Yesterday, Jim Callis wrote that he had the Pittsburgh Pirates as his 8th best farm system. That brought up a discussion on Twitter tonight about the quality of the system. I missed the original discussion. I was driving across Florida all day, finalizing things for this year’s coverage (aka, making sure I have a place to live down here). From what I gathered from scanning over the discussion was that there was a debate over the quality of the system behind top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The theory is that the Pirates wouldn’t be ranked in the top ten without those two top prospects.
I decided it would be a fun thing to look at the system without Cole and Taillon. Scratch that. Fun might not be the right word when talking about removing two of the top pitching prospects in the game from the system. Perhaps interesting is a better word to use. So let’s look at the system without Cole and Taillon.
**First of all, we can’t just remove Cole and Taillon. You have to replace them with something. The idea behind all of this is that the Pirates spent a ton in the draft, and the only talent they received were two easy picks at the top of the first round. So for the purposes of this exercise, we’d have to replace Cole and Taillon with two other prospects. This presents a problem. First, where do the Pirates pick? Fifth? Would that still put them in the “they only have talented players because of high draft picks” range? 10th? 15th? Also, who do they pick in those spots? Do we go with the guys who were actually picked, or do we assume the Pirates would have taken someone different?
I think the simple answer with this is that we have no clue who they’d take. An educated guess might be the best route. So we’ll assume they’re picking in the 6-15 range in each draft, and base the pick on the actual picks from that range.
2010: The players in the 6-15 range span from young impact pitchers out of college (Chris Sale, Matt Harvey) to guys who don’t crack the top 100 prospect lists (Deck McGuire, Delino DeShields Jr.). In the middle there’s prospects in the 50 range. So we’ll go conservative and assume this pick is a prospect in the 50 range.
2011: All but two of the guys in the 6-15 range of this draft ended up in BA’s 2012 top 100. That could be the shiny new toy syndrome, although a lot of those guys have legitimately broken out. Most rank in the 20-40 range. Once again we’ll go conservative and say the prospect would be ranked around 30.
So we’ve taken guys who ranked 12th and 15th last year, and replaced them with guys who rank 30th and 50th.
**After replacing Cole and Taillon it’s time to review what the system actually has. First there’s Luis Heredia. The right-hander has just as much upside as Cole or Taillon, but he also has a lower floor and is risky due to his young age and proximity to the majors. Baseball America ranked him as the second best prospect in the NYPL this year.
**There’s also Josh Bell, who signed for $5 M after falling to the Pirates in the second round. For anyone who might say Bell was an obvious pick, tell that to the Red Sox and every other team who passed on him. He was no guarantee to sign and looked like a risky pick at the time. Bell missed most of his first pro season with a knee injury, but still has all of the tools and plenty of time to realize his upside. That upside could end up being a special hitter with power from both sides of the plate.
**Next we get to the two breakout prospects: Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. Baseball America writers gave both a lot of press this year. Ben Badler called them two of the biggest breakout prospects in the game. They’re both far off from the majors which means two things. One is that they’re not guarantees. The other is that they might not be done developing. Polanco added some power this year, and there’s room for more in the future. Hanson’s big drawback is his defense at shortstop, and he’s got time to work on that.
**By this point we’ve finished with the current impact prospects. It’s now time to point out some of the guys in the middle of the system who have received recognition.
-Gift Ngoepe was ranked the 20th best prospect in the Florida State League by Baseball America, and his defense at short has received rave reviews, with some saying it could be the best of any prospect in the game.
-Barrett Barnes (10) and Clay Holmes (15) both ranked in the NYPL top 20. Barnes was a first round compensation pick in 2012 and has the potential to jump up to that impact level due to his bat and power potential. Holmes is a starting pitcher out of high school with some good upside. The 2011 9th rounder, who received $1.2 M, put up some impressive numbers in the NYPL this year, going up against college level hitters.
-Wyatt Mathisen (5), Dilson Herrera (7), Tyler Glasnow (9), and Jin-De Jhang (19) rated in the GCL top 20. Mathisen (2012 2nd round) and Glasnow (2011 5th round) were both draft picks, while Herrera and Jhang were international signings. Herrera has already received recognition from BA, being named the number one player out of ten international prospects who could see a Hanson/Polanco break-through in 2013. Glasnow not only put up dominant numbers, but he saw a velocity increase with his fastball going up to 96 MPH. His size and stuff could eventually yield another top of the rotation pitcher, and with the way he’s developing that could be sooner, rather than later. Jhang and Mathisen are both catchers. Mathisen was the top prep catcher in the 2012 draft, while Jhang has been a surprise breakout and is one of the best pure hitters in the system. Both have the potential to be two-way catchers.
