On the Pirates: Thirty somethings

After years of next to nothing in the minors, depth suddenly is striking

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Each winter, Baseball America publishes a top-10 prospects list for every team, one universally read within the industry and dissected by the most diehard fans. There also are much less discussed top-30 lists that the magazine publishes in a book format.

For the better part of this decade, the Pirates could not place three legitimate prospects on either list.

But now, after all those trades brought all those minor leaguers?

"The top-30 list, really, is the one that's changed the most," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We like what we've done at the top end, but we also like the depth."

Baseball America's lists will not come out until January, but here is the Post-Gazette's current top 30, as compiled with significant input from four of the top people in baseball operations:

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Altoona
2. Jose Tabata, CF, Indianapolis
3. Tim Alderson, RHP, Altoona
4. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Indianapolis
5. Gorkys Hernandez, CF, Altoona
6. Tony Sanchez, C, West Virginia
7. Starling Marte, CF, West Virginia
8. Robbie Grossman, LF, West Virginia
9. Bryan Morris, RHP, Lynchburg
10. Jeff Locke, LHP, Lynchburg
11. Chase D'Arnaud, SS, Lynchburg
12. Victor Black, RHP, State College
13. Daniel McCutchen, RHP, Indianapolis
14. Rudy Owens, LHP, Lynchburg
15. Neil Walker, 3B, Indianapolis
16. Brooks Pounders, RHP, Bradenton
17. Trent Stevenson, RHP, Bradenton
18. Argenis Diaz, SS, Indianapolis
19. Quincy Latimore, LF, West Virginia
20. Evan Chambers, CF, State College
21. Danny Moskos, LHP, Altoona
22. Jarek Cunningham, 3B, State College
23. Jordy Mercer, SS, Lynchburg
24. Quinton Miller, RHP, West Virginia
25. Shelby Ford, 2B, Altoona
26. Josh Harrison, 2B, Lynchburg
27. Nathan Adcock, RHP, Lynchburg
28. Diego Moreno, RHP, West Virginia
29. Eric Hacker, RHP, Indianapolis
30. Rogelio Noris, LF, Bradenton

All 30, plus Gulf Coast League shortstop Benji Gonzalez and catcher Ramon Cabrera, and a handful of others, are seen as having legitimate potential to make it to Pittsburgh, albeit with varying impacts. And this list does not count players in the minors who already have experience in the majors, such as first baseman Jeff Clement in Indianapolis. Also not counted are recent draft picks still unsigned -- including pitcher Zack von Rosenburg, projected to go immediately into the top 10 -- and others signed after the survey was taken earlier in the week.

As for elite players on the above list, the only prospects reasonably considered among the top 100 in the game, for now, are the top five, so the quantity is better than the quality.

Still ...

"Needless to say, it looks a little better than it did a year or two ago," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "There will be some talented players left off the top 30 list this year for Baseball America or any other list. Since not all prospects are going to pan out, this is a significant step for the organization, to have this kind of depth."

Of those in the top 10, the swiftest move up has belonged to Marte at No. 7. A chiseled 6-foot-2, 180-pound pure was the Dominican Summer League's MVP last summer, he has made a stunning North American debut at Class A West Virginia, batting .339 with two home runs, 19 RBIs and 16 steals in 31 games.

"Doesn't surprise me at all," said Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo, who signed Marte for $85,000 three years ago. "There's nothing that young man can't do."

A controlling interest

When big trades are made, generally speaking, everything gets analyzed, from batting averages and ERAs to ages, salaries and more. Seldom cited is how long a team controls a player before he is eligible for free agency.

The Pirates value this quite a bit, and it shows:

• They have traded 15 established major league players under Neal Huntington -- Salomon Torres, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Jason Bay, Jose Bautista, Ronny Paulino, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Freddy Sanchez, John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny -- who had a total of 23 years of control left.

• They acquired 28 players who had 157 years of control left. All remain the Pirates' property except for the two acquired for Torres.

• Of the 15 players sent away, eight could have become free agents after the 2009 season.

• Of the 26 players acquired, 13 have spent all or part of this season in Pittsburgh, and 10 are on the active roster: Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Jason Jaramillo, Lastings Milledge, Joel Hanrahan, Ronny Cedeno, Kevin Hart and now Jose Ascanio. A player must put in six full seasons in the majors to be eligible for free agency.

The Curacao crusher

The Pirates' greatest team success in the system has been -- by far -- their entry in the seven-team Venezuelan Summer League, which finished its regular season yesterday at 48-22.

"I love this team, just love them," Gayo said after a visit there last week. "A lot of times in the minors, you'll see teams that are OK with losing. Not these guys. They lose, and it's like the end of the world. Then, they come out the next day and beat your brains out."

The players with the biggest bonuses -- outfielder Exicardo Cayonez (the Pirates' record signee in the region at $800,000), Colombian shortstop Jonathan Barrios and Mexican pitcher Roberto Espinoza -- have fared well, but the most mind-numbing statistics belong to a rather large first baseman from Curacao.

Michaelangel Trinidad is 5 feet 11, 231 pounds, and he weighed a good bit more entering the season when Gayo and Stark told him to shape up or ship out. Trinidad, who will turn 21 next week and is a bit old for this level, responded: He has 14 home runs, a .318 average and 56 RBIs in 57 games.

Those home runs are two more than the Pirates' previous record for a Latin American summer team, shared by Aramis Ramirez and Jose Guillen.

"When someone can hit like Michaelangel can, he's got a chance," Gayo said.

Funnel vision

Infield instructor Perry Hill teaches what he calls the "funnel" to all of his pupils, and it is worth watching upon a visit to PNC Park: Each infielder, even on the most routine grounders, raises his glove almost all the way up to the torso, as if through an imaginary funnel.

It took Cedeno only two days to pick it up.

"Just like that," manager John Russell said. "On the backhand, too."

Hill does not stop with the major league players, apparently.

As one of the ball boys walked by coach Rich Donnelly the other afternoon, Donnelly barked out: "Hey, what did you do on that ball last night?"

"Funnel!" the ball boy replied.

Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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