When it comes to evaluating how well a draft worked out for a franchise be it baseball, football, hockey, basketball or really any other sport I am one who always feels that 5 years is a fairly reasonable time frame. Of course in baseball and to some extent hockey the evaluations have to be done a little differently because not everyone from those drafts are going to be established players but for the most part we should have a fairly good idea as to what kind of player they are. Typically speaking I think the 5th professional year for a draft class, particularly and MLB one is a huge year. The quick risers are likely in their 3rd pro season or so, the slow risers are likely entering their first full season or just ready to contribute and the wildcards are likely on their final chance. Its been five years since Neal Huntington’s first draft class and of course 2013 will be that class’s 5th full year of professional baseball experience. So according to my rule of thumb it should be a big year for them and indeed it is. To my research there are twelve players who still have at least some level of significance to the Pirates franchise, I have broken down those 12 into 6 different categories and will discuss what the 2013 season holds for them. Think of this as a primer for what to look for out of the 2008 draft class this season.
Organizational Players: Benjamin Gonzalez, Jeremy Farrell, Zachary Foster
Essentially this group has no expectations for the 2013 season. The three above players were drafted and signed in 2008 but have evolved into organizational filler; they will likely serve as bench depth or bullpen arms for one or multiple levels in 2013. They aren’t expected to contribute to the major league team and at this point really have no discernible prospect value. +
Wildcards: Jarek Cunningham, Quinton Miller
Cunningham and Miller are not that far from bien organizational players but both remain in the system and unlike the three organizational players I have listed do have somewhat of a ceiling. Cunningham is capable of playing 2B and has plus power for the position and Miller was a fairly highly regarded prep pitcher at the time he was drafted. Both of them face uphill climbs to ever make the majors let alone become a significant contributor there but each of them have enough upside that they will have essentially one last chance to rebound in 2013 and show they have some value. Miller is likely to work out of the bullpen at A+, a level he’ll be playing at for a 3rd season and at 23 years old is pushing the high side for a prospect at that level. If he shows signs of progress the Pirates may opt to send him to AA early on to give him one last chace but that appears highly unlikely. Cunningham is a little farther along than Miller as he will likely repeat AA this season and should be the starting 2B. At 23 years old he isn’t a terrible age for the AA level but another failed year could prove costly to the little prospect status he has remaining. There is a little more hope for Cunningham than Miller as he showed progress last season with his plate discipline, if he can manage to build off that, refind his power and stay healthy (something that has been a struggle for him) there is a chance he could regain his prospect status. Cunningham is facing an uphill climb but it appears he at least has a fighting chance.
Major League Depth: Matt Hague, Michael Colla
Not much to say about these two. Hague and Colla are essentially organizational players but they have advanced far enough along that either one could be potential non horrible at the major league level meaning they will serve as depth in 2013. Hague is well known by Pirates fans because of his hot spring training last year and the fact he subsequently made the Pirates bench. He struggled with his chances with the big club though and spent most of 2012 in AAA. Hague doesn’t really profile to hit for much power so his ceiling at the major league level is limited. Hague will almost certainly start the 2013 season off in AAA but this year he won’t have a starting position and will be forced into a utility role. The utility role could be a good thing for Hague though as his best chance of making it back to the majors is probably as a utility player who can make decent contact. Colla has spent the last two years in the AA rotation. His numbers over that time are actually fairly decent. In reality he doesn’t profile as a starter and unless he returns to AA for another season will not be one in 2013 but as a reliever he has a chance to become a decent depth middle reliever who could fill in at the major league level when injuries or ineffectiveness occurs. Colla and Hague don’t come with much upside and aren’t really players that will determine if the 2008 draft was a success or failure but 2013 will be a pivotal year in determining whether either one can carve out some sort of a major league career.
