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Cole had as good an arm as any pitcher in the 2008 draft, and the Yankees made him the 28th overall pick out of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran. Though he grew up as a huge Yankees fan, he never entered into negotiations with the team and instead opted to attend UCLA because he and his parents felt the college experience would help him gain maturity. Cole believes the three years he spent in Westwood did indeed help him grow as a pitcher and a person. He helped the Bruins reach the finals of the 2010 College World Series. Despite dominant stuff, he had just one winning season in three years at UCLA, going 6-8, 3.31 with a 119-24 K-BB ratio in 114 innings last spring. The Pirates made him the No. 1 overall choice in the 2011 draft and gave him a draft-record $8 million bonus at the Aug. 15 signing deadline. An example of how well regarded he is as a person came when one of the first texts he received after drafted came from Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees scouting director he had spurned three years earlier. Cole should represent an upgrade on Pittsburgh's checkered history with the top draft pick: Jeff King (1986), Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bullington (2002). Cole signed too late to play in the minors but did participate in the Arizona Fall League, where he lit up radar guns with a fastball that reached as high as 102 mph. That wasn't a fluke because he throws as hard as anybody in pro ball. He usually worked at 93-98 mph at UCLA, with better command when he stayed at the low end of that range. As he gains experience, he could throw harder while doing a better job of locating his fastball. Cole also has a wipeout slider that drops off the table just as it reaches home plate. It's a true swing-and-miss pitch that earns plus-plus grades at times. So too does his changeup, though it's less reliable than his slider. Cole's biggest challenge is to become more consistent with his delivery. Though he has enviable mechanics when he is right, he has spells where he begins flying open with his front shoulder and loses command of his pitches. He also has a tendency to drive too much off his back leg, which causes his front foot to land hard and also affects his ability to put his pitches where he wants. Cole has the athleticism that will allow him to repeat his delivery, and the size and strength to be a workhorse at the top of a rotation. He's an intelligent young man with the reputation of being extremely coachable. Cole is advanced enough to make his pro debut at Double-A Altoona, though the Pirates may send him to high Class A Bradenton until the weather warms up. He could push his way to Triple-A Indianapolis before the end of 2012 and shouldn't need much more than a year in the minors before he can help Pittsburgh. He's one of the few pitching prospects in baseball with legitimate ace potential.
The Pirates took Taillon with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft and insist they would have selected him over No. 1 choice Bryce Harper. After signing him for $6.5 million, then the second-highest bonus in draft history, they kept him on tight pitch and inning counts in his 2011 pro debut. Taillon's size gives him outstanding leverage on his pitches and causes his fastball, which sits at 95-97 mph and reaches 99 mph, to get on hitters quickly. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that can be unhittable as well as a slider that's both his third-best pitch and a plus offering. Taillon's changeup is still a work in progress and he didn't get a chance to work on it much in 2011. Pittsburgh had him throw approximately 80 percent fastballs to gain better command of his heater to both sides of the plate. He gets high marks for his competiveness and intelligence. Taillon will begin 2012 in high Class A, and the Pirates will allow him to work deeper into games and use his secondary pitches more often. They won't rush him, but he's talented enough to knock on the door to Pittburgh late in 2013 and eventually become a No. 1 starter.
The Pirates rated Bell as the sixth-best prospect in the 2011 draft, but he was considered virtually unsignable because his mother is a professor at Texas-Arlington and wanted him to attend Texas. Pittsburgh took him with the first pick in the second round and shocked the industry by signing him for $5 million, the biggest draft bonus ever outside of the first round. A switch-hitter since he was 5, Bell has quick hands, wiry strength and outstanding power potential. He'll be a huge home run threat once he adds more balance and incorporates his legs more into his swing. With his mature approach and ability to make consistent hard contact, he should hit for average as well. He's an intelligent player who should learn to work counts and post high on-base percentages. Bell is still refining his defense and baserunning. A high school center fielder, he has average speed and a solid arm which figure to land him in right field. Bell likely will start his pro career at low Class A West Virginia. The Pirates are careful not to rush players, but Bell's advanced hitting skills and raw power may cause him to force the issue. Bell profiles as a No. 3 hitter and could see the major leagues before the end of 2014.
