Stock of Sanchez, Wilson is rising in Pittsburgh

About a month ago, I tried to create an organizational depth chart of sorts using a tiering system that’s popular at fantasy sports sites like Seamless Baseball and Bruno Boys. In separating the Pirates into distinct levels, you can get a feel of how I think players are (or should be) regarded by the Pirates. The result is basically a whos who of our roster as of the moment the post publishes.
The first edition (published on 8/14) was received fairly well, so I’m back for a second round. Previous rankings are in brackets: Something like [1-2] would correspond to a player ranked in the first tier, second overall. Last time there were only five tiers—this time there are six. Players in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Altoona were considered in the rankings.
A lot has changed since August…
Tier 1
1. [1-1] Jason Bay, MLB, lf
2. [1-2] Tom Gorzelanny, MLB, sp
3. [1-3] Andrew McCutchen, AAA, cf
4. [2-6] Freddy Sanchez, MLB, 2b
5. [1-4] Ian Snell, MLB, sp
The biggest mover is Freddy Sanchez, who’s hitting .327/.377/.533 since the All-Star break. Ten of his 11 home runs came in July and August. He’s come back to earth a bit in September—hitting only .304—but his steady bat and glove have earned the respect of new team president Frank Coonelly, who said a top priority this off-season will be inking Freddy to a multi-year deal.
Jason Bay has an OPS of just .756, but without a doubt he’s still the most valuable Pirate. In a down year he’ll hit close to 25 HR and 90 RBI. He’s been miserable since May, but he has a proven track record, is on the right side of 30 and is still under the team’s control for two more years.
Tom Gorzelanny‘s push for 15 wins has been well documented—Jim Tracy went so far as to say with more run support and a better bullpen, Gorzelanny would be under consideration for a Cy Young award.
Andrew McCutchen earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis and is a lock to be the Indians’ opening day center fielder in 2008. Even after a slow start to 2008, McCutchen is still the Pirates’ top prospect by a fair margin.
Ian Snell‘s second-half numbers (2-7, 5.40 ERA) pale in comparison to those from his first half (7-5, 2.93), but he’s a key piece of the Pirates’ staff and would be in the upper half of any MLB team’s rotation.
Tier 2
6. [2-8] Adam LaRoche, MLB, 1b
7. [2-9] Xavier Nady, MLB, of
8. [2-5] Steve Pearce, MLB, 1b/of
9. [2-10] Matt Capps, MLB, rp
10. [2-7] Neil Walker, AAA, 3b
11. [2-11] Paul Maholm, MLB, sp
12. [3-17] Jack Wilson, MLB, ss
The second tier got a lot more interesting with the continued success of LaRoche, Nady and Pearce, the promotion of Neil Walker to Indy and the unreal hot streak of Jack Wilson.
Management will have a decision to make, as Pearce is pushing for playing time in 2008. There are four players—Bay, LaRoche, Nady and Pearce—competing for three starting jobs.
Matt Capps is still the quiet workhorse he proved to be in 2006. Through 72 games and 75 innings, he’s struck out 59, walked 15 and compiled an ERA of 2.04. In the second half, his ERA is 1.40.
Wilson is hitting .357/.408/.573 since the All-Star break. His average for the season is .295. If he’s traded, the Pirates are conceding 2008—you can’t convince me that Brian Bixler or Cesar Izturis will give you anywhere near his production. Wilson’s contract seems affordable at this point.
Tier 3
13. [3-16] Jose Bautista, MLB, 3b
14. [3-18] Ronny Paulino, MLB, c
15. [3-14] Matt Morris, MLB, sp
16. [3-15] Damaso Marte, MLB, rp
17. [4-32] Nate McLouth, MLB, of
18. [2-12] Zach Duke, MLB, sp
19. [4-28] Nyjer Morgan, MLB, cf
20. [5-UR] John Grabow, MLB, rp
21. [5-UR] Romulo Sanchez, MLB, rp
22. [3-21] Jesse Chavez, AAA, rp
This is where the tiering starts to get a little messy: I generally classified this group as those players who should contribute in 2008, but not in a significant way. Bautista and Paulino would be serviceable as starters but fantastic backups; Morris and Duke, if pitching as they know how, would form a nice tandem at the back of the rotation.