Slow Movers: Justin Wilson, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud
Wilson, Mercer and d’Arnaud are ultimately going to play a large role in determining how well the 2008 draft worked for the Pirates. A good rule of thumb is that a good draft should give you 3 solid major league contributors. Well the Pirates have one who we will discuss later and have one more who could pay some dividends for them at the major league level but if they are to get any additional help from this class it is going to have to come from these three players. Wilson undoubtedly has the highest upside of the bunch as if he were able to find some control he has the stuff to be a top of the rotation arm. Mercer and d’Arnaud look like their ceiling is likely a major league average shortstop and that may be pushing it. At the end of the day three solid major league contributors doesn’t mean three superstars essentially if the team is able to draft one very good regular, a solid back end reliever and a good bench option it has had a decent year. None of these three except maybe Wilson look like they will develop into a solid regular but they all look like potential secondary pieces. Each player has two options remaining meaning they could in theory be brought back next season if they fail to establish themselves but in reality this is a big year for all three. Should any of them not establish themselves as at least a serviceable major league player they will be in great risk of being removed from the roster after the season and unless claimed by another team that usually severely hurts a player’s chances of having a good major league career.
Traded: Robbie Grossman (Wandy Rodriguez)
The importance of Robbie Grossman who was the key piece in the Wandy Rodriguez deal might often get overlooked when discussing the success or failure of the 2013 draft but it shouldn’t be. Grossman may no longer be in the system but the reason teams have prospects is not for only developing them for their own use but for using them to acquire major league talent through trades, in short they are assets. How Grossman performs this season is largely irrelevant to how the Pirates 2008 draft should be viewed but how his return, Wandy Rodriguez, performs is in my mind a critical part of it. Rodriguez is an established major league and a good performances by him in 2013 will help push up the value the Pirates were able to get out of the 2008 draft. As I stated this will be often overlooked but in my mind the return for Robbie Grossman may very well end up being the 2nd most important aspect of the 2008 draft.
Fast Movers: Pedro Alvarez
At the end of the day the performance of the other 11 players I’ve discussed mean very little compared to the draft 1st round pick. The success or failure of that draft will forever be linked to how Alvarez performs in his career as a Pirate. Last season saw some encouraging progress from Alvarez at the major league level but the strike out rate was too high. Alvarez at this point is an established major league player and looks like he has a strong chance of developing into a regular however his upside is so much more. He possess the power needed to develop into a true impact bat. This upcoming 2013 season will be crucial to his development. If he is able to build off his success in 2012 Alvarez begins looking like a cornerstone player but if he struggles like he did in 2011 he will once again look like a big bust. As his fortunes go so will the fate of the 2008 draft. Even in an optimist scenario where Wilson develops into a solid middle of the rotation arm, Mercer is able to be a decent place holder at the shortstop position for a year or two, d’Arnaud starts to hit and becomes a good spark plug off the bench, Cunningham regains his prospect value and Hague or Colla carves out a major league niche for themselves the 2008 draft will still feel light on talent if Alvarez fails to produce. In order for him to be a success and by extension the 2008 draft Alvarez doesn’t have to perform all that much better than his 2012 numbers going forward but he has to prove that he can that type of player and not be subject to wild down seasons like 2011; building off of 2012 and taking another step, even a small step forward would go a long way in proving just that.
Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects has a the 2013 Minor League Spring Training Roster for the Pirates on his site. Every year I look over this list to see if there are any interesting developments like a player being shifted to or from the mound, notable absences or even notable additions from the DSL. For some reason this year nothing like that caught my eye but what did catch my eye was that Tim had the player’s ages listed beside their names. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal but for some reason it caught my attention. Some players were a few years older or younger than I thought. The I got to thinking about how age plays in a role in how I and everyone else define prospects. I looked over the list and gave this some more thought and concluded that ordinarily a player 25 years old or older is usually considered a non-prospect. Of course there are plenty of exceptions but as a basis it seemed like a good start.
I decided to turn my attention to see just how many players on the roster were indeed 25 and over and what sort of prospect ability they had. In all I counted 27 such players ranging from my base line age of 25 all the way up to 33 years old. Some of these 27 are of course no longer prospects not just because of their age but because of time they have spent in the majors but for most of the dream of reaching the show hasn’t happened yet and at this point for many of them likely never will. Still I thought I’d give a look at them. I didn’t intend to learn in an in-depth profile on each player just gain a casual idea of where they are as a prospect and a professional ball player.
The majority 15 of the 27 players age 25 or over are pitchers. The below list contains no true prospects but there are some intriguing names. I have also included their ages and a little blurb about their background.
