By Wilbur Miller
With the minor league season about one-quarter over, it's a good time to grade the performances of the Pirates' top prospects. This list follows Baseball America's list of the team's top 30 prospects, but I've also added a few notable players at the end.
1. Andrew McCutchen, CF: Although the numbers (283/373/478) arenít quite as good as the hype, heís having a strong season in AAA, showing good power and very good plate discipline, two things that were lacking last year. He could get called up as soon as thereís a starting job for him. Grade: A-.
2. Neil Walker, 3B: Walker is struggling in AAA. The two positive signs are that heís hitting for some power and has only two errors. Heís missing an opportunity, with Jose Bautista having a bad year in the majors. Grade: D.
3. Steve Pearce, 1B/RF: Another player missing an opportunity, with the Pirates expected to trade Jason Bay and/or Xavier Nady unless the team is in contention at mid-season. Grade: D.
4. Brad Lincoln, RHP: Still hasnít returned from Tommy John surgery. His return date has gone from April to early May to mid-May, with no indication that the last of those will happen. Dejan Kovacevic wrote recently that he may not appear in a game until August. Grade: Incomplete.
5. Dan Moskos, LHP: Having a mediocre season in high A. His ERA is only fair despite a low WHIP. The most important sign, though, is a K rate thatís far below league average, not what youíd expect from a power pitcher. As a guy from a major college program, if he was a legitimate early first round pick he should be dominating now, just like . . . uh . . . Matt Wieters. Grade: C-.
6. Shelby Ford, 2B: Played only briefly so far due to two hip flexors. Heís starting to follow the Ryan Doumit career path. Grade: Incomplete.
7. Jamie Romak, OF: Started play only recently following elbow surgery and is doing well in high A, although for some reason heís not drawing walks. One factor in his favor is that heís still only 22. It would be helpful if he got to AA soon. Grade: Incomplete.
8. Brian Bixler, SS: Was overmatched in spring training, struggled early in AAA, and has been overmatched in the majors following injury-related callup. Heís looking more and more like a very marginal utility player. Grade: D-.
9. Duke Welker, RHP: Pitched well in two starts for Hickory, then went on the DL after turning his ankle. Just recently returned to the rotation. Grade: Incomplete.
10. Brad Corley, OF: Heís hitting for average at Altoona and, amazingly, has drawn three walks, but in 45 AA games he has yet to HR. At age 24, he needs to be adjusting more quickly. Itís very difficult to see him as a prospect. Grade: D+.
11. Tony Watson, LHP: Since some early struggles heís pitched fairly well, but opponents are still hitting .314 against him and his K rate is well below league average. This all leaves questions whether his stuff is good enough. Grade: C+.
12. Brian Friday, SS: Has had a good start despite skipping a level, hitting 295/381/459. On the down side, heís been erratic in the field, with ten errors, and heís been thrown out in half his stolen base attempts, which isnít good for a leadoff type. Still, heís easily surpassed Bixler on the SS depth chart. Grade: B+.
13. Romulo Sanchez, RHP: Having a mediocre season, but the Pirates remain higher on him than the other relievers in AAA. He went nearly two weeks without pitching recently, but has returned from whatever the problem was. Grade: C-.
14, Bryan Bullington, RHP: AAA hitters have battered Bullington this year to the tune of a 6.81 ERA and .325 opponentsí batting average. In his last option year, he canít afford to struggle. Grade: F.
15. Nyjer Morgan, CF: Wasnít able to adapt to bench role in majors, hitting just .161, so he was sent down. With Nate McLouth and McCutchen around, he doesnít have a way forward as a starter, so itís hard to see any other role for him. Grade: F.
16. Olivo Astacio, RHP: Released after attacking another player with a bat while rehabbing in Bradenton. Grade: Flunked out of school.
17. Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP: Has a 5.29 ERA in AA, but his other numbers (31 Ks in 34 IP, 1.35 WHIP) arenít nearly as bad as the ERA. He seems to pitch well except for periodic meltdowns. In any event, he may be coming around somewhat from a disastrous 2007 season. Grade: C+.
18. Josh Sharpless, RHP: Released in spring training, as the Pirates seemed to sour on him in a big hurry. Grade: Flunked out of school.
19. Evan Meek, RHP: Struggled badly with his control and generally showed he wasnít ready for the majors, which is no surprise for a Rule 5 pick. Ironically, after several outings in which he showed some improvement, the Pirates sent him through waivers and are currently negotiating with Tampa Bay in an effort to keep him. Grade: D+.
20. Andrew Walker, C: Missed the start of the season, was hot when he first reported to Hickory, but now struggling badly. Heís just six for his last forty, with fourteen strikeouts. Grade: C-.
