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Pirates Prospects

Moderator: John Perrotto compiled the Pirates top 10 list, and will field your questions about the organization at 1 p.m. ET.

 Q:  Brian from Corona asks:
What's the deal with Nick Gravelle? How far up the prospect chart is he and does he have an ETA yet? Thanks

John Perrotto: Gravelle is an overachiever who has pitched well despite not being drafted out of NAIA power Lewis-Clark State. Gravelle is still considered a fringe prospect at this point and a good test will come this season when pitched in full-season ball at Class A Hickory. It's a little too early for an ETA.

 Q:  AL from New York asks:
How likely is it that Jose Castillo will move to 3B? Is his range at SS limited? I actually heard it wasn't bad at all. I realize they have a young SS in Jack Wilson, but they also have a young 3B in Aramis Ramirez.

John Perrotto: There had been talk in the past that Castillo would eventually be moved to third because he has a rather thick lower half. However, Pete Mackanin, Castillo's manager at Lynchburg last season, and Alvaro Espinoza, the Pirates' major-league infield coach, are convinced he can play short in the majors. They should know as ex-big league shortstops.

 Q:  Rennie Stennett from Pitt asks:
Righthander Jonathan Albaladejo led the Puerto Rican League in ERA. He spent two years in the GCL without very good results, whats the word?

John Perrotto: Sometimes, there are just no explanations about young players. Everything seemed to suddenly click for Albaladejo in winter ball and he'll likely skip short-season Williamsport and go right to Class A Hickory this year.

 Q:  Brendan from Boston asks:
Opinions on Burnett seem very mixed, some compare him to a Tom Glavine, others think he's going to get lit up above A-bal and be exposed for not striking out a lot of batters. His 5.57 k9 is concerning, but he blows away Van Benschoten and everyone else in the system in every other category. I would think that being so unhittable (despite being described as 'hittable' by dint of not being overpowering) he would merit more praise and receive less criticism. Wis bb9, bbk ratio, whip era and batting average against are all pretty exceptional. What does he have to do to escape this lack of strikeout criticism? Also, if you had to, who would you compare him to on the major league level?

John Perrotto: Pitchers have certainly succeeded without high strikeout rates but statistics prove out that those with high K rates are more likely to succeed. Burnett has the moxie _ not to mention that great changeup _ to succeed. I think the Tom Glavine comparisons may be a little much at this stage of his career. Maybe a better comparison would be along the lines of Denny Neagle, with upside to become Glavinesque.

 Q:  Gene from Wayne, NJ asks:
I was surprised outfielder Chris Duffy was not even in your, "Best of the Rest". This was only his first full season and he batted .300 in the Carolina League. He was also one of the Leagues Top 20 prospects as judged by managers. He is also viewed as the best defensive outfielder. I know the organization is quite high on him. Where do you see him fitting in??? Gene from Wayne

John Perrotto: Duffy is certainly a prospect, just not in the top 10 at this point. His strikeoutwalk ratio is a little disturbing but he can make things happen from the top of the order and has excellent instincts in center field. With Tony Alvarez viewed more as a corner outfielder, the path is open for Duffy to take over in center field in a couple of years.

 Q:  Joel Charny from Washington, DC asks:
John, thanks for your coverage of the Pirate minor league system. I was somewhat surprised that Walter Young didn't make the top 10. What's your view of his future? I know he's already 23, but it's hard to dismiss that he did at Hickory in 2002.

John Perrotto: The reasons for Young not cracking the Top 10 are two-fold. One, the Pirates' farm system got much better last season, pushing him down the list. Two, it took three years to get out of short-season ball and, as you mentioned, he was on the old side for low Class A. Nevertheless, he has the most raw power in the organization. Thanks for the kind words about the minor-league coverage. It's a lot of fun.

 Q:  Joel Charny from Washington, DC asks:
Luis Torres, former top 10 right-handed pitching prospect, was still listed on the Williamsport roster in 2002. Is he still in the Bucs system? Is he ever going to pitch again?