Nathaniel Baker, 25: Baker was a 5th round draft choice by the Pirates in 2009. He projects to start the year in AA and remains mildly intriguing mainly because he is left handed pitcher with decent velocity. Baker has split time between starting and relieving but appears best suited for relief.
David Bromberg, 25: Bromberg was signed as a minor league free agent. He has spent the last 3 seasons in the upper levels and has been mildly effective. He looks like a fringy relief pitcher who should serve as minor league depth.
Michael Colla, 26: Colla was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA and has put up solid numbers. He has almost purely been a starter in the past but could move to relief in AAA this season.
Roman Colon, 33: Colon had a few seasons as a middle reliever in the majors with poor to average results. For the last three seasons he has hung around in AAA and even played in Korea and served as emergency depth for teams. That appears to be his role going forward.
Zachary Foster, 26: Foster was drafted in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. He has struggled so far in his professional career spending most of his time in A or A+ ball. At this point he is an organizational player and one not likely to make it past the middle levels.
Ethan Hollingsworth, 26: Hollingsworth was taken by the Pirates in this year’s minor league Rule V draft. He has split the last two seasons between AA and AAA and has been decent in AA and poor in AAA. The Pirates likely selected him to serve as depth for the upper levels.
Jeffrey Inman, 25: Inman is one of the more interesting names on this list. He was taken in the 12 round of the 2009 draft but was a more highly regarded pitcher who slipped due to a shoulder injury. He really hasn’t stayed healthy much in his professional career but posted a decent season in AA last year. Considering all his injuries he probably should get an additional year of being considered a borderline relief pitcher prospect.
Kenn Kasparek, 27: Kasparek was drafted by the Mariners in 2008 but found himself in an independent league to begin 2012. The Pirates signed him when they had an opening in A+ ball. He figures to continue serving as a depth reliever for the middle levels.
Elecier Navarro, 25: Navarro is one of Littlefield’s leftovers. He is a small finesse left handed pitcher whose finese stuff has served him well through the lower and middle levels but he has now probably reached his ceiling.
Aaron Poreda, 26: Poreda is one of only two pitchers on this list who has pitched in the majors. He is however a bit different from Colon. The Pirates acquired him in 2011 minor league Rule V draft but before that he was once a highly regarded prospect. He was a key part of the Jake Peavy deal between the Padres and White Sox but when Poreda arrived with the Padres he suddenly lost his control. Since the trade Poreda has spent most of his time pitching in AA or AAA and putting up some very high walk rates, his other numbers though have been relatively speaking fairly solid.
Aaron Pribanic, 26: Pribanic is the last player remaining the Pirates got from the Jack Wilson trade. His first three years with the Pirates were fairly solid but he essentially lost all of 2012 due to injury and that has greatly hurt his prospect status. He will likely begin 2013 in AA with one last chance to avoid become an organizational guy.
Luis Sanz, 25: Sanz was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent. He has yet to advance past A+ ball and if he does this year it will likely only be because of an extreme lack of depth for AA.
Zach Thornton, 25: Thronton was acquired for Chris Resop this past offseason and is at least a little intriguing. Thornton played last season at the A+ level which he was old for but posted a very high K rate. His ability to miss bats make him a tad bit interesting. He should start the 2013 season in the AA bullpen.
Erik Turgeon, 26: The Pirates signed Turgeon to a minor league contract last year to fill in a hole at the A+ level. He pitched well at the A+ level but had already logged significant playing time above that level. He has some ability to miss bats but at this point looks like an organizational player.
Philippe Valiquette, 26: Valiquette was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Usually he would fall into the same category as the others but he is a little special as he is a left handed pitcher who has hit triple digits with his fastball in the past. That skill alone will keep teams hoping on for at least another season or two.
In addition to the 15 pitchers I have discussed there are 12 position players who fit the description of being 25 years or older and in the minor league camp.
Charles Cutler, 26: Cutler was selected by the Pirates in the minor league Rule V draft in 2011. Last season he served as a backup catcher in AA and put up some decent numbers. Cutler put up strong numbers in the lower levels but struggled in his first trip to AA in 2010. He has repeated the level the last two seasons and done well. I would like to see what he could do at AAA but the consensus seems to be that he is an organizational catcher.
Devin Ivany, 30: Ivany was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Over the last three seasons he has spent most of his time at AA where he has been fairly average. Ivany is proof that minor league catchers tend to hang around for a while due to teams always needing them to help work with young pitchers.
