Pirate Prospects – Honorable Mention

I am counting down my personal list of the top 25 Pirate prospects. You can follow the countdown here, or by clicking on the “Top 25 Prospects” link in the site header.

Jason Delaney

Date of Birth: 11/9/1982

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 210 pounds

Bats/Throws: R/R

Position: 1B

Drafted: 12th Round, 2005 (Boston College)

I am a little higher on Delaney than most others seem to be. He has always been old for his level, has shown very little power for a first baseman and is below average defensively, which is quite a bit working against him. But he has excellent plate discipline, walking 217 times in three professional seasons. His impressive walk rates and high on-base percentages could make him a decent utility player in Pittsburgh some day. He also seems to be a very smart hitter, which can’t hurt his chances.

Expected arrival in Pittsburgh: 2010

Tony Watson

Date of Birth: 5/30/1985

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 223 pounds

Bats/Throws: L/L

Position: P

Drafted: 9th Round, 2007 (University of Nebraska)

Watson has had some success in the low minors due to an exceptional changeup and good control. His fastball velocity is below average in the mid-eighties, clouding his future potential at higher levels. The Pirates limited his use of the changeup in 2008, challenging him to improve his fastball rather than relying on the change against inexperienced hitters. If he continues to develop, he may have a future as a situational left-handed reliever.

Expected arrival in Pittsburgh: 2011

Posted in Jason Delaney, Tony Watson. Comments Off on Pirate Prospects – Honorable Mention

Three minor league players promoted

Some good news came out of the Pirates’ farm system today. Jason Delaney was promoted from Altoona to Indianapolis, and was replaced on the Curve roster by Jim Negrych and Jamie Romak. None of these players is a great prospect, but each is having an excellent season. It is time to see what they can do at the next level.
I have kept an eye on Delaney for most of the season, as his OBP has stayed above .400. He is old for Double-A (25 years old) and lacks the necessary power to play first base, making him a marginal prospect. But as long as he keeps reaching base at a 40% clip, he has the potential to reach Pittsburgh as a backup at the very least. He also seems to understand what it takes to be a successful hitter:

“The toughest thing is laying off a strike that’s not in your zone. If your zone is, say, middle of the plate and out, and that pitcher throws over the inside corner … hey, good pitch by him. Unless I react really well, I’m not going to put the swing I want on that pitch. If he throws three of those, fine. Do it again next time. But you don’t see many pitchers, even in the big leagues, doing that.”

Romak, who came over in the Adam LaRoche trade, is an interesting player. He strikes out at an amazing rate (415 K’s in 1,567 minor league plate appearances), but also draws huge amounts of walks (192 BB’s). At 6’2” and 220 pounds, there is also loads of power potential to be tapped. He has struggled with low batting averages in his career (.241 career before this season), but has improved to the tune of .279/.360/.552. At 22 years old, the move to Altoona comes at the right time.
Negrych, the Pirates’ sixth round pick in the 2006 draft, put up mediocre numbers in his first two professional seasons. He has come out of nowhere this season, hitting .370/.448/.508 to this point. His walk rate is way up this season, contributing to that impressive OBP. He still needs work on his defense, spending the majority of the season at third base. But his bat is definitely ready for the promotion.
These guys are all question marks at this point. But with the huge void in the team’s minor league talent, the Pirates could use a little luck with a few players outperforming their expectations.

Posted in Jamie Romak, Jason Delaney, Jim Negrych, Transactions. Comments Off on Three minor league players promoted