John Perrotto: Torres is still in the system but has been dogged by shoulder problems for quite some time. His career is in jeopardy, which is sad since he once had the most electric arm in the Pirates' system.

 Q:  James from The Great Southwest asks:
Hello John, Do the Pirates have one of the Best overall Systems for Postion Players I look at the list of guys Bautista, Bonifay, Castillo, Young, and Yurendell DeCaster and think man the Steel City's Future looks bright. Which one of the guys has the highest ceiling,who is and who is not likely to reach that ceiling? Also could you rate the players as where you think each will fall from Everyday Player, Star Player, All Star Player, Superstar Player. Lastly is Castillo the best SS in The Minors behind only Jose Reyes as so Baseball publications have him rated? Thanks for your time to answer these questions.

John Perrotto: The Pirates' system tilts more toward pitching prospects at this stage, particularly at the upper levels. Of the players you mention, Jose Castillo has the most upside with his combination of power and speed while playing shortstop. Jose Bautista is also a good-looking prosect, who can get on base and hit for power. As mentioned earlier, Walter Young is also a prospect. Josh Bonifay has a good chance to hit his way to the majors, though he will more likely be a solid bench player than a regular. Yurendell DeCaster slipped last season becuase of shoulder problems and now much be a fringe prospect.

 Q:  Jeremy from Clayton, NC asks:
Whats the story on Tony Alvarez? Will he get his shot this year or does he need a year of AAA? Will he ever be a big league regular or just another Adrian Brown?

John Perrotto: The Pirates would prefer that Alvarez spend this season in Class AAA rather than make the jump from Class AA. Alvarez has talent but he also could still use a dose of maturity. I think his upside is higher than being another Adrian Brown but I also don't think he will be a superstar.

 Q:  Mike Johnson from South Orange NJ asks:
have you heard anything about Ray Navarette and infielder from Seton Hall University. He has hit over .300 in all 3 years in the minors. Just wanted to know if u heard how he is progressing and where he stands in the organization.

John Perrotto: As you mention, Navarette had hit at every level. He is considered a fringe prospect at best and has been older than most players at each of his minor-league levels. However, if he continues to hit, there has to be a point where he forces his way into prospect status. He will get a chance to prove himself at Class AA this season, the level where the prospects and suspects begin to split.

 Q:  Joel Charny from Washington, DC asks:
Will Nate McLouth repeat at Lynchuburg this year? Where does he rank in the Pirates top 30?

John Perrotto: McLouth had a decent year at Lynchburg but is still young and the Pirates will likely have him repeat at that level. I can't say where he ranks in the Top 30 because I don't want to ruin the surprise when the Prospects Handbook comes out. However, I will say he is in the top 30.

 Q:  Adam from Ann Arbor, MI asks:
What is the status of Matt Guerrier? A couple of years ago it looked like he had a breakout year in Chicago and on the brink of the majors. He seemed to derail one he came over to Pittsburg.

John Perrotto: Guerrier struggled last season at Class AAA Nashville after coming over from the White Sox in a spring training trade. The Piates were encouraged that Guerrier finished the season strong. Because of the logjam of veteran pitchers competiting for the No. 5 spot at the major-league level, Guerrier will go back to Nashville and try to build on his finish of 2002.

 Q:  Brian from Dallas, Tx asks:
John, Thanks for taking questions today. I believe I heard Dave Littlefield state during Piratesfest that John Van Benschoten could possibly skip Lynchburg and start at Altoona this season. Have you heard that, and do you think JVB is ready for AA? Thanks.

John Perrotto: There is a possibility VanBenschoten could start the year at Class AA Altoona. However, the Pirates are cognizant of the fact he pitched on only a limited basis in college and don't want to overwhelm. I think a most likely scenario is that he starts the season at high Class A Lynchburg then gets a promotion to Altoona when warranted.

 Q:  Joel Charny from Washington, DC asks:
Chris Shelton gets absolutely no publicity, but it's hard to argue with what he's done at the plate in the last two years. Is he a prospect or not? Does he have a position or is he born to DH?

