Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Neal Huntington
Farm Director: Kyle Stark
Scouting Director: Greg Smith

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

The system is getting better and the Top 10 list would look much more impressive if 2009 draft picks were included… Some of those picks that look good now, though, will fall by the wayside during the 2010 season, but you can expect to see names like Tony Sanchez, Zack Von Rosenberg, and Victor Black to be near the top by the end of 2010, unless something catastrophic happens. Looking at the present list, No. 1 pick Alvarez is an impact bat, while Lincoln has the arm to be an impact pitcher, but the numbers have just not been there for him. Alderson could end up being a steal from the Giants organization if he can regain a little zip on his pitches; I’m not ready to get down on him just yet.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, High-A
DOB: February 1987 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – Vanderbilt University
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2

The pride of the system, Alvarez overcame a slow start in ’09 to hit extremely well in the second half. He began the year in high-A and hit just .247/.342/.486 in 243 at-bats. Alvarez was then pushed to double-A, where he exploded with a triple-slash line of .333/.419/.590 in 222 at-bats. His ISO was impressive at both levels: .239 and .257. He also showed a good eye with a cumulative walk rate of 13.2%. His strikeout rate was high at 27.8%, but he has the raw power and homer totals to make that a justified statistic. Alvarez, who posted a .444 wOBA in double-A, is a star in the making but be wary of his .407 BABIP at the senior level. He also showed some weakness against southpaws with an OPS of .714, compared to right-handers at 1.028. Defensively, the former No. 1 pick was an adventure at third base, so many are projecting him as a future first baseman, which he has the bat for, but it does lessen his value by a small degree.

2. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Double-A
DOB: May 1985 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2006 1st round – University of Houston
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 90-95 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

Lincoln started out the year pretty well with a 2.96 FIP and just 63 hits allowed in 75.0 innings at double-A. His FIP rose to 3.85 after a promotion to triple-A and he allowed 72 hits in 61.1 innings of work. The main culprit in the hit total increase was his BABIP, which rose from .287 to .332. Lincoln has been too hittable over his career – especially given his stuff – but he’s always around the strike zone; he just needs a little better command of his pitches. His control is solid with per-nine walk rates of 2.16 in double-A and 1.47 in triple-A. Lincoln has also been homer-prone in his career and he allowed seven (1.03 HR/9) in triple-A. His ’09 ground-ball rate of 39.5% is not good news; it would be nice to see him work down in the zone more and bump that rate up by about 10%. At worst, he should be a solid No. 3 starter, and he could see a few above-average seasons in terms of pitching results.

3. Jose Tabata, OF, Triple-A
DOB: August 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2005 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela – New York Yankees)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

Allegedly just 21 years old, Tabata reached triple-A around the time he earned the right to drink legally in the United States. After a tumultuous beginning to the season off the field, Tabata hit .303/.370/.404 in 228 double-A at-bats. He then moved up to triple-A where he held his own and hit .276/.333/.410 in 134 at-bats. Unfortunately, he continues to be haunted by a couple holes in his game that could keep him from becoming a breakout talent. His walk rate is on the low side and it was just 6.9% in triple-A. His power has yet to develop, and his ISO rate was .101 in double-A and .134 in triple-A, which was down significantly from the number he flashed in his debut with the Pirates system in ’08. Tabata’s thickening lower half has also impacted his speed on the bases (11 steals in 19 attempts) and his range in the outfield.

4. Tim Alderson, RHP, Double-A
DOB: November 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 1st round – Arizona HS (San Francisco Giants)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 86-92 mph fastball, plus curveball, change-up

Just 21, Alderson spent the majority of ’09 in double-A while most players his age were finishing up their junior years of college. The right-hander began the year in the Giants organization and made five starts in high-A ball. He was then bumped up to double-A and allowed 76 hits in 72.2 innings of work. He showed his typically good control with a walk rate of 1.73 BB/9, while his strikeout rate was a little worrisome at 5.70 K/9. Unfortunately, that got worse after the trade, falling to 4.19 in 38.2 double-A innings. His walk rate also rose to 3.03 BB/9 but that was attributed to tiredness. Much has been made about Alderson’s dip in velocity, which peaked in high school. It could still bounce back, and the right-hander could also be sacrificing miles per hour for control/command. Either way, he needs to bump up the strikeout rate if he’s going to be an impact pitcher. It would also be nice to see him add at least 5% to his ground-ball rate to get it up over 50%.

