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Though his family lived in a two-bedroom apartment and his father drove a delivery cab, Alvarez decided to attend Vanderbilt rather than sign with the Red Sox for sandwich-round money as a 14th-round pick in 2005. He went to have a storied career with the Commodores, winning Baseball America's 2006 Freshman of the Year award and earning All-America honors in his first two seasons. He entered his junior year rated as the top prospect in the 2008 draft and maintained that distinction despite missing 23 games when an errant pitch broke the hamate bone in his right hand in Vanderbilt's season opener. The Rays passed on Alvarez with the No. 1 overall pick because they already had Evan Longoria. The Pirates, who famously passed on Scott Boras client Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft, didn't hesitate to take Alvarez at No. 2 despite reports Boras was seeking a $9 million major league contract. Pittsburgh announced that Alvarez had agreed to a club-record $6 million bonus shortly before the Aug. 15 signing deadline, but 12 days later Boras claimed Alvarez hadn't signed until 12:02 a.m. After the MLB Players Association filed a grievance, the two sides settled it on Sept. 24, with Alvarez receiving the same bonus as part of a $6.355 million contract. (Club president Frank Coonelly later acknowledged that Alvarez had signed two minutes after the deadline.) He saw his first action with the Pirates in instructional league. Alvarez's quick hands let him to allow the ball travel deep into the strike zone and enable him to draw comparisons to Albert Pujols. While he doesn't have a lot of loft in his swing, his bat speed and strength allow him to hit with power to all fields. He has an advanced, professional approach at the plate and makes consistent hard contact. Alvarez's best defensive tool is his strong arm and the Pirates believe he'll be a solid third baseman. He shows fairly quick feet for a big man and has worked hard to improve his defense. Despite his contentious negotiations, he has a reputation for outstanding character and leadership. The biggest question with Alvarez is whether he can stay at third base. He'll have to work hard to maintain his range and agility, which are just decent, and some scouts think he'll be forced to move to an outfield corner or first base. He reported to instructional league overweight, adding fuel to the idea that a position switch could be in his future. He's a below-average runner but moves well enough that he doesn't clog the bases. Alvarez has the talent and charisma to become the face of a struggling franchise that has lacked star power since Barry Bonds left as a free agent following the 1992 season. Pittsburgh hopes to build a lineup around him that can end a streak of losing seasons that began after Bonds departed. Alvarez likely will start his pro career at high Class A Lynchburg and could make his big league debut by September. He almost certainly will be the Pirates' starting third baseman in 2010.
McCutchen ranked No. 1 on this list the past two years, as well as in the Rookielevel Gulf Coast League in 2005 and the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2006. He reached Double-A as a teenager and rated as the No. 2 prospect in the Triple-A International League, where managers tabbed him as the league's most exciting player. McCutchen has quick hands and recognizes pitches extremely well, giving him the ability to wait for the ball to get deeper in the zone while drawing his share of walks. He has outstanding speed that makes him a basestealing threat and a potential Gold Glover. He has outstanding instincts and an average arm in center field. McCutchen is susceptible to breaking pitches, in part because he gets pull-happy, and his power hasn't developed as hoped. He's slow getting out of the batter's box, which prevents him from getting as many infield hits as his speed suggests he should. He still has work to do as a basestealer after leading all Triple-A players by getting caught 19 times in 2008. Though he's the Pirates' center fielder of the near future, McCutchen is slated to return to Indianapolis to start the season. He once looked like a No. 3 hitter but now profiles as a leadoff man.
Once the Yankees' top position prospect, Tabata fell out of favor last April. Upset by a slow start, he left Double-A Trenton in the middle of a game and was suspended for three games. New York traded him along with Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and righthander Daniel McCutchen to acquire Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in July. After recovering from a strained hamstring, Tabata regained his luster with a strong August. Tabata has strong, quick wrists, which make his current gap power likely to turn into home run pop as his body matures. He's an above-average defender who gets good jumps in center field and has the arm strength to play in right. He has average speed. Though Tabata didn't have any issues after the trade, he still has to live down a reputation for having attitude problems and being unreliable. He tends to chase breaking pitches out of the zone. He has slowed down as his body has matured and probably will end up as a below-average runner. The Pirates are leaning toward sending Tabata back to Double-A Altoona to start 2009, but he should reach Triple-A and perhaps the majors by the end of the year. They're convinced he can be a star, and he certainly looked like one after the trade.
The fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Lincoln signed for $2.75 million. He needed Tommy John surgery the following April, joining a long list of Pirates first-round picks to suffer a major arm injury. After missing the entire 2007 season, he came back last year and made 19 starts without any problems. Lincoln has two plus pitches in a 90-93 mph fastball that touches 95 and a power curveball that he can either bury in the strike zone or make hitters chase. A good athlete who was an excellent hitter in college, he has no problem throwing stirkes. He's an outstanding competitor who relishes challenging hitters. Lincoln isn't very tall and at times he has to fight to keep his arm slot high and throw his pitches on a downhill plane. He tends to catch too much of the strike zone at times, making him susceptible to home runs. His changeup isn't as effective as his other pitches and needs more consistency. The Pirates believe Lincoln is close to major league-ready and will send him to Double-A. He could be in their Opening Day rotation in 2010 and should eventually settle in as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
In the three-way trade that sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, the Pirates acquired three big leaguers (Andy LaRoche from Los Angeles, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss from Boston) and Morris. Like Brad Lincoln, Morris was a 2006 first-rounder who missed all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery. The Pirates shut him down late last season when he felt some shoulder pain. Morris' similarities to Lincoln extend to his stuff and his background as a two-way standout in college. He has a live arm and regained full velocity on his fastball after surgery, sitting at 91-93 mph and touching 95. His hard, big-breaking curveball is his money pitch. He scores points for his competitiveness and work ethic. Pittsburgh attributes Morris' shoulder soreness to simple fatigue, but he still will have to prove he can hold up over a full season. As with many young pitchers, his changeup is a work in progress. His mechanics aren't quite ideal, and he sometimes struggles to repeat them and flies open in his delivery. He lacks consistent control and command at this point. One of the few high-ceiling arms in the system, Morris likely will begin 2009 in high Class A. He could move quickly once he starts throwing strikes. He figures to be a fixture in the middle of Pittsburgh's rotation in time, but he'll get a late start to the 2009 season as he recovers from offseason surgery to repair a ligament in his right big toe.
Originally signed as a catcher for $1.95 million with the 12th overall pick in 2004, Walker moved to third base on the first day of spring training in 2007. He has made a smooth transition defensively but has hit the wall offensively in Triple-A. The first-ever Pirates first-rounder from the Pittsburgh area, he's the son of an ex-big leaguer (Tom) and the nephew of another (Chip Lang). A switch-hitter, Walker has pop from both sides of the plate but needs to display it with more consistency. Recruited by college football programs as a wide receiver, he has outstanding athleticism and a strong arm at the hot corner. Managers rated him the International League's best defensive third baseman last season. He's an average runner with good instincts on the bases. He's intelligent and works hard. Walker has been inconsistent throughout his career and has yet to put up a truly big season. His plate discipline never has been strong and fell apart last season. He seemed to panic if he fell behind in the count and chased too many pitches outside the zone. Walker lost some of his value when he moved from behind the plate, and his future at third base is clouded after the Pirates drafted Pedro Alvarez and traded for Andy LaRoche. Ticketed to return to Triple-A, Walker eventually could wind up in right field because of his athletic ability and strong arm.
Just before he was scheduled to make his first pro start in 2005, Sues injured his shoulder. Following surgery and a long rehab, he finally made his debut in mid-2007. The Pirates made him a reliever last season and were enthused by the results. Sues throws extremely hard, as his fastball sits at 93-95 mph and tops out at 98. He has added velocity now that he no longer has to pace himself coming out of the bullpen. He also has a power curveball and has the competitive nature to thrive in the late innings. Sues tends to throw first-pitch fastballs a little too often and Pittsburgh would like him to go with his curveball more often early in counts to keep hitters off balance. While he's hard to hit, he's too generous with walks. His changeup is mediocre but rarely comes into play in his new role. Pretty much a finished product, Sues will get the opportunity to win a middle-relief job with Pittsburgh this spring. If he doesn't make the team, he'll go to Triple-A and be groomed as a potential closer. He's more overpowering if not as polished as Pirates incumbent Matt Capps.
