Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bucs' Minors Loaded?

MLB.com is set to anoint its Top Fifty Prospects tonight on The MLB Network. Don't hold your breath waiting for any Bucco pups to be highlighted.

The web site issued its Top Ten lists for prospects at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, C, OF, LHP and RHP. One Bucco made the grade - RHP Jameson Taillon, drafted #1 last year and still waiting to throw his first professional pitch.

No Tony Sanchez, no Chase d'Arnaud, no Starling Marte, no Alex Presley, no Rudy Owens, no Bryan Morris...

Hey, the lack of position players is somewhat understandable. Pedro's already in the show, as are Littlefield's top guys like McCutch and Neil Walker, while Sanchez missed a lot of last year with injuries.

Still, it's a little scary when not one of your farm hands is considered a top gun. Without talent in depth, you can't deal from strength or even reload.

The pitching has even more reason to be overlooked. The Pirates loaded up on high school kids who are still bumping around in Class A and maybe AA this year; the first wave of young arms is just approaching Indy.

They chose upside over urgency by opting for prep rather than college arms. It will take a bit to see if that decision pays off as they hope.

In fairness, the current bossmen have only gone through three drafts so far, and had an exceptionally bare cupboard when they arrived. But it has to be asked: are the young Bucs just lacking time and experience, or does the FO lack evaluation and development skills?

Looking at their high profile acquisitions - Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Craig Morton, Tim Alderson, Lastings Milledge - you have to wonder.

As the fourth year of the new regime begins, the answer to that question is what the near-term future of the franchise is hinging upon.


WilliamJPellas said...

This is an excellent post and you've hit the nail on the head, Ron.

Any thinking observer of this team has to ask the questions you've asked in this post. The best comparison with what the Pirates are currently trying to do is the Kansas City Royals, and the general---though not universal---consensus around baseball and around the blogosphere is that the Royals have far more and far better talent in their farm system than the Pirates have.

If that is so, this team is in serious, and I mean SERIOUS, trouble for the foreseeable future. Certainly, there ought to be some degree of improvement in overall big league performance as the current minor league crop matures and takes its place in Pittsburgh. Shooting strictly from the hip without doing a great deal of research, my two cents is that the first wave of position players (Alvarez, Walker, Tabata, McCutchen) is pretty good but not overwhelmingly good, though also definitely somewhat better on aggregate than the players they have replaced. If we can consider Tony Sanchez to be part of the same wave, those five players are certainly a respectable core around which to build.

Unfortunately the pitching is nowhere near as good. Brad Lincoln failed miserably in his first go around last year, Charlie Morton is horrible, and really there's noboby else within shouting distance of the Pirates' rotation or 'pen as things look today besides Rudy Owens. That's not even close to being good enough.

As you say, the current regime staked its future on a whole truckload of prep arms, and it's not unusual for players like that to kick around in the minors for the better part of a decade before they figure it out and get established in the bigs. The problem with that, of course, is that our current young position player core will be long gone before the prep arms can make any meaningful contribution---assuming any of them ever do. Which, once again, is why I advocated taking Drew Pomeranz in the last draft. He would have started at High-A if not Double-A and could conceivably have gotten his feet wet in September of this season. He would then have been positioned to take a regular turn in our rotation as soon as 2012. The prep kids? Good luck with that.

Ron Ieraci said...

It takes time to build a system, Wil, and they were hurt when some of the picks - Morris, Alderson, yada yada, - didn't pan out.

They also took the long road by going with prep arms, and the guys they picked to be position players haven't really made a name for themselves.

I think they'll be OK in the long run, but the draft/Latin America isn't a quick answer they way the Bucs focus on youth. I'm still really surprised they haven't tried to plug a couple of holes through free agency.

Could be player perception ("Pittsburgh? U kidding me?"), or the value the FO uses for players, or maybe they just don't feel that they're close enough to being competitive yet to spend a buck. Sure hard on the fans, tho.