Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects

Pittsburgh Pirates

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, 2007.

1.Andrew McCutchen, of
2.Neil Walker, c
3.Brad Lincoln, rhp
4.Yoslan Herrera, rhp
5.Josh Sharpless, rhp
6.Steven Pearce, 1b
7.Brian Bixler, ss
8.Brad Corley, of
9.Todd Redmond, rhp
10.Mike Felix, lhp
Best Hitter for AverageAndrew McCutchen
Best Power HitterNeil Walker
Best Strike-Zone DisciplineJim Negrych
Fastest BaserunnerRajai Davis
Best AthleteAndrew McCutchen
Best FastballBrad Lincoln
Best CurveballBrad Lincoln
Best SliderJosh Sharpless
Best ChangeupTodd Redmond
Best ControlJosh Shortslef
Best Defensive CatcherMatt Clarkson
Best Defensive InfielderJavier Guzman
Best Infield ArmJavier Guzman
Best Defensive OutfielderAndrew McCutchen
Best Outfield ArmAustin McClune
CatcherRonny Paulino
First BaseAdam LaRoche
Second BaseFreddy Sanchez
Third BaseNeil Walker
ShortstopJack Wilson
Left FieldJason Bay
Center FieldAndrew McCutchen
Right FieldXavier Nady
No. 1 StarterBrad Lincoln
No. 2 StarterIan Snell
No. 3 StarterZach Duke
No. 4 StarterTom Gorzelanny
No. 5 StarterPaul Maholm
CloserMatt Capps
YearPlayer, Position2006
1997Kris Benson, rhpOrioles
1998Kris Benson, rhpOrioles
1999Chad Hermansen, ofSioux Falls (Amer. Assoc.)
2000Chad Hermansen, ofSioux Falls (Amer. Assoc.)
2001J.R. House, cAstros
2002J.R. House, cAstros
2003John Van Benschoten, rhpPirates
2004John Van Benschoten, rhpPirates
2005Zach Duke, lhpPirates
2006Andrew McCutchen, ofPirates
YearPlayer, Position2006
1997J.J. Davis, ofOut of baseball
1998Clint Johnson, lhp/ofOut of baseball
1999Bobby Bradley, rhpOut of baseball
2000Sean Burnett, lhpPirates
2001John Van Benschoten, rhp/ofPirates
2002Bryan Bullington, rhpPirates
2003Paul Maholm, lhpPirates
2004Neil Walker, cPirates
2005Andrew McCutchen, ofPirates
2006Brad Lincoln, rhpPirates
Bryan Bullington, 2002$4,000,000
Brad Lincoln, 2006$2,750,000
John Van Benschoten, 2001$2,400,000
Bobby Bradley, 1999$2,225,000
Paul Maholm, 2003$2,200,000
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Pittsburgh Pirates

For years, the Pirates have said the key to building a winning team is scouting and player development. Yet seemingly each winter, they would add fading veterans to provide quick fixes.

After going 67-95 in 2005, Pittsburgh traded for Sean Casey and signed Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa. That plan backfired badly, as the three combined to hit just 23 home runs and drive in 106 runs en route to another 67-95 season in 2006. But those failures finally spurred the Pirates to do more than just pay lip service to the idea of building from within. After a 30-60 record before the all-star break, they benched Burnitz and Randa and traded Casey to the Tigers. Pittsburgh went 37-35, its first winning record after the break since 1992--which also happens to be the last season it finished on the positive side of .500.

For a change, the Pirates went into the offseason legitimately feeling they had put together a nucleus of young players who could help the franchise end its string of 14 consecutive losing seasons. That's just two shy of the major league record set by the 1933-48 Phillies.

The biggest reason for optimism is that Pittsburgh finished the season with four starting pitchers 24 or younger in Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Ian Snell. The Pirates also have the 23-year-old heir apparent to closer Mike Gonzalez in Matt Capps, who set a franchise rookie record by pitching in 89 games.

Gonzalez was used to acquire 27-year-old first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit 32 home runs for the Braves last season. He'll add punch to a lineup made up entirely of players 28 or younger, led by Jason Bay, who has one National League rookie of the year award and two all-star berths in three years, and surprise National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez.

After infusing so much youth into their big league roster, however, the Pirates now have a thin farm system with few premium prospects. Most of their younger players were drafted during Mickey White’s three-year run as scouting director from 1999-2001, which included taking Snell in the 26th round in 2000 and Duke in the 20th round in 2001.

One of Dave Littlefield’s first moves after taking over as general manager midway through the 2001 season was to fire White and replace him with Ed Creech. Creech's last three first-round picks—outfielder Andrew McCutchen (2005), catcher Neil Walker (2004) and righthander Brad Lincoln (2006)—are Pittsburgh's best prospects, but his drafts haven't been as deep as White's.

It's hard to pin all the blame on Creech, though. Pirates ownership went through a period where it overruled the scouting department’s desire to draft high-ceiling prospects in favor of going the conservative route with college players. The franchise now has new owners in charge, with the Nutting family buying out most of the team's other partners and installing Robert Nutting as chairman of the board. He replaces Kevin McClatchy as the club's controlling owner, though he has said the revamped ownership group supports McClatchy (who remains the club's CEO) and Littlefield.