I know this news is a day old now but I thought I would chime in with my own thoughts. Hanrahan was a great player for the Pirates for the last 2.5 years and will be missed as he should be but there is no reason to express outrage at the Pirates having traded a relief pitcher. Was the return the Pirates got for him great? No but I feel it was adequate and matched up with his value fairly well. Small market teams such as the Pirates need to concentrate their resources to the everyday lineup and the starting rotation not towards the bench and the bullpen and for that reason Hanrahan had to be moved so the scarce resources could be better distributed. Still the Pirates dealt away a good pitcher and I know I am going to miss seeing him pitch and getting excited for hammer time. I will admit some times I root against players when they leave Pittsburgh but that isn’t the case with Hanrahan I hope he saves 50 games and is named an All Star once more. Good luck in Boston.
Now on to the actual trade. I see the trade as having two parts a major part and a minor part I would first like to discuss the minor part which I feel was Brock Holt for Ivan De Jesus and Stolmy Pimentel. Honestly I don’t see much value in these 3 players. Holt was decent with the bat in his brief major league appearance but is really poor defensively even as a 2B and since he doesn’t hit for any power that makes him basically just a utility infielder that probably shouldn’t even fill in as a shortstop. De Jesus is a very similar player to Holt as he has shown some ability to hit (mainly in the minors) and has struggled defensively at SS. On the plus side though De Jesus does seem like a capable defensive 2B and can probably play defense at shortstop well enough to serve as a bench option. Overall I would say Holt is slightly better than De Jesus but the difference is small and when speaking of two players who might be utility infielders it is probably negligible. Now as for Stolmy Pimentel I will admit he appears to be an interesting prospect. Pimentel has some definite talent but he has stalled in AA the last two seasons and with this being his last option year is really running out of time. I don’t think there is enough time for the Pirates to keep trotting him out there as a starter in hopes he develops into a back of the rotation starter so I imagine we will see him moved to the bullpen to begin the year. There is a reasonable chance that like quite a few other players in the Pirates system that Pimentel could thrive there and quickly become an asset for the Pirates. Pimentel has the talent and is an interesting lottery ticket in this trade. Still in reality this trade isn’t about these 3 players Holt and De Jesus are essentially an equal swap and Pimentel is a lottery ticket who if the Pirates hit on great but if not its no big loss as he was really just a throw in. This trade for all intents and purposes is about the major part of the deal.
What I call the major part of the deal is Hanrahan for Melancon and Sands. I’ve already discussed what I think Hanrahan brings to the Red Sox and in reality when discussing what the Pirates got back whether Hanrahan performs well or not is meaningless. Melancon looks like a nice reliever for the Pirates. Last season with the exception of his ERA his stat line actually was better than Hanrahan’s. That isn’t to say Melancon is a better pitcher than Hanrahan but it should say that he is a good reliever. The Pirates have control over Melancon for the next 4 seasons and as an added bonus he has experience pitching in the back end of a major league bullpen as he was the Houston Astros closer in 2011. Last season Melancon was beat up in his first few outings with the Red Sox but that came because of an insane home run problem which is unlikely to be a recurring problem as he is actually a ground ball pitcher. This season Melancon looks like a good bet to start the season as the Pirates primary set up man for Jason Grilli and there are plenty of reasons to think he will do well in that role. Having Melancon in this deal makes me feel pretty good about the Pirates chances of at least getting something in return. The last player in the deal and the one who I thinks plays the most pivotal point in deciding the fate of this deal for the Pirates is Jerry Sands. Really I’m not sure why the Pirates acquired Sands as Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata appear set to play either of the roles Sands would be the best in but I’d imagine his acquisition is a precursor to another move (more on that later). Sands has displayed some good power numbers in the minor leagues but they come with the caveat of him having played in a hitter friendly league and in a hitter friendly park. However Sands also held his own in the majors in 2011 when the Dodgers had him in the show. Sands could definitely develop into a nice right handed stick for the Pirates either at 1B or RF but he comes with risks as well as the power he showed in the minors was absent in his major league stint. Sands defense isn’t bad but since he is a 1B or corner outfielder his bat is going to have to carry him and I have my doubts it will. I really don’t like Sands and I think his ceiling is a Matt Diaz type and that he is likely to just be a AAAA slugger but he does have some potential. If Sands develops into a successful major league this deal is a huge win for the Pirates but if he doesn’t I still think Melancon can salvage this deal for the Pirates.
