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  1. As a person who just takes a momentary interest here and there in the Pirates, I must say, it appears (to my outside, passing perspective) that a larger than normal majority of their top prospects flame out or fail to measure up to their potential.

    Has anybody questioned whether there is something wrong in their development system?

    Comment by Heather — November 23, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

  2. I wanted Niemann and Brignac soooooo bad! I don’t know for sure if Pittsburgh could have gotten that deal from Tampa during the deadline, but I remember the rumors floating around and I liked that offer much better.

    It’s a shame they didn’t get anything of value from Bay yet, I guess they would have been better off trading him when the season was over, even holding onto him and getting comp picks would have been better.

    I really wish the Bay and McLouth trades would have gotten better players in Pittsburgh because they could have turned the franchise around if they hit big on them.

    Comment by Pat — November 23, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

  3. There was supposed to be a regime change with Huntington and farm director Stark, who all came aboard after the 2008 season. At the time, Huntington referred to the farm system as “dysfunctional.” I’d also be curious to hear from Pirates fans where things stand today.

    Comment by Puffy — November 23, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  4. Heather, it seems as though when people think of Pirates prospects they think of the past regimes failed prospects. These players were destined to fail because their ceilings were that of number 3 starters at best and management refused to spend on the draft. Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Andrew Mccutchen appear to be developing just fine. It’s all about selective memory. Personally I think there has been some busts and some bloomers with the Pirate’s prospects which can be expected from any team.

    Comment by Seth — November 23, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

  5. If you look at LaRoche’s record with his spring ’08 thumb injury in mind, it’s pretty clear that his power left the building then and there and never returned. He was a .200+ ISO, .500+ SLG hitter in the minors in 2006 and 2007, and since then he’s never topped .150/.440 at any level.

    Comment by Brian — November 23, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

  6. Also you could ask anyone that knows baseball and find out that Huntington and company completely overhauled the way things were done in the farm system. Just look at the top 11 prospects on BP, and you will see how far it has come.

    Comment by Seth — November 23, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

  7. It certainly was dysfunctional, but Andy LaRoche had little to do with the Pirates farm system. He spent very little time there and did well in 2009. It’s unclear how much his back injuries affected him (there’s also the hand, maybe thumb, injury while with the Dodgers, just before he came to Pittsburgh…

    The jury’s still out on the current development system. Certainly, Owens and Morris appear to have taken forward steps. Justin Wilson has done quite well, for someone with very little expert backing. Guys like McPherson/Leach have taken steps forward. Jeff Locke has resurrected his falling stock, and guys like Presley have improved at higher levels. Lambo seems to have done OK since coming over, regaining some value on his rapidly plummeting prospect status. Neil Walker, Jose Tabata have made strides and had promising rookie seasons. While it’s still open to question, Pirates fans have some reasons to be excited.

    Comment by john sparrow — November 23, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  8. LaRoche’s bat speed never seemed to be MLB level and his patience hasn’t been able to pay off as a result. Blake DeWitt, who was once stuck behind him, has turned out to be a better player in every, single way.

    Comment by Alireza — November 23, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

  9. I should say first that I’m a pretty staunch supporter of Huntington, mainly because every trade he’s made, save the one for Dana Eveland, at least made moderate sense at the time it was made. That’s true with this one, too, even though I fully expect the Pirates to get nothing more than a decent bottom of the rotation starter out of it in Morris.

    There was absolutely nothing anyone could have done to predict or foresee LaRoche’s bat going 100% to Hell this year. He showed a lot of very promising flashes immediately upon being required and, in my opinion, was a quality player for the team in 2009. His defense is still solid, even though he made some lousy errors last year.

    The thing that I can’t figure is where the offense went. It was noted by the Post-Gazette last year that LaRoche couldn’t even hit the ball hard in batting practice. I know there isn’t a stat to measure how hard a player hits the ball on average, but I can say that everything that came off LaRoche’s bat looked like a Mo Rivera cutter. He made solid contact probably one in ten times up after being benched.

    He’s a bounceback candidate if he can ever get his swing right, but there were few more worthless players, ever, than the LaRoche we saw last season.

    Comment by Kirsh — November 23, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

  10. The Pirates won the McLouth trade. They got rid of one of the flukiest one-hit-wonders and worst contracts in the game. Jeff Locke’s a very good prospect, and Gorkys Hernandez can’t hit for his life but is such a great center fielder he can still be a fourth outfielder (which McLouth isn’t much better than).

    In spite of his ERA last year, I also still hold optimism for Charlie Morton. He spent most of 2009 in the Majors and was very good, a sub 4-ERA pitcher if you take out one bad inning at Wrigley Field. Clearly, things can’t go much worse for a pitcher than they did for him last year, but he’s got a million dollar arm. It’s the ten cent head that needs to be worked on, and if he gets it together mentally, he’s an above average big leaguer, no doubt in my mind.

    Not saying he’s a sure thing, of course.

    Comment by Kirsh — November 23, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

  11. This is why it is smart sometimes to trade prospects for current talent. Sure, you might get burned when a excellent prospect turns in years of cost-controlled performance for another team, but they also might flame out like LaRoche. You never know.

