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Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Minor League Review

Organizational Talent Rankings via Baseball America:

2011 (19) | 2010 (15) | 2009 (18) | 2008 (26) | 2007 (19) | 2006 (19)

2011 Affiliate Records

MLB: [72-90] NL Central

AAA: [76-68] International League – Indianapolis

AA: [64-77] Eastern League – Altoona

A+: [74-63] Florida State League – Bradenton

A: [69-69] South Atlantic League – West Virginia

A(ss): [31-44] New York-Penn League – State College

The Run Down

With the first overall pick in the June draft, the Pirates selected Gerrit Cole and gave him $8 million upon signing.  Although I’m partial toward Trevor Bauer – Cole’s teammate at UCLA and third overall pick in June – Cole is probably a safer option, given his projectable frame and mechanics.  And while I doubt he’ll arrive before 2013, it’ll be fun to watch him destroy batters in Double-A (Cole was clocked at 102 MPH a month ago in the Arizona Fall League).  In addition to Cole, the Pirates’ system has quite a few high-ceiling arms:  James Taillon, Luis Heredia, and Stetson Allie all profile as frontline starters.  Unfortunately, though, they’re rather far from arriving in Pittsburgh.  Offensively, the Pirates’ system doesn’t have too much to be excited about for 2012.  Starling Marte has great potential and could yield some fantasy value, but I’m afraid we’re still a year or two away from him being viable option.  Josh Bell is probably Pittsburgh’s most promising offensive prospect, but the 19-year-old switch-hitting outfielder is a long ways off.  Until Cole arrives, there’s no one draft-worthy here.

Arizona Fall League PlayersMesa Solar Sox

Nathan Baker (LHP); Gerrit Cole (RHP); Mike Colla (RHP); Jeff Inman (RHP); Jarek Cunningham (2B); Brock Holt (2B)

Graduated Prospects

Alex Presley (OF); Josh Harrison (3B); Michael McKenry (C); Chase d’Arnaud (SS); Tony Watson (LHP); Chris Leroux (RHP); Daniel Moskos (LHP)

Players of Interest

Hitters

Starling Marte | OF:

Marte spent all of 2011 at Double-A Altoona, slashing .332/.370/.500 in 572 trips to the plate.  What’s exciting to note, here, is that he seems to be developing the kind power that he’ll need as an outfield regular in the big leagues:  after posting a .121 ISO in 2009, followed by .141 2010, he continued the upward trend with a .168 ISO mark in 2011.  Marte is a fabulous defensive outfielder with a strong arm and good speed.  It’s likely that we’ll see him up with the Pirates by midseason.

Jordy Mercer | SS:

With 51 XBH (including 19 homers) in 551 plate appearances in 2011 between AA and AAA, Mercer has definitely surfaced on the Pirates’ radar.  The fact that he can play comfortably at short, second and third should also make him an attractive option for the big club.  Based on that versatility, along with a capable (although, not spectacular) bat, I expect Mercer to contribute in 2012.

Pitchers

Jeff Locke | LHP – SP:

Locke earned a September call up, which resulted in four big-league starts for the lefty.  Being that those starts weren’t particularly impressive (0-3, 6.75 FIP), and also that he has only five starts at the Triple-A level, I expect to see Locke back with Indianapolis in 2012.  Mixing a high 80s fastball with a curveball and changeup, he relies on plus command and overwhelms no one.  He definitely needs more work in the minors, but should a spot open in the Pirates’ rotation, Locke might get the first look based on his big-league experience.

Kyle McPherson | RHP – SP:

McPherson had a bit of a breakout year in 2011, posting a 2.96 ERA in 28 starts between Altoona and Bradenton.  The 24-year-old righty shows nice command of a fastball that touches 95, and counters with a tricky changeup that often misses bats.  Profiling as a third or fourth starter, McPherson will open 2012 in the Indianapolis rotation, and could be up with Pittsburgh before long.

Bryan Morris | RHP – RP:

Morris made the transition from starter to reliever in 2011 and performed well in his new role.  He features a nice curveball to pair with a power sinker that touches 95.  Depending on what the Pirates need at the top level, Morris has a chance to be in a Pittsburgh uniform out of camp and could be competing for saves at some point, provided Hanrahan struggles.

Honorable Mention

Hitters

Tony Sanchez | C:

The outlook on Sanchez isn’t quite as hopeful after his production slipped – both offensively and defensively – at AA in 2011.  However, it’s still safe to assume that the catcher will make it to Pittsburgh based simply on the merit of his defense.  While earlier projections saw Sanchez arriving in 2012, his struggles at Altoona have knocked him off that pace.  Don’t expect to see him behind the plate in the Majors until 2013.

Pitchers

Justin Wilson | LHP – SP/RP:

Wilson’s fastball, which consistently sits at 93-95, warrants excitement.  Lousy command, though, has tempered most expectations.  With quite a few promising arms competing for starts at the Triple-A level, I suspect Pittsburgh will move Wilson into more of a permanent relief role.  Improved command might elicit another look as a starter, but his quickest (and perhaps only) route to the big club is via relief.

Rudy Owens | LHP – SP:

After a tremendous 2010 in Double-A, Owens disappointed in 2012 at Indianapolis.  His 4.11 FIP in 2011 reflects slightly better than his 5.05 ERA, but these clearly are not numbers of a MLB-ready prospect.  If Owens cannot get back to his 2010 form, he’s looking at another full year in Triple-A.