The Pirates signed Marte for $85,000 in 2007 and his stock has risen dramatically since he arrived in the United States in 2009. A career .309/.366/.453 hitter, he led the Double- A Eastern League in batting (.332), hits (178) and doubles (38) in 2011 while drawing comparisons to Austin Jackson. Pittsburgh added him to its 40-man roster in November. Marte shows four strong tools and Pittsburgh is optimistic that there's more power in his bat. He uses his well above-average speed to beat out hits, though he's still learning to maximize it on the bases, where he can get too aggressive. He chases fewer breaking balls than he used to, but he needs to improve his plate discipline. If Marte gets more selective and starts using his lower half more, he could show more pop. He's good enough right now to be an above-average defensive center fielder in the major leagues with outstanding range and a strong arm. His passion for the game and flair for the dramatic are evident. Marte will begin 2012 in Triple-A Indianapolis and almost certainly will make his major league debut at some point later in the season. He's so good defensively in center field that he eventually could push all-star Andrew McCutchen to left. If Marte continues to add power, he could be an all-star.
The top Latin American pitcher on the amateur market in 2010, Heredia signed out of Mexico for $2.6 million, the most Pittsburgh ever has given an international free agent. The Pirates took the extraordinary step of having him begin his career in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League as a 16-year-old because they considered him too advanced for the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. They carefully monitored Heredia's workload by giving him at least five days off between starts and never allowing him to pitch more than three innings in a game. Heredia added fastball velocity in his first pro season, settling at 92-93 mph and topping out at 96. His curveball can be a swing-and-miss pitch but lacks consistency, and his changeup also shows flashes of becoming a plus offering. For such a young, tall pitcher, he repeats his mechanics on a surprisingly consistent basis. Extremely mature for a teenager, he quickly learned to speak fairly fluent English and bought a house in Bradenton, Fla., to be near Pittsburgh's training base. Heredia remains very raw and will likely stay behind in extended spring training again in 2012 before reporting to short-season State College in June. He has the upside of a frontline starter, though pinning down his ETA in the big leagues is difficult because he's still just 17.
McPherson has come a long way since going 1-7, 6.02 in 2007 at Mobile (Ala.), an NAIA program where he primarily played the infield before getting drafted in the 14th round that June. He pitched his way onto the 40-man roster after the 2010 season and won the Pirates' minor league pitcher of the year award in 2011, when he ranked first in the system in strikeouts (142) and second in wins (12) and ERA (2.96). McPherson knows how to pitch, racking up strikeouts by changing speeds and commanding his entire repertoire. He has gotten stronger since coming into pro ball and his fastball now sits in the low 90s and reaches 95 mph. He can spot it to all four quadrants of the strike zone. McPherson has very good arm action on his changeup that allows him to get a number of swings and misses. He also has a 10-to-4 curveball that has its moments, but he tends to overthrow it, which causes it to flatten out. He has a clean delivery that he repeats easily, allowing him to pinpoint his pitches. McPherson handled the jump to Double-A easily in 2011 and could break camp with Indianapolis in 2012. Projected as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, he may reach Pittsburgh by the end of the season.
The Pirates stunned most draft analysts by selecting Sanchez with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft, a decision made in part because he would sign quickly for $2.5 million. Regarded as a quality defender behind the plate but with a questionable bat, he surprisingly hit .312/.413/.494 in his first two pro seasons before struggling in Double-A in 2011. He also was benched for three games after criticizing Eastern League umpires on Twitter. With his strong arm, receiving skills and feel for working with pitchers, Sanchez has Gold Glove ability. However, his defense slipped in 2011 as he got sloppy with his footwork and lost some accuracy on his throws. He erased just 22 percent of basestealers. Sanchez also regressed offensively, as his swing got long and he got too pull-conscious. He projects as an average hitter with moderate power and the willingness to draw walks. Sanchez's defensive ability gives him a chance to be a frontline major league catcher. Pittsburgh once hoped he would be ready to take over in 2012 with Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder leaving as free agents, but that isn't going to happen. Instead, Sanchez almost certainly will start the season back at Altoona, and he may not arrive in the majors before mid-2013.