5. Jeff Locke, LHP, High-A
DOB: November 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2006 2nd round – New Hampshire HS (Atlanta Braves)
MLB ETA: 40-Man Roster: Options:
Repertoire: 89-93 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

Acquired this past season from Atlanta (along with Gorkys Hernandez), Locke had a solid introduction into the system with a 3.16 FIP in 81.2 innings. He was too hittable in high-A with 98 hits allowed, but his walk rate improved significantly over his rate with Atlanta (45.2 high-A innings) from 5.12 to 1.98 BB/9. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate also dropped from 8.47 to 6.17 K/9. Formerly a 50+% ground-ball rate pitcher, Locke’s number dropped to 48.6% in ’09. Interestingly, he’s had better numbers against right-handed hitters compared to left-handed batters over the past two seasons. He’ll likely make the jump to double-A in 2010 and will need a little more luck from his BABIP rate after it sat at .350 this past season. Locke has the potential to be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter.

6. Chase D’Arnaud, SS, High-A
DOB: January 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 4th round – Pepperdine University
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

D’Arnaud has come a long way in a short time. The infielder looked like a future MLB utility player when he was drafted, but he’s worked hard to improve his skill set and he reached high-A in ’09 as a 22-year-old. The right-handed hitter batted .291/.394/.427 in 213 low-A at-bats before moving up to high-A where he hit .295/.402/.481 in 210 at-bats. D’Arnaud produced solid walk rates at both levels, right around 12.4%, but his strikeout rate rose 5% to 19.5% upon his promotion. With that, though, his power increased from an ISO of .136 to .186. If the power fluctuation is just a tease, D’Arnaud still has some added value on the base paths after stealing 31 bases in 39 attempts. He won’t ever match former starter Jack Wilson on defense, but D’Arnaud is solid in the field, and he should produce more on offense.

7. Rudy Owens, LHP, Low-A
DOB: December 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2006 28th round – Arizona HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 86-90 mph fastball, curveball, plus change-up

Owens, a southpaw, has really shown some solid numbers in the minors despite average-at-best velocity on his heater. He’s seen his walk rate drop with each promotion, from 3.27 to 2.02 to 1.34 to 0.77. In ’09, Owens allowed just 71 hits in 100.2 innings of work in low-A ball, while posting a strikeout rate of 8.14 K/9. He jumped to high-A for six starts and was hit a little harder with 29 hits allowed in 23.1 innings. His BABIP jumped from .246 to .372. With a plus change-up, Owens fared well against right-handed hitters in ’09 with a .214 batting-average-allowed. He also had a higher strikeout rate against them compared to lefties (8.60 vs 6.15). On the downside, all of his 12 homers came to right-handed hitters. With his modest stuff, Owens is going to have to get his pitches down in the zone more often; his ground-ball rate of 38.0% is not going to cut it in the Majors.

8. Starling Marte, OF, Low-A
DOB: October 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Marte had a solid first season in North America as a 20-year-old outfielder. In low-A ball, he hit .312/.377/.439 in 221 at-bats. As with many inexperienced Latin players, his walk rate was low at 5.2% and his strikeout rate was high at 24.9%. He did show some signs of raw power potential and posted an ISO of .127. Marte’s game is more speed than power, though, and he stole 24 bases in 31 attempts. Given a brief taste of high-A life, Marte went 2-for-2 with an RBI. He definitely should be watched closely in high-A ball in 2010, but his ’09 numbers were helped by his .405 BABIP.

9. Gorkys Hernandez, OF, High-A
DOB: September 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela – Atlanta Braves)
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

Brought over in a trade from Atlanta, Hernandez had a disappointing time in the Pirates system. He started out the season in double-A with Atlanta, where he hit .316/.361/.387 in 212 at-bats. After the trade to Pittsburgh, he hit just .262/.312/.340 in 344 at-bats at the same level. Hernandez’ BABIP dropped from .424 to .328 after the trade and his wOBA sank to .298. The outfield prospect is going to have to get on base more consistently to take advantage of his speed, because he has little power potential after posting an .076 ISO in ’09. His walk rate of 6.5% needs to improve, and he also needs to tone down his swing after posting a strikeout rate of 22.1% in the Pirates system. Right now, he looks like a fourth outfielder, but he has potential and is just 22 years old.

10. Quinton Miller, RHP, Rookie Ball
DOB: November 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 20th round – New Jersey HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-94 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Squeaking onto the Top 10 list is Miller. The right-hander was a 2008 draftee who did not make his debut until ’09. Despite the layoff, Miller posted respectable results in low-A ball by allowed just 50 hits in 56.1 innings. His walk rate was OK at 3.99 BB/9, but the strikeout rate was a little low at 6.39 K/9. Miller’s ground-ball rate was OK at 42.5%, but he’s going to want to see that rise a bit as he climbs the ladder. He also needs to get more comfortable with left-handed batters as he posted a 6.20 BB/9 rate against them, compared to 2.80 BB/9 against right-handed hitters. His FIP was 4.69 despite a .275 BABIP, so he may need to return to low-A in 2010 to work out a few kinks before moving up to high-A.

Up Next: The Chicago White Sox

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Could we get a link to the first couple of teams’ top 10 prospects at the beginning or end of the article?