Monday, April 23, 2012

As long as we're jumping to conclusions

Ok, I'll admit that title is pretty snarky. I've said a number of times in a number of places to a number of people that I think it's too early in the season to learn anything meaningful from the results. For the most part, this has been aimed at the results from Pittsburgh's major league ballclub. At the same time, I want to take a look at some things that we've seen from the Pirates' minor league affiliates. Therefore, I'm going to ignore the admittedly small sample sizes and take a look at what we've seen so far from down on the farm. If you want to point out that this is pretty hypocritical, go ahead. That's probably true. Still, I will start off by pointing out that since it is early in the year, a lot can change (for better or worse). Of course, you already knew that. Anyway, here what we know beyond a shadow of a doubt about the Pirates' minor leaguers.

Indianapolis Indians: The top prospect at this level is (by almost all accounts) Starling Marte. Thus far, Marte has been solid but not spectacular. His average is only .274 which isn't stunning since his BAbip is down roughly 60 points from last year's absurd .390 clip. This really shouldn't be that upsetting, though. He's still hitting the ball with some authority and his .161 ISO is perfectly respectable. His K rate is up a bit to 20.9% but it hasn't been a big problem so far. Not surprisingly, Marte's biggest issue thus far is that he still won't (or can't) take a walk. Marte has walked in less than 3% of his plate appearances (2 walks in 67 plate appearances). This is actually a pretty good example of why it is important for Marte to learn to walk a little more (and why people should hold up on the calls for Marte to play in Pittsburgh's outfield NOW). Marte's BAbip this year is more in line with what people can/should expect in the long run and it dropped his average to .274. Without his super high average to bolster his OBP, that has dropped down to .318 which is not very good. At the same time, if Marte's had just walked a few more times (3 more walks would give him a 7.5 BB%) it would bump his triple slash up to .288/.364/.458. Marte has looked good on the basepaths so far, going 8 for 9 on steal attempts.

There are a few pitchers worth highlighting too. Rudy Owens has looked more like his old self, which is good news. In 3 starts, Owens has averaged more than 6 IP per start and he has yet to walk a batter. He's still not missing a ton of bats and is only striking out about 6 guys per 9 but that's not horrible for a control pitcher. Justin Wilson is still showing some of the same control problems that we've seen from him in the past, but his stuff has looked solid, so no real change there. Jeff Locke has had great peripherals so far (15:1 K:BB rate in 15 IP) but has been too hittable. Bryan Morris has been uneven but he has pitched much better than his frightening 8.10 ERA. Danny Moskos has also looked effective thus far and will probably spend a decent amount of time in Pittsburgh's bullpen this year. Tim Alderson (YAY) pitched well in a 3 inning relief outing (and in his brief time in AA) and has been throwing in the low 90's so far this year. With his curveball, Alderson can absolutely be effective at that velocity. He's also the youngest player on the Indians' roster. If he continues to pitch well, it wouldn't be surprising to see him starting for Indianapolis as the season goes on. That's the good news. The bad news is that his velocity improved (although only into the upper 80's) during the first half of last year too, then it dropped back off. This means that it's still FAR too early to get excited about Alderson. Still, if he can keep this up, you could make a pretty compelling case that he has more upside than any pitcher the Pirates currently have above Bradenton. Kyle McPherson is still on the DL

Altoona Curve: Last season, Tony Sanchez was arguably the biggest disappointment in the Pirates' system. His offensive numbers completely fell off a cliff as he struggled to hit the ball with any authority all season. So far in 2012, Sanchez has rebounded at least a little bit. With a batting average in the .280's and an OPS of nearly .800, Sanchez is hitting well enough for a catcher with his defensive ability. A bit of a red flag has popped up in Sanchez K rate, though. A low K rate has always been one of his strengths, but so far, he has struck out in 25% of his plate appearances.

Jarek Cunningham and Matt Curry have both shown less power than you would expect/hope for out of them. Cunningham's biggest tool to this point to this point in his career has been his power but that hasn't exactly shown up this year. It hasn't been bad but for Cunningham to be a real prospect, his power has to be exceptional. Curry's has been almost non-existent to this point, which is obviously not what you want to see out of a big 1B. Robbie Grossman has also been a disappointment so far this year. He is still walking a decent amount, but his batting average and his power numbers currently leave plenty to be desired. Maybe the hamate injury isn't just a mind over matter thing after all. One of the pleasant surprises on this team has been Adalberto Santos. Santos took over in the outfield when Andrew Lambo (who is sprinting towards total bust status) got hurt. Aside from possibly having the best name in the organization now that Exicardo Cayones is gone, Santos has been hitting the cover off the ball with an OPS over 1.100. Since being drafted, Santos has always hit well but the knock against him was that he was old for the level. If he continues to rake like this, Santos could force the organization's hand and avoid becoming an outfield version of Matt Hague.

