First Pitch: Evaluating the Pirates Farm System at the Half Way Mark

The mid-season articles for MLB teams usually come out around the All-Star break in early July, even though the real half-way point is actually the end of June. For minor leagues, the season is only five months, which means the half-way mark is right after the draft, in the middle of June. There’s not a lot that really changes with most players in that time, but the mid-season point does provide a large enough sample size that we can evaluate how things are going in the farm system.

Today we released our mid-season top 20 prospects, which is something we always do after the MLB draft to show where the new guys rank. This also served as an update with Gregory Polanco no longer at the top of the list. The release of the list also gives the opportunity to evaluate how things are going with the Pirates’ system this year.

There have been two major themes in the farm system in 2014: injuries and Polanco. The amount of injuries have been staggering. Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes both had Tommy John surgery. Duke Welker isn’t on the same level as those two, but also joined that list. Austin Meadows has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and hasn’t made his 2014 debut yet. Harold Ramirez missed time with a hamstring injury, and Barrett Barnes is still out with a hamstring injury. Luis Heredia missed two months with shoulder soreness. Reese McGuire missed a few weeks with a groin contusion. Tyler Glasnow missed the first three weeks of the season after being set back in Spring Training with a bad back. Andrew Lambo is currently out for six to eight weeks after having thumb surgery.

It might have just been quicker to list the top prospects who weren’t injured.

None of the guys listed above really saw a decline in their future potential. The third hamstring injury for Barrett Barnes raises questions about his ability to stay healthy. Luis Heredia’s injury caused him to miss more time, delaying his development further. Otherwise, the injuries didn’t play a huge impact, other than being the dominating theme of the 2014 season thus far, and possibly preventing some of the top prospects from taking the next step or breaking out.

Then there’s the other topic, Gregory Polanco. The strange thing here is that Polanco hasn’t been considered part of the farm system this year. If you’re talking about success stories for the top prospects, he has been the biggest one. But he’s been tied to the MLB team, which means most people leave him out of the discussion when evaluating the farm system.

Beyond Polanco, there have been a few success stories. Adrian Sampson is doing an outstanding job in Altoona, currently posting a 2.07 ERA in 69.2 innings, with a 55:17 K/BB ratio at the age of 22. He’s looking like he could have the upside to be a starter in the majors, possibly at some point next season if he keeps this up. Josh Bell is crushing right-handers in Bradenton, but struggling against lefties. JaCoby Jones has shown some positive signs in West Virginia, hitting for a good amount of power, but lacking the average and plate patience for a big breakout season. Stetson Allie is showing a lot of power, although I’ll get to his downside in a moment. Buddy Borden has shown off his potential, putting up outstanding numbers before getting off track the last two starts.

Despite some good stories, there hasn’t been the major breakout like we saw last year with Tyler Glasnow, or the year before with Polanco and Alen Hanson. Expecting that kind of breakout each year might be unrealistic.

The good news is that there hasn’t been a major setback either. There have been some disappointing stories. Nick Kingham has struggled with his control, which has prevented him from taking the next step to Indianapolis, and possibly being in the rotation soon. Kingham has done better in this regard lately, but he’d still need time in Indianapolis before a stop in the majors. Luis Heredia is still struggling with control problems, which might be due to the missed time the last two years. Joely Rodriguez isn’t striking guys out in the rotation. And while Allie’s power has been a big positive, the lack of average and the high strikeouts have been a negative.

These guys have been disappointing, but nothing really changes about their upside. The one exception here could be Rodriguez, since his inability to get strikeouts might prevent him from being a starter.

Then you’ve got the holding steady¬†group. Alen Hanson still is having issues with routine plays, while showing the defensive tools to stick at shortstop. Tyler Glasnow still has control issues, and has been working almost exclusively on his fastball/changeup, leaving little time for the curve, and limiting the numbers he can put up. Reese McGuire has the tools to be productive on offense, but that hasn’t translated to the stat lines yet. None of these guys have been disappointments, but they also haven’t taken the next step. They’re in a holding pattern at the moment.

I don’t really do letter grades for evaluations. I wouldn’t know how to put “The Pirates had a ton of injuries, but none that really have a long-term impact, and their top prospect went above and beyond expectations, while the rest of the healthy system was full of guys who were short-term disappointments, or smaller scale success stories” into a letter grade. So I’ll let that description speak for itself. It hasn’t been a bad year for the farm system, but it also hasn’t been a good year. The injuries have limited the potential upside in the first half. Long-term, the system remains strong, with a lot of top prospects, and a lot of guys who have the potential to breakout and become top prospects themselves.

Links and Notes

**SALE: Get 24% Off the 2014 Prospect Guide and Other Pirates Prospects Gear

Draft Signings

**2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker

**Pirates Agree to Sign Second Round Pick Mitch Keller

**Pirates Sign Three More Draft Picks

**Pirates Sign Eighth Round Pick Austin Coley

**Pirates Sign 16th Round Pitcher Sam Street

**Pittsburgh Pirates Sign Pitcher Nick Neumann

Prospects

**Pittsburgh Pirates Mid-Season Top 20 Prospects, Minus Gregory Polanco

**Prospect Watch: Multi-Hit Day For JaCoby Jones and Harold Ramirez

**Minor League Schedule: Kingham and Glasnow Headline Busy Day

**Prospect Highlights: One Last Polanco Hit, Home Run From Tony Sanchez

Pirates

**Pirates Place Francisco Liriano on the DL, Activate Stolmy Pimentel

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Lee

    Why do you not think that Mel Rojas Jr. is having a break out season? He improved his numbers in AA and has been promoted to AAA and does not seem over matched there either? He seems like a guy that needs to be added to the 40 man in the off season to avoid losing him. Yet, you did not count him as a prospect having a break out season and have dropped him off the top 20 prospects?

