© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/09/08 10:00 AM ET

Pirates see light at end of tunnel

New GM Huntington hopes to rebuild Pittsburgh's system

Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.

When new general manager Neal Huntington and company took over the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 2008 season, they knew that rebuilding the system would not be an overnight job. And they didn't expect miracles.

The fact that of our preseason "10 Spot" of prospects, three players were members of the Pirates' 2007 draft class and a fourth, 2006 first-rounder Brad Lincoln, had yet to throw a pitch in a Pittsburgh uniform was evidence of how raw and largely devoid of upper-level prospects the system was.

Not that much has changed to the naked eye, but there are definitely some flickering lights at the end of the dugout tunnel.

On the field in the Minors, the results were not encouraging as Pirates' farm teams combined for a 385-446 record (.463), ranking 28th out of 30 organizations.

Off the field, things weren't much better. First-round pick Pedro Alvarez, a third baseman from Vanderbilt, was regarded as the best player available in the draft. He spent most of the summer in increasingly contentious negotiations (at least his agent Scott Boras did) before finally signing with the team.

The club's No. 2 pick, pitcher Tanner Scheppers, never did sign and is under contract to play in an independent league in 2009.

Now the immensely talented Alvarez is in the fold and down in the instructional league in Bradenton. And midseason trades that saw veteran outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady leave netted the Pirates eight talented young players, five of whom are no longer rookies. Outfielder Jose Tabata and right-hander Daniel McCutchen from the Yankees and right-hander Bryan Morris from the Dodgers could help ease the pain in 2009.

•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

Organizational Players of the Year

MLB.com Preseason Picks

Marcus Davis, OF: The raw-but-toolsy sleeper, a 2007 18th-round pick out of Alcorn State, was an out-of-the-box pick in an organization in which the top prospects were all at Triple-A Indianapolis and would have seemed likely call-up candidates. But Davis got off to a slow start at Class A Hickory and was hitting .229 with eight homers, 26 RBIs and five steals in his first 49 games. Maybe he would have turned it around, but a knee injury ended his season on June 2.
Davis delivers a two-run blast

Daniel Moskos, LHP: Without a surefire ace in the system, we looked to the 2007 first-round pick out of Clemson to show why the Pirates took him with the No. 4 overall selection. The old regime converted Moskos to short relief, but the new management moved him back into the rotation at Class A Advanced Lynchburg before returning him to the bullpen in August. He went 7-7 with a 5.95 ERA in 29 games -- not exactly Pitcher of the Year numbers.
ATM catches up with Moskos

MLB.com Postseason Selections

Jim Negrych, 3B: Everyone loves a local hero, but few love their local heroes more than Pittsburgh sports fans. The fact that the biggest bright spot of the year in the Pirates farm system was this scrappy 2006 sixth-rounder out of Pitt was an added bonus. Negrych, who moved from second base to third this season, led the organization and ranked ninth in the Minors with a .359 average. He also collected 41 doubles, five homers and 72 RBIs.
Around the Minors chats with Negrych

Anthony Watson, LHP: Not a power pitcher, the 2007 ninth-rounder out of Nebraska enjoyed a successful first full season as he ranked second among the club's starters with a 3.56 ERA at Lynchburg while going 8-12. Watson's 104 strikeouts in 151 2/3 innings also ranked second in the system. Though his fastball barely touches 90 consistently, he offsets it with a fine changeup.
Watson fans his eighth batter through seven no-hit innings

Climbed the Ladder

Shelby Ford, 2B: An infielder with some pop, the switch-hitting Ford also can play shortstop and third base. He finished fifth in the system with 19 steals in 81 games, missing most of the first two months with hip flexors. Overall, Ford batted .285 with four homers and 32 RBIs at Altoona. The 2006 third-round pick out of Oklahoma is headed to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time.
Ford launches a lead off home run

Andrew McCutchen, OF: The 21-year-old 2005 first-rounder enjoyed a solid Triple-A debut as one of the youngest players in the International League, hitting .283 with nine homers and 50 RBIs. He also ranked second in the system with 34 steals. Still a year away from having to be put on the 40-man roster, McCutchen didn't get the call to the Majors that many expected, but he is still by far the top prospect in the system and did nothing to take away from that status. McCutchen played in the Futures Game and was the IL's "Star of Stars" at the Triple-A All-Star Game. The center fielder hits for power and has good speed and excellent defensive ability.
Midseason spotlight on Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen gives the Indians a lead in the seventh

