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Comparing the Makeup of the Pirates System to the MLB Averages

The Pirates system often gets compared to other systems in terms of quality.  In fact, it is often ranked very highly by all of the national outlets.  But how does it compare in other aspects? Is it pitching-heavy or position player-heavy? Was it built more through the draft or international signings compared to the average farm system?

I recently posted some research on Batting Leadoff that looked at characteristics of MLB organizations. I found league-wide statistics by using’s organizational top 20 prospect lists.  The first characteristic I examined was the position of the top prospects, specifically whether they were hitters or pitchers.  Then I analyzed how the prospects were acquired, whether through the draft, international signings, trades, or other less common methods.

Now the real reason I did the research was to provide some reference points when looking at different organizations.  So this is what I have done with the Pirates. I wanted to use the top prospect rankings from the site, so I compared those to’s rankings to see if there were dramatic differences in the way Pirates Prospects ranks players (i.e. ranking international players higher, ranking pitchers higher, etc.).   As it turned out, although the two rankings had different prospects, both had the exact same mix of pitchers vs. hitters, and very similar mixes of drafted, internationally signed, and traded prospects.  With no clear biases, I went ahead with the preseason Top 20 rankings from this site.

The first comparison is the Pirates’ mix of position players to pitchers vs the league average. Pirates Prospects ranked 11 hitters and 9 pitchers in the top 20. The league average was 10.3 hitters and 9.7 pitchers.  The Pirates are pretty balanced in this department, relative to the league. Again this does not mean the Pirates have above- or below-average amounts of value in their pitching or hitting prospects. It just means their system construction is well-balanced.

The more interesting analysis was in how the Pirates acquired their Top 20 prospects. The Pirates drafted 12 of their top 20 prospects, signed 6 as international amateurs, and 2 arrived via trade. ( had a 12/7/1 split if you are interested.) Here is the data displayed graphically, along with the MLB averages.

image013 image008 (1)

As you can see, the Pirates have acquired a higher share of their Top 20 prospects internationally than most organizations. This in itself doesn’t mean the Pirates are doing well signing international amateurs, but when paired with the high marks the system receives overall, it is fair to extrapolate that Rene Gayo and the rest of his staff have been doing something right.

Overall, it is interesting to look around baseball and see how different all of the farm systems look.  The Pirates look fairly typical in terms of position of Top 20 prospects, and are a little more internationally oriented in terms of how they acquire their best prospects.

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  • stickyweb

    Nice post Max, I’m always interested in this sort of analysis. I’m sure you’re aware the small 20 prospect sample size makes these types of comparisons a little tricky. For instance, if 1 intl signing was replaced on the list with a draft choice, the Bucs ratio (65:25:10) would almost exactly match the rest of baseball’s (66:21:12). Getting specific, if Wyatt Mathison was moved from 21 to 20, and Michael de la Cruz was dropped from 20 to 21, that’s exactly what they’d have. And considering Mathison basically lost a year to injury an MdlC hasnt played in the US yet, that could have been a real possibility. Thinking about it a little more, it also shows what an arbitrary cut off the top 20 is.

    But as you say, Gayo and his crew are definitely doing something right, especially when you see 4 of the top 10 from that preseason list are lat am signings.

    • Max Fogle

      Thanks for reading.

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