The 2009 Prospect Mine: Pittsburgh Pirates

This post represents the first of 30 articles that will look at the top prospects in each organization. The posts will run for the next two months, leading up to the beginning of the 2009 minor league season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates organization actually has respectable depth in the upper two levels of the minor league system, although the club’s top prospect will likely begin 2009 in High-A ball.

AAA/AA Prospects:
Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is just about ready for The Show, despite failing to receive a September call-up in 2008 after spending the entire year in Triple-A. The organization has some depth with young, talented outfielders so McCutchen, 22, could conceivably head back to Triple-A in 2009 for a little more seasoning. Last season, he hit .283/.372/.398 with 34 stolen bases in 53 attempts. Speaking of outfield depth, meet Jose Tabata, who was obtained last season from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady trade. The talented, but raw, outfielder improved dramatically after the deal (from .240/.320/.310 to .348/.402/.562) and will begin 2009 in Triple-A at the age of 20.

Third baseman Neil Walker is a Pennsylvania native who was selected in the first round of the 2004 draft out of high school as a catcher. The subsequent move to the hot corner hurt Walker’s value, as did his struggles in 2008 at Triple-A, which included a .242 average and a walk rate of 5.4 BB%. He has Pedro Alvarez (see below) breathing down his neck. Starting pitcher Daniel McCutchen (no relation to Andrew) was also acquired in the Nady deal. He has proven himself in Triple-A and could fill in for the injured Jeff Karstens (another trade chip from the NYY deal). His ceiling is probably limited to that of a No. 3 starter.

A+/A Prospects:
Top prospects – and 2008 No. 1 draft pick (2nd overall) – Pedro Alvarez has already had a bumpy introduction to pro ball despite having yet to play in a minor league game – thanks to having Scott Boras as his agent. Despite the layoff, Alvarez could very likely begin the season in High-A ball and could be in Double-A before too long. It would not be a shock to see Alvarez in Pittsburgh by the end of 2009 or early 2010; the only player really standing in his way is Andy LaRoche, who hit .166 in 233 at-bats last season split between the Dodgers and Pirates.

A former 2006 No. 1 draft pick, Brad Lincoln missed all of 2007 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The pitcher returned for 2008 and did OK at two A-ball levels. His FIP was right around 4.00 and his strikeout rate was around 6.50 K/9. Both rates should improve as he distances himself from the surgery. Now it gets creepy. Bryan Morris was a 2006 first round draft pick who… missed the 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. A right-handed pitcher like Lincoln, Morris had a slightly more inconsistent season but is two years younger and will likely be in High-A ball in 2009. Lincoln should begin the year in Double-A.

SS/R Prospects:
Outfielder Robbie Grossman was signed away from the University of Texas with a $1 million bonus despite falling to the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He is raw and athletic and hit just .188 in Rookie ball so he’s a long-term project. Quinton Miller, 19, was another high school player who fell in the draft but was given a lot of cash to forgo a college career. He did not pitch after signing and Miller should spend the first half of 2009 in extended spring training before pitching in Rookie ball.

We hoped you liked reading The 2009 Prospect Mine: Pittsburgh Pirates by Marc Hulet!

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Richie Abernathy

For me, Jarek Cunningham is a guy to keep an eye on as a prospect in the Pirates organization.