Ford has been productive as a pro when he's been able to stay healthy. He sat out the final month of 2007 with a strained lower back and missed the first six weeks of 2008 with a strained hip flexor. He went on the disabled list again for two weeks in late July with a high ankle sprain. Ford is an offense-first second baseman with good gap power from both sides of the plate. While he's not a burner, he runs well and uses above-average instincts to steal bases or stretch extra-base hits. He has shown improvement defensively at second base. Ford still is mastering the nuances of second base, such as the double-play pivot, after playing on the left side of the infield in college. He needs to do a better job of turning on fastballs on the inner half of the plate. He makes good contact but doesn't walk enough. Ford will begin this season in Triple-A, one step away if the Pirates decide to trade Freddy Sanchez, who can become a free agent at the end of 2009 if he doesn't trigger playing-time clauses in his contract. Ford is clearly the heir apparent at second base.
One of four players acquired from the Yankees in the late-July trade for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, McCutchen spent part of September with the major league club but didn't get activated. The Pirates didn't want to have to place him on the 40-man roster and wanted him to rest after pitching 171 innings in the minors. McCutchen has good control of a three-pitch arsenal and has averaged a mere 2.0 walks per nine innings as a pro. His best pitch is a fastball that sits at 90-91 mph and occasionally reaches 93. He also has a hard curveball that breaks quickly, almost like a slider. McCutchen still needs to work on his command. He's hittable and prone to giving up homers--he surrendered 12 in 48 innings after the trade--because he sometimes catches too much of the plate with his fastball. His changeup is just serviceable and could use more polish. McCutchen doesn't have a lot left to prove in the minors and will compete for a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation during spring training. He eventually should become a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the majors.
After leading Cy-Fair High to the Texas state 5-A title, topping the U.S. junior national team in hitting (.450) and excelling on the showcase circuit in 2007, Grossman looked like a potential first-round pick. He dropped to the sixth round last June after he committed to Texas and didn't have as strong a senior season. The Pirates loved his athleticism and signed him for $1 million. Grossman has good gap power from both sides of the plate and knows how to turn on a pitch, especially as a lefthanded hitter. He impressed Pirates scouts by homering over the right-field bleachers at PNC Park during a workout last summer. He's also willing to take a walk when he's pitched around. Grossman has good instincts on the bases and in the field and shows enough range to play center field, though he isn't a burner. Whether Grossman can be a long-term center fielder is in question after he lost a step between his junior and senior seasons, with his plus speed becoming average. He has a below-average arm, which means he would have to go to left field if he can't stick in center. With a good showing in spring training, Grossman could begin his first full season at Pittsburgh's new low Class A West Virginia affiliate. He reminds some scouts of center fielder Nate McLouth, who made the all-star team and won a Gold Glove in his first full season as a Pirates starter.
Romak began his career in the Braves organization and came to the Pirates before the 2007 season with Adam LaRoche in a deal for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge. Romak missed the first month of the 2008 season recovering from offseason elbow surgery, but he progressed quickly enough when he returned that he was promoted to Double-A for the final month of the season. He's a three-true-outcomes player, as he hits his fair share of home runs, draws lots of walks and strikes out a ton. His power and patience stand out in a system that lacks hitters with those skills, though he has a tendency to be too passive at the plate, taking hittable pitches. Romak is below-average as a defender and runner. He started off as a third baseman with the Braves and had played primarily left field in recent years. He played solely first base for the first time in his career after moving up to Altoona. He'll return there to start the 2009 season but likely will see time in Triple-A later in the year. He projects as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter in the major leagues if he can find a way to make contact more consistently
The Pirates claimed Barthmaier off waivers from the Astros following the 2007 season, and he made his major league debut last June. He's a hard-thrower, as his fastball routinely reaches 91-93 mph and can touch 96--though without much movement. Managers rated his hard curve, which usually hovers around 85 mph and drops off the table, as the best breaking ball in the International League last season. He still needs work on his changeup, though it did improve in 2008. Barthmaier is a good athlete who planned to play quarterback at Louisiana State before signing with the Astros for $750,000 as a 13th-rounder in 2003. That bonus still remains the record for that round. He tends to lose confidence at times, and some have questioned his work ethic, though it hasn't been an issue with the Pirates. Barthmaier will be in the mix for a spot in the Pittsburgh rotation in spring training, but he could use more time in Triple-A and won't be expected to reach the majors for good until 2010.