Miguel Perez, 29: Perez is another organizational catcher but he did get a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2005. His playing days appear to be over, short a string of injuries as he is slated to serve as a bullpen coach and bullpen catcher in one of the upper levels in 2013.
Kelson Brown, 25: Brown is one of the more interesting players on this list. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates during the 2012 draft. Since starting his professional career the Pirates have used Brown as a utility player/ organizational player but he has hit well at each level including AA last season. There doesn’t seem to be a spot for him at AAA to begin the season so he will probably repeat AA at some point in 2012. He has the look of an organizational player but he has no glaring weakness so he can’t be completely written off.
Jeremy Farrell, 26: Farrell is the son of the Boston Red Sox manager and was drafted by the Pirates in the 8th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA where he has been average at best. The Pirates really don’t have a clear-cut choice for 3B in AA this year though so he might get one last chance at some consistent playing time.
Jeff Larish, 30: Larish played in the majors from 2008-2010 spending some time in AAA as well and had his moments but was a below average player overall. He has hung around the last two years serving as a AAA utility player and that will be his role once again in 2013.
Alex Valdez, 28: The Pirates signed Valdez as a minor league free agent this offseason. He spent 2010 and 2011 putting up mediocre numbers in AA and AAA but in 2012 he played in the Mexican league and put up a fairly impressive line. As I stated earlier the Pirates don’t really have a stand out option for 3rd base at the AA level so Valdez could see some playing time there.
Andy Vasquez, 25: Vasquez is a leftover from the Littlefield days. He appeared to be on his way out of baseball in 2009-10 but he has rebounded by putting up two solid seasons the past two years in A and A+. He looks like a decent utility player for A+/AA and will likely compete for a spot there in 2013.
Brett Carroll, 30: Carroll has the most distinguished major league career of anyone on this list to date. That isn’t to say it was good but he has appeared in a major league game at least once every year since 2007 so he has at least been hanging around the fringes. Carroll hasn’t hit well in his major league time and outside of a 2011 stint with the Brewers AAA teams hasn’t even hit well in AAA the past four seasons. He’ll compete for time in the AAA outfield in 2013 but faces an uphill climb.
Justin Howard, 25: Howard is a player I like a fair amount. The Pirates drafted him in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He isn’t really much of a prospect because defensively he is limited to 1B (or maybe RF) and he has very little power. He is a fairly decent hitter though as he was probably one of the best hitters the Pirates had the A+ level last season. Still he profiles as an organizational guy and will likely serve as a bench player in AA in 2013.
Carlos Mesa, 25: Mesa defected from Cuba and was signed by the Pirates in 2011. He was relatively old when he defected and in two seasons hasn’t made it past the A+ level. He really hasn’t been good either but he will likely continue to serve as a backup option for the A and A+ levels in 2013.
Adalberto Santos, 25: The exception that proves the rule that 25 year old players aren’t typically prospects. Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft. He was red-shirted as a freshman so he spent 5 years in college and was nearly 23 when selected. Obviously not much was expected from him but Santos has raked at every level. A knee injury kept him out for a significant amount of last season but he still hit very well at the AA level. Santos is deserving of a chance to prove himself at the AAA level this season. His lack of power limits his ceiling as a major leaguer but his good contact ability could make him an intriguing 4th outfielder and bat off the bench.
So there you have it the 27 players 25 years and older currently in the Pirates minor league camp. They will undoubtedly be joined by more as players get sent down but those will be players with slightly better pedigrees and better chances of making it back or in some rare cases to the show. The players I listed, for the most part have either seen their major league days come and go or are likely to never the big leagues but yet they keep playing for what must be the love of the game. I have always been a little fascinated with the career minor league. If he reaches a high enough level he might get a decent pay check but these guys by and by aren’t bringing in huge sums of money and the dream I’m sure they all had of reaching the show is out of their grasp but yet they continue to solider on filling an important but often overlooked role in professional baseball. The above 27 players aren’t glamorous and feature one average prospect, a couple of fringy prospects, a few past their prime fringe major leaguers and a fair amount of minor league veterans. It may not seem like an inspirational group but I always take a little bit of solace in knowing that these kind of professional athletes exist.