Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Letter to Kovacevic

Mr. Kovacevic, in this week's Q+A, you defend Dave Littlefield, writing:

"Look at the roster that Indianapolis should have this summer, and ask yourself when is the last time the Pirates had a Class AAA team that had more prospects than retreads."

Prospects at the AAA level are nice, but Littlefield doesn't deserve credit for their presence, unless one feels that those players are there primarily because of coaches hired by Littlefield.

The prospects at AAA this year are likely to be J.R. House, Jose Bautista, Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy, Cory Stewart, Bobby Bradley, Brian Bullington, Ian Snell, Matt Peterson and Jeff Miller. Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke and Brad Eldred also stand a good chance of winding up in Indianapolis at some point during the season.

Stewart was acquired by Littlefield in his excellent Brian Giles trade, but the chances that Stewart will turn into an effective big leaguer are small. Peterson was acquired and Bautista reacquired in a dubious trade in which Littlefield gave up the best starting pitcher on the market at the time along with another prospect, Jeff Keppinger, who would have added to the list of prospects at Indianapolis if he were still around. Bullington was Littlefield's top pick overall in the 2002 draft, and he didn't pitch well at AA last year; that pick now looks like a massive missed opportunity. Eldred was an inspired Littlefield selection. All the rest of the players in the long list of Indianapolis prospects were acquired by Cam Bonifay and his scouting director Mickey White.

If we instead look at the low minors, where most of Littlefield's picks in the last three drafts are playing, the picture looks bleak. While it's too early to judge those drafts conclusively, very few players Littlefield has drafted are looking like good prospects: there's pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, pitcher Paul Maholm (who was injured most of 2004), catcher Neil Walker, and not much else. The Pirates' teams in the low minors have posted good records during Littlefield's tenure, but that's mostly because of his reliance on non-prospect ringers like Adam Boeve and Jon Benick, who are way too old for their levels. There is ample reason for concern about what's going to happen when there aren't any more Bonifay prospects left to promote.

Given Littlefield's awful track record at the major league level and his embarrassing and pointless losses of good young players in the Rule 5 draft and to waivers, I can understand the need to look to the minors for some sort of ray of hope. Unfortunately, the credit for that ray should go not to Littlefield but to Bonifay, who's currently with the... uh... Rays.

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