A look back at the Pirates’ 2005 draft

1st Round – Andrew McCutchen OF
McCutchen is the top prospect in the Pirates’ organization, the crown jewel of a bleak minor league system. Just over a month removed from his 21st birthday, he has the tools to be a very good Major League player. McCutchen was good in 2005 and 2006, jumping four levels in that time. However, he encountered his first hurdle this past year, struggling badly with Altoona in the first half of the season. He improved as the summer began, but was hitting only .258/.327.383 when the Pirates surprisingly promoted him in August. Most likely, this was a desperation move made by general manager Dave Littlefield, who would be fired before the end of the season. McCutchen held his own after the promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, hitting .313/.347/.418 in 67 at-bats. Despite his disappointing 2007 season, centerfield at PNC Park appears to belong to McCutchen. He will likely begin 2008 back in Indianapolis, and we should see him in Pittsburgh before the end of the season. I would be very surprised if he is not the everyday centerfielder by the spring of 2009.
2nd Round – Brad Corley OF
Corley has typical plate discipline for a Pirate. With Williamsport in 2005, he walked only 16 times in 287 plate appearances. He moved up to Hickory the following season, and drew 18 walks in 575 trips to the plate. Corley spent most of 2007 with Lynchburg, and joined Altoona briefly at the end of the season. Overall, he walked 14 times in 557 plate appearances. In 1,419 minor league plate appearances, he has walked 48 times. That is only 3.4%. Unless that number improves dramatically, Corley will never see Pittsburgh.
3rd Round – James Boone OF
Boone was drafted out of Missouri in 2005 after posting a 1.050 OPS that season. However, he has battled injury problems his entire career, and only has 676 at-bats in three professional seasons. His stats have been okay (.272/.344/.413 overall), and they would likely be better if he was healthy, but he remains a huge question mark at this point. Boone has shown flashes of promise, such as the .327/.400/.495 line in 107 at-bats at Hickory to start 2007. If he can stay healthy, there still is a chance for this centerfielder.
4th Round – Brent Lillibridge SS
After struggling a bit in his first season, Lillibridge found his stride in 2006. Splitting the season between Hickory and Lynchburg, he hit .305/.419/.480. He also stole 53 bases in 66 attempts, and most saw him as the shortstop of the future for the Pirates. However, he was dealt to Atlanta in January 2007 as a part of the Mike Gonzalez-Adam LaRoche trade. He came back to earth this past season, hitting .282/.341/.417 in the Braves’ organization.
5th Round – Jeff Sues RHP
Sues has endured a forgettable career thus far. He was drafted in June 2005, but did not make his first appearance until 2007 because of arm injuries. He made eight starts for Hickory this past season, posted an ERA of 7.18 and missed the remainder of the season with another injury. I think it is safe to mark this pick down as a bust.
Other notable picks
8th Round – Steve Pearce 1B/OF

We all know Pearce’s 2007 story. He came into the season as an interesting player, and emerged as a legitimate prospect. He began the season in Lynchburg, then climbed the organizational ladder through Altoona and Indianapolis before finally reaching Pittsburgh in September. Overall, he hit .333/.394/.622 over three minor league levels and .294/.342/.397 in Pittsburgh. He should begin 2008 in Pittsburgh.
12th Round – Jason Delaney 1B/OF
Delaney posted an .811 OPS with Hickory in 2006, but was old for the league at 23. He hit well in Lynchburg this past season (.340/.432/.536 in 250 at-bats) but slowed down a bit after being promoted to Altoona (.265/.370/.404 in 223 at-bats). Delaney is a very interesting player in an offensively challenged organization, but at 25, he remains too old for his current level.
The Pirates’ 2005 draft was unimpressive, but was relatively better than most they have had in recent years. Dave Littlefield’s administration managed to not totally blow its first round pick (McCutchen), and even picked up some interesting hitters in the later rounds (Pearce, Delaney). Ultimately, there should be some solid Major League players that come out of this draft.

