The Pirates Big Three at Triple-A – Boom Or Bust?

Followingthe Twins Triple-A International League trio turned duo with the promotion of
Scott Baker, the Pirates have three rotation members at their IL affiliate that
have been garnering attention of late. But unlike the Twins, these three are a
little less prolific in their current prospect status, and through a series of
failures and or misfortunes are largely considered busts. It’s unusual to have
this much first round failure, improbable that all three are having success in
a comeback attempt at the same time, same place. I think it’s safe to say the
International League has been over run with pitching prospects of all statuses this
season, and they’ve clearly had their way. Is the Triple-A Indianapolis trio
really on their way to major league prominence? Let’s take a look.


Sean Burnett-
The 19th overall pick in the 200 draft out of high school is a control-type
left-hander that showed signs of becoming a solid starter without being overly
dominant, but ran into trouble — both performance and injury — at the major league
level in 2004, eventually succumbing to Tommy John surgery in April, 2005. His
return has not been pretty, a 46/46 K:BB ratio in 120 and a third Triple-A innings
in 2006, such is the rehab process for a control pitcher.


season he’s 4-3 in nine starts with a 3.81 ERA but second in the league in
walks with another mediocre 21/27 K:BB ratio. He’s also been pitching behind in
the count far too often and not locating his curveball the net result is being
hit at a .303 pace. A pitcher of his type and class can expect a 2-3 year rehab
working rehab, control being the last thing to work its way back from the
surgery, the issue finite for him without a high velocity fastball.

He’s still
only 24, not too late to revive his career. Beyond the issues of injury which I’ve
discussed often in the past with Will Carroll as it pertains to the Pirates’
pitching prospects, Burnett probably never did have the ceiling that warranted
the first round selection. He could still be a back-end to mid-rotation type,
but it won’t be for a year or two, if ever.

 John VanBenschoten – The eighth overall pick in 2001
out of Kent State is a right-handed power pitcher. He was also an NCAA hitter of notoriety
and I thought on draft day he should have been developed as a position player;
the Bucs obviously disagreed. Coming up, he would dominate for stretches but his
overall strikeout-per-nine was weak for his class and pedigree. Now on the back
end of two shoulder surgeries with five starts the past two years coming into
this season he needs something and fast; now 27, the result of an overage college
pitcher and the injury issue.

He’s 3-3 in eight starts with one of the better
Triple-A International League ERA’s at 2.47, but a 31/17 K:BB ratio in 43 and two-third
innings and overall 1.24 WHIP is proof not everything is right in his world. Ahead
in the count he’s brutal on hitters, but he continues to pitch behind too often.
never shown the ability to finish the high-minor hitter off at an acceptable rate
for his genre and first-round pedigree. There’s still room for improvement;
despite his age he’s had but 90 professional starts coming into the year. But
with shaky control and a fastball that’s lost a little zip as a result of
injury, it’s difficult to see him reaching the promise he once had. He’s still
a candidate for call up this year, still with at least a measurable chance for
a career.

Bullington –   The first overall pick in 2002 — over B.J.
Upton -– missed all of 2006 due to labrum surgery. The decision to take the Ball State product first was a curious one; the revisionist view now adds credibility to the many scouts who claimed he was
potentially no more than a second starter type prior to the draft. That being
said, he is a power pitcher but one who hadn’t worked at 95 mph since his college

season, his second look at Triple-A, first since the shoulder surgery, has begun
well posting an IL leaderboard 6-2 in nine starts with a 2.96 ERA, noting his
control has been less than decent posting a 30/23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54
and two-third innings, the numbers inflated with two bad  starts in his last three outings.

Reports are
his velocity has returned to 93 mph, but his control has been lacking, the
results having him hit at a .247 clip and not controlling the game they way the
Pirates would like. He’s been the most consistent of the three over his minor
league career, but the descriptors solid, decent, and average do not infer ace or
forecast a great career. He to will be 27 this year, and needs to have continued
success and developing control over this season before I’ll get onboard with reaching
his potential as a No.2.

Both the
injury history and the rationale for making these three pitchers first round
picks are curious; something I’ve questioned for years. Who gets blamed for
this three-year disaster? Is it scouting, former General Manager Cam Bonifay, David
Littlefield, the minor league development team, or just the assistant to the God of baseball responsible for injury?


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