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A Minor Review of 2009: Pittsburgh Pirates

Prospect ranking season is here. Top 10 lists will be arriving shortly and in preparation for that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The series is back for a second year.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Graduate: Andrew McCutchen, OF
McCutchen began the year in triple-A but he received his much-deserved promotion after his 49th game in the minors in ’09. He went on to hit .286/.365/.471 with an ISO of .185 in 433 at-bats. The center fielder also stole 22 bases in 27 attempts. For a top-of-the-order-type hitter, McCutchen showed encouraging patience with a walk rate of 11.1%. He’s still learning to hit breaking balls, but he handles MLB fastballs with relative ease (1.47 wFB/C). Defensively, he struggled with his range but he still posted a 3.4 WAR thanks to his offensive contributions.

The Riser: Chase D’Arnaud, SS
D’Arnaud’s younger brother Travis (Philadelphia) was more highly regarded as an amateur, but the elder sibling has performed better than expected in pro ball. Originally considered a utility prospect, D’Arnaud now projects as a possible starter in the middle infield. He split ’09 between low-A and high-A and hit .295/.402/.481 at the senior level. D’Arnaud also shows good patience at the plate (12.5 BB%) and his ISO jumped to .186 in high-A, although most of his strength is gap power right now. He also stole 31 bases in 39 attempts.

The Tumbler: Bryan Morris, RHP
This right-hander’s value has taken a big hit due to injuries and alleged attitude issues. A former top draft pick, Morris struggled with his consistency in ’09 and posted a walk rate of 4.21 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of just 3.96 K/9 in 72.2 innings in high-A ball. He also allowed 87 hits, but gave up just two homers. At this point, the Pirates organization would probably be happy to see Morris make the Majors as a reliever. When he’s right, Morris has shown a plus curveball, change-up, slider and an 88-93 mph fastball.

The ’10 Sleeper: Hunter Strickland, RHP
Obtained from Boston while the organization was dumping veteran contracts, Strickland is still raw as a pitcher but he has tons of potential. He displays plus control with a walk rate of just 1.38 BB/9 in low-A this season. The 21-year-old pitcher did allow a few too many hits (127 in 126.1 innings), and he has yet to develop his secondary pitches to the point where he can rack up a lot of strikeouts (5.51 with Boston, 4.81 with Pittsburgh). Overall, he features an 89-94 fastball, a slider and a change-up.

Bonus: Robinzon Diaz, C
Diaz was highlighted in the 2008 series as the sleeper prospect to watch for ’09. The catcher, who was acquired in ’08 from Toronto, benefited from an injury to starter Ryan Doumit this past season. Diaz hit .279/.307/.357 in 129 at-bats. He displays almost zero power (.078 ISO) and doesn’t walk (2.3 BB%), but he makes a lot of contact (89.7%, league average is 80.5%) and doesn’t strike out either (7.0%). He’s similar to Vlad Guerrero in the sense that he swings – and makes contact – with just about everything. Diaz has made huge strides in his catching over the past few seasons.