Catching up with Pirate prospects in fall leagues

Many Pittsburgh Pirates (and Pirate prospects) are playing fall ball this season, and for daily coverage of their progress, you’re better off checking out Nancy Zinni’s great work at Sandlot Swashbucklers, Pittsburgh Lumber Co.’s sister site. Not only does Nancy track the AFL, but she’s been keeping up with Neil Walker in the Mexican Pacific League and the handful of players spending time in the Venezuelan Winter League, too.
But just in case you haven’t hit S.S. yet, we’ll help you play catch-up.
Charles Benoit, Blair Johnson, Brad Corley and Alexander Presley are playing with the North Shore Honu of Hawaii Winter Baseball.
Benoit, 23, is a left-handed reliever who spent the 2007 with Hickory. He was drafted in the 10th round in 2006, and spent his first pro season as a swingman with Williamsport. Benoit’s building on his fine regular season in Hawaii—with the Honu, he has a 4-0 record and 2.25 ERA in 10 games (16 innings). He’s finished four games and has saved two. With Hickory, Benoit struck out 83 batters and walked 29 in 79.2 innings; in Hawaii, that ratio’s dropped to 12 K, 8 BB.
Johnson, 23, was selected in the second round of the 2002 draft, but he’s been a bust to this point. In six minor-league seasons, he has a 17-17 record and 4.27 ERA; in 2007, he went 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA in eight starts for Lynchburg. With the Honu, Johnson has pitched in six games (four starts) with a 2-1 record and 3.20 ERA. He’s struck out 22 and walked 7 in 25.1 innings pitched.
Corley, 23 (with a December birthday approaching), was the Pirates’ second round pick in 2005. His counting stats have been fantastic through two minor-league seasons; in 2006, he hit 16 homers and drove in 100 runs for Hickory, and in 2007, he had 14 HR and 89 RBI with Lynchburg. Corley’s plate discipline is lacking, however, and he’s never posted an OPS over .800. He ended the 2007 campaign with Altoona, and should start with the Curve in 2008. In Hawaii, Corley is hitting .247/.280/.390 with 2 HR and 17 RBI in 77 at-bats. He’s struck out 19 times while drawing just three walks.
Presley, 22, replaced Jamie Romak on the Honu roster. (Romak hit .209/.361/.373 in 67 at-bats, but hasn’t played since October 25th.) Presley, an eighth round pick in 2006, spent the 2007 with Hickory—where he did a little bit of everything. He hit .293, drew 45 walks, launched 11 homers and stole 18 bases. At just 5’9″, 180 lbs., Presley projects best as a center fielder. He’s gone 2 for 5 with the Honu.
Patrick Bresnehan, Jesse Chavez, Dave Davidson, Chris Hernandez, Jason Delaney, Andrew McCutchen and Nyjer Morgan are playing with the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.
Bresnehan, 22, was drafted in the fifth round in 2006. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen with Hickory and Altoona after spending time as a starter with Williamsport in 2006. In five games (4.1 innings) with the Desert Dogs, he has allowed one hit and no runs.
Chavez, 24, was acquired from the Texas Rangers for Kip Wells at the 2006 trade deadline. He was perhaps Indianapolis’ most effective reliever in 2007, throwing 80.1 innings in 46 games, striking out 65 and walking 17 while putting up a 3.92 ERA. He has a pedestrian 6.00 ERA in eight fall-league games.
Davidson, 23, was drafted in the 10th round in 2002. He earned a September call-up to Pittsburgh after starting 2007 with Altoona and spending time in Indianapolis. In five minor-league seasons (116 games), Davidson has a 10-8 record, 3.99 ERA and two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. With Phoenix, he’s allowed two hits and no runs in 6.2 innings of work spread over seven games.
Hernandez, 27, was drafted in the 22nd round in 2003 and is a career minor leaguer. He split time with the Curve and Indians in 2007. In the AFL, he’s pitched eight scoreless innings.
Delaney, 24 (turning 25 next Friday), had a decent 2006 season with Hickory before breaking out in 2007 with Lynchburg. He earned a mid-season promotion to Altoona, where he hit .265/.370/.404. Delaney needs to continue to progress in 2008 to earn a prospect tag. With the Desert Dogs, he’s hitting .286/.392/.381 through 63 at-bats.
McCutchen, 21, was selected 11th overall in 2005. He had an up-and-down 2007, starting slow with Altoona before turning it on and earning a late-season promotion to Indianapolis. McCutchen is still the Pirates’ best prospect—but he’s failed to impress in the AFL. Through 56 at-bats, he’s hitting .250/.354/.321.
Morgan, 27, was drafted by the Pirates in the 33rd round in 2002. He’s a hockey player turned outfielder, and his progression through the minor-league system has been slow and steady. He earned a significant number of at-bats with the Pirates in September after missing much of the 2007 season with a thumb injury. He’s likely battling Nate McLouth for the starting center field job in 2008. In the AFL, Morgan is hitting a paltry .220/.303/.254 through 59 at-bats.
Brian Bixler and Steve Pearce should serve as starters for Team USA as the lineup of minor-league All-Stars finishes up a stint playing against AFL teams before heading overseas to participate in the IABF World Cup in Taiwan.
Bixler, the heir apparent to Jack Wilson’s shortstop throne in Pittsburgh, is hitting .200 with five runs batted in. Pearce, who could earn a starting job in 2008 should Jason Bay or Xavier Nady be traded this off-season, is hitting .364 with five extra-base hits.

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 “who’s 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.

Pirate Roster: What Can Coonelly, New GM Do?

I think there have been enough words written discussing the hiring of Frank Coonelly as president and dissecting his announced philosophies that I can skip out on posting about that stuff here.
If you haven’t already done so, check out this five-minute video clip at the Post-Gazette, this article about the search for a new general manager and the open letter Coonelly wrote to Pirate fans. There’s a bio available, too, but I think we’ve been over most of that.
From those sources, you get a good understanding of what Coonelly says he wants to do in Pittsburgh. No sense in my attempting to rehash any of that when you can go straight to the horse’s mouth.
Rather than put Coonelly’s words under the microscope, let’s consider the hand he’s been dealt and his possible actions. Speculating about what we’d do in his shoes is infinitely more palatable than attempting to determine if this was an acceptable hire before the Pirates have even finished engraving his nameplate.
From where I’m sitting, there are distinct decisions to be made in five areas:
1. A new general manager
2. The glut of first baseman and corner outfielders
3. The long-term futures of Bay, LaRoche, Sanchez and/or Nady
4. Aligning the farm for most efficient returns
5. Piecing together a pitching staff
What Coonelly and his hired help do with this quintet of question marks could determine the fate of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club for the next decade.
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