Bradenton Marauders: Let's start with the guys that really matter, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. To this point, Cole's results don't really match his peripherals. His ERA so far is 5.25 and his WHIP is 1.417 but that is likely the result of a .370 BAbip and a 2.25 HR/9 rate. His K and BB numbers have been really good. So far, the 1st pick in last years draft has struck out 13.5 batters per 9 innings and he has a 4.5 K:BB ratio. Taillon has been even more encouraging. As the Pirates begin to take off the training wheels a bit, Taillon has started to show what he can do when he gets to use his full arsenal. So far, he has an ERA of 2.63, has struck out nearly 12 batters per 9 innings and his K:BB ratio is 9:1.

Beyond the big two, Colton Cain has been solid but unspectacular. He's walked too many guys, but that is largely a result of his first start. Quinton Miller has not done much to show that he is going to rebound from a really rough start to his pro career. Offensively, the team's best prospect is probably Alex Dickerson. Dickerson is hitting .288 and is getting on base at a solid clip but he hasn't shown much power so far with just 2 extra base hits. Like Matt Curry, he has to provide some pop to really have much value and so far, that hasn't happened. Toolsy outfielder Mel Rojas Jr. got off to a great start but has cooled off lately and his OPS is now down to .749. One good sign for Rojas, though, is that he has started to show off some of his BP power. Despite putting on one hell of a show during the pre-game, Rojas was never able to translate that to games at all with paltry .089 ISO last season. This year, that number is up to .147 which, while not great, is a step in the right direction.

West Virgina Power: The Power have so many prospects this year it is just silly. The biggest name at this level is probably Josh Bell who got a record setting bonus from the Pirates last summer. Bell has had his ups and downs so far this season and his OPS was north of .800 just a few games ago. A recent slump has dropped that number down to .681. His swing has been a little long at times which has caused some problems with strikeouts and his K rate this season is an unsightly 33%. He also hasn't walked nearly enough with just two walks in his first 64 professional plate appearances.

The second biggest name at this level is probably Stetson Allie who had tons of problems with his control last year. This spring, most observers said that he had made big strides and looked much improved this year. More than one person said he looked like a completely different pitcher. The good news is that he has a nice 13.5 K/9 so far. The bad news is that he has a 108 BB/9 so far. That's not a typo and it's not missing a decimal point. That is one hundred and eight walks per nine innings. Yeah. He has also hit a batter and thrown three wild pitches. It's pretty tough to compare the guy people saw in Spring Training and the guy that has pitched for West Virginia so far. They're just two different guys. Hopefully Allie will improve as the season goes along, but this is clearly not what people were hoping for a few weeks ago.

Nick Kingham, who opened quite a few eyes with a good performance in State College last season has been roughed up a bit so far this season. He his been better in his last two starts and his horrific 10+ ERA is mostly the result of his first two outings but he hasn't gotten off to the start than many were expecting.

Gregory Polanco and Jose Osuna have both had encouraging starts. Polanco is tied for the organization lead with four homers, one more than he had all of last season. He sports an impressive .870 OPS so far and is 7/8 on stolen base attempts. Like seemingly every other 1B prospect in the minors, Osuna has a decent average so far (.290) but he hasn't hit for as much power as you would hope for. He has six doubles but his ISO is just .097. His BB and K numbers are solid, though so it's tough to say that it has been a bad start for the youngster.

Maybe the brightest spot in the entire organization so far has been "shortstop" Alen Hanson. Hanson, who turned quite a few heads with a nice debut in Rookie-ball last year got an aggressive push to West Virginia. He has responded with four home runs in his first 74 at bats and his average is .405. With 15 of his 30 hits going for extra bases (8 doubles, 3 triples, 4 homers), Hanson is slugging his way to a gaudy 1.200 OPS. Opinions about his ability to stick at short vary with many saying that he lacks the arm strength for the position. Still, he is athletic enough that he might be able to make it happen and without many other good options going up the minor league ladder, the organization will give him every opportunity to make it work. Regardless, if he keeps hitting like this, it doesn't matter what position he plays, he'll be really valuable.

As we're only about 15 games into the season, feel free to disregard this analysis in about a week when all of these numbers will probably have changed...a lot...


  1. Hey this isn't related but I have Kevin correia starting for me this week because I thought he was a two start this week but on CBS it says his next start is Monday but I think it's Sunday can you help me out? He pitched yest. So mcdonald and Morton today, bedard on friday, Burnett on Saturday, and then wouldn't it be correia? Thanks

    1. Yeah, I just checked and they had Brad Lincoln as the starter for Sunday. Lincoln was called up after Jeff Karstens went down but before AJB came back. He hasn't pitched in a week now and it's possible that the Pirates were keeping him up as an insurance policy for today's doubleheader. I don't think the Pirates will keep a 6th starter in the rotation right now. If I were guessing, I'd say after today's doubleheader, they will send down Hughes (the 26th man allowed for today) and Lincoln and call up Moskos to give them a 2nd lefty in the pen. This is my long winded way of saying that I'm guessing Correia makes the start on Sunday, not Lincoln.

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