Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reasons to Believe? Part 2- The Future

This is a follow up to Part 1.

While an 18th straight losing season is all but assured for this band of brethren on the field at PNC Park, the future does look quite a bit brighter for a core group of five guys who could be the catalyst for turning this team around.

5.) Jose Tabata- Acquired from the Yankees, along with three other prospects, for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in 2008, he worked with way up through the minors displaying a combination of speed and patience at the plate. Through only 38 games in the majors he's displayed both of these talents already hitting .287 and having stolen 10 bases. He proved immediate dividends by singling in his very first at bat in the majors and has continued to be a solid contributor, maintaining a spot in the outfield despite a brief stint on the bench after a pulled muscle.

4.) Stetson Allie- Taken by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2010 Entry Draft, this high schooler out of St. Edward High School in Ohio has a ton of raw power in his 6'4", 225 lbs. body. The 19 year old Allie's strength is not in his bat, though. It lies in his right arm. Tossing a fastball already topping consistently at 99 mph, his fluid motion takes away from the big concern for what seems to be all Pirates pitching prospects: the elbow. Less torque and sudden stops in his motion means less of a worry when it comes to the longevity of his arm come his time in the pros. Projected as a first round pitcher, falling to the Pirates in the 2nd was a coup. The question becomes, will he demand 1st round money and will management sign him?

3.) Andrew McCutchen- Excelling as his role in center field ever since his call up just over a year ago on June 3rd, 2009, McCutchen has been the brightest star of the future Buccos to date. Drafted 11th overall by the Pirates in 2005 and hitting .281 since his original call up, he has played a huge role in the thinking that the Pirates are on the right track. From fantastic range in the field, speed on the base paths, and an eye at the plate this 23 year old has made watching the team exciting and already seems to be the corner stone for the new era Pirates. Never to be confused with a power hitting, his solid all around game makes up for his lack of bomb power.

2.) Jameson Taillon- Perhaps the biggest reason the Pirates seem to be on the right track. Literally. Jameson stands at 6'7" and weighs in at 230lbs. at age 18. This right handed pitcher out of Woodland High School in Texas in the 2010 Amateur Draft with the 2nd overall pick. Already possessing four quality pitches, including a fastball that has been told to top at 98, a strong curve, and a developing slider and change up. Much like the concerns with Allie, will his elbow hold out and will he be signed? Scouts say he has tremendous control of his body, making the concern about his elbow as a power pitcher much less than Pirates prospects of the past.

1.) Pedro Alvarez- After a slow start he's hit .295 since June 28th, Pedro's also begun to show his true asset and the real reason he was drafted 2nd overall in 2008. Since he's settled into the MLB game, he's started raking for power including a two home run, five RBI game (including his first Grand Slam) on July 20th, and totaling 7 Home Runs on the year (after his first coming 15 games into his 34 game stint) he displays a 40+ bomb power that teams would die for. His defense is near average which is good for someone on his corner. The only knock so far has been his problems with his weight. As long as he can keep that reasonable the Pirates will have a star on their hands.

Also for your consideration:

Last year's first round selection of catcher Tony Sanchez. He's expected to be a steady back and a consistent influence on a (hopefully) budding pitching staff. Not the most powerful of a hitter, but he's a smart player who will consistently get on base.

Lastings Milledge, while struggling early on, has had a mid season surge in terms of his production. Once known as the ultimate five tool prospect he's hopped around a few teams finally finding a home in Pittsburgh. After a tough start to the season, since June 9th (also the day that Tabata was promoted) he's increased his batting average from .241 to .276, hitting .331 since that time. While his power and defense leave some to be desired, half of that can be worked on.

Brad Lincoln, acquired in the 2006 Draft at fourth overall, he was tabbed as the next big pivot in the rotation. Now expected to likely be either the #2 or #3 starter with the drafting of Taillson, he hasn't quite lived up to the hype. In his last start he surrendered 7 runs in just over 2 innings. A 6.29 ERA isn't exactly comforting either, but he's shown flashes (see his June 30th start against the Cubs: 4 hits, 0 earned runs in 7 innings pitched). And the best news is that he knows he needs to pitch better.

EDIT: After his last start, the same day this post was written, and giving up 6 runs in 6 1/3 innings, Lincoln was demoted to AAA Indianapolis.

The Pirates now have a good core to grow around, especially with yet another high draft pick coming in the 2011 draft pick. Perhaps in the form of OF/3B from California Travis Harrison. He's got solid power and a quick swing. Another strong bat in the line up in the future would compliment Alvarez and be a fantastic compliment for the hitters for average like McCutchen and Tabata.

The big hurdles that follow are what they will do with it. Will they let it develop only to trade it all away or will they add the payroll necessary to not only keep the players but add the missing pieces? If they do the latter, this team will be back in the playoffs in a few years, contending, hopefully adding to that rich history.

Tip of the Hat to BaseballAmerica for helping with the list.

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