Thursday, June 4, 2009

FAREWELL NATE McLOUTH, WE HARDLY KNEW YE


The Pittsburgh Pirates stunned their ever-declining fan base by trading away one of their most popular players, center fielder, Nate McLouth yesterday. However, for those of you who are tearing your garments right now, there's a positive way of looking at this trade.

Yer Buccos trade McLouth, a career .261 hitter who is currently batting .256 with 9 home runs and 34 r.b.i. to the Atlanta Braves for:

ABOVE: Charlie Morton will be pulling on a Pirates jersey very soon...even sooner if Ian Snell doesn't get his act together real fast.

Charlie Morton- "AAA" power pitcher who is very close to being major league ready. Morton was a third round selection in 2002 by the Braves. He is 6'4", 190 pounds and is 26 years old. He is having a strong year at "AAA" with a 7-2 record, 2.51 e.r.a., and 1.05 w.h.i.p. In 64 innings pitched this year, Morton has walked just 16 batters while striking out 55. It's easy to see why his stay in indianapolis will be brief.

Gorkys Hernandez-May have a goofy-sounding first name, but this "AA" outfielder has great speed and hits to all fields. He was the Braves 4th-ranked prospect. He reportedly covers a lot of ground in the outfield and stole 20 of 24 bases in the prior season.
This year his hitting has leveled out a bit after a strong rookie league season. He's currently batting .293 with a .350 on base percentage and .400 slugging percentage.


Jeff Locke- "A " level pitcher ranked as Braves 7th best prospect.He's not the power pitcher that Morton is, but he has a mean streak which is something a Pirates pitcher hasn't had...forever.
However, before that happens, Locke will need to develop more control. Said one scout, "He's a long way from being anything more than a project at this point." Ouch. His numbers don't argue with that assessment either. This 6'2' 180 pound lefty has a career minor league record of 17-20 with a 4.01 e.r.a.. In 278 innings he's allowed 283 hits, struck out 268 while walking 77. His minor league w.h.i.p. is 1.29 but he's only 22 so he has time to develop.

While McLouth earned a gold glove last season, there were also evaluations floating around last year that he actually got to less balls than many other outfielders and thus led to his reduced errors and a gold glove. I always felt that McLouth was very steady in center field, but with the continued development of Andrew McCutcheon, the Pirates number one prospect, looming in the rear view mirror, I wondered if the Bucs might move McCutcheon to the expansive left field at PNC Park.

Enter Nyjer Morgan. The startling performance thus far this year by Morgan has apparently caused the Pirates brain trust to do a reevaluation of their future outfield plans. In short, Morgan has done so well in left that he allowed the Pirates the luxury of dealing McLouth for three very good prospects.

These three guys are not your basic chipped ham, but rather the Angus Roast Beef variety. In baseball, you need quantity of prospects and obviously Huntington's predecessor's insane drafting did nothing to stock their minor league system. As an example, Ian Snell is struggling mightily but there isn't a strong candidate to replace him in triple A. Oh, there are pitchers there, just none that have the upside of center fielder Andrew McCutcheon. Charlie Morton, a power pitcher who is built like it, will now be that pitcher. Meanwhile, Hernandez and Locke will also join their respective Pirate farm clubs helping again to boost the talent levels there.
ABOVE: Nate did a commendable job here. If he's going to be "great" it'll have to happen in Atlanta.

Pirate fans have become so used to having nothing coming out of the minors for so long, that it's understandable where many people would become upset with losing a major league player for three more prospects. But this new regime deserves a break. They aren't responsible for the mess that preceeded them. They just have the unenviable job of having to build quality depth in the minors by trading away desirable commodities.

I believe these guys are shrewd though. McLouth's value will probably never get any higher than it is right now. Even though his stats aren't amazing, he's signed to a three year, $15 million contract...not crazy by baseball terms. Not only do they get three high quality prospects, they now can promote their highly-touted rookie, McCutcheon, a player with a much-higher upside than McLouth.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Nate. However, it's not like the Pirates just let go of a young Barry Bonds here. The three guys coming into the system could all turn out to be valuable contributors, with Charlie Morton moving up as soon as the Pirates minor league coaching staff gets a chance to work with him a little. The Huntington strategy, if his evaluations of the incoming players is sound, is the only way for the Pirates to go. Given a little more time plus some successful draft choices and a player or two coming out of the Dominican Republic academy each year, this team could be strong before you know it.

The Pirates are 24-28 right now with Nate McLouth. Do you really think that this isn't a good time to further develop Andrew McCutcheon? The Bucs aren't going to win any trophies this year anyway, so we might as well get Andrew used to major league pitching now rather than next season.
I like the deal.