Bay, McCutchen Lead Black and Gold Tier Chart

At season’s end, I’d like to be able to put together a listing of the Pirates’ top prospects. Lately, I’ve been catching up with our minor-league catchers and infielders, outfielders and starting pitchers at Sandlot Swashbucklers, and I’ve become increasingly interested with our work on the farm.
Today, I’ve taken a near-fantasy approach, introducing a “tiering” system to Pittsburgh’s depth chart. It’s something the crews at MVN’s rotisserie sites, Seamless Baseball and Bruno Boys, do: In separating the Pirates into distinct levels, you can get a feel of how players are (or should be) regarded by the organization. The result is basically a “who’s who” of our roster as of the moment the post publishes.
This first crack’s going to be rough, I’m sure, but here goes an attempt at forcing the cream to rise to the top.
Tier 1
1. Jason Bay, MLB, lf
2. Tom Gorzelanny, MLB, sp
3. Andrew McCutchen, AA, cf
4. Ian Snell, MLB, sp
The untouchables, if you will, as these four are the Pirates’ game changers. The top portion of the second tier could work its way into this group in time, but as of now those players each have a little more to prove to reach an elite status. McCutchen’s infinitely high ceiling landed him at this level despite the fact he’s produced mediocre results for Double-A Altoona.
Tier 2
5. Steven Pearce, AAA, 1b
6. Freddy Sanchez, MLB, 2b
7. Neil Walker, AA, 3b
8. Adam LaRoche, MLB, 1b
9. Xavier Nady, MLB, of
10. Matt Capps, MLB, rp
11. Paul Maholm, MLB, sp
12. Zach Duke, MLB-DL, sp
Everyone here is capable of being a top-tier player—they just have a little ways to go. Pearce needs to show that 2007 isn’t a fluke season. Sanchez is playing like the batting champ and defensive wizard of 2006 now that he’s healthy, but his first few months weren’t particularly encouraging. Walker has to figure out how to play defense. LaRoche and Nady will wind up being two of the Pirates’ most productive hitters in 2008, but they need more consistency to get there: LaRoche must hit from day one, and Nady must stay healthy. Capps, Maholm and Duke have shown flashes of brilliance, but they aren’t quite the pitchers that Gorzelanny and Snell are.
Tier 3
13. Ryan Doumit, MLB, utility
14. Matt Morris, MLB, sp
15. Damaso Marte, MLB, rp
16. Jose Bautista, MLB, utility
17. Jack Wilson, MLB, ss
18. Ronny Paulino, MLB, c
19. Salomon Torres, MLB, rp
20. Brian Bixler, AAA, ss
21. Jesse Chavez, AAA, rp
22. Jason Delaney, AA, 1b/of
I consider the third tier to be for those who are role players, or who haven’t quite reached prospect status. The most intriguing trio is at the bottom of the list: Bixler, Chavez and Delaney all have a chance to make the major-league roster in time, and they’ve even caught headlines thanks to the success they’ve had. I’m not convinced just yet, but they’ve done enough to separate themselves from the glut of mediocrity in the fourth tier.
Tier 4
23. Josh Phelps, MLB, utility
24. Shane Youman, MLB, sp
25. John Van Benschoten, AAA, sp
26. Bryan Bullington, AAA, sp
27. Yoslan Herrera, AA, sp
28. Nyjer Morgan, AAA-DL, cf
29. Chris Duffy, MLB-DL, cf
30. Sean Burnett, AAA, sp
31. Todd Redmond, AA, sp
32. Nate McLouth, MLB, of
33. Jose Castillo, MLB, utility
34. Cesar Izturis, MLB, utility
35. Brad Eldred, AAA, 1b/of
36. Franquelis Osoria, MLB, rp
37. Justin Vaclavik, AA, rp
At this level, it’s almost better if we haven’t seen you in Pittsburgh—you’ve left a little something to the imagination. Over the past week or so, Phelps has cemented his spot as a reserve on the 2008 roster. Like the third tier, there are three names who jump out from the crowd: Herrera, Redmond and Vaclavik haven’t set the world on fire with their stat lines, but they proven worthy of another look.
Tier 5
Alphabetical order: Tony Armas, MLB, sp; Jonah Bayliss, AAA, rp; Shawn Chacon, MLB, rp; Dave Davidson, AA, rp; John Grabow, MLB, rp; Masumi Kuwata, MLB, rp; Juan Perez, AAA, rp; Brian Rogers, AAA, rp; Romulo Sanchez, AA, rp; Josh Sharpless, AAA, rp; Josh Shortslef, AA, sp.
You’ve disappointed me.
As a disclaimer of sorts, only players on the rosters of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Indianapolis Indians and Altoona Curve were considered in the tiering—you’ve got to stop somewhere, right?