Grossman appeared headed to the University of Texas until the Pirates enticed him to sign for $1 million as a sixth-round pick in 2008. He had only sporadic success before 2011, when he repeated high Class A and led the minors with 104 walks and 127 runs. He was the first minor leaguer to reach triple digits in both categories in the same season since Nick Swisher in 2004. Grossman took off after he improved his selectivity at the plate, putting him in hitter's counts where he can do damage. He hit 13 homers after totaling just nine in his first two full pro seasons, and 11 of those came from the left side of the plate--from which he didn't start hitting until he was a high school senior. Despite his breakthrough, many scouts still are skeptical as to whether he can become a plus hitter for average or power at the major league level. He has slightly above-average speed and even better instincts on the bases. Though he has played some center field in the minors, he spent most of 2011 in right field, where he showed average range and arm strength. Grossman still has to prove his breakout wasn't the result of repeating a level, and many scouts see him as more of a tweener than an everyday big leaguer in center or right field. He did tear up the Arizona Fall League, finishing first in walks (20) and second in homers (seven) before fracturing the hamate bone in his right hand. The injury could hamper him in 2012, when he'll head to Double-A once he's ready.
The two most-live arms in the 2010 draft belonged to Jameson Taillon and Allie, and the Pirates landed them both. Signed for $2.25 million as a second-rounder, Allie lacks Taillon's polish and it showed when he had problems finding the strike zone in his pro debut last summer. Allie can reach triple digits with his fastball, though it usually sits at 93-97 mph. His best pitch is a mid-80s slider with sharp, late break that makes it difficult for hitters to read. Allie has yet to prove he can throw strikes with either pitch, however. He had serious bouts of wildness in extended spring training and walked more than a batter an inning at State College. Pittsburgh eventually shifted Allie from the starting rotation to the bullpen in an attempt to take some pressure off him, but it didn't help. If he's going to remain a starter, he'll also have to refine a changeup. Allie is a real wild card at this point. He has the stuff to be a frontline starter or a lockdown closer, and he prefers the latter role. Yet his career will be stuck in neutral or worse until he gains some semblance of command. He figures to remain in extended spring training at the outset of 2012 before returning to State College.
Locke is trying to follow in the footsteps of such New Hampshire-born pitchers as Mike Flanagan, Bob Tewksbury, Chris Carpenter and Brian Wilson. Acquired with Charlie Morton and outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez in the 2009 Nate McLouth trade with the Braves, Locke was the player the Pirates coveted the most. He finished the 2012 season in their rotation. Locke doesn't overpower hitters, with his fastball sitting at 89-90 mph and topping out at 92. He gets outs with it, though, because he commands it to both sides of the plate. He backs up his fastball with a solid curveball that he's willing to throw while behind in the count, and a changeup that keeps getting better. Locke has good aptitude for pitching and solid mound presence. Some scouts have questioned his durability because he's not big, but he hasn't missed a start in four full pro seasons and worked 170 innings in 2011. Considering he has made just five starts at the Triple-A level, Locke likely will spend the majority of 2012 at Indianapolis and contend for a full-time job in the Pittsburgh rotation the following year. He projects as an eventual No. 3 or 4 starter.
Dickerson had an outstanding college career, winning the Big Ten Conference triple crown in 2010 and tying Indiana's career home run record with 47. The Pirates were thrilled to get him in the third round of the 2011 draft, where they signed him for $380,700. With his advanced approach to hitting, he made an easy transition to pro ball. Dickerson uses the whole field and has the raw strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He's also willing to take a walk if pitchers won't challenge him, and projects as a solid hitter with slightly above-average power. Dickerson played left field in college, but his lack of speed and range prompted Pittsburgh to immediately move him to first base in pro ball. Though he made six errors in 34 games, he can become an adequate defender in time. He may skip a level and jump to high Class A for his first full pro season. The Pirates haven't had a 30-homer first baseman since Jason Thompson in 1982 and don't have any can't-miss prospects at the position, so the path to Pittsburgh is wide open for Dickerson.
