On the Pirates: Nothing minor about change

Top of system's prospect list shaken up by recent moves

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With all of the Pirates' player movement lately, the faces of the franchise have changed quite a bit.

And not just in Pittsburgh.

Think about how different a list of the team's top 10 prospects would look now, compared to the spring, with Andrew McCutchen having arrived and the Nate McLouth trade having brought three prospects, with only one -- pitcher Charlie Morton -- in Pittsburgh.

"Looks really different, doesn't it?" director of player development Kyle Stark said this week. "The top 20 look even more different."

Here is one updated top-10 list, compiled with help from sources inside and outside the Pirates:

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Lynchburg

Numbers: .241 average, 12 home runs, 49 RBIs, 12 doubles in 58 games.

Scouting: With McCutchen up, he is the unquestioned No. 1: Despite the low average and striking out once every four at-bats in his first professional season, largely because of trying to hit too many balls 500 feet, he also has shown the best power of anyone in the system. He displayed that again last night with a grand slam, a three-run shot and seven RBIs at Kinston.

Outlook: The Pirates could use several of him.

2. Jose Tabata, OF, Altoona

Numbers: .242, no home runs, six RBIs in 18 games.

Scouting: He was distracted in the spring by his wife getting arrested on kidnapping charges and now has missed two months of his season to a strained hamstring, so this will be a lost development year without a dramatic turnaround. Still, the system might not have a greater natural hitting talent.

Outlook: All it could take is the flip of a switch.

3. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Altoona

Numbers: 1-4, 2.20 ERA, 63 strikeouts, 16 walks in 12 starts.

Scouting: No player's stock has risen more this summer, and he is eminently deserving of a promotion to Class AAA Indianapolis. His fastball is clocking in the mid-90s, his trademark curve is back, and the changeup management wants him to learn is progressing. No lingering signs of elbow surgery.

Outlook: September callup?

4. Gorkys Hernandez, CF, Altoona

Numbers: .287, no home runs, 20 RBIs, 11 doubles, 10 steals in 60 games.

Scouting: Part of the McLouth trade, he has started awfully for Altoona -- 3 for 34 -- but the consensus is that he has the tools to be a top-notch leadoff man. At least one team official likens him to Cameron Maybin, Florida's high-ceiling center fielder.

Outlook: Tools do not always translate.

5. Bryan Morris, RHP, Lynchburg

Numbers: 1-1, 4.66 ERA in two starts.

Scouting: After another in a long string of injuries cost him the first two months, the main piece in the Jason Bay trade retook the mound this past week and made it through 5 1/3 innings unscathed last night. The Pirates continue to view his potential on par with Lincoln's.

Outlook: He is young at 22, but lost development time ages a prospect in a hurry.

6. Jeff Locke, LHP, Lynchburg

Numbers: 1-4, 5.44 ERA, 47 strikeouts, 29 walks in 11 starts.

Scouting: He had been rated No. 7 by Baseball America in Atlanta's superior system before arriving in the McLouth trade. He has powerful stuff, including the bite to his curve, but needs much refining.

Outlook: He is 21, so hold off on evaluating the McLouth trade.

7. Robbie Grossman, CF, West Virginia

Numbers: .283, two home runs, 16 RBIs, 11 doubles, 19 steals in 53 games.

Scouting: Along with Lincoln, the only prospect performing above and beyond. His statistics are modest, but consider that he came directly out of high school after the Pirates paid $1 million to lure him as a sixth-round pick last summer.

Outlook: A power bat in the outfield? Welcome to Pittsburgh, son.

8. Tony Sanchez, C, West Virginia

Numbers: .346, 15 home runs, 51 RBIs in 60 games for Boston College.

Scouting: The Pirates' first-round draft pick projects to be a serviceable catcher, hardly impact material. If the bat does not improve, he will be a backup.

Outlook: Well below No. 4 overall standards.

9. Daniel McCutchen, RHP, Indianapolis

Numbers: 4-4, 4.38, 56 strikeouts, 19 walks in 11 starts.

Scouting: Along with Tabata part of the Xavier Nady trade, he has shown flashes of the workmanlike starter the Pirates envisioned. But he has not been terribly efficient and often is hit hard.

Outlook: Josh Fogg?

10. Neil Walker, 3B, Indianapolis

Numbers: .239, seven home runs, 32 RBIs, 15 doubles.

Scouting: After yet another sluggish offensive start, he now will miss a month to a sprained knee. His glove is ready, but his bat lags well behind.

Outlook: A utility role could be on the horizon, given his athleticism.

As a point of reference, Baseball America's preseason top-10 list was as follows:

1. Alvarez
2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Tabata
4. Lincoln
5. Morris
6. Walker
7. Jeff Sues, RHP
8. Shelby Ford, 2B
9. Daniel McCutchen
10. Grossman

Sues and Ford are having huge struggles with Altoona and Indianapolis, respectively. Also notably absent is Altoona starter Danny Moskos, the controversial first-round pick two years ago, though he has pitched better of late and is 3-5 with a 3.94 ERA.

Two moving into the mix: Michael Dubee, a right-handed reliever at Lynchburg, has a 1.39 ERA and a remarkable ratio of 47 strikeouts to two walks. And Calvin Anderson, a 6-foot-7 outfielder, has seven home runs for West Virginia.

Out with the old?

And how about this change?

With the recent wave of moves trade, there now are only 11 players on the active 25-man roster, less than half, who were acquired by the organization before current management took over, meaning under Cam Bonifay or Dave Littlefield: Jack Wilson, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche, Nyjer Morgan, Andrew McCutchen, Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Matt Capps and Sean Burnett, plus injured Ryan Doumit.

Freddy an All-Star again?

Today marks exactly one month before the July 14 All-Star Game in St. Louis and, with the McLouth trade, the Pirates lost the favorite to represent the team, given his impact over the past couple seasons and managers' familiarity based on their Gold Glove voting.

Which leaves ...

Duke fares well in a comparison of the National League's top pitchers, particularly with a 3.10 ERA that ranks 12th. And he last night gave his team eight or more innings for the fifth time in 13 starts. But it is hard to make the All-Star team as a pitcher, given the high-profile competition, and Duke's period of success has not been sustained long.

Sanchez also fares well in a positional comparison, ranking first among second basemen with a .311 batting average and 22 doubles, with those doubles leading all players, as well as his fifth home run last night. He also should, once again, challenge Orlando Hudson and Brandon Phillips for Gold Glove consideration. All that, and he has performed at this level for a sustained period.

Bet on Sanchez.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Join Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic for his weekly chat at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at www.post-gazette.com


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