    Comment by AK707 — November 23, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

  12. “He spent most of 2009 in the Majors and was very good, a sub 4-ERA pitcher if you take out one bad inning at Wrigley Field.”

    I was at that game with my kids. It was an inning+. He gave up 7 hits, 3 BBs and 10 ERs. Even as a Cubs fan, it was painful to watch.

    Comment by odbsol — November 23, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

  13. Good point.. I often wonder just how many (or what percentage) of former big time prospects who fizzle out are just mental or if there was some injury in their past that lead to their demise.

    Comment by DonCoburleone — November 23, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  14. We slammed the Dodgers for refusing to give LaRoche a chanace. Maybe this is why. I still wouldnt mind if my team took a flier on LaRoche.

    Comment by DWrek — November 23, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  15. alex gordon’s another one…

    Comment by David — November 24, 2010 @ 4:30 am

  16. if the Dodgers knew something about LaRoche that the rest of us didn’t, then you’re right, they should be applauded. I think that’s what happened in the Alderson / Sanchez trade that everyone criticized – and Brian Sabean was completely right.

    Comment by David — November 24, 2010 @ 4:34 am

  17. that’s an easy trap to fall in though – that 10% can be an insurmountable obstacle. Daniel Cabrera’s 2005 season was very promising as an Orioles fan – his control was a bit off but his peripherals were great (4.52 ERA but a 4.04 xFIP) and he showed a marked improvement in every area. in fact, the Orioles refused a trade offer from the Marlins of A.J. Burnett + Mike Lowell for Cabrera + Jorge Julio. but it was just that pesky 10% that prevented him from becoming a good consistent pitcher…

    Comment by David — November 24, 2010 @ 4:37 am

  18. In fairness, Cutch was drafted by the Littlebrain regime. Although, the former regime would have probably traded him for Jarrod Washburn and some magic beans.

    Comment by Bill — November 24, 2010 @ 11:51 am

  19. What I was trying to say is that it is a calculated risk to trade prospects, because sometimes they bust, while other times they turn to gold. It seems like teams are getting too reluctant to trade young players because they have bad memories of the times they got burned, and forget about the times that it works out, like with LaRoche. Alderson is an excellent example, where the pirates overvalued a “young player with upside” in exchange for a perfectly useful player in sanchez.

    Comment by AK707 — November 24, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

  20. Does anybody have a rough percentage as to how many of the “top 100″ prospects actually end up being good players? Huntington seems to know how to acquire the ones that bust, but is it just a percentages thing?

    Comment by AK707 — November 24, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  21. You may be giving the Dodgers a little too much credit here.

    Comment by Aaron/YYZ — November 25, 2010 @ 10:58 am

  22. LaRoche was playing here in Venezuela winter league, a kind of AA baseball, and his numbers were really awfull before was released:186/293/314 in 70 AB including 17K, 2 Hrs and 11 BB.
    Probably he will join to Sean Burroughs, Brandon Wood and Alex Gordon to write “When we were great 3B prospects” or how to be a totally bust.

    Comment by mtortolero — November 25, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  23. The idea that there could possibly be 100 “top” prospects is a joke. If one figures that 17 players per team have a regular job and the other eight spots are backups or fringers, there are barely over 500 regular players in all of baseball. They are not all good, let alone All-Stars. But nowhere near 20% are going to turn over every year, even though we get a new list of 100 “top” prospects every year.

    If you see that a guy is a “top” prospect it is still more likely than not that he will never amount to a hill of beans. But publications have to create these “top” prospect lists in order to justify their existence.

    Comment by Dodger300 — November 26, 2010 @ 10:11 am

  24. To be fair there aren’t 100 new names every year, about 40 of them carry over from last year. Jameson Taillon will be on a top 100 list this year and every year until 2014 or so.

    Comment by Joel — November 26, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

  25. Look at some of Victor Wang’s work:

    In it, you’ll find his calculations for the frequency of a bust.

    And a nice summation by Sky Kalkman of the info for the value of a top prospect:

    Comment by Nathaniel Dawson — November 27, 2010 @ 9:48 am

  26. Reading about the Pirates always makes me sad.

    Comment by kick me in the GO NATS — November 28, 2010 @ 2:47 am

  27. I think some people did foresee that LaRoche could flame out with the bat. His 2009 was lauded mainly because he closed hot. If you look at this thread, several folks did think he was being overrated going into 2010.

    I especially like the “Laroche is worth more than Dunn” implication. Coming into 2011 we see who is worth more.

    Laroche might eventually be able to turn it around, but at his age it is now much harder to get chances.

    Comment by wobatus — November 28, 2010 @ 11:03 am

  28. Well, as long as we are talking about failed can’t-miss=third-base-prospects, the Pirates just signed Andy Marte as a minor league free agent.

    And while I have been encouraged by the development in the Pirates minors, I am less enamored of the Pirate trades. But that is another article entirely

    Comment by Doc — December 2, 2010 @ 9:51 am

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