The 26th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morris is the last player remaining in the organization from the ill-fated Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez deal at the July 2008 trade deadline. The Pirates gave up Bay and received Andy LaRoche and Morris from the Dodgers and Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss from the Red Sox. Morris entered 2011 on track to crack Pittsburgh's rotation at some point during the season, but a disappointing performance in spring training got him sent back to Double-A for a second season. Things got worse, as he strained an oblique in mid-April and missed a month, then became a full-time reliever in mid-June. Morris' raw stuff plays better when he comes out of the bullpen, as he throws a 90-95 mph fastball and a mid- 80s slider. The latter is a plus pitch when it features sharp break. He no longer has to worry about mastering a changeup that never came easy to him. He should be more durable, too, after missing time with Tommy John surgery in 2007, biceps tendinitis in 2008 and foot surgery in 2009. Morris has the personality for relief work, as he pitches aggressively and no longer will have to hold anything in reserve like he did as a starter. He still needs to do a better job of throwing strikes, but he'll go to Triple-A to start the season and could make his major league debut by September. He has the arm to be a set-up man in the big leagues, and perhaps even a closer.
One of several pitchers the Pirates have signed to over-slot bonuses in the last three drafts, Cain received an eighth-round-record $1.125 million in 2009 to pass up a scholarship from Texas. He also was a slugging first baseman at Waxahachie (Texas) High, the alma mater of golf immortal Byron Nelson, but Pittsburgh believed he had a brighter future on the mound. He signed too late to play in 2009 and spent much of 2010 rehabilitating from offseason back surgery, but last year he started to show what he can do. Cain throws a fastball that sits in the low 90s with good movement. He's still refining an 11-to-5 curveball and a changeup. What separates Cain from many young pitchers is his fearlessness, as he attacks hitters inside and will throw any pitch in any count. He does a good job of keeping the ball down and hides the ball well in his delivery, giving him deception with his pitches. He throws across his body and with some effort, yet it doesn't hamper his control. His stocky frame is built for durability. Cain will pitch in high Class A this year and likely move up one level at a time, putting him in line to reach Pittsburgh in 2015. He could develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Another over-slot high school pitcher, Kingham signed for $480,000 as a fourth-round pick in 2010 and turned down a commitment to Oregon. He saw his first extensive pro action last summer, when his 2.15 ERA ranked third in the short-season New York-Penn League (and first among teenagers). Kingham has a long, projectable body and his 91-93 mph fastball appears even quicker because he pitches on a steep downhill plane. He figures to add a little more velocity once his body fills out. Kingham has an advanced changeup, which gives him a leg up on most young pitchers, and is working on tightening up his inconsistent curveball. He controls his body well for such a big pitcher and has a smooth delivery, which gives him good control and command. He'll get his first taste of full-season ball in low Class A this year and eventually could be a No. 3 starter in the big leagues.
The Pirates have paid out the highest bonuses in draft history in the first (Gerrit Cole, $8 million), second (Josh Bell, $5 million), eighth (Colton Cain, $1.125 million) and ninth (Holmes, $1.2 million) rounds. Holmes was able to land a seven-figure bonus because he not only had a big league body and fastball, but he also was the valedictorian of his high school class and strongly committed to Auburn. Holmes already sits at 90-93 mph with good sink on his heater, and he could add more velocity as he fills out his lanky frame. His best secondary pitch is a spike curveball with 12-to-6 break, though it's a bit inconsistent at this point. Holmes' changeup is in the rudimentary stages, but he's a quick learner. His biggest need will be to develop control and command, the result of a delivery that features significant effort. He'll likely begin the 2012 season in extended spring training to get better acclimated to pro ball before making his debut in the Gulf Coast or New York-Penn League in June.
Part of the Pirates' last class of draft-and-follows, Owens signed for $390,000 in the spring of 2007. After doing little in his first two pro seasons, he won Pittsburgh's minor league pitcher of the year award in both 2009 and 2010. He became an Altoona legend in the latter season by pitching the Curve to the Eastern League title while wearing a perm reminiscent of 1970s pitchers such as Mark Fidrych, Ross Grimsley and Randy Jones. Altoona even held a Rudy Owens Perm Cap promotion last year. However, Owens wasn't feted in Triple-A in 2011, getting knocked around before he was shut down in August with shoulder fatigue. The Pirates still protected him on their 40-man roster after the season. After showing a 90-93 mph fastball down the stretch the year before, he had a hard time getting it above the mid-80s. Inconsistent mechanics and his tired shoulder contributed to the drop in velocity, which rendered his secondary pitches less effective because they lacked much separation from his fastball. He throws a slurvy curveball and a changeup that have improved but are still fringy. Owens, who has a realistic ceiling as a No. 4 starter, will go back to Indianapolis to start 2012.