21. Austin McClune, OF: His plate discipline has improved markedly, but overall heís not hitting, with just a .608 OPS. Heís a very raw player and still only 20, so he still has time to catch on. Grade: C-.
22. Quincy Latimore, OF: Will probably open his season at State College. Grade: Classes havenít started yet.
23. Dave Davidson, LHP: Having merely a pretty good season in AA, which isnít good enough considering that itís his second season there. His ERA (2.81) is good but his WHIP (1.40) is too high. Grade: C+.
24. Pat Bresnehan, RHP: Had a strong start in AA through seven games, but is on the DL with arm fatigue. The Pirates donít consider it serious. Yeah, surrrre. Grade: B.
25. Yoslan Herrera, RHP: Pitching well but not dominating, as he needs to do as a 27-year-old in his second AA season. The post-defection layoff and the cultural acclimation concerns donít make good excuses any more. His K rate remains low, increasing doubts whether his stuff is good enough for the majors. Grade: C-.
26. Marcus Davis, OF: Coming on strong after a slow start (.990 OPS so far in May), although his plate discipline (33 Ks, 7 BBs) remains poor. Davis was very raw when drafted, but at age 23 he needs to start dominating low A very soon. Grade: B-.
27. Todd Redmond, RHP: Traded to Atlanta. Grade: Transferred to a different school.
28. Justin Byler, 1B: Will miss the season with a broken arm. Grade: Incomplete.
29. Jason Delaney, 1B/LF: Having a good season in AA (319/439/496), with outstanding plate discipline (25 BBs, 20 Ks), but the bar has to be set higher for a 25-year-old in AA. Heís handicapped by the fact that he has only modest power and is limited to corner positions. Grade: B.
30. Luis Munoz, RHP: Heís had an erratic season in AAA. His WHIP (1.31) and ERA (3.74) are OK, but his walk-to-strikeout ratio (17/25) isnít. He probably profiles as a fill-in or long reliever. Grade: C+.
Others of Note
Jim Negrych, 2B/3B: Negrych has been hanging around just above or below .400 all season so far. Itís almost all singles, but .400 is a lot of singles. His mediocre 2007 season appears to have been the product of lingering injuries. Hitting for average is his only skill, but if he keeps doing it this well he could be a very useful bench player. Grade: A.
Jonel Pacheco, OF: The Littlefield regime considered him a non-prospect, possibly because heís short and doesnít run well. The new regime decided to give him a shot and heís been very solid in AA, even though he skipped high A apart from a cameo in 2007. Heís a month older than Delaney and so needs to continue stepping it up. Grade: B, with a B+ to Kyle Stark for showing better evaluation skills than his predecessor.
James Boone, CF: The oft-injured Boone has stayed healthy so far, which gets him a good grade by itself. He started slowly, had a huge hot streak, and now is slumping again. Considering how little heís played as a pro, 271/364/457 is a good showing in his first 36 games in AA, although striking out once every three at-bats canít continue. At 25, he needs to keep progressing quickly. Grade: B+.
Steve Lerud, C: Donít laugh at this one. Lerud has had a strong year in his second high A season, hitting 259/376/509, although his strikeout rate remains very high. It may seem like heís been around forever, but heís still only 23 and catchers often develop slowly. Through hard work heís improved his defense from a liability to a strength, with an especially good arm. It wouldnít be at all surprising to see him reach the majors as a backup catcher who provides solid or better defense, some walks and occasional left-handed power. Grade: B+.
Jesse Chavez, RHP: Chavez appears to be putting things together in AAA, with an absurd WHIP of 0.67 and a strikeout an inning. It remains to be seen whether heíll get an opportunity, as the Pirates continue to adore Franquelis Osoria for reasons unknown. Grade: A.
Marino Salas, RHP: Salas is having about the same season as Chavez, with slightly less impressive stats. The fact that the Pirates arenít quite as high on either of the two as one would think from the stats shouldnít be discounted, though, as pitching to AAA hitters and pitching to major leaguers are very different things. Grade: A-.
Charles Benoit, LHP: Benoit just missed the Piratesí top 30 list after strong seasons in low A and the Hawaii Winter League. Unfortunately, heís gotten bombed in high A. Believe it or not, his peripheral stats are actually worse than his 11.66 ERA. Itís hard not to suspect that heís hurt. Grade: F.
Jeff Sues, Blair Johnson, Eric Krebs, RHPs: These three are doing well in relief in high A. Sues and Johnson have returned from seemingly endless injuries, while Krebs also has stayed healthy after some problems last year. All three have power arms, so itís possible a real prospect could emerge from this group. Grade: B+ for all.