the 2003 draft. The Pirates acquired Chavez in a deadline deal last year for Kip Wells, and he showed them enough that he was sent to the Arizona Fall League. Chavez' fastball reaches 95 mph, but he has trouble consistently throwing it for strikes. He also has trouble commanding his best pitch, a big-breaking curveball that's tough on righthanders. Lefties have more success against Chavez, and he needs to either add cutting action to his fastball or sharpen his changeup in order to combat that tendency. He's slightly built, and concerns about his durability caused the Rangers to move him to the bullpen in 2005. While Chavez has struggled at times while making the conversion, he has a good enough arm and competitiveness to pitch in middle relief in the major leagues after more seasoning in Triple-A this year.
The Pirates claimed Osoria off waivers in December after the Dodgers dropped him from their 40-man roster to clear space for free-agent acquisitions. Pirates manager Jim Tracy is familiar with Osoria from his time as Los Angeles' skipper in 2005, when the Dominican Republic native made his major league debut. His best pitch is a sinking fastball that usually parks at 88-92 mph. He throws it from a low-three-quarter arm slot, sometimes dropping down to almost sidearm, and the pitch produces one ground ball after another when it is working. Osoria has six digits on his right hand, which also helps him put sinking action on the ball. The sinker is his only plus pitch, so he has trouble against lefthanders. He has a frisbee slider that has a side-to-side break, and his changeup is strictly for show. Osoria has trouble throwing either pitch for strikes consistently. He's one of a sizable group of righthanded relievers with limited or no major league experience who will compete for a job in the Pirates bullpen in spring training. If he makes the club, he'll work in the middle innings and as a specialist against righthanders.
Rogers had quite an eventful final two months of the 2006 season, getting dealt from the Tigers to the Pirates for Sean Casey at the trading deadline, then making his major league debut on Sept. 1. The Tigers moved Rogers from the rotation to the bullpen at the start of 2005 season, and he has since posted a fine 2.09 ERA in 97 minor league relief appearances. Rogers isn't overpowering, and his sinking fastball rarely touches 90 mph. However, he spots it well and complements it with a slider that's particularly tough on righthanders. He also makes up for his lack of pure stuff by not walking batters. His arsenal does leave him with little margin for error, so it remains to be seen if he can get veteran hitters out on a consistent basis. He also has a tendency to give up a lot of fly balls. Rogers will likely begin the season in Triple-A, but expect to see him back in the major leagues at some point in 2007. He has enough pitching savvy to carve out a career as a middle reliever in the big leagues.
Baseball was a sidelight for Davis in high school in New London, Conn., as his true love seemed to be playing point guard in basketball. But he continued playing baseball at a branch campus of the University of Connecticut, and the Pirates took a shot at him late in the 2001 draft. He worked his way through the farm system until landing in the major leagues last August. Davis' calling card is his great speed, which has allowed him to steal 224 bases in six minor league seasons. It also enables to cover plenty of ground in center field and to make up for mistakes when he takes bad routes. Davis led the Gulf Coast League with a .384 average in 2002, then hit better than .300 at both Class A stops. His average and plate discipline have suffered against more experienced pitchers since reaching Double-A. Davis spent the final six weeks of last season with the Pirates and didn't start a game, an indication the organization views him as a reserve outfielder long-term.
Ed Creech has made a concerted effort to draft more local players since taking over as scouting director in 2002. The Pirates made Negrych, an All-American who hit .396 with 11 homers, the first player drafted by the club out of the University of Pittsburgh since Ken Macha in 1972. Signed for $150,000, he went down in August with a torn ligament in his left thumb, requiring surgery. Negrych's best tool is clearly his bat, and he has the ability to hit for a high average with solid power while also showing good plate discipline. He's not a naturally gifted athlete, and his defense at second base is below-average, especially his footwork in turning the double play. He's also a below-average runner. His work ethic is legendary, however, and he spent countless hours in the batting cage and weight room at Pitt. Negrych may begin the season on the disabled list, but he'll go to low Class A when he's ready. How the injury affects his hitting will be a major question because his bat will determine if he gets to the major leagues.
Hughes was one of the top high school pitchers in the nation after his junior year in Laguna Beach, Calif., but his stock dropped after a subpar senior year as he struggled with a back injury and questions about his makeup. He decided to play college ball at Santa Clara after the Devil Rays drafted him in the 16th round in 2003, and he transferred to Long Beach State after one season. He signed last June for $305,000 as a fourth-round pick. Hughes' fastball was clocked at high as 97 mph in high school, but he doesn't throw that hard anymore, working more at 90-92, albeit with better sink. The fastball gets on hitters quickly, though, because of the deception his 6-foot-7 frame creates in his delivery. Hughes' slider is an above-average pitch and he's able to change speeds on it, but he has trouble commanding his changeup. The knock on Hughes has long been that he lacks competitiveness, and he has never dominated hitters as his stuff suggests he should. He often nibbled in his first pro season rather than attacking hitters and had an uneven debut. Hughes will go back to low Class A to begin the 2007 season. At this point he projects as a pitcher at the back end of a rotation.
Latin American scouting coordinator Rene Gayo has tried to increase the Pirates presence in Latin America since being hired in 2004. His first move was to sign Sanchez, who had been released by the Dodgers. He missed the final two months of the 2006 season with shoulder tendinitis and has battled similar nagging injuries throughout his career. Sanchez' calling card is a 96 mph fastball that he can throw past most hitters, especially working out of the bullpen. Sanchez needs to command his fastball better, and he lacks a quality secondary pitch, which is why the Pirates converted him from starter to reliever last season. His slider became much sharper after the conversion. He'll likely start this season in Double-A and will move quickly if he improves his control.
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