Wilson capped one of the most improbable runs in College World Series history by winning the title game for Fresno State in 2008. He enjoyed playoff success again two years later, when he was named MVP of the Eastern League postseason by contributing 13 shutout innings to Altoona's championship. He struggled in Triple-A last year, though, so the Pirates moved him to the bullpen in the final month to get him back on track. Wilson earned a spot on the 40-man roster after he was a revelation in relief, hitting the upper 90s in short stints after topping out at 95 mph as a starter. The Pirates still believe he can be an effective starter if he improves the command of his fastball, which normally sits in the low 90s with life. He also throws a bigbreaking curveball and a changeup with some fade. Pittsburgh faces a decision in spring training: keep Wilson in the bullpen, where he could help immediately at the big league level, or put him back in the rotation, where he'd likely need a second full year at Indianapolis. His arm action makes it difficult for him to throw strikes consistently, which ultimately may point him to relief.
Cunningham has hit better than most Pirates position prospects since singing for $100,000 as an 18th-round pick in 2008. But he has had trouble staying healthy. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee as a high school senior, missing the season but avoiding surgery when the ACL reattached itself. He wasn't as fortunate when he tore it again during a conditioning drill, requiring an operation that cost him all of 2009. After making it through the 2010 season, he was hit in the head by a pitch last July 15, sustaining a concussion and missing most of the final seven weeks. Cunningham has outstanding pop for a middle infielder, true plus power that he generates to all fields. He hit 15 homers in 80 games in the pitcherfriendly Florida State League last year. The ball jumps off his bat when he makes sweet spot contact. He lacks plate discipline, however, which could be his fatal flaw as he works his way through the system. He swings and misses a lot, and he often chases pitches outside the zone. Despite his knee injuries, Cunningham still has solid speed and some scouts wonder why he doesn't run more often. A shortstop in high school and primarily a third baseman in his pro debut, he shifted to second base following his second knee surgery. He has good range and arm strength, and he's a tick above-average at turning the double play. Cunningham will begin 2012 in Double- A. He has the tools to be Ian Kinsler Lite if his health and strike-zone judgment don't sabotage his chances.
Black was one of the harder throwers available in the 2009 draft, and the Pirates used a supplemental first-round pick on him after his fastball was clocked consistently at 94-96 mph at Dallas Baptist. He comes from an athletic family as his three sisters all played NCAA Division I volleyball, and that athleticism adds to his intrigue. He pitched just five innings in 2010 while battling shoulder and biceps problems, and those issues delayed the start of his 2011 season until late May. Pittsburgh moved him to the bullpen when he got back on the mound, and he pitched well enough to earn a promotion to high Class A in August. Black's fastball sat at 91-93 mph last year, though he should show more velocity once the Pirates take him off a tight leash. He had shown a hard slider with good tilt in the past, but that too has yet to come all the way back. He also throws a changeup. Besides regaining his former stuff, Black also must do a better job of finding the strike zone after averaging 5.0 walks per nine innings during his brief pro career. Pittsburgh is anxious to see what he can do if he's fully healthy at Bradenton at 2012, hoping he can become a set-up man or maybe more down the road.
Hernandez was involved in two significant trades in his first four pro seasons. The Tigers shipped him and Jair Jurrjens to the Braves in exchange for Edgar Renteria after the 2007 season. In June 2009, Atlanta packaged Hernandez with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton to get Nate McLouth from the Pirates. Hernandez has a minor league batting title (Gulf Coast League, 2006) and MVP award (low Class A Midwest League, 2007) on his résumé and has made Top 10 Prospects lists in all three organizations, but he has stalled in the Pittsburgh system because he doesn't provide enough offense. Hernandez's best tool is his center-field defense. He has exceptional range, makes tough plays look easy and has a strong, accurate arm. His plus speed doesn't play as well on the bases, as he's vulnerable to good pickoff moves and hasn't been a prolific basestealer since his MWL days. Hernandez showed some improved strength and gap power last season in Triple-A, but he still doesn't impact the ball or get on base with enough consistency. He's blocked in the majors by Andrew McCutchen and has Starling Marte coming up behind him, so Hernandez may never play regularly in the majors unless he's part of a third trade.
