Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Rotation of the Future

The Pirate rotation of the future is awfully young - they're not stacked up in Indy waiting for a call, but in Altoona and below - but there are a couple of guys that could pop up to take regular spots by 2011.

Brad Lincoln was selected in 2006 ahead of Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. Baseball America rated him as the Pirates' fourth overall organizational prospect in 2009 and predicts that he'll join the Pittsburgh rotation in 2010. But whether the 23-year old RHP will meet those expectations depends on how well he continues to rebound from 2007 TJ surgery.

He put up modest stats at Hickory and Lynchburg, but did work a total of 103-1/3 innings a year removed from the knife, didn't have any residual arm problems, and his control was there, even if he struggled to regain complete command of his pitches.

His WHIP was around 1.27, he walked fewer than 2 batters per nine innings, and K'd over six per game, all pretty good numbers for a recovery season. The youngster will have to cut down on long balls allowed, but that's a part of a control pitcher's learning curve.

Lincoln throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball, has a good curve, and his changeup is coming along. We expect to see him in Altoona, and his work there will dictate exactly how fast a track he's on for a PNC splashdown.

Rated right behind Lincoln was Dodger pickup Bryan Morris, part of the Jason Bay deal. He's another first round pick of 2006, and like Lincoln, had TJ surgery in 2007. Baseball America rated him the Pirates' fifth best organizational prospect of 2009, and foresees an arrival date in the show of 2011 or 2012.

In fact, BA says that Lincoln and Morris should be Pittsburgh's one-two punch in 2012. Talk about a pair of guys joined at the hip!

Morris threw 96 innings of A ball in his come-back season. He struck out 83 batters, but walked 43, so his stuff is OK, but a little scattered. Morris was also shut down pretty much by the Pirates after they got him, working only 14 innings at Hickory. They say it was just precautionary - he had bicep tenderness - but that may be a red flag to watch for down the road.

To add to the woes, the 22-year old (he'll be 23 in March) had toe surgery, totally unrelated to the other problems, so he'll have a late start to the season.

Still, the RHP has the tools. Morris' heater is gunned at 95, his curve is sharp, and he's working on a changeup. What he needs most is a season or two without any visits to the surgeon. He may start at Lynchburg, but we expect him to be with the Curve before too long.

Daniel Moskos can't be blamed for where he was picked. The question is whether or not he has first-round ability and a future role with the team.

He was a reliever at Clemson, but the new suits had him start at Lynchburg last year, and the results weren't pretty. Moskos is supposed to have a power arm, but his heater was pressed to touch 90, although his slider is considered top notch.

The 22-year old LHP will likely join Altoona's rotation this year. We don't think the starting experiment will last that long. As a two pitch pony, Moskos looks like a bullpen guy, maybe becoming the Bucs next LOOGY.

Tony Watson, 23-year old LHP, has put together two solid seasons in the Pirate A ranks. Drafted in the ninth round in 2007, Watson fit the Littlefield mold of a finesse pitcher, depending on a change-up for his out pitch. But unlike most Littlefield selections, he was actually somewhat touted and drafted lower than expected.

He's got excellent control, walking fewer than two batter per nine, and he gets about a half-dozen K's per game. Watson will get to step up to Altoona this year, and another good season will get him notice as a young gun on the rise. The Curve should have quite a rotation this year; that's about the level all the upside guys have reached.

Rafael De Los Santos is a young guy - he's 22 - that has some upside. He throws a low 90s fastball, slider and changeup. De Los Santos can make bats miss the ball, but his balls miss the plate pretty often, too.

His stats at Hickory were flat-out ugly, but he doubled his innings pitched and may have just hit the wall. The RHP will be floating around somewhere in the A level this year, and may yet blossom.

20-year old LHP Nelson Pereira will get a look at West Virginia this year after blazing through the GCL last year as a 19-year old after two excellent VSL campaigns.

The youngster from El Salvador has good off speed stuff, especially his changeup and curve, and his heater is good enough to set them up. He had a 4.6/1 K to BB ratio, so he can miss some bats and still find the dish.

Christopher Aure, 19-year old LHP drafted from high school out of North Pole, Alaska, could end up more than just the answer to a trivia quiz. He's a project, but his heater is in the upper 80 range and improving while he's shown some progress with his other pitches, notably the curve and changeup.

Aure did just OK in the GCL, and there's some debate whether he's better suited to start or come out of the pen, but he has some upside and may be a keeper.

Andres Santos, a guy the Bucs picked up in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft from the Yankees, has some upside. The Evil Empire gave him a $400K bonus to sign, and he was lights out in the Dominican League last year.

The 22-year old Dominican has a low 90s heater and a sweet change up, and he struck out a batter an inning in the DSL with decent control. Maybe Rene Gayo and Kyle Starks stole one for the team.

Another grab bag pick that may have a shot is Rafael Quintero, a 21-year old RHP plucked from the Indians in the minor's Rule 5 draft, who had some great numbers in the DSL.

The Venezuelan is a converted catcher with great control and over a strikeout per inning. Given his background, he's a darkhorse, but hey...nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Quinton Miller, 19-year old RHP, was drafted out of high school and has yet to pitch in pro ball. He throws a fastball that ranges from the high 80s to the low 90s, with a nice slider and average change.

The Bucs thought he was worth $900K in the 20th round - he had commited to playing at North Carolina - so they certainly feel he has some major upside.

Justin Wilson led Fresno State to the College World Series when his teammate Tanner Schleppers went down. The Bucs couldn't get Schleppers to sign on the dotted line, but after a long dance, reeled Wilson into the fold.

The 21-year old LHP features a 90 MPH fastball, curve and slider. Wilson signed too late to pitch last year, and he's ticketed to head to Class A West Virgina in 2009.

Guys that we profiled yesterday that were invited to camp and have chances to eventually dent the rotation in the near term are Daniel McCutchen, Jimmy Barthmaier, Ross Ohlendorf, and perhaps Donnie Veal.

It's not a very deep collection of arms, and for all the attention Littlefield paid to pitchers, it's an area Huntington and gang are going to have really work at to build up some depth and talent.

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