Overall this was an adequate albeit not exciting return for Hanrahan. Melancon should come close to matching Hanrahan’s production and will be controlled by the Pirates longer and Sands gives the Pirates the potential to possibly have this deal tip heavily in their favor. Add in Pimentel who is a lottery ticket with decent odds and a fairly meaningless swap of utility infielders and the Pirates package might actually be just a touch higher than Hanrahan’s actual value. Overall this a deal from a fan perspective I hate to see happen but from a baseball perspective I understand why it had to be done. Now the only question remaining is what happens next?
Top Prospects 16-20
20. Matt Curry: Curry was drafted by the Pirates in the 37th round of the 2008 draft and then again by the Pirates in the 16th round of the 2010 draft. He is limited defensively to 1B and has very little speed meaning it is his bat, particularly power that will be needed to make him successful. Curry signed at the conclusion of the College World Series in 2010 and was sent to A-. He started off hot but trailed off near the end of the year. Curry showed some decent power by hitting 7 HR and also showed the willingness to take a walk but on the downside he struck out about a quarter of the time. The Pirates sent Curry to A ball the following season and he absolutely destroyed the level, posting a 1.148 OPS before being jumped all the way up to AA. At first Curry seemed to handle the aggressive push well as he held is own early one before heating up and posting a .847 OPS in July but Curry struggled to finish out the season. The Pirates had Curry repeat the AA level in 2012 and it came with mixed results. His overall .832 OPS looks good but it was oddly buoyed by a huge home/road split which saw CUrry post a .953 OPS at home. Keep in mind the Pirates AA affiliate is known to play in a very pitcher friendly ball park so that makes the split even a little more curious. Anyway the down side of the numbers are he only hit 11 HR which is very low for an all bat 1B prospect. The Pirates gave Curry a taste of AAA near the end of the season and that is where he will likely start 2013. Right now Curry is looking like another Matt Hague type player unless he can manage to start hitting for some more power so 2013 will be a big test for him as there is certainly an opening for him at the major league level should he start to show some power.
19. Brock Holt: Holt made a name for himself last season by being a surprise call up in September but he didn’t register enough at bats to lose his prospect status. The Pirates drafted Holt in the 9th round of the 2009 draft. He was viewed as a good all around offensive player and was officially listed as a shortstop. The majority opinion was that he didn’t have the defensive ability to stick at shortstop. He also has slightly above average speed and is a is only an average base stealer. Holt after signing was sent to A- and split time there between 2B and SS. He hit fairly well and showed good plate discipline nearly drawing as many walks as he had strike outs. Holt had a slight injury to start the 2010 season but when healthy the Pirates pushed him to A+. Holt was struggling defensively at SS but was in the midst of a great offensive season (.848 OPS) when he collided with his second baseman, suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the season. In 2011 the Pirates sent Holt to AA where he initially played 2B but started to get some time at SS as promotions started to happen. He hit well at the level, while never really standing out and continued to show good plate discipline. Holt’s 2011 season was surely good enough for him to start 2012 at AAA but the Pirates had too many players in front of him so Holt repeated AA and played primarily shortstop. Holt had a great season at AA but rather oddly remained at the level before finally getting promoted in August. After the promotion Holt got on a ridiculous hot streak posting a 1.013 OPS in AAA which led to his promotion to the majors. Holt will probably be given a chance to win a utility job out of spring training but will likely start the season back at AAA. His best asset is his good plate discipline but his poor defense at shortstop is what is holding him back. To move forward Holt is either going to need to show better defense at SS or get a chance at 2B.