Von Rosenberg was a legendary high school pitcher in Louisiana, winning the state championship game in each of his four years split between two schools. A quality athlete, he planned to pitch at Louisiana State and also punt for the Tigers' football team. Rated the 41st-best player in the 2009 draft by Baseball America, he fell to the sixth round because of signability questions but turned pro for $1.2 million. Von Rosenberg hasn't yet to live up to his hype, going 6-15, 4.90 in three pro seasons. As they do with many of their young pitchers, the Pirates have had him focus on honing his fastball command. He has thrown strikes but hasn't missed many bats with an 86-90 mph fastball that he can sink or cut. Once he began adding in his curveball in the latter stages of last season, he pitched much better, finishing with six perfect innings in his final start. He also throws a slider and changeup, though he has yet to establish a plus pitch that can carry him at upper levels. He'll move up to high Class A in 2012 and try to show that he can become more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Cabrera's father Alex played for the 2000 Diamondbacks and has gone on to spend 11 seasons in Japan. Ramon isn't a slugger like his father, but he won the high Class A Florida State League batting title last season with a .343 average. He also was the FSL's toughest batter to strike out, fanning just once every 13.1 plate appearances. A switch-hitter, Cabrera slashes line drives to the gaps from both sides of the plate. The question is how much more power he can develop and how much his defense can improve. He focuses on making contact and isn't much of a home run threat, having hit just 10 in 1,051 pro at-bats. Though he has a square frame, Cabrera is agile behind the plate and moves surprisingly well on the bases. He also shows good feel for calling a game. However, his arm is average at best and his throws can be scattershot. He threw out just 13 percent of basestealers and committed 14 passed balls in 78 games last year. Keeping his body in shape may always be a struggle. Cabrera will have to keep proving himself at every level to make it to the majors, with Double-A his next challenge.
Dodson was one of four high school pitchers paid above-slot bonuses by the Pirates in the 2009 draft, getting $600,000 to walk away from a Baylor scholarship. A two-way star, he went 10-0, 1.20 and hit 11 homers as a high school senior. Dodson isn't as physical as some of Pittsburgh's other pitching prospects, but his athleticism and arm speed allow him to run his fastball up to 94 mph. He generally sits at 88-91 mph with his heater, which features nice life that makes it difficult for hitters to square up. He also has a solid curveball that's getting better, and the next item on his agenda is to develop a more reliable changeup. Dodson's mechanics sometimes lose consistency, but when he keeps his delivery contact, he's able to pound the strike zone. He missed two months in 2011 with a broken pitching hand, though he returned to go 4-1, 1.97 in the final month in low Class A. A possible No. 3 or 4 starter, Dodson has pitched just 152 innings since signing but may approach that total in high Class A this year.
Navarro was traded twice in 2011, going from the Red Sox to the Royals for Mike Aviles in July, then to the Pirates in exchange for righthander Brooks Pounders and infielder Diego Goris in December. Navarro has the makings of a good offensive middle infielder with outstanding bat speed, some pop, the willingness to work counts and enough quickness to steal an occasional base. However, he's beginning to play his way off shortstop as his range is diminishing. Navarro still has the quick feet to play second base and the arm strength to play third base on a regular basis, though his bat doesn't profile at the hot corner. He has played every position in pro ball except for catcher and pitcher. Boston tired of Navarro's lack of conditioning or consistent effort, and Kansas City didn't wait long to unload him as well. In Pittsburgh, he'll get the opportunity to make the big league team in a super-utility role, but he may be running out of chances if his work ethic doesn't improve. His brother Raul is a shortstop in the Diamondbacks system.
Despite hitting .339 with 18 homers for Texas Christian in 2010, Curry lasted until the 16th round of the draft because he was a bad-bodied college senior who had no value beyond his bat. He has continued to produce since signing for $2,000, leading State College with seven homers in his pro debut and then starting 2011 by batting .361/.477/.671 in the first two months at West Virginia. The Pirates were so impressed that they jumped him to Altoona, making him their first prospect to skip high Class A since Andrew McCutchen in 2006. Curry met his match against Double-A pitching, having trouble with breaking balls and lefthanders. An aggressive hitter who likes to pull the ball with an uppercut stroke, he may need to tone down his approach. Nevertheless, his power and willingness to draw walks make him one of the more intriguing offensive prospects in the system. Though he's a well below-average runner with limited range, he handles himself well enough on the bases and around the bag at first base. How well he adjusts when he returns to Altoona in 2012 will tell a great deal about his future.