Jim Negrych, 3B: Definitely a work in progress on the defensive side, Negrych committed 31 errors while adjusting to the move from second base to third. But his 87 runs in 129 games were evidence of how much of a catalyst he is on the bases. Negrych ranked among the Carolina League leaders in hits, doubles and slugging percentage before his promotion from Lynchburg to Altoona. He also has good strike zone discipline.
Negrych nails a grand slam

Jeff Sues, RHP: A fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2005, Sues missed all of 2005 and 2006 as well as all but eight games in 2007 due to shoulder trouble. But his stellar work in middle relief in 2008 between Lynchburg and Altoona was one of the highlights of the Pirates' season. Sues posted a combined 3.22 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 64 innings. He finished with a .153 opponents' average with the Hillcats before a mid-May promotion. Sues was shut down the last few weeks with shoulder soreness but headed to the Arizona Fall League ready to roll.
Sues strikes out his sixth in just three innings

Anthony Watson, LHP: MLB.com's organizational Pitcher of the Year was very effective in his first full season but also showed a lack of consistency, especially down the stretch. In his last eight starts, Watson yielded one earned run or fewer five times but surrendered as many as five runs the other three occasions. His control remained a strong point as he issued only 36 walks in 151 2/3 innings. In 2007, Watson went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA and walked eight over 67 2/3 innings between short-season State College and Hickory.

Kept Their Footing

Brian Bixler, SS: It was a roller-coaster year for the 2004 second-rounder from Eastern Michigan. After hitting .280 with seven homers, 36 RBIs and 23 steals in 86 games at Indianapolis, he spent the second half of the year in the Majors but batted .157 in 50 games with a .229 on-base average. Bixler's speed and ability to hit for average paved his way through the system quickly and he has good instincts and makeup, so it would be premature to write him off too quickly, especially since no one is really pressing him at the position within the system.
Bixler belts a solo shot in the first

Brad Lincoln, RHP: One of the most heartening comeback stories, even if the numbers don't glitter, the 2006 first-rounder out of Houston pitched only a handful of games that summer and missed all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. This year, he combined to strike out 75 while walking 17 over 103 2/3 innings between Hickory (4.65 ERA) and Lynchburg (4.75). Lincoln has great mental toughness on the mound and a fastball in the low- to mid-90s with a good curve.
Lincoln lock up his sixth strikeout

Daniel Moskos, LHP: At this point, the Pirates would just like to see Moskos stop being "the guy they took with the fourth overall pick over catcher Matt Wieters." But it's hard to resist comparisons after Wieters, who many thought would be the fourth pick, put up Minor League Player of the Year-type numbers for the Orioles after they snatched him at No. 5. But the former Clemson ace still could become a big league closer in the not-too-distant future with a plus-fastball and slider and his developing curveball and change.
Moskos collect his fourth strikeout

Jamie Romak, OF: The top power threat in the system among players who are considered up-and-comers, Romak will have to bring his average up to keep moving. He led the system with 25 homers and was tied for third with 80 RBIs. After a strong start at Lynchburg, where he hit .279 in 77 games, Romak batted .208 in 33 contests at Altoona. The 2003 fourth-rounder from Canada has raw power to all fields and a strong arm.
Romak drives in six runs

Neil Walker, 3B: After a slow start that saw his average dip to .242, the 2004 first-rounder finished with the best power and run-production numbers at Indianapolis, belting 16 homers and driving in 80 runs while stroking 25 doubles. He hit .275 in August and continued to improve his defense at third base, where he moved from catcher two years ago. The switch-hitting Pittsburgh native has a great work ethic and makeup. A lock to be added to the 40-man roster when eligible this offseason, it was something of a surprise when Walker was not called up in September.

Slipped a Rung

Steven Pearce, 1B: It's a tough call to say Pearce slipped a rung, but after earning MLB.com's Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2007 -- when he combined to hit .333 with 31 homers and 113 RBIs at three levels -- he backslid in '08. Without a real position, Pearce never was able to break into the starting lineup with the Pirates. At Indianapolis, he batted .251 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs. In the Majors, he hit .248 in 37 games, though his average was .275 in September. Pearce will head to Mexico this winter to concentrate on hitting and play first base. He could regain his status just by living up to his offensive potential.
Pearce powers in four with one swing

Duke Welker, LHP: The club's second-round pick in 2007 had a fine debut that summer, posting a 2.35 ERA at State College. But the 6-foot-7 southpaw never got it going in 2008, his first full season, posting a 4-13 record with a 5.51 ERA at Hickory, where he walked 48 while striking out 72 in 116 innings.
Welker picks up his sixth strikeout of the game