18. Victor Black: The Pirates drafted Black with the supplemental pick they received in 2009 for their failure to sign Scheppers. Black is a hard thrower who sits in the mid 90s and compliments his fastball with a change and a slider. Most scouts seen him as a late inning reliever when drafted but the Pirates initially tried him as starting as is their norm. The Pirates started Black in A- in 2009 and he pitched fairly well, striking out a lot of batters and proving to be very tough to hit but on the downside he showed some control problems. The following season, 2010, proved to be essentially a lost year for Black as a shoulder injury limited him to only 2 appearances. Following the 2010 season the Pirates decided to move Black to the bullpen full time and he was slated to start the year in A ball but the Pirates decided to give him some extra time in extended spring training so Black didn’t start pitching until May. He didn’t pitch well in A ball showing even more control problems than he did before and also being hit a little harder. Despite all that the Pirates gave Black a taste of A+ near the end of the year where he continued to struggle. The shoulder injury looked like it might have been still affecting him as he was only throwing in low 90s. Going into 2012 the Pirates surprisingly continued pushing Black this time sending him to AA. Something clicked for Black this time though as he stayed healthy and his velocity was back and in fact was a little better as he even reach the upper 90s on occasion. Black was absolutely dominant with a 12.8 K/9 and at times looked unhittable. Still the control problems remained as he had a 4.4 BB/9 rate. Black was added to the 40 man roster this offseason and will likely start next year in AAA if he can show improvements in his command it is possible he could take over a back if the bullpen spot in the majors by the end of the season.
17. Alex Dickerson: The Pirates drafted Dickerson in the 3rd of the 2011 draft. Due to the previous selections of Cole and Bell, Dickerson went under the radar but he was ranked in the Baseball America’s top 50 draft prospects. He played primarily outfield in college but his defense isn’t good enough to hold him there so the Pirates have moved him to 1B. Dickerson doesn’t run well and he doesn’t play defense well but he has a good bat. The Pirates sent Dickerson to A- in 2011 and there he played 1B and hit fairly well. He didn’t show as much power as one would hope but it was a small sample size and he was adjusting to new bats so his .896 OPS is still encouraging. Like the Pirates do with most of their advanced college draftees the Pirates skipped Dickerson over A ball and straight to A+ to begin the 2012 season. He struggled initially at the level but seemed to settle in as the season went one. His numbers portray a good solid season as he posted an .804 OPS but yet it was also a mildly disappointing showing. Dickerson was an advanced college all bat prospect so his offensive numbers were expected to be good and merely being good makes the season just average. He hit 13 HR so he did show a little more power but he will need to show more going forward. He did manage to keep his strike outs fairly low but then again his walk rate was also low. Dickerson is widely regarded as one of the 5 best 1B prospects in all of baseball but that comes with the caveat that most players end up moving to 1B only after they shown they can’t handle another position. To be a true prospect and take that next step forward Dickerson is going to have start showing better overall offensive numbers but specifically better power numbers. He should start next season as the regular 1B in AA and if he hits there is nobody who should block him in the Pirates organization.
