2008 Year in Review: Pittsburgh Pirates Farm Report, Batting

I’ve been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since 1970. They won their divison six times in the first ten seasons I followed them, with two World Championships. Then came Bonilla, Bonds, Van Slyke, Drabek et al who won three consecutive division titles from 1990 to 1992. It’s now been 16 straight losing seasons.

The last few years we’ve heard from management about how Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, the first round picks in 2004 and 2005 respectively, were going to anchor the Pirates’ future lineups. I’m looking at the Major League projections for all of the batters in the Pirates’ 2008 farm system, and I’m sad to inform you that nothing is going to get better any time soon. None of the minor leaguers project as substantially better than the starters at their position at the major league level, and none project to even well above average hitters.

All of the numbers I will quoting are from my Oliver projections, which adjust the batting lines for the level of minor league play, and applies diminishing weights to past seasons. Currently, these projections are not park adjusted (I’m working on a programming upgrade, and the computer is not cooperating very well).

Back to Walker and McCutchen. Both were high first round picks out of high school. Walker, 22, was originally a catcher, but was moved to 3b after Ryan Doumit and Ronny Paulino advanced to the majors as catchers. Playing at AAA Indianapolis in 2008, Walker struggled with a .242 BA and 29 walks, along with 16 HR and 80 RBI. He now projects at 252/295/408 for a .305 wOBA, well below the average of .336 for all major league thirdbasemen, and behind other Buc farmhands Matt Hague, Jim Negrych and Robert Spain. Basically, expect a 250-270 BA, 30 doubles, 15 homeruns, 35 walks and 100 strikeouts. Jose Bautista with fewer walks. He may get a chance to start with the Pirates, but don’t expect them to be productive. After five pro seasons, Walker must be added to the 40 man roster or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. 2009 would be the first of his three option seasons, so the Pirates wouldn’t be required to keep him on the 25 man roster until 2012.

The speedy McCutchen, 21, has always played in centerfield. After four minor league seasons, with 2008 at AAA, McCutchen projects as league average in BABIP, BB%, SO%, and below average in HR%. His current projection of 264/330/392 looks like a right handed mirror image of Chris Duffy’s 272/330/390. Expect a 270-280 BA, 25 doubles, 15 homers, 45 walks and 105 strikeouts. Although better than Nyjer Morgan, McCutchen’s .320 wOBA is below the major league average of .330 for cf, andl behind Nate McLouth’s .343 and Jose Tabata’s .325.

Now to review each position –

At catcher, starter Ryan Doumit projects at 288/342/471, with his .352 wOBA well above the position average of .311. Paulino’s .320 wOBA is also slightly above average, whereas Carlos Maldonado’s .297 or Raul Chavez’s .272 are very weak. The third best hitting catcher in the system is Robinzon Diaz 286/315/393 .310 wOBA, who was obtained in August from the Blue Jays in a trade for Jose Bautista.

The major league average firstbaseman has a wOBA of .357, Adam LaRoche is .350, Pearce .349 and Mientkiewicz .341. Jason Delaney’s .337 at AA and AAA won’t push anyone.

Secondbase is just as bad. Despite a projected .294 BA, Freddy Sanchez’s .327 wOBA is barely above the average .323. Shelby Ford at AA is also at .327, and no one else in the minors is even close. The only hope of an offensive 2b is if AA thirdbaseman Jim Negrych returns to that position. A contact hitter with little homrun power, Negrych had a breakout season in 2008, hittting a combined .349 with 41 doubles between high A Lynchburg and AA Altoona. Negrych, who hit .378 in his last three years at Pitt, projects at 303/363/421 for a .347 wOBA, after projecting as a .265 hitter each of his first two pro seasons.

Thirdbaseman Andy LaRoche suffered a hand injury during spring training of 2008, and was traded to the Pirates in July. He struggled all season, dropping his 2007 projection of 275/347/486 down to 254/335/430. His current wOBA projection of .336 is just above the major league average of .333, but from 2005 to 2007 his wOBA projected in the .360’s, which is right in the same range as Troy Glaus and Evan Longoria. If 2008 can be written off to the injury and we can expect a return to the previous levels, then LaRoche looks solid at 3b. Matt Hague, .350 wOBA at A Hickory and Negrych’s .347 are the only above average 3b in the system.

At shortstop, Jack Wilson has been exactly major league average with the bat, his 277/320/390 projection good for a .313 wOBA, where average is .314. With Wilson’s injuries in 2008, Brian Bixler got an extended look. Despite his .159 BA with the Pirates, Bixler still projects at 257/322/367 for a .309 wOBA. 2008 draft pick Jordy Mercer at Class A Hickory projects at .306. Well behind them are Luis Rivas at .289 and Luis Cruz, who got some September starts with the Bucs, at .276.

in leftfield, Jason Bay was traded to the Red Sox for Brandon Moss. The last four seasons Moss’ projected wOBA has been .336, .332, .334, .333 while average for lf is .347. Ouch. There’s Jared Keel at High A Lynchburg with .352, Jonel Pacheco at AA Altoona with .336, and Adam Boeve at AAA Indianapolis at .340. Oh, I forgot Nyjer Morgan at .314. </sarcasm>

And why were the Pirates starting Morgan ahead of Steve Pearce? Another player suffering a poor 2008, Pearce projects to 274/330/485, for a .349 wOBA, which is still average for rf or his natural 1b. After his rbeakout 2007, Pearce projected a very good .377 wOBA. Expect a 270-280 BA, 35-40 doubles, 25-30 HRs, 40-45 walks. Still good enough to be the third or fourth best hitter left in the Pirate lineup. Jamie Romak is the best homerun hitter in the system, obtained from Atlanta in the Adam LaRoche trade. Ending 2008 at AA Altoona, I project him at 247/331/489, a .352 wOBA, expect 25 doubles, 25 homers, 45 walks.

In summary, Doumit at c and McLouth in cf are above average hitters for their position. Adam LaRoche at 1b, Sanchez at 2b and Wilson at ss are exactly league average, and don’t expect them to improve. Andy LaRoche at 3b and Steve Pearce in rf project as average after down 2008 seasons, but both their 2005-2007 projections show them as above average power hitters. Moss in lf and Nyjer Morgan in cf have been consistently below average. The only minor leaguer who might improve the lineup would be Jim Negrych at 2b, who leads the system in projected BA and OBP. cf Jose Tabata is only 19 and already major league average playing at AA. Jamie Romak and Jared Keel are power hitting outfielders who also draw walks.

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2 Responses to 2008 Year in Review: Pittsburgh Pirates Farm Report, Batting

  1. Josh says:

    Whatever happened to Bryan Bullington? He’s my former high school gym coach’s son. Did I hear he got traded to Cleveland?

  2. Brian Cartwright says:

    Designated for assignment July 2008 by Pittsburgh, picked up by Cleveland and assigmed to Buffalo, pitched a few games for Cle in September. DFA’d after the season by them, and then picked up by Toronto.

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