Cunningham missed his senior high school season in 2008 because of a knee injury, which caused him to slip to the 18th round of the draft. Doctors originally thought he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, yet when he went in for surgery they found the ACL had reattached itself. The Pirates were thrilled to sign Cunningham away from Arizona State for $100,000. In his debut, they had him play third base in addition to shortstop (his high school position) in order to increase his versatility and reduce strain on his knee, which held up fine. Cunningham has gap power and should hit a fair number of homers as he adds size and strength. He also has a chance to be a plus defender at shortstop because he has good range and an above-average arm. His arm strength makes him a fit at third base if he outgrows shortstop. Cunningham spent part of the offseason at the Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix, which could give him a head start on winning a spot in low Class A to open 2009. He has the physical ability to move quickly through the system, though a conservative timetable has him making his major league debut in 2012.
Friday jumped two levels to high Class A to begin his first full year in the minor leagues, but a promising start was short-circuited by back problems in June. He never was the same and then struggled in Hawaii Winter Baseball as well. A first-team All-American after his sophomore season at Rice, Friday profiles as a top-of-theorder hitter with his ability to work the count and draw walks. He's also an outstanding bunter and is willing to use that skill as a weapon. He doesn't have much power but he knows that isn't his game. He has slightly aboveaverage speed but still is learning how to use it to become a true basestealing threat. Friday is an average defensive shortstop whose strong point is an above-average arm that allows him to make plays from deep in the hole. While he has decent range, he has a tendency to lay back on grounders and allow them to eat him up. The Pirates are giving Friday a mulligan on 2008 because of his strained back. They'll continue to aggressively promote him and he'll begin this season in Double-A, making it a possibility he could reach the major leagues by 2010.
The top prospect in Oklahoma for the 2008 draft, Mercer signed for $508,000 as a third-rounder and advanced to low Class A after just a brief stop at short-season State College. He's an offense-first shortstop with pop, a departure from the Pirates' past philosophy of drafting middle infielders who had speed and defensive ability but were often light in the hitting department. Mercer can pull the ball and also go gap-to-gap. However, his plate discipline is severely lacking, and pro pitchers got him to consistently chase high fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt. Mercer is bigger than most shortstops but has good range, above-average instincts and an outstanding arm that prompted Oklahoma State to use him as its closer, with a fastball clocked as high as 95 mph. Yet shortstop is one of the few positions where the Pirates have depth, so Mercer eventually could move to third base or a corner outfield spot. He'll remain at shortstop for now, though, and begin his first full season in high Class A.
Miller was regarded as a top-five-rounds talent heading into 2008 but was considered a difficult sign because of his commitment to North Carolina. When he fell to the 20th round, the Pirates took a shot and signed him for $900,000 right before the Aug. 15 deadline. Miller's fastball has been clocked as high as 95 mph, though it was generally in the 86-89 range during his senior high school season. The Pirates expect him to achieve more consistent velocity as his body fills out. His fastball is far ahead of his slider and changeup, but he has a good aptitude for pitching and gets high marks for his competitiveness. Pittsburgh believes his slider will become a plus pitch in time. Some scouts raise red flags, though, because they say Miller is a health risk. He missed part of his junior season with a shoulder impingement and has a high-stress, maximum-effort delivery, something the Pirates are working to tone down. He'll likely begin 2009 in extended spring training because he has yet to throw a pitch as a pro. He's a project, but the Pirates have few power arms in their system and are willing to wait for him to develop.
