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Thursday, December 8, 2022

BA Ranks Pirates’ Farm System 13th

In its just-published annual Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked the Pirates’ farm system 13th in baseball, up from 19th a year ago.  The system no doubt was helped by the addition of two high-end talents in the 2011 draft–pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Josh Bell–as well as by breakout seasons by Starling Marte, Robbie Grossman and Kyle McPherson.  On the down side, the improvement in the organization’s ranking was probably tempered by disappointing seasons from many of their upper level prospects, particularly Tony Sanchez, Rudy Owens and Andrew Lambo, as well as the fact that none of the high school pitchers drafted in 2009 took more than small steps forward in 2011.

Two Pirates pitching prospects figured prominently in top 50 prospect lists assembled by several of the BA writers.  Jim Callis rated Cole 11th and Jameson Taillon 13th, J.J. Cooper ranked them 10th and 13th, Will Lingo 8th and 14th, and John Manuel 12 and 13th.

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Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.


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James S

I don’t care what the pundits have to say about the Pirates farm system. I’ve been here all my life and know without a doubt that this team’s current system is better than it has been in the past 25 years (at least).

Anyone who’s been around since then should know that Littlefield was an idiot, and Bonifay not much better (still better than Littlefield at least). I didn’t care much for Larry Doughty either, but he was at least better than those two. The only good GM’s we had since Harding Peterson were Syd Thrift and Joe L. Brown when he stepped in temporarily to hire Syd Thrift in the first place.

Huntington has been the best GM since then, and I am grateful. They could have done a lot worse, (but then again, it would very hard for ANYONE not to be an improvement on Littlefield & Bonifay.)


James, you are not the only one who has made a lifetime of following this team. I’m curious as to why you are so sure that NH is better than even Bonifay? Bonifay had better MLB teams and better minor league systems than we do now.

I agree that NH’s approach is better, its actually spot on, but the execution has been pretty questionable.


I am most encouraged by how the amount of top end talent in the system is sharply trending up.

Cole and Bell were added to the system just this year, and few thought the Pirates could sign Bell.  Tallion and Heredia were added last year, with Heredia being the team’s first major (costly) signing on the international market.  Further, it is a bit too early to write off Allie who also was acquired last year.  MLB ranked Dickerson as a top 10 1st base talent, and Marte as a top 10 outfield talent, with some considering Grossman an even better talent.

So — Cole, Bell, Tallion, Heredia, Allie, Dickerson, Marte, and Grossman near the top, with only Grossman and Marte among the above not added to the organization in just the last 18+ months.  It strikes me that we are on the upswing with the amount of premium talent in the minors .

Clearly a lot of if’s remain.  Nonetheless, the ranking of the organization concerns me much less than how current players in the organization develop this year.  If Cole and Tallion really do appear to be top end starters and one of the outfielders looks like a good starting position player, folks will begin to speak in glowing terms of the Pirate’s system.

Hoping for good things at the minor league level in 2012.   


Next years should be way better unless a bunch of these guys completely blow up. Might only lose Marte to graduation and possibly McPherson but most of the top guys will be no higher than AA going into 2013

Ian Rothermund

The pessimism shown through these posts is really astonishing.  Personally, I think they got robbed; by a few positions maybe.  However, with there really being no MLB ready players set to debut this year, outside of maybe Marte or possibly even Cole getting a September call-up, the Pirates are really set up for ranking success next year.  I am betting now that all of the players currently with prospect status with retain that into the 2013 season.  So, it’s very possible that at the end of the season; Cole could be ending his first season in pro ball, finishing much better than when he started, Marte will be ending his year in AAA showing everyone that walks don’t matter when you hit .315-.320, steal bases, play defense, and hit 10-15 home runs like he does, and Taillon showing everyone he’s legit after spending all last year running the fastball gauntlet in low-A (I see a strong possibility for him moving to AA by the end of the season, even if it’s just to get a handful of starts).  Then maybe Bell rakes in West Virginia, Grossman continues to prove what kind of ballplayer he is, and Sanchez proves that sometimes it’s just hard to hit for a year or so after you have your face broken and lose 20 pounds while your jaw is wired shut.  Regardless, his defense should still be respected, I don’t give a damn if a catcher knows which end of the bat to hold, they’re paid to play defense, and any offensive production is just a bonus. 