**One pitcher who wasn’t named to any of those lists was Nick Kingham. I’d rank him right up there with Glasnow and Holmes. Kingham reminds me of Kyle McPherson, who is also prospect eligible. That doesn’t mean much since McPherson isn’t established in the majors. However, I see both as solid three pitch guys who could end up as number three starters with the ability to throw 200 innings per year.
**Finally, if we’re going to penalize the Pirates for where they picked in the draft, we have to do the same for every other team in Callis’ top ten. I’m not going to go into the same detail, but let’s just look at the draft situations for the top eight teams.
1. St. Louis
They haven’t had any first round picks higher than 13th since 2008, and only one higher than 19th. They do have a ton of quantity. The Cardinals had 12 first round picks (including compensation round picks) from 2008-2012. That’s just over two per year. They had five in 2012. The Pirates had seven in the 2008-2012 span, and one of those didn’t sign.
They’ve had some easy picks, and perhaps some were easier than the Pirates. They picked 2nd or 3rd in three of the last four years. One of those picks (Dustin Ackley) is no longer prospect eligible. Credit where credit is due, they did well taking Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin in the late first round in separate drafts, but Zunino/Hultzen should get the same treatment as Taillon/Cole.
Callis notes that the trade with Toronto propelled them from the middle of the pack.
Like the Cardinals, the Rangers have had a lot of picks. They’ve had 12 from 2008-2012, with none higher than 11th.
Another team with a lot of picks. This time it’s 13 from 2008-2012.
6. Tampa Bay
Probably the king of additional picks. The Rays had 16 from 2008-2012. However, their drafts haven’t been that good lately, and Callis notes that their off-season trades made up for this.
They had 12 picks from 2008-2012, and also had the number two pick in the 2012 draft.
Here is what Callis said: “System isn’t deep but has impressive trios of arms and bats that most can’t match.” In the “trios of arms and bats”, I’m assuming he’s including Heredia with the pitchers, and the hitting trio of Polanco/Hanson/Bell.
If you’re going to chalk up the ranking of the Pirates to one factor, you’ve got to take the same approach with every team. It would be hard to say where the Pirates rank, since you’ve got to make exceptions for every other team. Cole and Taillon are definitely part of why the Pirates are ranked high, but you could make that same argument for other teams on this list. Seattle had high picks. St. Louis, Texas, Boston, and Tampa Bay had twice as many picks as most teams. Minnesota had a high pick and twice as many picks. Miami traded away a lot of big name players this off-season. That’s not to take away from what any of those teams have done. That’s actually my point. I wouldn’t take away from the Pirates because they had high picks for Cole and Taillon, just like I wouldn’t take away from any of these teams due to their individual circumstances.
The most important thing here is what Callis noted. He noted a trio of arms and bats, and said that most systems can’t match that. If you take out Cole and Taillon, then you’ve still got a trio of bats and a top pitching prospect. Then when you consider all of the players who have received recognition from Baseball America — whether it’s the individual league rankings, the credit to Hanson and Polanco, or the Dilson Herrera prediction — you see that the system ranking is more than just Cole and Taillon.
Having two top pitching prospects as a result of two high picks certainly helps. But the system isn’t built around those two guys. Baseball America has given credit to international guys and draft picks. The underlying argument is that the Pirates didn’t get anything from their draft spending. A closer look at that would show that the argument is incorrect. It’s almost like the first impressions have dominated the discussion. The 2009 draft was the first draft where the Pirates took an extreme over-slot approach. That draft looks very disappointing, but the 2010 and 2011 drafts are different stories. The 2010 draft could produce a top of the rotation starter, a middle of the rotation starter, and several 5th starter/bullpen/bench types. The 2011 draft could be the best one yet. That’s not just because of Cole and Bell, but because of the breakouts of Glasnow and Holmes.
It shouldn’t be a new idea that the Pirates have a top system and that it goes beyond Cole and Taillon. We just spent an entire season with Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson getting coverage from national prospect writers for their breakout performances. People who saw Luis Heredia dominate college hitters at the age of 17 came away impressed. Draft picks like Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, and Barrett Barnes all opened enough eyes to gain recognition in the end of the year rankings. Then there’s Cole and Taillon. You can’t take them out. They’re part of the system, and not just the only part. The system has received a lot of credit this year, and the people crediting the system aren’t just talking about those two pitchers. But if you did take them out, the Pirates would still have four impact prospects and a lot of guys in the middle with breakout potential. That’s still a good system.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!