OK, most of the 2009 Pirate prospect ratings are in (Baseball America's won't be released for another three weeks, but it probably won't affect the ratings). Here's the hotshots for the Bucs as they enter the new season, compiled from Wilbur Miller's Pirate Profiles, John Sickel's Minor League Baseball, Scouting Book, Baseball Prospectus, and CBS Sports:
Top Guns: 3B Pedro Alvarez and CF Andrew McCutchen are da bombs. Alvarez has a high ceiling, middle of the order bat, and is already almost MLB ready according to the scouts. McCutchen is a toolsy guy, but the raters are split whether he's a budding star or just a solid MLB player in the making. OF Jose Tabata is third on everyone's list as they wait to see if he develops into a head case or a young Bobby Abreu.
Looking Good: This foursome stands well behind the top three, but a step ahead of the pack. First is 3B Neil Walker, whose lack of offense is countered by youth, a good glove, some switch-hitting pop, and versatility. Next is RHP Bryan Morris, who has MLB top of the rotation stuff but has to prove he's overcome TJ surgery. RHP Daniel McCutchen is a bulldog with heat, though there's still some debate whether his talent translates better as a starter or closer. OF Robbie Grossman is a five tool high school kid that could zoom up the charts.
Don't Forget About Us: The next pack of prospects boasts a lotta arms, a good sign for the Pirates down the road. RHP Jimmy Barthmaier put himself back on the map in 2008 after falling faster than George Bush's ratings in 2007. RHP Brad Lincoln is showing signs of recovering from TJ surgery, and this should be a big year for him. RHP Evan Meek looks like he's tamed his wild thing after a good show in the minors and Mexico. 2B Shelby Ford and Jim Negrych will try to ride their bats to a spot on the roster. LHP Donald Veal hopes his Rule 5 change of scenery will cure his wildness, and young RHP Quinton Miller, a high-school draft pick, looks like he has all the goods to pitch in the show every fifth day.
Guys With A Shot: A mix of young and old that could pop up in the bigs, they're led by 3B Matt Hague, a kid with a good stick that will probably move to the OF. SS Brian Friday is the classic good glove, no hit infielder. LHP Jeff Sues is looking for some bullpen love after a strong 2008. IF Jarek Cunningham, another high schooler, tore it up in Rookie Ball. RHP Romulo Sanchez has closer heat, but needs to find the dish. RHP Ron Uviedo was added to the 40-man roster, and has a power arm and control as his eyes a closer's role. OF/1B Jamie Romek has the power, but the rest of his game struggles. SS Chase D'Arnaud hits for average and can find a gap. LHP Danny Moskos could end up a pretty effective LOOGY. SS Jordy Mercer had a rough minor league start, but a strong finish.
Outside the Top Two Dozen: Brian Bixler, SS; Marcus Davis, OF; Robinzon Diaz, C; Wesley Freeman, OF; Jason Jaramillo, C; Brent Klinger, RHP; Quincy Latimore, OF; Steve Lerud, C; Tony Watson, LHP; and Justin Wilson, LHP.
The most obvious note is that a lucky thirteen of the Top Two Dozen players entered the Pirate system in 2008, and five of the top seven guys are Neal Huntington era pick-ups. The new suits vowed to get the minors back to snuff, and are off to a flying start.
We liked the approach to the draft, too, and especially the emphasis on high school talent. It takes time to replenish an empty system, but the kids and Latino players will provide depth, youth, and steady competition to an organization that was too old at every level.