With the Pittsburgh Pirates signing Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell last night, the question has to be asked: where does the farm system rank in all of baseball? I follow prospects throughout the game, and I see plenty of them when I’m on the road, but I can’t say I follow other systems enough to get a feel for how the Pirates stack up against the rest of the league. However, you don’t have to follow other systems to know that there’s something special going on in the Pirates’ system.
A year ago today (remember, the 2010 signing deadline was on August 16th) the Pirates didn’t have a single pitching prospect in the system with top of the rotation potential. They had guys who were projectable, but no sure things. Then, by the time midnight rolled around, they had top prep pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in the mix.
Taillon was one of the best draft prospects in the last 20 years, drawing Josh Beckett comparisons out of high school. He threw in the upper 90s, had a plus curveball, and the makings of a changeup. His plus fastball and plus curveball gave him the potential to be a top of the rotation starter down the line, something the Pirates haven’t seen since Doug Drabek.
Allie fell to the Pirates in the second round after several teams passed on his $3 M demands on draft day. The Pirates drafted him, and signed him for $2.25 M. The right hander had the ability to hit triple digits with his fastball, and also had a plus slider. The two issues were a lack of control, especially when his velocity was in the upper 90s, and the lack of a changeup. Allie had only been pitching for a little over a year when he was drafted, so he was very raw, despite the plus fastball and the plus slider. He wasn’t as polished as Taillon, but still had top of the rotation stuff.
A few days later, after bringing Taillon and Allie in to the mix, the Pirates signed top Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia. At just 16 years old, Heredia threw 92-93 MPH, and had the makings of four potential plus pitches: his fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. Just like Taillon and Allie, Heredia had potential top of the rotation stuff, especially if he added velocity to his fastball as he got older (something he’s already done).
In just a few days the Pirates went from having no top of the rotation pitching prospects to having three of them. One year later, and the Pirates have added a fourth. Gerrit Cole profiles most like Taillon. He’s got a plus fastball, and a plus breaking pitch with his slider. The difference is that Cole is a bit more polished, and also features a plus changeup. Both pitchers have the potential to be stars one day if they realize their potential.
Think about that. The Pirates have added four potential top of the rotation starters in the last year. How many organizations have four prospects with top of the rotation stuff? To get an estimate, let’s look at the top prospect rankings. Looking at Baseball America’s top 100 prospects coming in to the year, only three teams saw four or more pitching prospects make the list.
The first team was the Atlanta Braves, who had five pitchers make the list: Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Craig Kimbrel, and Arodys Vizcaino.
The next team was the Tampa Bay Rays, who had four pitchers in the top 100: Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, and Jake McGee.
Then there was the Kansas City Royals with five pitchers: John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Jake Odorizzi, and Chris Dwyer.
Where did those teams rank in Baseball America’s overall rankings? Kansas City was first. Tampa Bay was second. Atlanta was third.
It might be rare for teams to have so many guys with top of the rotation stuff, and the three teams that had the biggest quantity of top pitching prospects might have been the top three teams in the league. However, I wouldn’t use that as my only basis for grading a farm system against other teams. You also have to consider the depth.
The Pirates definitely have depth. In the past three years they’ve drafted Zack Von Rosenberg, Brooks Pounders, Zack Dodson, Trent Stevenson, Colton Cain, Nick Kingham, Ryan Hafner, Bryton Trepagnier, Logan Pevny, Colten Brewer, Tyler Glasnow, Jake Burnette, Jason Creasy, and Clay Holmes out of the prep pitching ranks. Add in Jeff Inman, Victor Black, Zac Fuesser, Nathan Baker, Tyler Waldron, Brandon Cumpton, and Vincent Payne from the NCAA and JuCo ranks, and you’re bound to see a few guys emerge as major league options. None of this is considering the international players like Dovydas Neverauskas, Yhonathan Herrand, Orlando Castro, or Joely Rodriguez, who have all shown promise in their time in the US. This doesn’t even consider guys like Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, or Bryan Morris.
What about position players? The addition of Bell is a huge boost to the system, and definitely adds a top 100 prospect. Tony Sanchez has had a very disappointing year at the plate, although his defense hasn’t struggled as much, and he could still sneak in to the back of a top 100 prospect list. Starling Marte’s great year in AA makes him at least a top 150 prospect, although his lack of walks are a concern. Then there’s good stories this year like Robbie Grossman, Matt Curry, and the draft addition of 3rd round pick Alex Dickerson.
You’ve got four potential aces, who could all make a top 100 list. You’ve got a switch hitter with potential power from both sides of the plate in Josh Bell. Tony Sanchez and Starling Marte have their questions, but both are strong talents. Out of these seven players, it’s very conceivable that the Pirates get five in most top 100 lists, especially when you consider that Cole, Taillon, and Bell are guarantees, and Heredia is a strong shot to make the list.
As for the teams with 5+ top 100 prospects in 2010: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and the New York Yankees (rated as the 5th best organization). Based on top end talent alone, the Pirates arguably have one of the top systems in the game. They might not have a top prospect at every position, and they might not have 2-3 guaranteed options at the positions they do have a top prospect for, but they’ve got the high end upside, and they’ve got a lot of depth, mostly with young, projectable talent.
So do the Pirates have a top farm system? After all of the top additions they’ve made in the last calendar year, it would be hard to think otherwise.