D'Arnaud, whose younger brother Travis is a Phillies catching prospect, moved to shortstop last season at Pepperdine after spending his first two seasons as a third baseman. He handled the position, which raised his draft stock and earned him a $293,000 bonus as a fourth-rounder. After signing, he missed nearly a month with a sprained foot, but he came back and finished the year on a good note. D'Arnaud has good gap power and puts the bat on the ball consistently. He has a tendency to get overanxious at the plate, which causes problems with offspeed pitches, particularly from righthanders. D'Arnaud is considered an average defender at shortstop at this point but does show good range and a strong arm. He was a standout at third base in college and could end up there because the Pirates have shortstop depth in their system. His speed is a tick above-average, and he makes the most of it by being aggressive on the basepaths. D'Arnaud will make his full-season debut in low Class A and he could see action at second or third base, both to increase his versatility and in deference to Jarek Cunningham, who has better pure shortstop tools.
The Pirates signed Uviedo after he was released by the Mariners out of the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League in 2005. He made his domestic debut in 2007 as the closer at State College, then had a breakout year in 2008 and won a spot on the 40-man roster. Uviedo is rail-thin, but his fastball reaches 95 mph and sits at 91-93 with good movement. He also has a good, hard slider, though it puts quite a bit of torque on his arm, which is a concern. The Pirates asked him to work on his changeup and it became an average offering by the end of last season. Uviedo is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, working up in the zone with his fastball, so he's susceptible to home runs. Further improving his changeup is imperative because it would give him a pitch to induce more groundballs. He has good control and doesn't beat himself with walks. Uviedo will start 2009 back in high Class A, where he ended 2008, and could get to the majors quickly as a reliever.
Moskos' pro career couldn't have started much worse. Through no fault of his own, Moskos became a lightning rod for frustrated Pirates fans after the braintrust of former general manager David Littlefield took him instead of Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Littlefield thought Wieters would command a $12 million contract, though he settled for $6 million from the Orioles, who took him one pick after Moskos. While Wieters was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008, Moskos has a 6.13 ERA through the first 116 innings of his career. He has lost velocity since college as his fastball rarely has topped 90 mph in pro ball, and the wipeout slider that was his best pitch at Clemson has flattened out. His control was shaky at times, too, which didn't help. Moskos looked like a potential late-inning reliever coming out of college, though he started in high Class A last season in order to get innings. He moved to the bullpen after posting a horrid 11.81 ERA in July and was better in relief, where he didn't have to use his less-effective curveball and changeup as much. If his performance doesn't improve, he'll project as a situational lefthander, which is not what Pittsburgh had in mind when it signed him for $2.475 million.
Freeman was considered a tough sign because of a commitment to play at Central Florida, so he slipped to the 16th round in last year's draft. He had a change of heart when the Golden Knights made a coaching change and signed for $150,000. Freeman could turn out to be a five-tool talent, with an outstanding overall package that includes power potential and good speed. He is raw as a hitter at this point, but the slight lift in his swing and his natural strength portend possible plus power. Freeman has a hitch in his stroke that makes it hard to catch up to good fastballs, though he smoothed it out in instructional league. He chases down fly balls in center field with pure speed now, but is learning the nuances of the position, including taking proper routes. While his strong arm and large frame suggest a right-field profile, his speed could keep him in center and gives him a chance to be an above-average basestealer. Freeman will go back to the Gulf Coast League to start the season, and the Pirates will let him hone his game at his own pace.
Lerud finished his high school career as the leading home run hitter in Nevada prep history, breaking Matt Williams' record. His move through the Pirates system was initially slowed by injuries that included a broken foot and broken hand, but he showed enough last year to earn a midseason promotion to Double-A and a spot on the 40-man roster after the season. Because of the scarcity of catchers, Pittsburgh feared losing him in the major league Rule 5 draft. Lerud hasn't hit as well as a pro as he did in high school, but he has pop and has improved his plate discipline. He has worked hard on his defense, showing softer hands and nimbler footwork since being drafted. He has a solid arm and threw out 34 percent of basestealers last season. He has below-average speed and is a station-to-station runner on the bases. Lerud is a bright player with a lot of baseball savvy and could be a manager when his playing days are over. As a lefthanded hitter with power and defensive skills, he has positioned himself to have a major league career as at least a backup.