    • emjayinTN

      Lee: Excellent point about the fact that Mel Rojas,Jr is indeed having a breakout season. Through 2013, he has always lingered around the .250 to .270 range with possibly average numbers for Extra Base Hits. In 2014 I think he was well over .300 at AA and already had 16 or more EBH in less than 200 AB’s, and has continued the good hitting in AAA. However, I thought that he was already outside of the Top 20 at No. 30 starting the year; but I do think he should be in the Top 20 at this point. I doubt that he qualifies as a prospect, but has anybody watched the numbers being posted by Andy Oliver at AAA? Only ONE WALK and plenty of K’s In his last 8 games in relief where he has earned 5 Saves. He has no options left so the Pirates need to be absolutely sure he will stick if called up, but he is having his own type of breakout year. Are we training a LH Closer? Can anybody in Indy tell us what the velocity is and the mix of pitches being thrown?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      He is having a breakout season. So is Keon Broxton. There are other players who could be included in both discussions. I didn’t include everyone.

      Rojas was never really in the top 20. We just threw his name on there recently as an interesting guy to follow. He was #30 to start the year, and was only on the list in the last week due to injuries, promotions, and players who were lost to other teams. He was also behind a few extended ST players, but we put him on the list because he was currently active.

      We had him ranked high coming into the year because of his upside as a strong fourth outfielder. The only difference now is that he is doing well, and looks to be on his way to that upside. So he moves up slightly for the breakout season, but his original rank was based on expectations that he would one day be this type of player.

    • Spa City

      Rojas’ performance has been fueled by an unsustainable BABIP. He has been playing well, but it seems unreasonable to think he can maintain his performance for long. BABIPs of .346 (at AA) and .522 (at AAA) are not sustainable. A lot of people are going to assume that Rojas has been on a hot streak for 250 plate appearances, and that his true talent level is closer to his performance in 1700 plate appearances over the 4 prior seasons. It is possible he has honed his game and could be a breakout prospect, but that seems unlikely.

    • leadoff

      It is called the maturation and development process, that is why.

  • Spa City

    The Pirates farm system took some hits this year, and it does not look quite as promising as it did last year. Polanco looks better than ever, but Kingham, Glasnow, Sanchez, Taillon, Holmes and several others do not look quite as good (largely due to injuries).
    In order to get to 88 wins this year (likely to merit a wildcard spor), the Bucs would need to finish the year by going 57-40. Not going to happen. Especially with Cole, Liriano and Walker hurt.
    It is time to trade assets to shore up the minor league system and acquire players at positions of need. Let’s not fall victim to false hopes that the 2014 season can be salvaged.
    Melancon, Grilli, Martin, Liriano (when/if he gets healthy)… the Bucs should be able to market them effectively. I would target Chris Taylor (SS) of the Mariners, Aaron Sanchez (SP) of the Jays, or Shea Simmons (RP) of the Braves. These guys should be available, and they would all help the Bucs in 2015.

    • Doug

      They’re 3 games out of the wild card with 97 games left and you want to give up on the season?

  • Kevin_Young

    Tim, Bell’s slash against lefties is .305/.321/.476 from what I’m seeing so struggling seems unfair. I know there’s concerns over his swing and it’s small sample, but he seems to be good enough currently to get results the past two years.

    • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

      Bell maybe the best hitting prospect in the FSL. He is 8th in OPS. Three of the ones in front of him are 4 years older than Bell. The other four Nimmo, Pompey, Leonard, and Jagielo all strikeout around once every 5 at-bats or worse, while Bell is at once every 7 at-bats. Bell also carries the second highest career OPS of that group.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    When I look at the Top 20 for some reason the theme to M*A*S*H goes through my head.

  • Frank Brank

    Cumpton doesn’t strike anyone out. Sanchez was miserable on both sides in the majors and is beginning to look like a 4A player. There’s isn’t a team out there that is going to give up any impact prospect for Melancon and/or Grilli though I do agree with trading bullpen pieces when possible. There are a lot of games left. They could be in the wildcard spot a week from now. They could also be six or seven out in that time. Just wait to see what happens before we start selling off the goods.

  • smurph

    I have to kind of go along with spa at this point. If martin doesn’t want to sign a 3-yr extension, see what you can get for him, as he won’t be a Pirate next year anyway. Same with Liriano. I don’t think you would get much for Grilli. And the #1 point – don’t trade these guys unless you can get something worthwhile for them. Maybe a pairing of Martin/Melancon could get you a future SS.

  • leadoff

    It could be 30% next week or 10%, in any event, if this was Sept 1 and the Pirates were exactly where they are now I would not give up on the season, should St.Louis give up they are only a couple games ahead of the Pirates? or the Reds? The Pirates are not playing anywhere near their capabilities, when they do which is not very often, they do not lose. IMO, they will gel somewhere along the way and put some wins together, but as of now, it is way to early to even consider what the end of the season is going to be.

    • piraddict

      Think the A’s “Moneyball” season and the Streak!

  • JayBird

    No way. Gotta at last give it ’til the All-Star break and see where they are. Being 3 out of the Wild Card going into a June 12th game is absolutely no time to throw in the towel. Cole will not be out long… and J-Hey (primarily) is playing well enough as an adequate replacement for Walker as long as he’s out. The certainly cannot afford a long losing-streak at this point… but a long winning streak (especially since no Wild Card contender is setting the world on fire, at this point) could put them into one of Wild Card spots.
    The next two series — in Miami (which currently is in one of the WC positions, then back home against Cincy are important. If they can take 2 or 3 in both of those series — then feast on sub-.500 clubs in the Cubs, Rays, and Mets following those (don’t need to sweep, just take those series, too)… they could be in better shape come July 1.