On the Radar

Jose Tabata, OF: Long considered one of the jewels of the Yankees system, Tabata became expendable this year when questions lingered about his "fire inside." He came to the Pirates, along with pitcher Daniel McCutchen, in the deal for outfielder Xavier Nady. After rehabbing a sore hamstring that sidelined him for a month, he looked like the Tabata of old in the first month with his new organization. Numerologists take note: Tabata, who was born in August 1988 (8/88) joined Altoona on Aug. 8, 2008 (8/8/08). He hit .348 in 22 games with the Curve to put his combined Eastern League numbers at .272 with six homers, 49 RBIs and 18 steals. Tabata was a solid .300 hitter in his two previous seasons. Just turned 20, he could replace Andrew McCutchen as the organization's top outfield prospect when the latter makes it to the bigs.
Tabata unties the score with a leadoff shot in the fifth

Daniel McCutchen, RHP: No relation to Andrew, the 2006 13th-rounder is only in his third pro season because he missed a year of action when he transferred to Oklahoma. Not overpowering, McCutchen has been a steady pitcher who has responded to frequent promotions through the Yankees system and actually didn't hit his first stumbling block until he joined the Pirates. After posting an ERA below 2.50 in his first two seasons, the 26-year-old had a 2.55 mark in nine starts at Trenton to begin the year and lowered that to 2.41 in seven outings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre prior to the trade. In eight games at Indianapolis, McCutchen posted a 4.69 ERA but walked only seven while fanning 41 in 48 innings. With his control and poise and the Pirates not exactly stocked with talent, don't be surprised to see a pair of McCutchens break camp with the big boys next spring.
Daniel McCutchen punches out his 12th strikeout victim

Bryan Morris, RHP: While McCutchen and Tabata came over in the Nady deal, Morris was acquired from the Dodgers in the three-way trade that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles. A 2006 first-round pick, he missed all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery and was used carefully in 2008. He had a 3.20 ERA in 17 starts at Class A Great Lakes and never went more than six innings in any outing. In his lateral move to Hickory, Morris pitched 14 1/3 innings. The 22-year-old's fastball is back in the mid-90s and he offsets it with a nasty curve.
Morris fans his fifth batter

2008 Draft Recap

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B: So much has been written about the Vanderbilt star's contract negotiations that very little has been said regarding his prodigious baseball talents. Just think high average and monster power. Even a broken hamate bone suffered this year didn't hurt his stock as he hit .349 with 49 homers over three seasons with the Commodores.

2. Tanner Scheppers, RHP: The Pirates had more luck negotiating with Alvarez than they did with second-round pick Scheppers. As a result, the Fresno State product ended up signing with St. Paul of the independent Northern League for 2009. A shoulder injury that shut him down at Fresno State made the Pirates leery of his health.

3. Jordy Mercer, SS: The Pirates' third pick, Mercer actually signed on the dotted line in June and headed to short-season State College, where he hit .250 in six games. After advancing to Hickory, the shortstop batted .250 with four homers, 18 RBIs and four steals in 50 games.
Mercer leads off the fourth with a homer

Others of note: SS Chase D'Arnaud (fourth round) was drafted out of Pepperdine and spent the season at State College, hitting .286 with 21 RBIs and 14 steals. His brother, Travis, a catcher, also was in the league with the Phillies' Williamsport club. ... 1B Jeremy Farrell (eighth round) is the son of Boston Red Sox pitching coach and former big league pitcher John Farrell. He hit .287 with a homer and 23 RBIs at State College out of the University of Virginia. ... Oklahoma State 3B-turned-SS Matthew Hague (ninth round) hit .333 in seven games at State College before moving up to Hickory, where he batted .321 with six homers and 29 RBIs. ... 6-foot-7 240-pound 1B Calvin Anderson (12th round) out of Southern has serious power potential. He hit .265 with six homers and 28 RBIs at College. ... LHP Tyler Cox (35th round) finished second in the Gulf Coast League with a 1.79 ERA, striking out 42 over 45 1/3 innings. The Illinois State product walked 11. ... State College C Chris Simmons (41th round) and OF Cole White (42nd round) were drafted back-to-back out of the United States Military Academy but had their pro debuts cut short in late July when the Army rescinded its rule allowing pro athletes to postpone military duty. White was hitting .338 in 21 games with the Spikes when he left.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.