John Perrotto: It is indeed hard to argue with what Shelton has done with the bat. However, he needs to find a position. He probably won't be able to catch at the major-league level and the jury is still out if he can play first base, or possibly, left field. If not, he's a DH and, as we all know, the Pirates are an NL team.

 Q:  Jim from Phoenix asks:
As a loyal Arizona State Sun Devil fan I've followed both Chris Duffy and Drew Friedberg closely, what do their futures look like with the Bucks and where should I look for them to start '03?

John Perrotto: As I mentioned earlier, Duffy has a legitimate chance to play center field in Pittsburgh. Friedber could wind up as a situation lefty in the major leagues, which means he could pitch to he is 100 years old like Jesse Orosco.

 Q:  Dave from Chestertown, Maryland asks:
Would Bryan Bullington started in Hickory the Pirates low single A team or Lynchburg there advanced single A team if he signed early?

John Perrotto: The Pirates don't seem to think that the delay in the start of Bullington's career, caused by him holding out until last Oct. 31, has set him back much, if at all. He will begin this season with one of the full-season Class A farm clubs, either Lynchburg or Hickory, depending on how he performs in spring training.

 Q:  Joel Charny from Washington, DC asks:
Bobby Bradley does not make the project Pirate rotation in 2006. Does that mean you don't believe he will ever be healthy or has he really been surpassed by other prospects?

John Perrotto: Bradley is still a prospect, it's just that he has been shoved down the list with the influx of such talents as John VanBenschoten, Sean Burnett and Bryan Bullington. Bradley's curveball is as good as they come but the bottom line is he has pitched in only 29 professional games in four seasons because of his elbow injuries.

 Q:  Baron Large from Pittsburgh asks:
Hello John. Hope all is well. Who ends up with more MLB at-bats, JCastillo or JJDavis? Is SBurnett another JMoyer? Thank you

John Perrotto: I'll say Castillo winds up having a better and longer career than J.J. Davis. The Burnett-Moyer comparison is vald. However, I think Burnett's pure stuff is better than Moyer's.

 Q:  Jeff C from Philadelphia, PA asks:
Is there any way that JR House can make up for his lost development time and turn into a contributor at the MLB level?

John Perrotto: House is still a prospect, though some of his luster has worn off after a lackluster Class AA season in 2001 and reconstructive elbow surgery last year. It's not out of the question that House could be a good major-league players. However, he is now 23 and will limited to DH and first base duty for at least the first half of this season. Time is running out and he has to come back strong once full healthy.

 Q:  Nick from Allison Park asks:
Given the bevy of prospects at lower levels, do you see the Pirates as a legimate Division TitlePennent contender by 2005?

John Perrotto: Let's say it seems the Pirates are on the right track, both at the major-league and minor-league level. However, think back to 1997 when the Pirates made a surprising run at the NL Central title and was rated to have the best minor-league talent in the game. They haven't sniffed a championship since, so you never know when it comes to how prospects will pan out.

 Q:  Rule V Refugee from Haldleyville asks:
Why have the Pirates abandoned the Rule V draft except to make money (Ugueto and Roney)? Is Littlefield doing everything possible to distant the organization from every Cam Bonifay trait?

John Perrotto: I think it's come down to the fact the Pirates didn't see anyone in the Rule 5 Draft the last two years who could help them. Thus, they sold their first-round picks to Seattle and Detroit and made a little money out of the deal.

 Q:  Rocco from Pittsburgh asks:
In your esteemed opinion, which 3 position player prospects in the Bucs' system have the best chance to be 'impact' players at the major league level in the relatively near future?

John Perrotto: Jose Castillo, Tony Alvarez and J.J. Davis, though Castillo easily has the best chance of the three.

 Q:  Mike D. from Pittsburgh asks:
John, Which of these 3 pitchers do you see reaching the majors first: JVB, Bullington or Burnett? And which has the highest ceiling of the 3?

John Perrotto: I would give the edge to Burnett, just because he is a little further up the ladder. However, I could see all three of them getting to the majors around the same time in 2005.

