Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Biggest Prospect Disappointments

The Pirates farm system had a very good year in 2012.  Top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia pitched well and stayed healthy.  In the positional player department, young Latin American prospects Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco enjoyed massive breakout seasons.  Several other players - Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke, Nick Kingham, Barrett Barnes, Clay Holmes, Tyler Glasnow, and Wyatt Mathisen, among others - also performed well.  The net overall result was a resounding positive.  That said, it doesn't mean the system was without it's share of failures.  Looking at those failures might not be as enjoyable as the examining the success stories, but it's important to recognize the system's shortcomings. Six players that took a step backwards are listed below.

Stetson Allie

The Pirates made fans giddy with their selection of pitcher Jameson Taillon with the #2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Taillon was the second best draft prospect as rated by Baseball America. Giddiness turned into euphoria in the second round as the Pirates were able to pick Baseball America's eight best draft prospect with the #52 overall pick, pitcher Stetson Allie.  Allie signed for a huge 2.25 million dollar signing bonus. That bonus made Allie the 10th highest paid player in the entire draft.

At the time of the draft, Allie possessed an electric fastball-slider combination, but the prep pitcher was also raw on the mound, especially with his command and control.  The Pirates were never unable to fix those command and control problems - Allie's career BB/9 was 12.5 in a total of 26.2 innings, 26.0 of them in short season ball - and Allie was converted from pitcher to hitter after pitching 0.2 innings in 2012.  In the short span of 3 years, Allie went from elite draft prospect as a pitcher to a fringe hitting prospect with raw power that's overshadowed by strikeout issues and age-relative-to-league issues.  The word disappointment is probably a under-statement.

Josh Bell

Josh Bell's story is very similar to Stetson Allie.  Considered even a harder sign than Allie, Bell - who Baseball America rated as their 15th best draft prospect in a loaded draft class and the Pirates had 6th on their own draft board - also fell to the second round.  The Pirates selected him and in a bit of a surprise, signed him to a record-shattering 5 million dollar signing bonus. That bonus tied Archie Bradley for the 4th highest bonus of the 2011 draft.

Bell's scouting report at the time of the draft indicated he was an elite hitter with both power and hit-tool potential.  He was also lauded for his advanced approach.  That approach was not on display in the short amount of time he did play in 2012.  In 66 plate appearances in 15 games for the West Virginia Power, Bell struck out at an alarming 31.8% of the time while only walking a miniscule 3.0% of the time.  The sample size was small, but the early returns were not good in the plate discipline department.  The more pressing issue though was an injury Bell sustained in late April to his knee.  The injury required surgery and added complications cost Bell the rest of the year.  Reports recently indicate progress is happening, but the fact is he's still not 100% in January is alarming because of the potential for future issues with the knee.  Bell still has plenty of time to turn around his career, but his first season was a disappointment for such a ballyhooed prospect.

Jarek Cunningham

Jarek Cunningham was signed in the 2008 draft as an over-slot prep shortstop.  Cunningham quickly moved off short defensively, but that wasn't a massive issue considering offense was and is Cunningham's calling card.  2011 saw Cunningham have a mini-breakout season.  His power went through the rough, as he finished the 2011 season with a .258 ISO for the Bradenton Marauders in the pitching-friendly Florida State League.  Cunningham tallied 80 hits. 15 were homeruns, 23 were doubles, and 6 were triples, making Cunningham's extra-base-hit rate a cool 55%.  Cunningham also had issues, namely a 23.6% strikeout rate with only a 4.9% walk rate.  Cunningham had his season cut short thanks to an injury in July, adding to his recurring injury issues.  That was especially unfortunate as Cunningham had begun to walk at a significantly higher rate over the last few weeks prior to his injury.

Cunningham moved to Altoona to start the 2012 season, and while his walk rate did improve to 8.9%, the rest of his game abandoned him.  He finished with a paltry .120 ISO and saw his strikeout rate increase even more to 26.7%.  Cunningham also fought nagging injuries early on in the season.  Going into the 2012 season, there was a hope that Cunningham could either maintain his status as a swing-and-miss middle infielder with impressive power production or step forward in improving his plate discipline.  Instead, Cunningham was a disappointment, losing his power and only making minor improvements to his plate discipline. 

Zack Dodson

Zack Dodson was part of the 2009 prep pitching class, receiving a substantial 600K dollar signing bonus.  Dodson's always had solid stuff as a lefty with a bit of physical room for improvement.  2011 was a fairly successful year for Dodson, as he pitched 66.2 innings for Low-A West Virginia in his age 20 season.  In those innings, he posted strong numbers: 2.57 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 2.03 BB/9.  His strikeout rate - 6.21 K/9 - was a bit weak, but not awful.

2012 saw Dodson return to West Virginia and instead of pitching better in his second go-round at the Low-A level, he pitched worse in every important statistical category.  His strikeout rate dropped a miniscule amount to 6.03 K/9 instead of improving.  He also posted a 4.86 ERA, 4.83 FIP, and 3.60 BB/9.  Even worse, Dodson was hit with a 50 game suspension for a second positive test of a drug of abuse, meaning he missed the end of the 2012 season and will miss approximately three weeks to start 2013.  Combining those two issues - Dodson's trending downward statistically and his suspension due to a lack of judgement that also cost him development time - and 2012 was a disappointment for Zack Dodson.

Ryan Hafner

The 2010 season brought elite pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie into the fold.  The Pirates drafted several other prep pitching prospects, attempting to sign them with overslot money, but were only successful in two instances.  The first was fourth-round pick Nick Kingham and the second was seventeenth-round pick Ryan Hafner.   Hafner - who signed for 450K dollar signing bonus - survived the 2011 season pitching in short season ball for the State College Spikes. His strikeout rate was low, but more importantly, his walk rate of 2.74 BB/9 was acceptable.

That changed in the 2012 season upon a promotion to Low-A West Virginia.  Hafner started 14 games for the Power, pitching 50.1 innings and walking 53 batters, putting him in Stetson Allie territory. A move to the bullpen and even a demotion back to State College still didn't help.  Hafner finished the season with a total of 75 walks in 74.0 innings pitched. To characterize Hafner's 2012 season as a disappointment is a severe understatement as it's hard to even consider him a prospect anymore, save for a massive turnaround this coming season.

Zack Von Rosenberg

Zack Von Rosenberg was also part of the 2009 prep pitching class along with Zack Dodson. Von Rosenberg, who signed for 1.2 million dollars, was considered the best prospect of the bunch.  His clean mechanics, advanced feel, and projectable body gave rise to the hope he could be a frontline starter one day. Von Rosenberg posted solid peripherals throughout his career, especially in 2011 at West Virginia.  There he posted a 8.16 K/9 and a 1.65 BB/9, very good numbers for a pitcher in his age-20 season in Low-A.  However, Von Rosenberg also got hit hard routinely, largely thanks to a inadequate heater as Von Rosenberg's projectable frame had not yet paid off with a jump in fastball velocity.

Von Rosenberg was sent back to West Virginia for the 2012 season where everything fell apart.  Von Rosenberg continued to get hit hard and saw his strikeout rate plummet to 6.19 K/9 and his walk rate spike to 2.54 BB/9, a major issue when he was repeating a level.  Scouting reports also indicate he has not yet gained any velocity and time is running out for that to happen.  At this point, Von Rosenberg's prospect luster is quickly becoming dim, despite pitching a 3 hit, 1 run complete game to finish out the last year's campaign. Ultimately, 2012 was a stamp put on a thus-far disappointing career for Von Rosenberg.