Chambers has one of the highest offensive ceilings in the system, but whether he can reach it remains in question after he has hit .238 in three pro seasons. Built like Kirby Puckett, he packs plenty of strength and raw power. He has quick wrists and generates good backspin on the ball. His patience is evidenced by his 212 walks in 299 pro games. However, Chambers also has several issues at the plate. He sits on fastballs and is too pull-conscious, leaving him vulnerable to breaking balls or pitches on the outer half. He has no twostrike approach and hasn't shown any ability to make adjustments. He also can become overly selective and let too many hittable pitches pass by. The stocky Chambers has deceptively good speed and even better first-step quickness, which enables him to steal bases and get good jumps in center field. His arm also rates above-average. Chambers has been moving up one step at a time and will face a telling challenge in Double-A this year.
Hanson opened plenty of eyes with his outstanding athleticism while making his U.S. debut in 2011. He led the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with seven triples and finished second with 24 steals while teaming with fellow Dominican Jodaneli Cavajal to form an outstanding double-play package. Hanson's most obvious tool is his plus speed, which makes him a factor on the bases and gives him good range. His only drawback on defense is a slightly below-average arm that hinders him from making the long throw from the hole at shortstop. He also saw action at second base last season and that may be his future home. Hanson has an advanced feel for hitting for a foreign teenager. He has good hand-eye coordination and a grasp of the strike zone, along with a line-drive stroke and some gap power. After making a cameo at State College in September, he'll probably return there after opening 2012 in extended spring training.
Cumpton went 31-3 in high school and won back-to-back Georgia 4-A state championships before having an up-and-down career at Georgia Tech. Despite his uneven performance and questions some teams had about his durability, the Pirates drafted him in the ninth round in 2010 and have been pleased with his development. Cumpton pitches at 89-93 mph with his fastball and has answered the stamina concerns by holding his velocity deep into games. He relies heavily on his heater, throwing it for strikes on both sides of the plate and showing some glove-side life. He has tightened up his curveball to give him a second solid pitch. The next step is refining a changeup. Cumpton throws a lot of strikes but his control is significantly sharper than his command. While some scouts think he'd be better served in middle relief, where his pitches would play up, Pittsburgh believes he has a chance to reach the majors as a No. 3 or 4 starter. He'll make the jump to Double-A this season.
Mel Rojas Sr. pitched for 10 years in the majors, but Mel Jr. decided to be a position player after seeing his father's career derailed by shoulder problems. The son turned down offers out of the Dominican Republic and redshirted for a year at Wabash Valley (Ill.) CC before going from virtual unknown to third-round pick in 2009. He led all national juco players with 61 steals while hitting .398 with 12 homers before signing for $423,900. The Pirates viewed him as a potential five-tool talent, but it hasn't translated well in his first two years in pro ball. Rojas is a switch-hitter with size, strength and bat speed. He has an inconsistent approach, however, getting pull-conscious at times and trying to slap the ball at others. He flies open in his stance, making it difficult to handle pitches on the outer half. He's more productive from the left side of the plate, batting just .200/.260/.281 against southpaws in 2011. Rojas has solid but not blazing speed and isn't the same basestealing threat he was at Wabash Valley, getting caught 14 times in 37 steal attempts last year. He glides to balls in center field and has a good arm for the position. The learning curve in pro ball has proven steep so far for Rojas, who will go to high Class A this year. Pittsburgh still likes his upside even if he's moving slower than expected.
Osuna was considered one of the top young pitching prospects in Venezuela as a 15- year-old but his velocity took a mysterious dip in 2009, so many teams decided against bidding on him. The Pirates saw potential in Osuna's bat, however, and signed him for $275,000. It seems like a prudent decision, as he has shown plus power in his limited pro experience. Osuna has loft to his swing and the type of bat speed and leverage that should allow him to hit plenty of balls out of the park once he body matures. Unlike most young power hitters, he understands the strike zone and doesn't chase many bad pitches. Osuna is not overly athletic, though, and his lack of speed and range will limit him to either first base or left field. His arm is fringy, too. Pittsburgh has a dearth of power-hitting prospects, so he'll get the opportunity to hit his way to the big leagues. He's polished enough at the plate to be able to handle low Class A as a teenager in 2012.
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