16. Bryan Morris: Morris was drafted by the Dodgers in the 1st round of the 2006 draft so he has been around the prospects list probably longer than any other player listed. He came over to the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade in 2008 and is the last remaining piece. His arsenal includes a mid 90s fastball, a plus curve and a developing change up. Before coming to Pittsburgh he played only sparingly for the Dodgers showing good stuff but poor command in 2006 and then missing all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery. He pitched decently for the Dodgers in 2008 before coming over to the Pirates but after making three starts for the Pirates A affiliate and showing no control Morris was shut down for the season because of a shoulder problem. The start of Morris’s 2009 season was delayed because of surgery on his big toe. Once he got started he was sent to A+ and once again he showed good stuff but terrible command which led to a poor season. In 2010 the Pirates sent Morris back to A+ and finally he looked like he was getting some where. Morris showed much better control getting his walk rate down to 1.4 BB/9 and was almost unhittable with a 0.60 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Morris was promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well before wearing down and eventually being sent to the bullpen. The Pirates sent Morris back to AA the following season and he returned to starting but he struggled before suffering an oblique injury. The Pirates attempted to ease him back into starting but he continued to struggle, finally in June the Pirates made the decision to keep him in the bullpen full time. It worked out well as Morris pitched much better out of the pen than he did as a starter. Morris started the 2012 season in AAA out of the bullpen and was outstanding for the first 3 months. It seemed rather odd the Pirates didn’t give him a chance in the majors considering they used his lat option in 2012. Nonetheless Morris remained in AAA and started to cool off over the final 2 months. He finished the AAA season with good numbers and got a September callup to the majors where he was rarely used. Since he is out of options Morris will either have to be waived or start the 2013 season on the Pirates 25 man roster. If Hanrahan is dealt this offseason he is a possible closer candidate.
Neil Walker: Walker is the only major league player I’m going to be covering here. Everyone else except Brock Holt fits in better at another position and since Holt still has prospect eligibility I’ll discuss him below. There isn’t much to say about Walker he does what he does. He gives the Pirates a solid and improving defensive performance at 2nd base while providing above average offensive numbers for the position. Walker started off cool but heated up in June and July positing two very good months before a finger injury and back injury caused him to play sporadically over the final two months. His performance was solid and he should return next season and once again be a nice consistent presence in the middle of the infield. Overall Grade: B-
Brock Holt: Holt got to make his major league debut this season and he impressed in his short time frame. He started the season in AA primarily playing shortstop before moving up to AAA late in the season where he caught fire and put up video game like numbers. Holt’s defense at shortstop and 2nd base for that matter is a little shaky but he has the ability to work a count and make good contact so he could have some future value as a utility player or even a starting 2nd baseman. It wouldn’t surprise me if Holt got a chance to make the team out of spring training but I expect him to start the season in AAA and be the backup plan to Walker should his back problems fire up again.
Dilson Herrera: Herrera had a big year this season in rookie ball and is going to be a popular pick to have a big breakout season next year. He was signed as a shortstop prospect but spent no time there instead he played 2nd and 3rd base. His defense is good but not great at either position so it is his bat which will need to carry him. He has some potential to add power and 8 home runs this season is a positive sign that it may yet develop. Considering his strong season this year I expect him to move up to full season A ball next year.
Dan Gamache: Gamache was drafted in the 2011 draft out of Auburn University. His selection at the time was widely unnoticed and even his performance this season while good was overlooked and overshadowed by his double play partner. Gamache had the type of performance you look for from a college player in his first year of pro ball and while all the attention was given to the four Latin American prospects who jumped the whole way from rookie ball to A ball he did a solid job and established himself as a prospect going forward. If he can repeat his performance next year likely in A+ he will quickly go up the prospects charts but for now he profiles as a potential utility player.
