Until they signed Josh Bell after the 2011 draft, the Pirates had paid almost no attention to traditional power-hitting, corner outfield prospects under their current front office. Of course, under the previous front office, they paid almost no attention to prospects at all, so it’s been a long time since they had a lot of outfield prospects. They do currently have a number of outfielders who project as potential center fielders. In fact, the team’s tendency has been to look for outfielders with center field speed. It’s generally easy to tell which outfielders the Pirates are higher on by looking to see which ones are playing the most in center, as they try to keep their best hitting prospects at the toughest positions for as long as possible.
Today, the outfielders in the upper half of the system.
Parentheses indicate that the player may not open at that level.
Starling Marte, Gorkys Hernandez, Brandon Boggs, (Andrew Lambo), (Miles Durham)
The featured players in the AAA outfield will be Marte and Hernandez. Along with Bell, Marte is the team’s best hitting prospect. He’s a prototype centerfielder, but the Pirates may give him some time in the corners because it’s unclear whether they’d be prepared to move Andrew McCutchen out of center. Hernandez is probably the best defensive outfielder in the organization, but he hasn’t shown enough at the plate to profile as more than a fourth outfielder, so he’s likely to see more time in the corners with Marte around.
The third outfield position at Indianapolis will probably be filled by an assortment of utility players, veterans, and possibly one struggling prospect. Boggs is a veteran who can play anywhere in the outfield, but isn’t going to be in center in Indianapolis. He may have an out clause in his contract, so it’s possible he won’t end up at Indianapolis. Lambo was overmatched in 2011 in AAA and got demoted, then struggled at Altoona before finishing strongly. He’ll probably have to make a good showing in spring training to win a job in AAA to start the season. If he doesn’t, or even if he does, the Pirates may give some outfield time to their surplus of AAA infielders. Josh Harrison, for one, has already spent a lot of time in the outfield, and Yamaico Navarro profiles as a utility player with a good bat and so also could play some in the corners. Matt Hague could also see some outfield time. Durham is a long-time organizational 1B/OF who had a poor 2011. If he doesn’t get released, he’ll fill in either at AA or AAA.
Robbie Grossman, Quincy Latimore, (Evan Chambers), Anthony Norman, Brad Chalk, (David Rubinstein), (Miles Durham)
Grossman is the Pirates’ best upper level position prospect after Marte. He probably fits better in a corner, but has played center and most likely will man that spot for Altoona. The other definite regular will be Latimore, who’ll probably play left. He has some power, but he’ll repeat AA after struggling mightily with the strike zone there in 2011. Chambers is an interesting prospect who can play center, draws tons of walks, and has decent power, but he’s still working on his passive approach at the plate and will probably return to Bradenton.
Unless Chambers impresses enough in camp to earn a promotion, the third outfield spot could be filled by Adalberto Santos, who’ll be coming off a big year in high A. The team might, however, want to improve his chances of reaching the majors by playing him at second. Norman and Chalk are organizational players who could play anywhere in the Altoona outfield if they’re still in the system. Rubinstein is also an organizational player who could move up from high A if there’s a need.
Bradenton (High A)
Mel Rojas, Jr., Dan Grovatt, (Evan Chambers), Cole White, (David Rubinstein), (Rogelios Noris)
The Bradenton outfield will probably have three prospects who have very interesting potential but who all need to take a step forward, or maybe more than one. Rojas has the most potential, but is very raw and has to improve on a weak 2011 season. He has the range, at least for now, to play center, but he also has the arm for right, so the Pirates could play either him or Chambers in center. Then again, Grovatt also has a strong arm—he threw 95 mph as a part-time reliever in college—so the best answer may be to put Chambers in left. Grovatt, like Chambers, has some power but has struggled with the problem of how passive or aggressive to be at the plate.
White is an organizational player who split his time between the two class A teams in 2011 and will probably be at Bradenton in 2012. Rubinstein will likely return to Bradenton if he’s not at Altoona. Noris has power, but has severe strike zone issues. He’s already spent two years at West Virginia and declined rather than improved in 2011, so he may be released if he doesn’t earn a spot in high A for 2012.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.