By Wilbur Miller
The minor leagues are starting to hold All-Star games, which means it's roughly halfway through the season for the full-season teams. Time to grade the Pirates' top 30 prospects, using Baseball America's list plus a few additions.
1. Andrew McCutchen, CF: McCutchen has gotten a lot of rave reviews this year, but much of it had to do with a hot start. Heís cooled off a lot as the season has gone along, with his power largely disappearing. Believe it or not, his OPS is lower than Brian Bixlerís. He gets credit for being a 21-year-old in AAA, but this isnít turning out to be the breakout year it seemed earlier. Grade: B.
2. Neil Walker, 3B: Walkerís struggles continue, as his average hovers in the .220s and his plate discipline continues to go south. His error total is also climbing. The one positive is that heís showing good power. Grade: D.
3. Steve Pearce, 1B/RF: Like Walker, heís never gotten into a groove, as he hasnít adjusted to upper level off-speed stuff. Grade: C-.
4. Brad Lincoln, RHP: Has pitched mostly well at low A since returning from Tommy John surgery. His control has been very good, which is a positive sign. Grade: B-.
5. Dan Moskos, LHP: After pitching like a non-prospect for most of the season in high A, heís finally put together a pretty good, although hardly outstanding, string of starts. Heís still not allowing a lot of baserunners but his K rate remains very low. Grade: C-.
6. Shelby Ford, 2B: Finally returned from injury and started off hot, hitting .361 through his first 20 games. Not a lot of power yet. Grade: A-.
7. Jamie Romak, OF: Returned from elbow surgery and is showing he doesnít belong in class A. Heís even hitting for average (.295), although he continues to fan in a third of his ABs. Heís still only 22 and might be able to establish himself as a solid prospect if he could get a shot at AA. Grade: A-.
8. Brian Bixler, SS: Was overmatched in spring training, struggled early in AAA, and was been overmatched in the majors following injury-related callup. Heís started to come alive since returning to AAA, hitting for surprising power, but he still looks more like a future utility player than a regular SS. Grade: C+.
9. Duke Welker, RHP: Heís been mediocre at Hickory, allowing a lot of baserunners and not fanning many. Grade: D+.
10. Brad Corley, OF: He finally got a AA HR and has drawn ten whole walks, but a 24-year-old corner outfielder in AA with a .759 OPS is not prospect material. Grade: C-.
11. Tony Watson, LHP: Heís had an up and down year, but a .310 opponentsí BA and a K rate thatís well below league average raise doubts whether his stuff is good enough. Grade: C-.
12. Brian Friday, SS: Heís having a solid season after skipping a level, getting on base a lot and hitting for some gap power. Heís missed time recently with back problems. Grade: B.
13. Romulo Sanchez, RHP: Still having a mediocre season. His control has improved dramatically from prior years, but heís allowing over a hit per inning and fanning barely over one every two innings. Thatís not what youíd expect from a guy with his stuff. Grade: C-.
14, Bryan Bullington, RHP: He was getting hammered mercilessly, then suddenly put together three strong starts in four outings. The Pirates called him up and irresponsibly let him sit around without pitching for nearly three weeks, so heís probably back to square one now. Grade: D-.
15. Nyjer Morgan, CF: Wasnít able to adapt to bench role in majors, hitting just .161, so he was sent down. He got off to a terrible start in AAA, but is now up to .239, albeit with no power or patience. Grade: D.
16. Olivo Astacio, RHP: Sayonara.
17. Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP: He was having an odd season in AA, putting up decent peripheral numbers with a bad ERA. Heís moved up to AAA now and has done very well in four starts. He may be turning things around after a disastrous 2007 season, which could give Neal Huntington a second waiver wire steal to go with Phil Dumatrait. Grade: B+.
18. Josh Sharpless, RHP: Released and now struggling in AA with Giants.
19. Evan Meek, RHP: Wasnít ready to pitch in majors as Rule 5 pick and Pirates worked out a deal with Tampa Bay to keep him. He did very well in AA, walking only three and fanning 17 in 16 IP. Recently promoted to AAA. Grade: B.
20. Andrew Walker, C: Struggling badly in low A, with awful plate discipline. Grade: D.
21. Austin McClune, OF: Plate discipline is much improved, but heís still not hitting. Although heís only 20, he has to start performing at some point. Grade: D.
22. Quincy Latimore, OF: Just opened his season at State College.
23. Dave Davidson, LHP: Still having just a decent season in his second year in AA. Heís allowing a lot of baserunners and not fanning all that many. Grade: C-.
24. Pat Bresnehan, RHP: Had a strong start in AA through seven games, but went on the DL with arm fatigue and since then has struggled with his control. Heís fanned over a batter an inning but is walking nearly as many. Grade: C.
25. Yoslan Herrera, RHP: As a 27-year-old in his second AA season, he needs to be dominating; in fact, he should have earned himself a promotion by now. Heís allowing too many baserunners and has a very low K rate. Heís looking more and more like a minor league pitcher and his signing like a publicity stunt. Grade: C-.
26. Marcus Davis, OF: He came on strong after a slow start, hitting for good power in May but still with poor plate discipline. Unfortunately, heís been hurt since the beginning of June. Grade: C+.
27. Todd Redmond, RHP: Traded.
28. Justin Byler, 1B: Out for the season with a broken arm.
29. Jason Delaney, 1B/LF: Having a solid season in AA with great plate discipline, but heís a 25-year-old corner player in AA who doesnít have a lot of power. His hitting has dropped off just a little each month, so it doubtful whether he has much potential to improve. Grade: B-.
30. Luis Munoz, RHP: Has increasingly struggled in AAA, leading to a recent demotion. For a 40-man roster player thatís a bad sign. Grade: D-.
Others of Note
Jim Negrych, 2B/3B: Negrych keeps on hitting, .349 at this point. It seems like itís time for him to move up. Hitting singles and doubles is his only real skill, so thereís not much ceiling, but he hits so many of them that he might be useful in the majors at some point. Grade: B+.
James Boone, CF: Got off to a great start, then slumped and got hurt. He hasnít played in a month. At age 25 in AA, he canít afford not to be on the field. Grade: C+.
Steve Lerud, C: Lerud has slumped some since a strong start, but heís having a decent year (260/346/430), which could be enough combined with much improved defense to give him a shot at a roster spot. Grade: B-.
Jesse Chavez, RHP: Heís tailed off a little from his spectacular early season, but he still has a WHIP below 1.00 in AAA and is fanning a batter an inning. It remains to be seen how long heíll have to wait for the Pirates to recover from their Osoria fixation. Grade: A-.
Marino Salas, RHP: Very strong AAA season, but he continues to get bombed in the majors due to poor command. Grade: B-.
Jeff Sues, RHP: Just staying on the mound is a win for Sues after missing all or most of the last three years, but heís managed to earn a promotion to AA. Heís been inconsistent there, but is fanning well over a batter an inning and has a 1.26 WHIP. Grade: B+.
T.J. Beam, RHP: The latest AAA relief phenomenon. After a slightly slow start, his numbers are now very similar to Salas' and Chavez'. Beam has doing this for years, but never got a real shot with the Yankees. Grade: A-.
Matt Miller, RHP: He's had some control meltdowns, resulting in a 5.57 ERA, but he's allowed 17 hits and fanned 28 in 21 IP and has dominated in most of his recent outings. Unlike the Pirates' other AAA relievers, he's had MLB success in the past. Grade: C.