Minor League Players Of The Year
It's almost September call-up time, and I do love handing out meaningless and nonexistent hardware, so here are my picks for the Pirates' top minor league pitcher and position player of the year, as well as an all-prospect team for the organization.
Minor League Pitcher Of The Year: Zach Duke
Altoona: 46.1 IP, 33 K, 9 BB, 1.55 ERA
Lynchburg: 97 IP, 106 K, 20 BB, 1.39 ERA
A very easy choice. In an organization full of highly touted pitching prospects, Duke pitched circles around all of them. He's also still very young - his baseball age is 21 - so he's looking like one of the top pitching prospects in baseball despite not having overpowering stuff.
Minor League Position Player Of The Year: Brad Eldred, 1B
Altoona: 114 AB, 12 HR, .325/.658
Lynchburg: 334 AB, 21 HR
Eldred is similar to the Phillies' Ryan Howard in that he strikes out a ton, was a little old for his levels and absolutely crushed the ball this year. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to make contact in higher levels. He's also a very big man, so we'll see if he can field his position, although I haven't seen any scouting reports that suggest that he can't. He could help the Pirates as soon as next year. I was pretty bearish on him a month ago, but his ridiculous performance after being promoted to Altoona makes me hopeful.
2004 Pirates All-Prospect Team
C - J.R. House, Nashville: House hit for good power in 2004, but he didn't walk much, and must silence questions about his defense. He has a number of good prospects behind him, including Ryan Doumit and Ronny Paulino at Altoona, Steven Lerud at Williamsport and Neil Walker at Bradenton.
1B - Brad Eldred.
2B - Freddy Sanchez, Nashville: Spent most of the year injured and is 26, but hit well when he came back. The Pirates have been letting him play shortstop recently; could a Jack Wilson deal be in the works? Alex Peralta and Jermal Lomack are two other second basemen to watch.
SS - Javier Guzman, Hickory: There's no power or patience yet, but he can hit for contact, he's fast, and he's very young. Brian Bixler might have been the pick here if he'd shown anything at the plate in Williamsport. Dan Schwartzbauer was great there, though, and is worth watching next year.
3B - Urgh: Craig Stansberry? Eddie Prasch? Um... Jose Bautista?
OF - Nathan McLouth, Altoona: Of all the Pirates' speedy outfield prospects, McLouth is the only one who looks like he might become a legitimate leadoff man in the majors.
OF - J.J. Davis, Nashville: He has tons of potential, whether or not the Pirates want to admit it. Not much went right for Davis this year, which was partly the fault of injuries and partly the fault of the Pirates: they didn't let him play when he was with the big club, preferring to trot out retreads like Raul Mondesi and Randall Simon.
OF - Tony Alvarez, Nashville: Could help at the major league level as a fourth outfielder. May be better than that in time.
P - Zach Duke.
P - Leo Nunez, Hickory: Young, good stuff, impressive results: 135 Ks and 45 BBs in 137 innings.
P - Tom Gorzellany, Lynchburg: '03 second-rounder was great in Hickory and then pretty good in 50 innings at Lynchburg; will probably start 2005 there.
P - Bobby Bradley, Altoona: K/BB (70/40) numbers still not there, but at least he's finally healthy.
P - Paul Maholm, Lynchburg: Not to be confused with Pat Mahomes. Maholm didn't have a great season - in fact, he missed most of it after taking a ball in the face - but he was good when he pitched, and the Pirates will let him get work in the Arizona Fall League. He's here mostly because a lot of the Pirates' young pitchers - John Van Benschoten, Ian Snell, Sean Burnett, and Mike Gonzalez - were in the majors by August. Other candidates for the fifth spot: Justin Reid, Matt Peterson.