Better Know a Prospect: Pirates
Andrew McCutchen, CF: It feels like McCutchen's been in the Pirates' system forever, but he just turned 22 in October. That means he spent all of last year as a 21-year-old holding his own in his first full-season stint at Triple-A. He didn't flash much power, but he put up a .372 on-base percentage and drew more walks than he had at any other level in the minors. The Pirates will probably send him back to Triple-A to start 2009 in hopes that the power he showed at the lower levels of the minors shows back up, but it'd be pretty surprising for him to not make his Pittsburgh debut in 2009. On top of his promising bat, he's a true center fielder who would allow Nate McLouth (who's glove doesn't nearly warrant the Gold Glove he won in 2008) to move to a corner position.
Evan Meek, RP: Meek was the Pirates' Rule 5 pick last year and he flamed out in his major league debut without any semblance of control, but then he went back down to the minor leagues and dominated both Double-A and Triple-A out of the bullpen, striking out 57 hitters and only walking 17 in 57 1/3 innings. I had a chance to see him pitch in person in August and he didn't even resemble the guy that struggled with the Pirates early in the year. He'll probably start the year out in Triple-A because of a backlog of Pirate relievers that are out of options, but there are so many holes in the Pirate 'pen right now he'll certainly get his second chance in 2009.
Jimmy Barthmaier, SP: Honestly, I have no idea who to put third here. Neal Huntington did a lot of work last year to rebuild the Pirates' farm system, but it all starts at the bottom and most of the prospects from last year's draft (Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller, Wesley Freeman, and yes, Pedro Alvarez) aren't even going to sniff the majors until next year at the absolute earliest. The Pirates picked up another live arm in this year's Rule 5 in Donnie Veal, but making a list with two Rule 5 picks on it just depresses me and Veal's control is probably worse than Meek's was last year at this time. That leaves Barthmaier, who was once a top prospect with the Astros but lost a lot of his luster after a terrible 2007. The Pirates snagged him off of waivers and he looked decent in Double-A and really blossomed in Triple-A, striking out 71 hitters in 79 innings with a K/BB rate of better than 3:1. He'll start 2009 back in Triple-A, about seventh in line for a starting job, but the Pirates' rotation is stuffed with mediocre talent and at some point injuries or struggles should lead Barthmaier to a shot with the Pirates, especially if he pitches as well in Triple-A as he did in 2008.
For comprehensive coverage of the minor leagues, visit John Sickels at Minor League Ball and Baseball America. For minor league statistics, visit Baseball-Reference and Minor League Splits.