Pirates Top 10 Prospects
By John Perrotto
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Kent State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Duane Gustavson.
Background: When VanBenschoten led NCAA Division I with 31 home runs as a junior at Kent State in 2001, most clubs projected him as a power-hitting right fielder in their draft preparations. The Pirates watched VanBenschoten serve as the Golden Flashes closer, however, and were intrigued enough by his mound work to surprise many by drafting him as a pitcher. VanBenschoten split time between pitcher and DH at short-season Williamsport in 2001 but stayed strictly on the mound last season and ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League. He anchored the rotation as Hickory won the league championship.
Strengths: VanBenschoten has a power arm that wasnt overworked in college. His fastball reaches the mid-90s with good movement and sits comfortably at 93 mph. At the behest of the Pirates, VanBenschoten began throwing his curveball more last year and it became a plus pitch by the end of the season. He also has a slider with hard, late movement. Pittsburgh has made sure not to overextend VanBenschoten but believes hell develop into a workhorse by the time he gets to the majors. While he wont get a chance to swing a bat again until he reaches Double-A, VanBenschotens power stroke figures to make him one of the games better-hitting pitchers. Hes intelligent and takes instruction well. One Pirates executive calls VanBenschoten "the total package, everything you would want in a pitching prospect."
Weaknesses: VanBenschoten was an NCAA Division I prospect as a pitcher in high school but hasnt faced many advanced hitters. He tends to give up too many hits for a pitcher with his stuff, though the Pirates feel that will change as he gains more experience. Like most young pitchers, his changeup is erratic. He needs to refine it to have something to keep hitters off balance.
The Future: Pittsburgh will promote VanBenschoten to high Class A Lynchburg this season. While the Pirates have been criticized in some circles for not pushing him, theyre mindful of his lack of experience. He has the talent to be a No. 1 starter in the majors and eventually could skip a level and arrive in Pittsburgh by 2005.
Click here for prospects 2-10.