The Pirates selected Meek from the Rays in the major league Rule 5 draft following the 2007 season, and he made their Opening Day roster last season. He struggled to get major league hitters out, but Pittsburgh was able to send him back to the minors and keep him by working out a cash deal with Tampa Bay. Meek is well-traveled, having also spent time in the Twins and Padres organizations, but still has upside. He features a sinking fastball that sits at 91-93 mph and touches 96. It enables him to continually get hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Control long has been Meek's problem, particularly with his slider and splitter, and it hampered him in the majors last season because hitters wouldn't chase his secondary pitches. Meek's delivery has a lot of moving parts, which causes concern because of the stress it puts on his arm. He's also excitable and fights to control his emotions on the mound. Meek showed enough raw ability last season that he'll get another shot at making the Pirates in spring training, and he has a good chance of winning a job as a middle man.
After playing three years at Washington and turning down the Indians as an 11th-round pick in 2007, Hague transferred to Oklahoma State and went two rounds higher in the 2008 draft, signing for $25,000. He produced with the bat throughout his college career and again in his pro debut, earning a quick promotion to low Class A. Hague has good power potential and the ability to pull the ball over the fence. He has good plate discipline, is willing to take a walk and rarely chases bad pitches. Hague's best defensive attribute is a strong arm at third base--he flashed a 94-mph fastball in relief stints in college--but his lack of first-step quickness and inconsistent footwork make it a strong possibility he could wind up switching positions. A logical move would be to right field, where his arm would play and his feet wouldn't be a problem, and he saw time at first base in his pro debut. He's a below-average runner and athlete, so most of his value is going to come from his bat, no matter where he plays. Hague will open 2009 at third base in high Class A but could find a new defensive home before the end of the year.
Completely healthy for the first time since being drafted in 2006 from Pittsburgh--where he was the Panthers' first-ever baseball All-American--Negrych was the Pirates' minor league player of the year last season. After missing part of 2006 following thumb surgery and part of 2007 with a strained oblique, he won the high Class A Carolina League batting title with a .370 average and hit well in Double-A in August. Negrych is essentially a one-tool player, but his ability to hit for average is exceptional as he has a knack for putting the bat on the ball. Managers said he had the best strike-zone judgment in the Carolina League last season, and one veteran scout said Negrych reminded him of Wade Boggs at the same stage of his career. He has no more than doubles power, however, and is a below-average runner and poor defender. He has a weak arm and little range at second base, and he wasn't a good fit at third base, which he tried last year to see if he could have a future as a utilityman. Negrych will begin this season back in Altoona and will go as far as his bat takes him.
The Pirates pulled Sanchez off the scrap heap, signing him in 2004 after the Dodgers released him following two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League. He reached the major leagues with the Pirates three years later and had another stint in Pittsburgh last season. Sanchez is a big, intimidating presence whose fastball reaches 98 mph, though it usually sits at 92-94. His curveball has improved significantly in recent years, giving him a second quality offering, which is all he needs in relief. He still struggles to command his changeup. While Sanchez throws hard, he also lacks a great feel for pitching and has control lapses that keep him from dominating. He also tends to put on weight, and the Pirates sent him out to minor league camp early in spring training last year because he reported out of shape. Sanchez has the talent to be a big league reliever if he rounds off the rough edges. He'll likely start this season back in Triple-A.