1) Tony Sanchez
2) Wyatt Mathisen
3) Jin-De jhang
4) Ramon Cabrera
5) Jacob Stallings
1) Alex Dickerson
2) Matt Curry
3) Jose Osuna
4) Justin Howard
5) Edwin Espinal
1) Brock Holt
2) Dilson Herrera
3) Dan Gamache
4) Jarek Cunningham
5) Jodaneli Carvajal
1) Eric Wood
2) Kevin Ross
3) Eric Avila
4) Stefan Welch
5) D.J. Crumlich
1) Alen Hanson
2) Gift Ngoepe
3) Max Moroff
4) Gustavo Nunez
5) Drew Maggi
1) Gregory Polanco
2) Josh Bell
3) Barrett Barnes
4) Willy Garcia
5) Mel Rojas
6) Adalberto Santos
7) Tyler Gaffney
8) Elvis Escobar
9) Harold Ramirez
10) Quincy Latimore
11) Andrew Lambo
12) Candon Myles
13) Dan Grovatt
14) Jesus Vasquez
15) Luis Urena
Upper Level (AA and AAA) Pitchers
1) Gerrit Cole
2) Jeff Locke
3) Justin Wilson
4) Kyle McPherson
5) Bryan Morris
6) Victor Black
7) Duke Welker
8) Phillip Irwin
9) Brandon Cumpton
10) Jeff Inman
Middle Level (A and A+) Pitchers
1) Jameson Taillon
2) Nicholas Kingham
3) Robby Rowland
4) Casey Sadler
5) Zach Von Rosenberg
6) Jason Townsend
7) Zach Dodson
8) Porfirio Lopez
9) Nathan Kilcrease
10) Ryan Hafner
Lower Level (Rookie and A-) Pitcher
1) Luis Heredia
2) Clay Holmes
3) Tyler Glasnow
4) Adrian Sampson
5) Jonathan Sandfort
6) Joely Rodriguez
7) Pat Ludwig
8) Jackson Lodge
9) Dalton Friend
10) Andy Otamendi
What Do The Pirates Have to Give Up?
In this installment I will look at the Pirates prospects eligible for the Rule V draft. The Pirates will not be able to protect everyone and while this year’s crop isn’t as strong as some these are players the Pirates should look to trade in order to avoid a roster crunch in the offseason.
Locks To Be Added: Victor Black, Tony Sanchez, Robbie Grossman
Borderline to be Added: Tim Alderson, Stefan Welch, Ramon Cabrera, Jarek Cunningham, Brock Holt, Jeffrey Inman, Phillip Irwin
Interesting But Won’t Be Added: Andrew Lambo, Quincy Latimore, Aaron Poreda, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland, Nathan Baker, Yhonathan Barrios, Ryan Beckman, Jorge Bishop, Jodaneli Carvajal, Evan Chambers, Zachary Fuesser, Elevys Gonzalez, Samuel Gonzalez, Quinton Miller, Gift Ngoepe, Carlos Paulino, Rinku Singh
First lets get a little background on all the listed players
Victor Black: Black is pitching well in AA and looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. He is in a similar mold to Duke Welker and will be definitely added to the roster.
Tony Sanchez: Sanchez was not so long ago the 4th overall pick in the draft and while he has lost some luster he still looks like he should be a serviceable major league starting catcher as early as midway through next season.
Robbie Grossman: Grossman is having a down season but he put up strong numbers last season and was considered a borderline top 100 prospect coming in to the year. He shows great plat discipline and will definitely be added.
Tim Alderson: Alderson has posted a good season and is now back on the prospect map. He isn’t what he once was but the potential is still in there some where and now since he has rebounded it is possible a team could take a shot on him.
Stefan Welch: The Pirates picked up Welch as a minor league free agent and at the time it appeared to be a minor move but fast forward and now the Pirates have a 23 year old prospect tearing up AA and playing a good 3B. Times have changed. Edit: As was pointed out by guapo in the comments my brief blurb seems to paint Welch as a prospect. My intention was to say that if he keeps his current level up or something close to it the Pirates will have a decision on their hands. If he falls back to earth he obviously wouldn’t be protected nor selected.
Ramon Cabrera: Coming into the season Cabrera was considered the Pirates second best catching option. He is having a bit of a down season in AA but could still draw interest from someone. I doubt the Pirates will add him with Sanchez having to be added so maybe he can attract some attention.
Jarek Cunningham: I was tempted to put Cunningham in the lock category but I realized I’m not sure how the Pirates view him. Cunningham has good power potential from 2B or 3B but has missed a few years due to injury. I would think he’d be drafted in the Rule V draft so I would think eh could be a trade piece this season.
Brock Holt: With Chase d’Arnaud and JordyMercer already on the 40 man roster the Pirates have their fair share of players like Holt. Holt is having his second solid season in AA but the Pirates are not moving him up. They could choose to add him to the roster but it would probably have to be at the expense of d’Arnaud. Holt would not have a ton of value but as a player who looks to have the floor of a utility infielder and the ceiling of an average 2B/SS in the majors he could attract some attention in trades.
