The first half of the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system was full of injuries. More than half of the top ten prospects suffered an injury at one point in time, with a few of the top 20 guys going down for the year. The good news was that Gregory Polanco developed as planned, and there were a few breakouts, such as JaCoby Jones and Josh Bell at the plate, along with Adrian Sampson on the mound.
Over the last few weeks the Pirates have started seeing a lot of their injured players returning on rehab appearances. Austin Meadows has been rehabbing, and is on pace to return to West Virginia by the start of next week, if not earlier. Barrett Barnes will wrap up his rehab this week, and could get a push up to Bradenton. Andrew Lambo is playing full games after being out with thumb surgery, and will get some time in Jamestown before moving up to Indianapolis after their All-Star break.
The Pirates lost Gregory Polanco as a prospect this year, along with other guys like Tony Sanchez, Brandon Cumpton, and more. Despite this, they still have a top farm system, ending up with 4-5 of the top 50 prospects in the game in the mid-season updates.
It would definitely help if the Pirates continued to improve on those numbers. It’s obviously hard for prospects to develop when they’re injured. The injuries have already taken their toll on the system this year. Tyler Glasnow might be in Altoona right now if he hadn’t missed a month at the start of the season. Andrew Lambo could have been an option to join the majors a few different times had it not been for his thumb surgery. Austin Meadows might have to return to West Virginia next year, after missing the first three months of the 2014 season. Barrett Barnes hasn’t had a chance to get consistent playing time and development, which has prevented him from moving higher than West Virginia. Luis Heredia missed two months with a shoulder injury, preventing him from pitching a full season and improving his fastball command and his stuff in the process. Jameson Taillon (Tommy John) could have been in the majors by now. Clay Holmes (Tommy John) could have been in Glasnow territory, either close to a promotion to Altoona, or in Altoona.
There’s still two months remaining in the minor league season, and it looks like the Pirates will have most of their guys coming back (with the exception of the guys who are out for the year) for the final stretch. Here are a few things that could be key for the farm system in those final months.
Austin Meadows – Can he hit enough in two months to propel himself up the prospect ranks? This was supposed to be a potential breakout year for him, but a breakout would be hard with two months remaining.
Barrett Barnes – Can he stay healthy and make it to Bradenton? He’s got a lot of tools and talent, but hasn’t had much time on the field, leading to poor numbers. His prospect status has fallen because of the injuries. If he can return, stay healthy, and have success at a level higher than West Virginia, then he could see a rebound to his prospect status.
Andrew Lambo – What will his role be? He was hitting well before his injury. He could be a depth option for the Pirates at first base or in the outfield. Or he could be a trade chip at the deadline if he re-establishes his value right after his return.
Tyler Glasnow/Josh Bell – When will they move up to Altoona, and how will they do? To the first question, I think it will be soon. As for the second question, that’s something that we don’t know. It’s also something that could propel them even higher in the rankings if they have success in Double-A.
Luis Heredia – The last two years the West Virginia rotation has seen second half improvements from Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and Tyler Glasnow. Can Heredia do the same thing? Right now his first half has been pretty disappointing, which was kind of the case with Kingham and Holmes.
Harold Ramirez – He currently has his second leg injury of the season. He’s got a lot of potential with the bat, but has lacked consistency with his hitting this year, and hasn’t added much power.
Adrian Sampson/JaCoby Jones/Mel Rojas/Elias Diaz/Anyone Else Having a Breakout First Half – Can they continue over the final months and be a breakout prospect?
Of that list, Glasnow and Bell are the only guys locked into the top 100 rankings, although their question marks could allow them to move much higher if they have success in Altoona. The rest of the guys might not become top 100 prospects by the end of the year, but they could have a chance to give the Pirates’ system a boost, and maybe a future top prospect in the game. The Pirates just need guys to stay healthy this time around, and avoid the injury bug that was so common and harmful to the system’s development in the first half.
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