For the last few years we’ve been hearing the same thing over and over about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system. They’re very top-heavy, but the system lacks depth. It was never clear what that meant. Did it mean they didn’t have guys in the upper levels who could take over in the majors in the next year or two? If so, then I think the 2013 season is proving that theory wrong. I feel it meant that they had A level prospects, but didn’t have a lot of B or C+ level guys. They had guys who could become stars, but not many guys who could become just good, reliable players.
The thing the Pirates did have was upside. While everyone was focused on Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and the other guys at the top of the system, people were dismissing the bottom of the system as “lacking depth”. The reality is that the Pirates had a lot of high upside guys who hadn’t broken out yet. Tyler Glasnow was lumped in to that group that lacked depth over the last two years. So were Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. Nick Kingham got more recognition than those guys, but not as much as he’s starting to get this year. Dilson Herrera was another guy who was all upside, but not considered “depth”.
Today we released the mid-season top 20 prospects, and there were two things that stood out. First was how strong the list was. You could take the 11-15 prospects, and a lot of teams would take those players as their 6-10 prospects. A lot of teams would also take any of the 6-10 guys in their top five. The second thing I noticed was how the list changed after the number 14 prospect, or after tier 3.
The system is still top-heavy like it was before. However, instead of being six players at the top, or eight players, this time it’s 14 players. I wouldn’t say all of those guys are safe picks, but they’re all guys with a lot of upside, and probably rated as A or B level prospects. I would say that qualifies as depth, no matter how you classify “depth”.
The fact that the list seems to drop off after 14 doesn’t mean the guys after 14 aren’t good prospects. They’re just the next Tyler Glasnow/Nick Kingham pitchers, or Dilson Herrera/Alen Hanson/Gregory Polanco hitters.
On the hitting side, there’s Harold Ramirez, Elvis Escobar, and Jin-De Jhang. All three will be breakout candidates to watch in Jamestown this year, and they could all have the potential to be future breakout hitting prospects in West Virginia. You could probably add Wyatt Mathisen to that list. He’s on the West Virginia disabled list right now, and wasn’t playing well when he was healthy. However, he’s got a lot of tools and has the chance of being a two-way catcher. The same could be said of Jhang, while Ramirez and Escobar are great pure hitters with a lot of speed and gap power.
The key here is that these hitters haven’t broken out. They’ve got a lot of potential, but haven’t had that big season like we saw out of Hanson/Polanco last year, or like we’re seeing out of Stetson Allie/Dilson Herrera this year. And that breakout might not come from those guys. It could come from Max Moroff, Eric Wood, JaCoby Jones, Jose Osuna, Willy Garcia, or even an upper level guy like Mel Rojas and Andrew Lambo (who are both doing great, but both have individual questions to answer before their recent success is considered legit). Not all of those guys will work out, but the Pirates have enough guys with potential that they should keep adding to the Hanson/Polanco/Herrera/Allie group of breakout hitters over the last two years.
Then there’s the pitching side of things. That’s the area where the Pirates have invested the most, going heavy on the prep arms. That approach has paid off big with Kingham and Glasnow, and there are a few other guys who have the potential to break out. Clay Holmes, Blake Taylor, Joely Rodriguez, Cody Dickson, and Adrian Sampson all have good stuff, but are still young and mostly unproven. Upper level guys like Casey Sadler, Stolmy Pimentel, Vic Black, Andy Oliver, and Brandon Cumpton have limited upsides, but higher floors with the ability to help out in the majors in the next year or two. Then there’s all of the guys who have good velocity on their fastballs at a young age, like Colten Brewer, Ryan Hafner, Jason Creasy, Hayden Hurst, Jake Burnette, and Jon Sandfort.
Once again, this is a group of guys with a lot of potential, but no breakout candidates yet. That doesn’t mean these guys won’t break out in the future. In fact, there are good odds that the Pirates will get at least one solid pitching prospect from this crew. It’s just hard to pinpoint who that prospect will be, just like it was hard to predict that Glasnow would be the one who would break out last year. It wasn’t that Glasnow didn’t have the potential. You just didn’t know when he’d make the switch and use his potential to get dominating results.
The Pirates have had some good fortune the last few years. They haven’t seen a lot of top prospects struggle and lose value. At the same time they keep adding breakout prospects to the top of the system. That’s how we got to this point where the top 14 prospect list looks loaded with potential impact players. The Pirates still have guys after 14 who could be the next breakout guys, and some of those guys will start to break out this year in the short-season leagues. The best thing about the way the current system is set up is that the Pirates can take their time with those guys. There’s not a lot of desperation at the major league level these days, and there are more and more potential impact players making their way to the upper levels. That means there’s no reason to rush guys like Escobar, Ramirez, Taylor, or Brewer. Anything you get from that group now is a bonus.
That group after 14 isn’t as exciting as the top 14. With the top 14 you have numbers to make you feel more comfortable. After the top 14 it’s mostly about potential, and the only thing you’ve got is hope that the player will realize his potential. Usually when fans hear that a guy has potential, but don’t see the numbers to back that up, hope is hard to come by. That’s understandable with individual prospects. However, the Pirates have so many guys like this in their system that it leaves a very strong chance of more breakout players in the future. As long as they don’t start seeing guys falling off from the top of the list, they should be set up well to continue with a top system loaded with a lot of impact players at the top of their prospect rankings.
Links and Notes
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