Pittsburgh Pirates' Prospect Rankings Released: Musings and Observations

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst IJanuary 24, 2009

When you’re a rebuilding team—which the Pirates finally are—Spring Training has a different kind of buzz. The focus is not on established players, but instead on up-and-coming prospects.

So this week, in a way, was a big one for the Pirates, as Baseball America and ESPN analyst Keith Law both released their top prospect lists. BA issued a list of the Pirates’ top-10 prospects, along with such tidbits as a projected 2012 starting lineup, while Law issued his list of the top 100 overall prospects.

The Baseball America article was written by John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times.

There were quite a few interesting pieces of information in the two different reports. What follows is a summary of the juiciest nuggets for the diehard—and not-so diehard—Pirate fan.

How good is Pedro Alvarez, anyway?

As the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft awaits his professional debut, experts already disagree on where he stands. In Baseball America’s top 100 list, Alvarez was ranked a strong third overall. Yet Keith rated Alvarez No. 38, behind fellow Pirates Andrew McCutchen (No. 18) and Jose Tabata (No. 33).

Law, who only considered Alvarez the fifth-best prospect going into the 2008 Entry Draft, cited Alvarez’ “high-effort swing” and conditioning issues as reasons for the current low ranking, Yet even Law acknowledged that “you can’t teach the kind of power Alvarez has.”

The truth is nobody will be able to get a real handle on Alvarez’ pro potential until he has at least a few months of Minor League ball under his belt. Bucs fans are certainly excited to see that.

A first look at the Bucs’ future rotation

John Perrotto’s Baseball America page included a projection of the Pirates’ 2012 pitching rotation. Pitching prospects Brad Lincoln and Bryan Morris featured prominently, as Perrotto placed them as the future No. 1 and No. 3 starters, respectively.

What was perhaps most surprising about this list was the projection of Paul Maholm as the No. 4 starter. Rating prospects highly is one thing, but Ian Snell is projected as the Pirates’ No. 2 starter in 2012.

Maholm, who many forget was actually a first-round pick in 2003, has both the pedigree and the recent track record to be a future No. 2 starter, and he certainly is more likely to succeed down the road than Snell.

The much-troubled Tom Gorzelanny filled out the rotation, showing Perrotto’s lack of faith in newly-acquired pitchers Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf.

How the mighty have fallen

Two years ago, Neil Walker was the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect and their third baseman of the future. Now, he might have trouble finding a place to play.

Walker fell to No. 6 in the BA Pirate top 10, and he doesn’t even appear in Perrotto’s projected 2012 starting lineup. There may be room for him on the big club after all, though, according to Keith Law, who fears Alvarez’ conditioning problems will lead to his eventual move to first base, opening up a potential spot for Walker.

Daniel Moskos was never really “mighty,” but he still was the No. 4 overall pick less than two years ago. Yet he doesn’t even make the Bucs’ top 10 prospects and appears neither as a member of their 2012 rotation or as their 2012 closer.

Oh, and Matt Wieters was ranked the No. 1 overall prospect by both Baseball America and ESPN.

Jarek Cunningham gets some love

The rookie shortstop put together a nice debut season, compiling a .892 OPS in 43 Gulf Coast League games. While Cunningham hasn’t yet cracked the Bucs’ top 10 list, Perrotto thought enough of him to project him as the Pirates’ 2012 shortstop.

Cunningham’s selection also shows the Pirates’ lack of depth at the shortstop position. John Perrotto knows something Pirate fans have known all along: Brian Bixler is not the answer.