By John Perrotto
The players the Pirates have called up from Class AAA Indianapolis through the first month of the season have hardly excited a fan base that could use some excitement. After all, is anyone beyond relatives and close friends going to buy a ticket to watch Brian Burres, Chris Jakubauskas, Brian Bass, Jeff Karstens or Steve Pearce?
In a year in which the Pirates supposedly have their most-talented Triple-A roster in ages, all that has been coming to Pittsburgh is a collection of journeymen and failed prospects. However, in talking to three scouts who have watched Indianapolis play in recent weeks, the Pirates have help on the way.
The most ballyhooed prospect at Indianapolis is third baseman Pedro Alvarez, generally considered the most talented player in the Pirates’ farm system and a future superstar with his plus power. However, none of the scouts were overly enamored with Alvarez, who is hitting .260 with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 26 games.
“I know people think the Pirates have him in Triple-A only to save money (by delaying his free agency and arbitration-eligibility) but he really needs to still be in the minor leagues at this stage,” one scout said. “He needs work in all facets of his game.”
The scouts all agree that Alvarez needs to learn hit left-handed pitchers better, one saying “you’d have to platoon him in the major leagues right now because he’d get eaten alive by lefties.” While they also all agree that Alvarez will eventually need to move to first base, they feel he is playing a passable third base, one saying “he doesn’t have great range but his hands are soft and he’s got the arm to make every throw.”
A somewhat surprising knock on Alvarez that hadn’t been heard before is that he doesn’t play with much energy. Two scouts noted that in their evaluation, one saying “he doesn’t seem to have much passion for the game and, frankly, he looks rather bored.”
Conversely, the scouts all raved about right fielder Jose Tabata, who has had issues with his attitude in the past.
“He’s a totally different player,” one scout said. “He’s busting his rear end down the line every time he hits the ball. He’s really grown up. He looks like he is having fun playing now.”
The biggest knock on Tabata is that he doesn’t hit with enough power but only one of the three scouts was skeptical about him developing above-average pop, with one of the others saying, “it’s going to come once he figures out how to put a little loft in his swing because he hits the ball consistently hard.”
All three scouts feel right-hander Brad Lincoln is ready to join the major-league rotation now because of his plus fastball and curveball along with a developing changeup.
“He’s better than anything they’re running out there at the major-league level right now,” one scout said. “Considering their alternatives, there is no way that kid should still be in Triple-A. If they really cared about winning, he’d be in Pittsburgh and pitching every fifth day.”
Though Neil Walker has been converted from a third baseman into a utility player this season, all three scouts feel he is having a breakthrough in his third year at Indianapolis. “It’s all coming together for him,” one scout said. “He’s finally playing with confidence and he’s going to be a good big-league player, not a superstar, but a good player.”
While all three scouts said the best the Pirates can hope for from middle infielders Argenis Diaz and Brian Friday is that they turn out to be major-league utility players, two believe catcher Erik Kratz deserves a big-league shot.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if Kratz was in the right situation that he’d be in the major leagues right now,” one scout said. “I’m not saying he’d necessarily be a a No. 1 catcher but he can hit a little bit and he’s really good defensively. All he needs is an opportunity.”
The scouts are unanimous in their assessment that there are no surefire pitching prospects beyond Lincoln, one saying, “except for Donnie Veal, they’re all filler guys on a Triple-A roster and even Veal has the same bugaboo that he can’t figure out to throw strikes.”