Pittsburgh’s Prospect Rehab

Ever seen Celebrity Rehab ? Basically, a bunch of former stars try to clean up their lives and stay on the straight and narrow path. Recently, the Pittsburgh Pirates have employed a similar strategy with erstwhile top prospects. The Bucs scooped up four former top 100 farm talents (as rated by Baseball America) from other organizations, hoping the players could reclaim some semblance of their previous glory. Here’s a look at how those players are performing.

Ronny Cedeno, SS
#94 prospect prior to 2006
Acquired: July 2009 from Seattle Mariners

Originally a Cubs prospect signed out of Venezuela back in 1999, Cedeno showed some offensive promise at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. After a 2005 season in which Cedeno raked at Iowa (355/.403/.518) and made his be league debut, BA said that he had “proven that he could be more than a glove man.”

Suffice it to say, his bat hasn’t translated to the highest level — in 1,550 career plate appearances, Cedeno has a .273 wOBA and a 61 wRC+. BA also said that he lacked plate patience, and that part of the scouting report was dead on. Cedeno’s outside swing rate in the majors tops 35 percent.

Despite a .281 wOBA and a 71 wRC+, Cedeno hasn’t been a total liability in 2010. He has 0.7 Wins Above Replacement, on the strength of a +16.2 UZR/150 at shortstop. However, Ronny’s career UZR/150 at the position is -1.3. The 27-year-old will need to keep playing stellar defense to make up for his Adam Everett-esque lumber.

Jeff Clement, 1B
#33 prospect prior to 2006, #62 pre-2007, #42 pre-2008
Acquired: July 2009 from Seattle Mariners

The third overall pick in the 2005 draft, Clement was a highly-coveted talent as a lefty-swinging, power hitting catcher. Unfortunately, he tumbled down the defensive spectrum due to unflattering scouting reports and knee problems. Now, Clement’s strictly a first baseman. He last strapped on the catcher’s gear in 2009, and that was just for 16 games.

Though he managed a decent .279/.368/.492 line in over 1,500 PA at the Triple-A level, Clement has a .283 wOBA and a 72 wRC+ in 380 career trips to the plate in the majors. CHONE and ZiPS both gave the former USC star a .350 wOBA projection for the 2010 season, but he has a ghastly .237 wOBA so far. A .213 batting average on balls in play hasn’t helped, but Clement is hacking at 31.4 percent of off-the-plate pitches, walking 4.4 percent and whiffing 26.8 percent. Considering the position that he now plays, he has -0.7 WAR on the season.

Clement has found himself on the bench more often as of late, with Pittsburgh turning to either Garrett Jones or Bobby Crosby (speaking of former prospects..) at first base. Now 26, Clement is in serious danger of being written off as a viable starter in the majors. His rest-of-season ZiPS projects a .334 wOBA — that’s just not useful from a first baseman.

Andy LaRoche, 3B
#74 prospect prior to 2005, #19 pre-2006 and 2007, #31 pre-2008
Acquired: July 2008 from Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s not entirely fair to lump LaRoche in with the other guys on this list. First, he wasn’t really picked up as a reclamation project — LaRoche was perhaps the prime prospect acquired by the Pirates in the three-team Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez proceedings. Also, the former Dodgers prospect was a relatively productive starter last season, with 2.6 WAR.

However, it’s fair to say that LaRoche has fallen short of expectations in 2010. He was essentially a league-average hitter in ’09 (.324 wOBA, 97 wRC+), but the 26-year-old has a .291 wOBA and a 77 wRC+ this year. He displayed mild power last season, with a .143 ISO, but LaRoche has a .096 mark in 2010. Pop ups have been a problem (21.3 IF/FB%, nearly three times the MLB average). Couple that hitting with a poor UZR/150 rating (-13.9), and you have a sub-replacement-level showing: -0.3 WAR.

LaRoche should improve at the plate (.324 rest-of-season ZiPS wOBA), and he rated quite well defensively last season. Overall, his career UZR/150 at third is +0.6. There’s nothing wrong with a guy who projects as roughly an average starter, particularly when he has several years of team control remaining. But the Pirates were probably looking for a little more, and LaRoche’s long-term defensive home becomes unclear if Pedro Alvarez begins his big league career at third base.

Lastings Milledge, LF
#86 prospect prior to 2004, #11 pre-2005, #9 pre-2006
Acquired: June 2009 from Washington Nationals

Formerly the pride of the New York Mets’ player development program, Milledge has since passed through Washington and is now floundering in Pittsburgh. BA once thought that Lastings would help anchor the lineup in Queens along with Wright, Reyes and Beltran. Instead, Milledge has a career .315 wOBA and a 91 wRC+.

The 25-year-old has been even worse as of late: a .308 wOBA during a 2009 season in which he suffered a broken finger and a .292 wOBA in 2010. He’s doing a slightly better job of working the count this season (nine percent walk rate, though that includes two intentionals), but his power is MIA: a .078 ISO. Milledge is chopping the ball into the grass (51 GB%) and popping up (17.4 IF/FB%) often. He’s got -0.2 WAR on the season.

Milledge’s rest-of-season ZiPS calls for a .320 wOBA. He has been around an average corner outfielder (career +1.6 UZR/150) after a disastrous stint in center field for the Nationals, so he projects as a below-average starter at this point.

So, there you have it: four players once celebrated as franchise pillars combining for -0.5 WAR. Top-rated position players provide the most production in the aggregate, but these four haven’t lived up to the billing. With perhaps the exception of LaRoche, it’s not looking good for this quartet of underachievers.

We hoped you liked reading Pittsburgh’s Prospect Rehab by David Golebiewski!

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Are they underachievers, or reminders that a rock-solid majority of Top 100 prospects, no matter who does the rating, never contribute anything in the majors?