OK, we're as guilty as anyone at throwing stones at Dave Littlefield's legacy. While the major league roster he constructed has been systematically demolished by the current FO - we believe that Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit are the last men standing - what did he leave the current regime?
Well, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are former first round picks of Littlefield, and they're key pieces of the 25-man roster. Steve Pearce and Rudy Owens also have a decent shot at being part of the big club sometime in 2011.
Littlefield still has some guys lurking on the current 40-man roster: RHP Brad Lincoln, OF Alex Presley, RHP Mike Crotta, LHP Tony Watson, LHP Daniel Moskos, RHP Ramon Aguero, and RHP Kyle McPherson.
So that's it; a lucky thirteen players on the forty-man roster that pre-date the current FO. There are still some Littlefield draftees floating around in the mid-to-upper minors: IF Brian Friday, IF Jimmy Negrych, OF Quincy Latimore, C Kris Watts, RHP Duke Welker and OF Miles Durham being the most prominent.
But the top guns he took have by and large passed into the baseball netherworld; SS Brian Bixler, SS Brent Lillibridge, RHP Jeff Sues, 2B Shelby Ford, LHP Mike Felix, C Steve Lerud, RHP Bryan Bullington, RHP John Von Benshoten...there weren't many impact guys among his elite picks, and that's dogged the franchise.
Littlefield's efforts in Latin America have been bad-mouthed; everyone uses the example of RHP Yoslin Herrera as the epitome of Pirate struggles south of the border. But we think that may be due more to the financial resources of the McClatchy years, when the team just couldn't or wouldn't get involved in bidding wars for talent.
Rene Gayo did his job as well as he could given the financial constraints he was under, and some of the Latino guys he dug up are working their way through the system. A few - OF Starling Marte, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Ramon Aguero - are considered pretty nice prospects, while others like 3B Eric Avila, LHP Eliecer Navarro, 3B Elevys Gonzalez, OF Rogelio Noris, SS Yhonathan Barrios and C Ramon Cabrero are in the lower levels and progressing.
Remember that it takes a while for Latino talent to surface; the kids are signed generally between 16-18 years old. Gayo's more recent work in that market is still several years from leaving its mark.
So the Littlefield verdict? Meh. He did have a few hits, and did a little better in Latin America than probably given credit for. But all in all, he amassed too many misses and too little talent, leaving Frank Coonelly and gang a massive make-over that they're probably a couple of seasons from completing.
It is an interesting contrast. The Littlefield era was marked by an obvious bend toward the major league product, and that's where the money went, into free agents rather than the organization. The current FO is redirecting the team's financial resources into building a minor league system that will eventually feed and replenish the MLB nine.
One produced a system that put consistently mediocre teams on the field in Pittsburgh; the other a system that produced MLB 100-loss campaigns but minor league championships. Building from the bottom-up is a five or six year project, so the Pirate FO is still in the middle of the process, and it's hard to evaluate just where they're at competitively at this point.
We're beginning to see some results; the pitching from the AA level and down is deep, and Indy, which was gutted of talent over the past two seasons, is quietly starting to reload with Coonelly/Huntington draft picks. This isn't the year quite yet, but in 2012, the turn-around should begin.