LaRoche leads group sent to Pirates
Third baseman may have to switch positions in long run
Pittsburgh helped facilitate Manny Ramirez's departure from Boston, but the Pirates had to part with Jason Bay to get the deal done. Still, Pittsburgh has looked a great deal like Oakland in recent days, trading away chips to restock its farm system.
Will any of the players they received ever have the kind of impact Ramirez and Bay will have in Los Angeles and Boston, respectively? That's tough to say. But here's a closer look at what the Pirates got in terms of prospects for their part in Thursday's three-way deal.
Andy LaRoche, 3B
No one can question what LaRoche has done with the bat in the Minor Leagues in the past six seasons. He's got a career .295 average through Wednesday's game at Oklahoma City, where he collected three hits in four at-bats. He's moved steadily up through the Los Angeles system after being selected in the 39th round of the 2003 Draft and this season appeared to be the one in which he would move into the lineup as Los Angeles' starting third baseman.
The problem is that LaRoche hasn't been able to master hitting at the Major League level. He got the opportunity to play almost every day through the end of June and July and was unable to produce, hitting .203 in 59 at-bats. Overall, he has a .217 batting average in 152 big-league at-bats dating to last year.
MLB.com spoke to a pair of scouts about LaRoche and the reviews were mixed.
"He has some holes," one scout said. "He loaded up on several guys when I saw him except when he came up against a guy who knew how to pitch. He's at the very least a platoon type of guy. He's got some pop and some gap power but he has holes. If they play him against lefties, though, he can probably help.
"I think he'll rack it up against fourth and fifth starters and struggle against the better pitchers. I liked him until he went up against someone who knows how to pitch a little. He's a big league player, but is he an everyday player? No. I think he's overrated."
The second scout said that he thought it was "hard to tell with his wing whether he would be productive." Still, he added that he liked him and that maybe it was just taking longer for him to develop.
As for what position LaRoche would be playing once he does join Pittsburgh, the Pirates may start him at third base whether he's in Pittsburgh or Triple-A Indianapolis, but whether he stays there long term is another question. Former first-round pick Neil Walker is playing third at Indianapolis, though he's struggling at the plate (.235). The Pirates also selected Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez with the second pick in last month's First-Year Player Draft and at the moment, should they sign him before next month's deadline, it's difficult to imagine them moving him off third base.
The solution may be to put LaRoche at second base or the outfield. He had played eight games at second base for Triple-A Las Vegas before the Dodgers called him up in early June while the first scout MLB.com spoke to said he could see LaRoche fitting in as an outfielder.
Either way, it would appear his days at third base are numbered.
Bryan Morris, RHP
The 21-year-old former first-rounder (2006) is having a big bounce-back season after missing all of last year because of Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery. Though he's 2-4 with Great Lakes of the Class A Midwest League, Morris has a 3.20 ERA in 17 starts. He's struck out 72 in 81 2/3 innings and hasn't allowed an earned run in three of his last four starts. Morris has a 2.05 ERA in six July outings.
Poor mechanics led to his arm breaking down after he went 4-5 with a 5.13 ERA in 14 starts for Ogden of the Pioneer League in 2006. But the Dodgers got him back on the mound in time to participate in Instructional League last fall, where they cleaned up his mechanics some. Morris hasn't gone longer than six innings this season as the organization kept him on a short leash.
Morris has a nice mid-90s fastball that hasn't seemed to suffer because of the surgery and a big-time curve to keep hitters honest. If he can hone a third pitch, whether it's the changeup or slider, he could make a quicker run through Pittsburgh's system.
Brandon Moss, OF
Taken in the eighth round of the 2002 Draft out of Loganville (Ga.) High School, Moss had made a slow climb up the Red Sox ladder. Sometimes high schoolers take a little longer to figure things out and that seemed to be the case with Moss. He didn't hit full-season ball until 2004, when he won the South Atlantic League MVP award after hitting .339 with 13 homers and 101 RBIs in 109 games for Augusta.
He spent 23 games in the Class A Advanced Florida State League at the end of that season and showed enough there (.422 average in 83 at-bats) for the Red Sox to promote him to Double-A for the 2005 season at age 21. Although he did hit 16 homers that year, he also struck out 129 times in 135 games and saw his average drop to .268. He repeated the level in 2006 and things clicked in more. He saw his batting average improve to .285 and his strikeouts drop to 108 while driving in 22 more runs.
A move up to Triple-A in 2007 provided decent results -- .282, 16, 78 in 133 games -- which led to his first big league callup, a 15-game debut that saw him hit .280. He's split time between Triple-A and Boston this year, hitting .282 in Pawtucket over 43 games and .295 in 34 games for the Red Sox.
Now 24, Moss has been more steady than spectacular, though he does possess a plus arm from the outfield and has played a lot at first base this season. He never had the season the Red Sox were waiting for where he really took off and established himself as a big leaguer. But the left-handed bat with decent power might like that short porch at PNC Park if given a chance. In the end, he may just be a fourth outfielder who can play some first, but is still plenty young enough to have a lengthy big league career.
Kevin Czerwinski and Jonathan Mayo are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.