The Pittsburgh Pirates organization takes a lot of beatings from media, as well as from the online community of baseball bloggers. Many of the criticisms are justified, while others are not.
The Pirates organization added six players to the 40-man roster recently. Two of those moves – Neil Walker and Jose Tabata – were no-brainers. The other four, though, were questionable: pitchers Evan Meek, Jeff Sues, Ronald Uviedo, and catcher Steve Lerud. While Walker and Tabata are among the best prospects in the relatively weak system, the remaining four currently project as below-average Major League regulars.
Meek is a former Rule 5 pick who has bounced around the waiver wire more than once. He did make huge strides with his control in the minors in 2008, but his walk rate jumped back up to 8.31 BB/9 in (small sample size warning) 13 MLB innings in 2008. In 41.1 Triple-A innings in 2008, Meek allowed just 30 hits. He features a low-90s fastball, as well as a splitter and slider.
Sues was a fifth-round selection in the 2005 draft out of Vanderbilt University, where he split time between the bullpen and the starting rotation. He settled into the bullpen in 2008 after appearing in just eight pro games between 2005 and 2007. Sues has struggled with medical issues since his college days and his durability is a huge question mark. His fastball is in the low 90s (and can touch the mid-90s) and he has a plus slider. In 2008, he pitched a career-high 64.1 innings between High-A and Double-A. In 43 Double-A innings, he allowed 35 hits and posted rates of 4.19 BB/9 and 11.51 K/9. He is a flyball pitcher who induced ground balls at a rate of 36 percent. Sues, like Meeks, is another run-of-the-mill right-handed middle reliever who is a dime-a-dozen at the Double-A and Triple-A level.
Hey look, another right-handed middle reliever. Uviedo, a Venezuelan, at least has age on his side at 22. In just his second season stateside, the 6’0” reliever allowed 70 hits in 71.2 A-ball innings. He also posted rates of 1.88 BB/9 and 9.54 K/9. Uviedo earned a late-season promotion to High-A ball and allowed just five hits in 16 innings, but his rates dropped to 2.81 BB/9 and 6.75 K/9. He also had an atrocious groundball rate of 37 percent in A-ball. The fastball has some giddy-up, but his other pitches are still developing.
Lerud, 24, was definitely an interesting player to add to the 40-man roster – but not in a good way. He has a career line of .225/.308/.369 in 1,436 at-bats over five seasons. Lerud split 2008 between High-A and Double-A and managed to hit just .233/.300/.363 at the latter level in 146 at-bats so he is not going to begin 2009 in the Majors. Regardless of how good his defence might be, there are three catchers on the 40-man roster with more potential than Lerud: Ryan Doumit, Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo.
The Pirates organization added three fringe right-handed pitchers in 2007 – Ronald Belisario, Luis Munoz and Olivo Astacio – and none of them lasted the entire season on the 40-man roster. In fact, Astacio is the only member of the trio still in the organization. None of them spent even a game at the Major League level in 2008.
The thing to remember about adding fringe prospects to the 40-man roster is that if you remove them, they can be claimed by any one of the remaining 29 teams and can be optioned down to the minors (as long as option years remain). But if you leave them off the 40-man roster until you are sure that they are deserving, clubs have to spend a Rule 5 pick to acquire them and then keep them on their 40-man rosters for the entire season. The latter transaction is much harder to pull off, especially considering the player is already a fringe prospect to begin with so they are not likely to be Major-League ready.