Organizational Rankings: Current Talent — Pittsburgh

While the Pirates’ wholesale commitment to rebuilding is commendable, the current major league team is still one of baseball’s worst. However, being in the National League Central means that the Pirates are not only likely to win more than 70 games for the first time since 2004, but also have a good chance to finish out of last place for the first time since 2006 (thank you, Houston Astros!).

As a group, the Pirates’ position players project as around average, partly due to their smart strategy of buying low on former top prospects whose value has dropped for whatever reason. Homegrown center fielder Andrew McCutchen is the only player here that has real star potential; at only 23, he’s a very exciting young player who is good at the plate and in the field. The rest are much less impressive, but outside of the failed-former-prospect competition between Bobby Crosby and Ronny Cedeno at shortstop, there aren’t any gaping holes. Ryan Doumit is a poor defensive catcher, and his bat isn’t all that great, but that’s still good enough to be at least an average catcher. Second baseman Akinori Iwamura is virtually the definition of league average. Andy LaRoche isn’t the stud he looked like he might become as a prospect for the Dodgers, but he has an adequate bat and a decent glove at third base. In left field, former top Nationals/Mets prospect Lastings Milledge projects as about average, and at 25, he still has some upside (whatever that means). 2009 surprise Garrett Jones projects as around average in right, and reserve outfielders Ryan Church, Brandon Jones and Brandon Moss are quality role players. Former Seattle catching prospect Jeff Clement will start at first, and while his bat isn’t anything special there, if he really bombs, the Pirates can always move Jones back to first and put Church, B. Jones or Moss* in the outfield full-time without losing too much.

* I realize that one of B. Jones or Moss may not survive the roster crunch.

If the nonpitchers are average-ish, the pitching as a whole is… not. Paul Maholm is the only pitcher on staff who projects as clearly above average, and could help a lot of teams, but he’s certainly no ace. At 28, he’s probably as good as he’s going to get. Charlie Morton is a bit younger (26) and looks like a capable #3 starter, and 27-year-old lefty Zack Duke is about league average as well. Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and the rest are back-of-the-rotation fodder who will feature all-too-prominently in 2010, and none of them are particularly young. As Bill Simmons might write, if Octavio Dotel is your best reliever, that means Octavio Dotel is your best reliever. The rest of the group isn’t sub-replacement level, but they’re pretty bad, and things could get ugly once Dotel (better suited to middle relief at this point) is traded.

In a strange way, the terrible bullpen is a sign of the front office’s smarts. Yes, it will be hard to watch, but the 2010 (and 2011) Pirates aren’t anywhere close to contention, and no amount of overspending on, say, Brandon Lyon or Jose Valverde would have changed that. A decent bullpen can be constructed much more quickly than a rotation or a group of position players. As for the former, each pitcher is going to be at least one rotation slot higher than they can handle; as for the latter, they should be a respectable group, with a one star-in-the-making, some former top prospects who could still surprise, and solid role players. A mid-70s win total isn’t out of the question, given the divisional opponents, and while that’s hardly something to get excited about, at least the Pirates haven’t compromised their future (by trading away prospects or signing onerous contracts) to attain sub-mediocrity.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

14 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Current Talent — Pittsburgh”

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  1. matt w says:

    I’m just happy to see the Pirates rank this high.

    I’m pretty sure Brandon Jones has an option left, so he’ll probably be waiting in AAA. Brandon Moss still might not survive the roster crunch, though — he might be seeing some pressure from Rule 5 pick John Raynor (and, for what it’s worth, Moss is having a terrible spring).

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  2. DBS says:

    I think you are drastically under-selling Ross Ohlendorf by lumping him in as “back of the rotation fodder”.

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    • matt w says:

      Certainly, the Pirates hope Ohly will be a cut above the rest of that group.

      Kevin Hart is another of the back-of-the-rotation guys, BTW. He’s doing his best to pitch his way into AAA this spring (his astonishing line for today’s game — 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 K, 6 BB plus 1 HBP), but he’ll almost certainly get a chance to start before Karstens (who is off the 40-man).

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    • Disagreement is the spice of life. To me, 1.1 WAR last season is back of the rotation fodder. 4.76 CHONE projected FIP in an NL Pitchers park… (CHONE’s projected neutral ERA is 4.93). Doesn’t strike many out when starting, and his slider is his only plus pitch according to pitch-type lwts. He’s useful at the back of the rotation, sure, but back of the rotation is where he belongs, if you ask me. That’s just my take.

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      • DBS says:

        Agreed about the “spice of life” is disagreement, but Ohlendorf is on the upswing. He, more than any other Pirate pitcher, is absorbing Joe Kerrigan’s (Dave Kerwin’s) teachings.

        His last two months of the year were when he started to excel.

        No, he will never have an 8 K/9 IP rate, most likely, but he will be a very cost-effective and valuable starter for the Pirates in 2010 and beyond.

        On Pirate blogs we talk about Morton being the sleeper, but I guess on more national sites you don’t have to dig as deep to espouse a sleeper for the general public.

        I would like to check back and compare his season with you in mid-2010.

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      • Sure, I’ll be happy to be wrong about Ohlendorf.

        Not sure what you mean about Morton — I think he’s a decent pitcher, and say as much above.

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      • DBS says:

        What I meant was that most Pirates fans assumed that Ohlendorf was a known commodity and that Morton was the sleeper, nationally speaking.

        Good reality check of just how far off the radar screen the Pirates truly are, I guess.

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      • Gopherballs says:

        Ohlendorf was extremely lucky the two months in which he started “to excel.”

        Aug 2009: .213 BABIP, 96% LOB%
        Sept 2009: .211 BABIP, 76% LOB%

        Aside from the one fluky 11 strikeout game against a Pujols-less Cards team, he was essentially the same pitcher all of last year.

        He is a homer-prone fly ball pitcher who does not miss many bats and lacks a solid changeup to keep left-handed hitters at bay. Based on his profile, calling him a useful fourth starter is not exactly an insult.

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  3. tyler says:

    Brandon Jones was cut from the major league st roster earlier this week.

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  4. Gopherballs says:

    The Pirates are also set up well in terms of financial flexibility. Maholm ($6.2 million) and Doumit ($5.2 million) are the only two major leaguers with guaranteed contracts for next year, and Duke ($4.3 million this year) is the only arbitration eligible with a significant salary. If the Pirates decide to trade more veterans for prospects, Maholm’s contract is a bargain, Duke’s salary is reasonable, and Doumit’s contract, while a bit of a complication, is by no means prohibitive. Iwamura and Dotel could provide some return in a deadline deal.

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  5. kdub1988 says:

    I think there’s reason for more optimism about Garrett Jones, dude can drop bombs and and in terms of building from the ground up, especially considering he’s home grown, I think he’s a very good piece to have. He’s never going to be contending for a batting title or home run crown, but I think he can certainly be an above-average major league hitter and provide decent protection for McCutchen until Vote for Pedro becomes a full time big leaguer, and with their lineup, they need someone other then McCutchen to step up because there’s no reason to consistently challenge the only Pirates position player you know can beat you.

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