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Top Ten Prospects: Pittsburgh Pirates
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Perrotto
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
The Pirates have been stressing the importance of a small-market franchise being able to build from within ever since Kevin McClatchy put together an ownership group that took control of the club on the first day of spring training in 1996. After years of trying, Pittsburgh began practicing what it has preached the second half of the 2005 season.
The Pirates began the season without one rookie on their roster. Before their 13th consecutive losing season ended, though, 12 players had made their major league debuts. That began a full-scale youth movement that the Pirates believe eventually can lead them back to respectability.
Pittsburgh’s long-suffering fans were enthused by the play of such youngsters as lefthanders Zach Duke and Paul Maholm; catcher Ryan Doumit; first baseman Brad Eldred; and outfielders Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth. Duke had the best debut at 8-2, 1.81 and finished fifth in the National League rookie of the year race. Lefty Tom Gorzelanny, righties Bryan Bullington, Matt Capps and Ian Snell, catcher Ronny Paulino, third baseman Jose Bautista and infielder J.J. Furmaniak also made cameo appearances.
“As far as having players who can help us in the future, this is the best position we’ve been in since I got here,” said general manager Dave Littlefield, who replaced Cam Bonifay midway through the 2001 season.
While the focus was on the rookies at the end of 2005, Pittsburgh also saw other players make significant progress in their second full major league seasons.
Left fielder Jason Bay built on his NL rookie-of-the-year award by hitting .306-32-101 with 21 steals in 22 attempts while starting all 162 games. Second baseman Jose Castillo began to develop power, hitting .268-11-53 in 101 games before a knee injury ended his season in late August.
The Pirates also have high hopes for 23-year-old lefthander Oliver Perez, who slipped to 7-5, 5.85 in 20 starts and missed nearly two months with a broken big toe after he kicked a metal laundry cart in frustration. He went 12-10, 2.98 with 239 strikeouts in 196 innings in 2004.
The Pirates stressed patience in player development when Littlefield took over and brought in Brian Graham as farm director and Ed Creech as scouting director. Instead of fast-tracking players to the majors, they moved them one level at a time for the most part. The players who arrived in Pittsburgh in 2005 didn’t appear overwhelmed by the surroundings.
Under Graham, Pirates farm clubs have posted a combined winning record in each of the last four seasons. Prior to that, they finished above .500 just once in 33 years.
Pittsburgh’s strength in recent years clearly has been pitching. However, that’s starting to change as the Pirates used the 11th overall pick in the last two drafts on a pair of high school position players, catcher Neil Walker (2004) and center fielder Andrew McCutchen (2005). They rank 1-2 on our Pirates Top 10 Prospects list this year.
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