Veal was one of the best lefthanded pitching prospects in the game in 2006, when he led all minor league starters with a .175 opponent average. But he since has hit the wall hard in Double-A, struggling so much that the Cubs didn't bother to protect him on their 40-man roster because they didn't think he had any chance to stick with a big league club. The Pirates did take him in the Rule 5 draft, and now they have to keep him on their active big league roster in 2009 or expose him to waivers and offer him back to Chicago. When he was on top of his game, Veal got swings and misses by locating his low-90s fastball to both sides of the plate and confounding hitters with a deceptive delivery that included a big leg kick. He also flashed a plus curveball and a solid changeup. Two years later, he looks like an entirely different pitcher. He'll still touch 94 mph with his heater, but he usually works at 89-90 and doesn't maintain his velocity for more than a couple of innings. His curveball is usually a sweepy pitch with little power and only occasional spin, and he has trouble repeating his changeup. He can't maintain his mechanics, leading to control and command problems. He has led the Southern League in walks in each of the last two seasons. The Cubs planned on trying him as a reliever, but he got hammered in that role in the Arizona Fall League. On top of all of his pitching problems, Veal also has had to cope with the loss of his mother to cancer in 2004 and his father to a scuba-diving accident three years later. He has to raise his younger brother Devin, a wide receiver at the University of Arizona. Veal has the raw talent to become a No. 2 starter, but the key word is "raw." He'll be a project for pitching coach Joe Kerrigan in spring training.
In 2007, Bixler was the International League's all-star shortstop, then helped Team USA win the World Cup in Taiwan following the regular season. He encored with a disappointing 2008, looking overmatched in his major league debut. A lack of plate discipline long has limited Bixler, especially considering his offensive game is predicated on making contact and using his above-average speed. Big league pitchers carved him up by overpowering him with fastballs and getting him to chase offspeed stuff out of the strike zone. Bixler can steal bases but was tentative on the basepaths in the major leagues. He's an average defensive shortstop, though he struggled with routine plays in the majors and could get passed on Pittsburgh's depth chart by better defenders. A telling sign came when Luis Cruz, who had spent eight seasons in the minors, saw more action than Bixler last September when shortstop Jack Wilson was out with a broken finger. Bixler also has experience at second base, and scouts say his fringy arm and range are better suited to the position. He now profiles a utilityman and will compete with Cruz for a backup infield spot on the major league club in spring training.
Ronny Paulino fell out of favor with the Pirates when he slumped offensively and put on weight after he lost the big league catching job to Ryan Doumit in 2008. After Paulino attracted interest with a strong winter in the Dominican League, Pittsburgh swapped him to the Phillies for Jaramillo. He doesn't have an especially quick bat but he should hit for a decent average while providing gap power from both sides of the plate. He doesn't have much home run power and is a well-below-average runner, though he'll draw a few walks. Jaramillo stands out more with his defense. He has a slightly above-average arm and threw out 36 percent of basestealers last season. He has good receiving skills and moves well behinid the plate. Jaramillo, who played for Pirates manager John Russell at Triple-A Ottawa in 2007, profiles as a backup and will compete with Robinzon Diaz for that role in spring training.
Wilson was one of the heroes of Fresno State's improbable College World Series championship last season, allowing one run and striking out nine in eight innings to beat Georgia in the clincher. He was drafted in the fifth round before the CWS, and he increased his bonus demands after starring in Omaha. He agreed to terms with the Pirates two days before the Aug. 15 signing deadline, getting $195,000--$2,000 below MLB's slot recommendation. Wilson struggled to command his four-pitch repertoire in college and will need to throw more strikes to be successful as a pro. His fastball has good life and has been clocked as high as 93 mph, though it usually sits at 87-89. He also has two breaking pitches, a curveball that breaks sharply and a slider with a shorter break. He has struggled to throw a changeup, and improving it was a point of emphasis during instructional league. Wilson is advanced enough to start this season in low Class A. He could get to the majors quickly if he can dial in his command.
Pereira is the only Latin American player originally signed by the Pirates who's on this Top 30, though that could change in coming years if shortstop Andury Acevedo and outfielders Starling Marte and Rogelio Noris continue to progress. Pereira had a successful U.S. debut in 2008, making the transition that so many Pirates international prospects have struggled with in recent years. He has worked both as a starter and in relief, and he has a chance to stick in a rotation thanks to his three-pitch mix. Pereira has a firm fastball in the low-80s, but he gets hitters out with his above-average curveball and changeup. The Pirates think he could add velocity to his fastball as his body matures, though he's undersized and durability could become an issue. Pereira will get a shot at a full-season job with West Virginia in spring training, and he has a chance to make history as the first native of El Salvador to play in the majors.