Jeffrey Inman: If Inman were in another system he’d seem like the typical Pirate Rule V selection. Inman has a ton of potential but is injury prone and has missed a lot of time. Inman is now in AA and although he is struggling he has the upside that some team could take a flier on him and try to hide him in the bullpen.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin is a starter in AA and looks like he could be a decent back of the rotation arm some day. The Pirates probably won’t add him to the roster but he is advanced enough where he could probably be kept in someone’s bullpen all next season. His trade value would probably be minimal though.
Zach Dodson: Thank you to Kevin who pointed out in the comments that Dodson is not eligble until 2013. My reference material said 2012 and even though that seemed off to me I went with it.
Interesting Players Who Won’t be Added: I’m not going to bother breaking down this group but basically it breaks down into two groups. One group (Lambo, Latimore, Pribanic, Poreda, Strickland, Baker, Beckman, Chambers, E Gonzalez) are players in the upper levels who could probably hold down a spot on a 25 man roster but who’s numbers would be easily replaceable. Essentially they are all 24th and 25th type guys. The other group (Barrios, Bishop, Carvajal, S Gonzalez, Ngoepe, Singh) are players in the low levels who have a lot of talent but are too raw and too far away to have any chance at sticking on a roster all year. I left out three players, Fuesser, Miller and Paulino because they are slightly different. Paulino is an interesting defensive first catcher who has shown offensive ability but is only in the middle levels. Fuesser is a middle level lefty reliever who has some upside. Miller is a starting pitcher with a ton of talent but who has yet to produce any results. Some of the too young groups may be attractive as secondary lottery tickets in a deal.
The Pirates best most attractive pieces are obviously the 3 players who are a lock to be added, Grossman, Sanchez and Black. Any of those 3 could be attractive to other teams and be a key piece in acquiring a good rental or a secondary piece in acquiring a longer term piece.
The next most attractive group are Welch, Cabrera and Cunningham. Any of those 4 players could be a piece that could land the Pirates a good rental or even be a minor part of another trade.
Alderson, Holt, Inman and Irwin are all guys who could probably net a low cost rental but not much more. Their value are similar to the other 4 but are probably slightly less because of their limited upside.
The final group as far as trade value consists of potential throw ins and lottery tickets.
|C||Eric Fryer||C||Tony Sanchez|
|1B||Matt Hague||1B||Matt Curry|
|2B||Chase d’Arnaud||2B||Jarek Cunningham|
|3B||Josh Harrison||3B||Elevys Gonzalez|
|SS||Jordy Mercer||SS||Brock Holt|
|LF||Gorkys Hernandez||LF||Quincy Latmore|
|CF||Starling Marte||CF||Robbie Grossman|
|RF||Nick Evans||RF||Andrew Lambo|
|C||Jose Morales||C||Ramon Cabrera|
|IF||Anderson Hernandez||IF||Gregory Picart|
|OF||Brandon Boggs||OF||Adalberto Santos|
|DH||Jeff Clement||DH||Jeremy Farrell|
|C||Carlos Paulino||C||Samuel Gonzalez|
|1B||Alex Dickerson||1B||Jose Osuna|
|2B||Gift Ngoepe||2B||Dan Gamache|
|3B||Andy Vasquez||3B||Eric Avila|
|SS||Drew Maggi||SS||Alen Hanson|
|LF||Evan Chambers||LF||Rodarick Jones|
|CF||Mel Rojas Jr||CF||Wes Freeman|
|RF||Dan Grovatt||RF||Josh Bell|
|C||Elias Diaz||C||Kawika Emsley-Pai|
|IF||Kelson Brown||IF||Kirk Snger|
|OF||David Rubinstein||OF||Taylor Lewis|
|DH||Justin Howard||DH||Chris Lashmet|
Neil Walker: Probably the most certain part of this team going forward is Neil Walker at second base. Walker appears to be one of the most durable players on the Pirates and once again I am expecting 150+ starts from him this season. Hopefully Walker is able to shake off hi sophomore slump of last season and return closer to his rookie numbers. I do see him getting closer to them but not quite matching. His batting average should stay in the 270-280 range but where improvement will come is with his power as I expect his slugging percentage to be around .450. With another year under his belt at the second base position Walker’s defensive game should continue to improve and it would not be surprising to see him be average defensively at the position this season.
