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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects

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Zach Duke bunting (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  1. Zach Duke, LHP, B+
  2. Ian Snell, RHP, B+
  3. Neil Walker, C, B
  4. Tom Gorzelanny, LHP, B
  5. John VanBenschoten, RHP, B-
  6. Nate McLouth, OF, B-
  7. Matt Peterson, RHP, B-
  8. Rajai Davis, OF, B-
  9. Kyle Bloom, LHP, B-
  10. Brad Eldred, 1B, C+
  11. Paul Maholm, LHP, C+
  12. Freddy Sanchez, 2B, C+
  13. Wardell Starling, RHP, C+
  14. Bobby Bradley, RHP, C+
  15. Jeff Miller, RHP, C+
  16. Ronny Paulino, RHP, C+
  17. Joe Bauserman, RHP, C+
  18. Eric Ridener, RHP, C+
  19. Bryan Bullington, RHP, C
  20. Josh Sharpless, RHP, C
This is a system with a lot of depth in "pretty good" prospects, but not too many guys who project as impact players.

At the top you have lefty Zach Duke, owner of a 142/30 K/BB ratio and a sub 1.50 ERA last year. He's also a soft-tosser, relying on command and deception to survive. He's done this very well thus far obviously, and certainly rates as a solid B+ prospect, but he's not a sure thing. Number two guy Ian Snell has better stuff and an impressive track record, but is a short righthander; scouts are concerned he will not be durable. Still, I think he's underrated as a prospect. At number three you have Neil Walker, a high school catcher drafted in the first round last year. He is talented defensively and also projects to be an impact bat. I have him at Grade B right now due to concerns about his plate discipline, but he has the highest ceiling of any player in the system. If he shows some offensive refinement, he could move to B+ (or even A-) for 2006.

Tom Gorzelanny has a good arm for a lefty (90-95 MPH fastball), but is dogged by command problems at times. If he resolves that he could move to B+. I am apparently related to John VanBenschoten by marriage. As I wrote in the book, "he turns 25 in April, and his ERAs have been going up a run with each promotion." The arm strength is there but he is still learning how to pitch.

Nate McLouth is a grinder who makes the most of his tools; B- could be an underestimate. He gets on base and runs well. He could be a starter if he can play center field, but some scouts don't think he can handle the position. Matt Peterson, acquired from the Mets in the Benson trade, is another guy with a very good arm, but with occasional control problems. I like his long-term potential but he should not be rushed. Rajai Davis has been an excellent leadoff man at the Class A level, but is untried in Double-A and is already 24. Kyle Bloom is a lefty drafted out of Illinois State last year who looks like a sleeper to me, although B- is an aggressive grade.

I expect the rating of Brad Eldred at C+ will be controversial, and you can make a case for him at B- and ahead of Bloom. Eldred hit 38 home runs last year, but also showed very poor strike zone judgment after his promotion to Double-A, which is why I'm not as wild about him as some people.

The C+ guys all have something positive in their profiles but also questions. Maholm has to show he can use his finesse game at higher levels. Sanchez needs to show he is healthy. Starling has a good arm but doesn't throw strikes consistently. Bradley has to show he can stay on the mound and avoid running up more doctor bills. Miller and Paulino project as useful role players. Bauserman and Ridener are high school pitchers just starting their careers. Bullington has been a huge disappointment for a first-overall pick, although he's not a lost cause yet. Sharpless is a sleeper with a hot fastball but control problems.

Other Grade C guys not listed but who are interesting include outfielders Chris Duffy and Adam Boeve, catcher Ryan Doumit, and pitchers Blair Johnson and Jason Quarles.