 Q:  Ryan Patton from Mechanicsburg, PA asks:
What is your take on first basemen Carlos Rivera and, especially, Walter Young? Can either be productive for the Bucs?

John Perrotto: Rivera and Young both had fine seasons last year. However, it took Rivera six years to put it together and Young was in short-season ball for three years. Considering their history, they need to do it again before I'm convinced.

 Q:  DeMaro from Carnegie asks:
I've read that 2002 early round pick, Wardell Starling, has yet to sign. What are the chances the Bucs' will sign him? A lot of different publications seem to think he could be quite a player.

John Perrotto: Starling was the Pirates' fourth-round pick but decided to go the juco route. The Pirates retain his rights through late May and will try to sign him because, as you said, he is an outstanding prospect.

 Q:  Mark from Plattsburgh, NY asks:
Adrian Burnside and Chris Young were on last year's Top Ten list, where would they have been this year? What about Searles and Novoa?

John Perrotto: Burnside's stock slipped dramatically last year and he probably would have fallen to the 25-30 range. Young's inability to add velocity or command his curveball would have cause him to slide in the 13-17 range.

 Q:  Gene Jr. from Robinson asks:
Everyone knows JVB was a great college hitter. How has he fared at the plate in pro ball? Could he be another Mike Hampton-type hitting pitcher?

John Perrotto: VanBenschoten saw a little DH action at short season Williamsport after being drafted in 2001 and hit .227 with no homers. He concentrated solely on pitching last year and that will not change. Considering he led the nation with 31 homers at Kent State in '01, it's safe to assume he would be one of the better hitting pitchers in the majors if he gets there.

 Q:  Wilbur Miller from Silver Spring, MD asks:
Any good breakout candidates? Jeff Sharber? Casey Shumaker? Kody Kirkland?

John Perrotto: I think all three could break out but I like Sharber. He really knows how to pitch.

 Q:  Andy from Chicago asks:
John, have the Pirates improved enough that they can be counted as having one of the upper tier farm systems in the game with the likes of Cleveland or Atlanta, are more top notch position prospects required to get into that group. Secondly do you have any early indications who the Pirates are looking at with the 7th pick in the draft this year? Thanks

John Perrotto: I don't think the Pirates are quite in the upper tier yet, mainly because they don't have a lot of guy who have proven they can at the upper levels. At this early stage, the Pirates are still wide open about players since they are drafting No. 7.

 Q:  Joe Murray from Peoria, Ill asks:
What kind of ceiling do the Pirates first three prospects have?

John Perrotto: I think VanBenschoten, Burnett and Bullington all can be at least No. 2 starters in the major leagues.

 Q:  Eric from Girard, OH asks:
What is the status on 2B Domingo Cuello? He had a really good year at Williamsport two years ago and was rated among the top 20 prospects by managers that year. I know he was hurt most of last season, do the Pirates still consider him a prospect and where is he likely to end up this season?

John Perrotto: Cuello broke his ankle last year and didn't get to make an impression on the new regime. He is an exciting player with some flair. Speed is a big part of his game, so how well he recovers from the ankle injury will dictate a lot about his future. How he looks in spring training will likely determine whether he goes back to Williamsport or to low Class A Hickory.

 Q:  Wilbur Miller from Silver Spring, MD asks:
Is Rajai Davis for real, or was he just beating up on younger competition last year?

John Perrotto: Davis didn't play a lot of baseball as a youngster, so he is still very raw. That he tore up the Gulf Coast League is intriguing but time will tell how he makes adjustments against more experienced compeition.

 Q:  Bill Mitchell from Tempe, AZ asks:
With his boost in velocity and good health (hopefully), is Mike Gonzalez ready to make the jump from AA to the big leagues? Long-term, is he a reliever or starter, in your opinion. Thanks.

John Perrotto: The Pirates probably won't jump Gonzalez to the majors at the start of the season but he is very close to be ready. Because he has had a hard time mastering a changeup but throws 95 mph, I think his long-term future _ which is extremely bright _ is in the bullpen.