I’m comfortable with neither Nate McLouth nor Nyjer Morgan in center field every day if the Pirates are looking to compete in 2008. A fourth outfielder who can play all three positions and who can hit from the right side of the plate would be a nice complementary piece to add to the mix.
Marte, Grabow, Sanchez and Chavez should be in next year’s bullpen. If you add a strong right-handed setup main (such as Salomon Torres circa 2006), the Pirates’ relief corps could be a strength of the team.
Tier 4
23. [3-13] Ryan Doumit, MLB, utility
24. [3-20] Brian Bixler, AAA, ss
25. [3-19] Salomon Torres, MLB, rp
26. [3-22] Jason Delaney, AA, 1b/of
27. [4-23] Josh Phelps, MLB, utility
28. [4-36] Franquelis Osoria, MLB, rp
29. [4-24] Shane Youman, MLB, rp
30. [4-25] John Van Benschoten, MLB, sp
31. [5-UR] Juan Perez, AAA, rp
32. [4-26] Bryan Bullington, MLB, sp
Bixler tanked in the second half of the season with Indy. If I’m in charge, he’s repeating Triple-A, with a mid-season call-up a strong possibility.
Salomon Torres needs to prove he can stay healthy. If he can’t separate himself from the pack, he’s competing with Sanchez, Chavez and Osoria for three spots in my bullpen. I might go with the kids just to save a buck.
The emergence of Pearce has caused a significant drop in the playing time given to Josh Phelps. This winter needs to be spent learning a new position—third base or left field—and mastering catcher and first base if he wants to stick with the Pirates. Doing so would give Phelps two edges over Doumit: more defensive versatility and an ability to stay healthy.
Tier 5
33. [5-UR] Brian Rogers, AAA, rp
34. [5-UR] Josh Sharpless, AAA, rp
35. [5-UR] Jonah Bayliss, AAA, rp
36. [4-29] Chris Duffy, MLB-DL, cf
37. [4-34] Cesar Izturis, MLB, utility
38. [5-UR] Shawn Chacon, MLB, rp
39. [4-30] Sean Burnett, AAA, sp
40. [4-33] Jose Castillo, MLB, utility
41. [4-35] Brad Eldred, AAA, 1b/of
42. [5-UR] Dave Davidson, MLB, rp
43. [new] Carlos Maldonado, MLB, c
44. [new] Matt Kata, MLB, utility
The fact that Rogers, Sharpless and Bayliss are not with the Pirates right now speaks volumes about how they’re regarded by Jim Tracy and Brian Graham. Duffy, Izturis and Castillo could win bench spots with the Pirates, but the more likely scenario has them opening 2008 wearing different uniforms. No one here is worth much, but there’s one commonality: All have spent time in the show but are fighting to get re-established.
Tier 6
45. [new] Matt Peterson, AA, rp
46. [4-31] Todd Redmond, AA, sp
47. [4-27] Yoslan Herrera, AA, sp
48. [new] Brad Corley, AA, of
49. [new] Jamie Romak, AA, of
50. [4-37] Justin Vaclavik, AA, rp
51. [5-UR] Josh Shortslef, AA, sp
52. [5-UR] Tony Armas, MLB, sp
The late-season call-ups robbed Altoona of its impressive core, but quasi-prospects Redmond, Corley and Romak were given a chance to show what they can do. We’ll know more about them after winter ball and a couple month’s of play next season.
Peterson‘s old, but he dominated as the Curve’s closer. That he only spent a few innings with Indianapolis is a cause for concern.
Tony Armas is a certainty to be bought out at year’s end, so he’s fallen to the bottom of the chart. By next edition, he’ll be off it completely.

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