Gustavo Nunez: I am hoping the Pirates will not go with Nunez as the middle infield backup to begin the season but as of right now it appears rather likely that will be the case. I am not going to get into Nunez too much right here because he profiles more as a shortstop than second baseman. However I will say he is likely to be Walker’s backup to start the 2012 season, how long it will last is another matter.
Anderson Hernandez: Another rather odd move by the Pirates this offseason was signing Anderson Hernandez. It is always nice to have a veteran middle infielder down in AAA in case of emergencies but there does not appear to be a spot for Hernandez. In theory Hernandez will be given a chance to win the backup middle infield job out of Spring Training but in reality the only way I see him even sticking in AAA is if the Pirates opt to carry an extra reserve infielder at the expense of a 5th outfielder. Either way Hernandez should have little to impact on the Pirates this season.
Others: If there arises a need for Walker to be spelled for an extended time chances are it will be neither Nunez nor Hernandez that fills the role. Instead it will likely be players whose primary position is either shortstop or third base. The four likely candidates are Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Yamaico Navarro and Josh Harrison. I will get more into those four at their primary positions but one or all of these players could see time at second base this season. Navarro and Harrison are candidates to make the major league team out of spring training and could end up serving as Walker’s backup.
Jarek Cunningham: The top 2nd base prospect in the Pirates system could rank amongst the Pirates top 15 prospects if he could just manage to stay healthy. He has some strike zone and defensive issues but his bat has the potential to make him a good major league second baseman. He should be moving up to AA this season but due to his injury filled 2011 I am expecting him to repeat A+. If Cunningham manages to stay healthy I could see him posting a good season and become a very good prospect for the Pirates. However his injury history combined with his lack of strike zone discipline makes me doubtful that will happen.
Brock Holt: Holt appeared destined to be moving up to AAA to start this season but the acquisitions of McGehee, Nunez, Navarro and to a smaller extent Hernandez likely means he will repeat AA. With no real option to play shortstop in AA I see Holt getting the majority of the playing time there even though he is better suited as a second baseman. He does a lot of things well but nothing great. Holt has some speed and has shown a fair amount of plate discipline along with decent defensive abilities but he lacks anything that makes him stand out. Most likely Holt’s upside is that of a Major league utility player. Hopefully he proves me wrong but I think this will be the year Holt begins to lose his prospect status and starts to settle in as organizational depth.
Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe is an interesting case. He was the first black South African to sign a pro-baseball contract. At the time of his signing he garnered a lot of attention even being featured is a Sports Illustrated article. He is a very good defensive player and he runs extremely well. Last season he was beginning to show signs of his offensive game improving but an injury early in the year cut his season short. He is a candidate to be moved up to A+ but with missing so much time last year I see the Pirates having him repeat A+. Unless the Pirates are aggressive with a GCL player there is really no prospect to man SS in A ball so I am expecting to see Ngoepe get a lot of playing time there. I am expecting Ngoepe to keep improving his offensive game in 2012 and become a legit prospect for the Pirates.
Summary: The position for now and for the immediate future is Neil Walker. The Pirates do have some options that can fill in if necessary and even have a few intriguing prospects in the middle levels but I just don’t see any way that Walker does not remain here for the next few seasons. The position will basically succeed or fail with him this year but it is in good hands here. The Pirates have nothing to worry about here and appear set for the next few seasons. Should a prospect develop the Pirates could move them to another position or use them as trade bait.