Thursday, July 15, 2004

Pirates Prospects

Paul Meyer has a new column on various "exciting prospects" in the Pirate farm system.

These guys are prospects? First on the list is Victor Mercedes:

"He's kind of a wild hitter," Banister conceded, mindful that Mercedes, 25, had 19 walks and 66 strikeouts in 308 at-bats through Tuesday.

This is a 25 year-old who's playing at Single A and has struck out three times as much as he's walked. Next.

On Josh Bonifay:

This year, however, Bonifay has used a recent surge to boost his batting average to .270 and ranks third in the Eastern League with 63 RBIs. After apparently fining a home at first base, Bonifay has hit .304 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in his past 26 games. He still strikes out a lot -- 81 times in 278 at-bats -- but his 16 homers and 63 strikeouts indicate he's adjusting to Class AA pitching.

Hm. a (nearly) 26 year-old who's hitting for some power in his second turn at AA, but still can't make contact. Who else do we have?

Ray Sadler, 23, acquired from the Chicago Cubs for Randall Simon last August, has begun rising to prospect status in Altoona. The corner outfielder has hit .311 over the past month, raising his overall average to .279. He has 16 home runs and 46 RBIs.

Finally, a real prospect! Well, kind of. Sadler's still not very good at controlling the strike zone; he only has 18 walks so far this year.

Yurendell DeCaster, 24, is intriguing because he plays third base.

DeCaster is older than Sadler and has even greater problems with the strike zone.

The article also mentions Jeff Miller, Brad Eldred, Rajai Davis, Tom Gorzellany and Leo Nunez. Gorzellany and Nunez are both good pitching prospects, putting up solid numbers in leagues appropriate to their ages; Miller, Eldred and Davis are all looking like longshots at best.

Many of these guys have stats that are superficially impressive, but any analysis of a player's prospect status is incomplete without consideration of a player's age. A player who's 25 and still unable to hit Single A pitching has only the slimmest of chances of ever helping in the big leagues, because players only improve until they hit a certain age, usually sometime in their mid- to late-20s. A lot of these guys - Mercedes, Bonifay, Rajai Davis - aren't prospects at all, just organizational types putting up decent stats because they're men facing off against boys.

The unfortunate thing is that Meyer did about the best job he could have done, given that he was covering guys who weren't already mentioned in his top ten prospects feature from earlier this week. Javier Guzman and the injured Paul Maholm are the only players at Hickory or above who deserved a mention and didn't get one. And of the top ten prospects in Meyer's list, only two (Bryan Bullington and Freddy Sanchez) were acquired by Dave Littlefield. Meyer's article on Mercedes, Eldred and so on shows how dire things are for the Pirates in the low minors, particularly at Class A. It will be interesting to see if the Littlefield draftees at Bradenton and Williamsport can rejuvenate the Hickory and Lynchburg rosters in the next year or two.

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