The Pirates are a wholly depressing team right now, so I’m just going to keep plowing on with this whole “thinking about the future” thing. Today, we move on to what’s potentially the most interesting part of the Neal Huntington rebuildapalooza, the outfield. Again, it’s after the jump (which is located on the right now).
Who’s there right now and where’s he going: Andrew McCutchen. And he’s not going anywhere for the time being.
What’s the future: I said it when he was called up in May and I’ll say it again here; if Andrew McCutchen isn’t on the next playoff team the Pirates have, that next team isn’t coming for a long, long time. McCutchen was drafted two months after I started blogging and I’ve been following him through the minors ever since. He started off showing great plate patience for a young player in the low minors. He then flashed surprising power in Hickory and Altoona as a 19-year old. In his first season in the big leagues, he’s shown both. He’s good. And he’s 22. We can build on this.
Who’s there right now and where’s he going: Lastings Milledge is in left right now and while he’s not hitting particularly well, but it’s only 12 games and he’s certainly going to get more of a chance to prove himself than that. It seems to me that every time Nyjer Morgan gets a hit in Washington, people get more and more frustrated with Milledge and with Neal Huntington for trading for him. I still think that’s unfair, even though I fully understand Morgan’s defense has made him the 11th most valuable player in all of baseball this year according to WAR. I still think Morgan’s at the peak of his career this and that he’s over his head at the plate. Is Morgan far more valuable than anyone (and I certainly include myself in this group) thought before the season? Sure he is. But I still think that a player like Milledge, at the age of 24 with lots of potential and being offered at a buy-low point, is a much more interesting player for a team in the Pirates’ situation than Morgan.
What’s the future: Starting off, I think there’s a decent chance that Jose Tabata becomes the left fielder of the future, even if Milledge breaks out in the coming year. But with regards solely to Milledge, he’s a starter in a corner outfield spot for the Pirates in the immediate future and if he performs in the immediate future, he’s also the long-term future at the position. He has to start hitting, but he hit with Indianapolis and he hit in the second half with the Nats last year and he hit with the Mets in 2007. I suppose what I’m asking is to just give the guy a chance for now. It’s not like he’s keeping the team from going anywhere.
Who’s there right now and where are they going: Right is mostly patrolled by Garret Jones and Brandon Moss, with a dash of Delwyn Young sprinkled in. I hit on Young and Jones in the earlier posts in this series, and I can say similar things about Brandon Moss if you like. He’s seems like a pretty decent fielder in the outfield and his bat shows flashes of being interesting, but ultimately he looks like a bench player. I think his fielding ultimately makes him more valuable in that role than Jones, but that’s also because I don’t think his bat is nearly as bad as a lot of people like to think. Ultimately, though, none of these guys strike me as a long term answer.
What’s the future: Jose Tabata. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I get a really good vibe from Tabata. I know that the power hasn’t shown up yet, but to my eye he looked like an incredibly polished hitter as a 20-year old playing in Triple-A
There’s a lot of outfield talent in the Pirates’ system right now. There aren’t many teams with a threesome as young and talented as Milledge, McCutchen, and Tabata. Even if all three of them don’t pan out, the team seems awfully bullish on Gorkys Hernandez and there are two good outfield prospects in West Virginia in Robbie Grossman and Starling Marte. Grossman’s power numbers aren’t great and he’s struck out a lot, but I’m still impressed by his walk rate as a 19-year old playing a full-season a year out of high school. Marte has come out of nowhere to put up a .320/.374/.429 line at West Virginia just a year removed from the Dominican Summer League.
What is clear is that Huntington has a “type” of outfielder that he prefers; fast athletic guys who’s power isn’t necessarily home run power. Hopefully it can evolve into what we saw against the Rockies this week in Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Seth Smith, and Ryan Spilborghs; a group of guys that can cover a lot of ground in the outfield, hit balls into the gaps and run forever, or even knock the ball over the fence every once in a while. Even with the trade of Morgan, I think he’s pretty clearly put a high value on outfield defense; Milledge is the worst of the bunch defensively, I think, and even though he’s cut off some grounders and line drives poorly he hasn’t been nearly as bad as I was told he was in the field. Everyone says he’s working hard and given his age and athleticism, I think he’ll improve in the field.
What’s most impressive though is that we have depth. Before last year’s draft, we had McCutchen and the unknown Marte in the system as outfield prospects. One year later, it’s an entirely different story.