Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Pittsburgh

As written in the article previous to this, things could be very bad in PNC Park this season. And you know what? That’s the most encouraging sign in Pittsburgh in quite awhile. The new regime in Pittsburgh, led by Neal Huntington, has begun extracting value from the assets remaining from Dave Littlefield’s time in Pittsburgh. This has provided a host of players that could contribute to a successful Pittsburgh team in the future: Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Gorkys Hernandez, Tim Alderson and more.

Slowly and deliberately, the Pirates are building something. If you squint and project generously, there is quite the offensive core coming together. It starts with a pair of potential stars: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. You’ll see a lot of teams ahead of the Pirates on this list whose ranking is largely owed to the presence of a superstar. These two have that potential. McCutchen could push 4-5 wins above replacement this season, and really looks to be successful at every phase of the game.

Pedro won’t be that successful from a fielding perspective, and will have to be +25-35 with the bat to match McCutchen’s potential. I think we can certainly project the low end of that scale, making Pedro the Robin to McCutchen’s Batman. And as Dave mentioned in the Padres review yesterday, a good team needs a few superheroes.

Around them you’ll see a series of unexciting, but low-floored prospects that could contribute to a winner. Tony Sanchez, the team’s budget-conscious first-round pick last year, is a great example. The team believes he is a plus defensively to go along with a league-average hitter – that’s a 2-3 win player. Or how about Chase D’Arnaud? Here’s a guy that scouts are saying could be average defensively (+0), stick at shortstop (+7.5), live in the two hole (+20) and ride his patient approach to a ~.360 wOBA (+15). And you have Tabata, who is no longer a projectable middle of the order star, but a great contact hitter that could hit .300.

If you didn’t notice, that’s getting close to a full lineup of players: C Sanchez, 1B Jeff Clement, MI D’Arnaud, 3B Alvarez, LF Lastings Milledge, CF McCutchen, RF Tabata. I think it works, and it’s going to be under team control until 2015 or so.

But then you get to the pitching staff. and things aren’t so optimistic. The group that pitched in the Major Leagues last season is about replacement level. You might like Paul Maholm, or believe in the Ross Ohlendorf sinker, but generally, these aren’t the guys you win with. The first-round picks the team put together in the decade don’t really help. Dan Moskos has fallen off the radar, and while Brad Lincoln had an encouraging return from Tommy John surgery, his stuff no longer inspires faith below a 4.00 FIP.

You can feel the Pirates beginning to sense the discrepancy between the offense and pitching staff, as they spent seven figure bonuses on two players in last June’s draft: LHP Colton Cain and RHP Zack Van Rosenberg. Both are years away from the Major Leagues – their peaks should be after some of the hitters above have moved on – but it does show a recognition from the front office.

The Pirates drew some criticism last year for drafting Tony Sanchez, a low upside player, so high in the draft. But I think this front office knows its talent and understands what it needs. If ownership is patient with Huntington’s strategy, and McCutchen and Alvarez blossom as expected, the Pirates are ahead of the curve in competing once the aging St. Louis and Chicago rosters drop off. But they need pitching, and they need lots of it.

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8 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Pittsburgh”

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  1. DBS says:

    It’s a little frustrating (as an admitted Pirates fan) to keep reading about Tony Sanchez being an “overdraft” or a “budget conscious” pick.

    The Pirates 2009 draft strategy was such that they did not feel there was a consensus #3 talent behind Strasburg and Ackley. They did not want to spend $5M+ on a HS pitcher, especially when Matzek came out before the draft and said he wanted “precedent setting money”. (Nice job by Rockies in taking him and staring him down).

    So the Pirates decided to draft a guy they wanted who was talented and sign for slot. Then they wanted to dedicate the mid rounds to picking up above-slot-type of signing that fell due to college committments.

    This is how they got Cain, ZVR, Stevenson, Dodson. When you add up these signing bonuses for these 4 HS arms and Sanchez’s bonus, it is less than or equal to the bonuses for Turner, Miller, Matzek, etc.

    I would rather diversify my portfolio on 5 assets than 1, especially when it is the highly volatile commodity of HS pitcher.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Um, didn’t I say this in the post? Or at least imply it? The fact is that Sanchez WAS a budget-conscious pick, but I don’t necessarily disagree with it. They saw a guy who was likely to be a 2 WAR guy (or better), and would give them an opportunity to buy out a couple college commitments. So, yes. Agree.

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  2. Adam Reynolds says:

    What about Starling Marte? He’s one of the highest-ceiling players in the system.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Yes, absolutely. I’ll keep saying throughout this series — I’m not trying to name every good player in the system, but to give you an overview. So Marte is one of those guys, if he’s good enough, they’ll make room instead of Milledge or Tabata or Gorkys or whomever. I don’t view him on a star path yet, but I do think he’s certainly in the mix.

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  3. mowill says:

    Last year when Sanchez was traded for Alderson many lamented the move as giving up on a possible number 2 starter. Is he more like a 3-4 starter?

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    • Andy says:

      I think Alderson originally projected as a 2, maybe even an ace. His stock fell quite a bit last year as his velocity dipped, though. The general sense among the FG writers was that the giants got robbed either way, though. Sanchez is valuable, but only marginally above average, it’s entirely possible the whole .300 BA thing made Sabean jump more than he ought to have.

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  4. Omar says:

    Jose Tabata? Really….really?

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