Don't expect Pirates to rush propects
At some point this season, each of the Pirates' Big Three prospects --third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Jose Tabata and pitcher Brad Lincoln -- will have made it to the major leagues.
Their departures will create significant vacancies at Triple-A Indianapolis. But don't expect that to spark an immediate, mass migration in the farm system.
"Player movement within our system is dictated by the player's preparedness to move to the next level, not by need or opening," general manager Neal Huntington said.
In a perfect world, when someone is promoted to the majors from Triple-A, the guy who plays his position at Double-A also moves up. That in turn allows the next-best guy at Class A to advance, and so on down to rookie ball.
In the real world, it never works that way.
A conga-line progression would require every player involved to be ready for a promotion at the same time. That's like asking the planets to align.
Instead, the Pirates will fill the holes at Indy through two approaches -- from within (that is, using players who are optioned/reassigned from the major league club when the prospects arrive) and/or by signing low-cost, minor league free agents.
Prospects already in the system will move ahead, but it will be a gradual process.
"While each case is different, prospects will be moved based on their accomplishing the necessary criteria to have them move levels," Huntington said. "Sometimes, prospect movement aligns, sometimes, it requires creativity to fill a hole when one prospect moves but there is not a prospect from the level below ready to advance."
Here's a look at which players at Double-A Altoona could benefit -- eventually -- after the Big Three reach Pittsburgh:
Gorkys Hernandez is the Curve's top outfielder prospect and is among the three or four fastest players in the system. But he's only 22 and his offensive struggles rule out a rapid promotion to Triple-A.
The Curve's other two outfielders are closer to moving up, but neither is an elite prospect.
Alex Presley lately has been leading the Eastern League in hitting with an average around .360. Recently, he piled up eight RBI in a game, breaking a 10-year-old Curve record.
Presley, an eighth-round draft pick in 2006 out of the University of Mississippi, is in his first season at Double-A. At 24, he doesn't have much time to prove himself.
"Alex came into this year in a make-or-break scenario and has made the most of it," farm director Kyle Stark said.
The Curve's right fielder is Miles Durham, another 2006 pick (22nd round). Durham, 27, hit .298 in May.
"Miles has always been old for the level, due to a late start, but has taken advantage of opportunities and has bought himself some more (time)," Stark said. "We'll see how both guys progress."
Jordy Mercer, a third-round pick in 2008, has been playing third base for Altoona. He's done well at the plate, but management wants to keep him at Altoona a bit longer to get him experience at other infield positions.
Right-hander Bryan Morris has been the best starter in the farm system this season, and last month was moved up to Altoona. Huntington said Morris, 23, could be at Indy by August if he continues to excel.
High-profile starters Rudy Owens and Tim Alderson appear to need more time, perhaps as much as a full season, at Altoona.
Owens, 22, moved quickly through Low- and High-A last year and has made just 10 starts at Double-A. Alderson, 21, pitched in 20 games last year at Double-A, but still must master the basics before a promotion can be considered.
Down on the farm
The top prospects in line behind the Pirates' top three prospects (third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Jose Tabata and pitcher Brad Lincoln):
Player -- Level -- Note
Jordy Mercer -- Double-A -- Not a lock to remain at 3B
Josh Harrison -- Double-A -- Limited experience at Double-A level
Jeremy Farrell -- High A -- Slow progress in first two seasons
Jarek Cunningham -- Low A -- Missed all of last season with injury
Jesus Brito -- Low A -- Inconsistent after arriving in trade for Brian Bixler
Gorkys Hernandez -- Double-A -- Has speed, but struggles to get on base
Alex Presley -- Double-A -- Undersized (5-feet-8), but intriguing prospect
Starling Marte -- High A -- Hamate injury, surgery will slow progress
Robbie Grossman -- High A -- Struggling in 2nd season of pro ball
Quincy Latimore -- High A -- Florida State League all-star selection
Bryan Morris -- Double-A -- Fast-riser began this season in High-A
Jared Hughes -- Double-A -- 2006 4th-round pick, 25 years old
Rudy Owens -- Double-A -- Club's minor leaguer pitcher of year in 2009
Tim Alderson -- Double-A -- Still figuring out delivery, velocity issues
Nate Adcock -- High A -- Solid stats with 3rd High-A team
Jeff Locke -- High A -- Is in second year at High-A level