Minor-league veterans—guys like Adam Boeve, Jose Hernandez, Matt Kata, Michael Ryan, et al.—were noticed and ignored. They could, I suppose, be entered into a sixth tier for organizational soldiers with slight windows of opportunity.

7 Responses to “Bay, McCutchen Lead Black and Gold Tier Chart”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Very nice breakdown.
    I think Brian Bixler has a chance to move up from Tier 3, and Nyjer Morgan has a chance to move up from Tier 4 when his hand/thumb are healthy again. If the post-op pitchers — Van Benschoten, Bullington, and Burnett — can get healty and stay healthy, they might move up too.
    It will be very interesting to see what Steve Pearce does in 2008.

  2. Cory Humes Says:

    I’ve actually been kind of disappointed by Bixler’s stats. Granted I haven’t seen him play, but he’s not overwhelming me at Triple-A. If he doesn’t play fall or winter ball somewhere, he’ll need to have a heck of a spring training to earn a starting job, I think.
    As for Morgan … center field’s his for the taking if he can find his hot streak post-injury. Kind of like the second coming of Rajai Davis, I guess … I can’t see any reason not to give him a look.

  3. Derek Nelson Says:

    This is a really cool way to look at things.

  4. Cory Humes Says:

    I’m glad it meets your approval, Derek, since it was ripped off blatantly from your blog.
    And by the way, I’m Captain Cool.

  5. Matthew Whipps Says:

    Great way to break it down, I really enjoyed this post. I may steal this for the Twins organization over at “Twins Killings”!
    I too am very interested to see how Steven Pearce does in ’08. I also think LaRoche has a lot to prove next year and agree he has to start off on the right foot.
    Oh, and my favorite part. I love the summing up of tier 5:
    “You’ve disappointed me.”

  6. Marc Caviglia Says:

    Great Job Cory!!
    Tiered Rankings are the way to go. They really show value and draw the line between two players. I like this approach when breaking down a full team.
    Quick Question, what do Pirates insiders think of closer Matt Swanson. Having played against him and with him in High School , and facing him multiple times in college, I was wondering if he has a chance in the Pirates org? He has been closing, and has a pretty good sinker, but I am not sure he has put it all together yet.
    Thanks in Advance,
    Marc Caviglia
    Bruno Boys Fantasy Football

  7. Cory Humes Says:

    Marc, I have to say you stumped me. It’s not every day someone can mention a Pirate player that’s never even crossed my radar — but you just did.
    I had to look him up:
    Wilbur Miller, an amateur evaluator of Pirate talent (but whose opinion is held in very high regard), says:
    “Swanson was one of the bigger disappointments in the system in 2006. He had probably the best debut of the college pitchers at Williamsport in 2005, taking over as closer after Justin Vaclavik got hurt.”
    At High-A Lynchburg in 2007, Swanson’s got a 4.53 ERA and 1.65 WHIP (and 15 saves) through 43.2 innings:
    It’s never good to follow up a “disappointing year” with another mediocre season. Still, given the dearth of legitimate pitching talent at Double-A Altoona, I wouldn’t rule him out just yet. He doesn’t have prospect status, but we have arms with less upside, I suppose.
    I’ll be keeping an eye on him going forward…

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