Earlier today, Baseball Prospectus rated the Pittsburgh Pirates with the third best farm system in baseball. They’ve been rated in the top three by pretty much every outlet, so the ranking isn’t the big news that came out of that article. The most encouraging thing was that BP said the Pirates had the talent to remain a top three farm system for years to come, even after they graduate Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco to the majors this year. They also called West Virginia the team to watch in the farm system this year. I believe those two statements are linked.
It seems that every year I’ve been writing the same “West Virginia is the team to watch” article. In 2012, West Virginia had guys like Nick Kingham, Stetson Allie, Josh Bell, plus an international group that featured Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Jose Osuna, and Willy Garcia. Polanco and Hanson broke out, Kingham did well, and Bell and Allie had disappointing seasons, although both have rebounded to different extents.
In 2013 the team had Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Josh Bell again, Stetson Allie, Dilson Herrera, Wyatt Mathisen, Barrett Barnes, Max Moroff, and Eric Wood. Glasnow broke out, Bell saw his prospect status rebound, Allie went from non-prospect to prospect, Herrera increased his value enough to be a trade chip at the deadline, Holmes had a similar season to Kingham the year before, and Mathisen and Barnes both got injured and wasted a year, much like Bell did the year before.
The key with both groups is that the Pirates had a lot of guys with a ton of upside and potential. The odds of having a breakout player go up in that type of scenario. The Pirates once again have that scenario in West Virginia in 2014.
The 2014 West Virginia team could be the strongest group of the last three years. They’ve got Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire — two players who already rank among the top 100 prospects in baseball. Meadows ranks in the top 50 in a lot of lists. If either of those players breaks out, it wouldn’t be as big of a surprise as Polanco, Hanson, or Glasnow. However, their breakouts could propel them into the top 50 (for McGuire) or the top 10-25 (for Meadows).
If you’re looking for a Glasnow type breakout, that could be Harold Ramirez. Last year Glasnow didn’t get a ton of national recognition on top prospect lists, but he was seen as a guy who could challenge for the top ten in the system. We had him as our number seven prospect, which was one of the more aggressive rankings. Harold Ramirez has been ranked consistently at the back of the top ten this year, and is a breakout candidate much like Glasnow last year. It wouldn’t be out of nowhere like Polanco or Hanson, but no one is considering him a top 100 or a top 50 prospect right now, and that could be different this time next year.
Luis Heredia could possibly return to the level. He disappointed last year after coming into Spring Training out of shape. As a result, he only got half a season in West Virginia, and didn’t get a chance to try and improve his control in the second half, like Glasnow and Holmes did. That, plus a crowded Bradenton rotation, could keep him in West Virginia for at least half a season. He’s a borderline top 100 prospect, but he’s also in much better shape this year, and could propel up the rankings with a big season.
Then there’s all of the high upside guys making the jump to the level. JaCoby Jones, Jin-De Jhang, Wyatt Mathisen, Adam Frazier, and Ulises Montilla are on the hitting side. Buddy Borden, Cody Dickson, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Jon Sandfort are on the pitching side. Not all of those guys will be in West Virginia, and I won’t really get a feel for their assignments until after minor league games are well underway in Spring Training. But West Virginia will have enough high upside players to give them a good shot of a breakout prospect, or at least someone like Kingham or Holmes who has a quietly good season and sets up for a breakout season the following year.
As I said, this is linked with BP’s comment about the Pirates maintaining a top farm system. The reason they got to the top is because they’ve focused so much on high upside guys, and that paid off big with Polanco, Hanson, Glasnow, and Kingham. As long as they keep West Virginia, Bradenton, Jamestown, Bristol, and the GCL loaded with high upside guys, they’ll continue to have a good shot of producing annual breakout players. And those annual breakout players would keep the Pirates with a top farm system, even after graduating Taillon and Polanco in 2014, Hanson, Kingham, and Glasnow in 2015, and more guys each year after that.
Links and Notes
**If you haven’t ordered your copy of the 2014 Prospect Guide, you had better act fast. We’re currently on the last case of books. I say that’s the last case because I don’t think I’ll be ordering more this year. Each year I order the books in bulk through the publisher, which allows me to save several dollars per book, and I pass that savings on to you to keep the price of the book low. You’ll still be able to buy the book from the publisher after I sell my supply, but the bulk discount price won’t be included, which means you’ll be paying $25, plus $3.99 for shipping. Right now you can buy the book for $25 shipped on the products page of the site.