 Q:  Russ from Montreal, Quebec asks:
What do you think about the deal the Pirates made for Matt Herges? Do you think that Young was too high of a price to pay for a middling reliever like Herges? Do you know why the Pirates made this trade?

John Perrotto: Peronally, I thought Young had too much upside to give up for a middle reliever. However, the Pirates' organization did not view Young as highly as I did.

 Q:  Guillermo from Palma de Mallorca asks:
Whats the upside for the young shortstop Javier Guzman who had a pretty good year in short season ball at age 17. Could he be another Felix Pie

John Perrotto: Javier Guzman had an outstanding season in the Gulf Coast League wiht Bradenton before fading late. He has quite a bit of upside, though I wouldn't put his hitting ability quite up there with Felix Pie's. I like Guzman but I also like Pie.

 Q:  Mick from Chicago asks:
Do you ever see Brandon Chaves and Jeff Keppinger working together in the middle infield for the Pirates or another organization?

John Perrotto: Never say never but I like Keppinger's chances much better than Chaves'.

 Q:  Paul Krzywicki from Wilkes-Barre, PA asks:
It appears as though the Pirates are banking on JJ Davis' power in the near future. Don't you think that is being overly optimistic considering he's really only had one solid minor league season.

John Perrotto: Normally,I'd agree with your assessment of Davis and his only proving himself for one year. But I trust the opinion of Class AA Altoona manager Dale Sveum very much and he insists Davis has turned a large corner, both as a player and person.

 Q:  Mike from Exiled in Iowa asks:
Would any of the players traded this offseason or lost in the rule 5 draft have made the Pirates top 10 top 30?

John Perrotto: None would have made the cut, though Chris Spurling and Ronny Paulino were certainly under consideration.

 Q:  Ed from Pittsburgh, PA asks:
What in the world happened to Tony McKnight?

John Perrotto: Tony McKnight went to Class AAA Nashville with a bad attitude after not making the major-league club last spring and then did little to earn a promotion back to the major leagues. The Pirates, too, soured on McKnight and made no attempt to re-sign him as a six-year free agent.

 Q:  Jim Sconing from Iowa City asks:
The Pirates lost 5 players in the rule 5 draft. That seems like a lot for a franchise that doesn't have a great farm system. Is it a problem with the 40 man roster or just bad luck?

John Perrotto: I had no qualms with who the Pirates protected on their 40-man. Losing so many players was a case of the talent level in the organization rising.

 Q:  Nick Fondriest from Queens NY asks:
what ever happen to Mark Merchant and Austin Manahan two high first round picks.

John Perrotto: They are long gone from baseball and nothing but distant, albeit unpleasant, memories for the Pirates.

 Q:  Russ from Montreal, Quebec asks:
John, Do you forsee any possible sleepers among the minor league free agents that the Pirates signed? (e.g. Juan Tolentino, Yohvanny Valera. etc.)

John Perrotto: The Pirates seem to like catcher Blake Barthol, a good catch-and-throw guy, as a possible backup to Jason Kendall if Humberto Cota is not recovered from the broken hand he suffered while playing winter ball in Mexico.

 Q:  Eugene from Pgh, PA asks:
Just how good is Ryan Doumit? Would you consider him one of the best catching prospects in all the land?

John Perrotto: Doumit has everything you want in a catching prospect, including the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. The whole key for Doumit is staying healthy, something he hasn't done much of in his career.

 Q:  Wayne from from Maine asks:
Is lefty Mike Connolly sneaking up on the prospect radar?

John Perrotto: He certainly is. The little guy knows how to pitch.

 Q:  Chip W. from joliet illinois asks:
Can you tell me about RHP Landon Jacobsen? He had a good year in High A last year and seems to be heading to AA as a starter. Is he considered a prospect? What's his status in the system?

John Perrotto: A 50th-round draft pick, Jacobson has been a pleasant surprise. While he has had some success as a starter, some in the organization feel his long-term role might be that of a middle or set-up reliever.

Moderator: Thank you very much for all the questions. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.

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