Possibly even more important than the success of the guys at the top, could be the continued development of the 10-25 prospects.  Everyone was down on Allie last year, but maybe that’s what happens when you make a kid a pitcher that’s only thrown for the last two seasons.  Not that I don’t think it could work out, but when you finally have him throwing strikes to both sides of the plate at the end of the season and you’re still blasting him for being a wasted pick, you’re probably just a moron.  If Allie comes out, throws strikes and shows that he can with all of his velocity, then we’re looking at a bona fide top 10 prospect for the Pirates.  It also seems as though people are incredibly impatient about the lack of production and development out of the high-slot draft signings of NH.  Ironically, they want to dog him for that while simultaneously declaring their undying love for Robbie Grossman.  I suppose I just want to ask if these people really understand what they’re pontificating about.  For most of the over-slot pitching signings, they’re still only 2-3 years into their careers.  Also, if they were some phenom level talent, they would have been selected in the 1st round, not the 8th or 9th.  If Grossman had gone to college, this past year would have been like his Junior year.  What do people suppose his statistics would have translated to on the major division I level after hitting .294, with 104 walks, 13 home runs, and 34 doubles in high-A this year.  Some guys take time to develop, grow, and become more abled.  I would wager that a year like that translated into division I baseball could have parlayed into a late-1st/comp./2nd round pick.  As is, we got him in the 6th round the same year we drafted Alvarez, Mercer, D’arnaud, Justin Wilson, Jeremy Farrell, Matt Hague, Mike Colla, and Matt Curry the first time.  What do all of these guys have in common?  Well, the college players seem to be in the upper minors or have limited playing time in the pros, while the high school guys are still ranging from low-A to AA.

I suppose my point is that while I don’t want to appear as some NH apologist, it’s way to early in most of his draftee’s careers to say whether or not this draft strategy is flawed, or that even their scouting is necessarily flawed.  With many of those high school arms transitioning to West Virginia and Bradenton this year, we’ll start to get a better idea of what we have, even better the year after that.  I think the legitimate time to start thinking about whether or not NH’s drafting has been a worthy investment will be after the 2013 season, otherwise we’re just shorting ourselves.  While that is not an ideal time frame to set while the product at the major league level continues to languish, if we were to fire to Neil, who the hell else would want this job?  Furthermore, is there anyway to actually guarantee that his replacement would be any better.  Just think.  It makes no sense to replace player A who has a 2.1 WAR with player B who has a .7 WAR just because player B hits 5 more home runs a year, so why would we do it with a GM?


Lincecum didn’t break through til he was 24, Hamilton 26, Bautista 28.
Pedro is only 24 w/ 169 games (and 20 homers)…basically 1 year.  Sanchez had a tough AA yr after a bigtime injury & weightloss.  ZVR, Cain, and the other HS pitchers aren’t even 21 yrs old yet.  And people wanna complain about them?

Do they expect everyone to be Harper, Trout, Minor, or Strasburg?

Look at who was drafted around Pedro.  Who is tearing it up right now?  Tim Beckham, Smoak, Skipworth, Matusz, Castro, Wallace, Dykstra, Crow?  Nope.
Just Alonso, Posey, Lowrie, & Hosmer. 

What about Sanchez’s class?  Hobgood, Tate, Maztek, Green, Purke, Wheeler, Borchering?   Nope.  Turner, Minor, and Alex White all had negative WARs.

Taillon’s class?  Pomeranz and Chris Sale have made it.  That’s it. 

Patience folks.  Patience. 

Me…I can wait for:  Taillon, Cole, Bell, Allie, Heredia, ZVR, Dodson, Kingman, Dickerson, Marte, Grossman, Freeman, Maggi, Ngeope, Cain, Black, Curry, Holt, Baker, Chambers, and Cunningham. 


Exactly, The Buccos system next year I feel will be ranked in top 5. It is amazing the impatience that these Bob Smizik readers rant on about, all the kids with Talent were mostly Highschool picks, takes longer to develop.

Ian Rothermund

I just have a problem with the people out there that refuse to look at it objectively.  It’s like some people are not even willing to accept the idea that NH has done some good.  It’s as if there has been one steady stream of terrible ideas since before he even came into play.  I’m just sick of the idea that he has to somehow take responsibility for things that were done before he was even part of the organization.

In response to the Pirates being a top 5 next year, I’m not even sure that they could achieve that.  I think they would need a few guys to take that big step forward, in a Grossman kind of way for that to be true.  However, I think they can easily be somewhere 5-10 with simple, encouraging years from the draftees from 2011 (Cole and Bell, especially, but let’s not forget Dickerson), along with guys like Grossman proving he can achieve at the AA level similarly to what he did last year.  Continued improvement from Taillon will also be necessary, considering the amount of stock the entire franchise has riding on him, not to mention the expectations everyone around MLB has for him.  As a side note, I think I’m very comfortable with the idea of Taillon spending the entire season in high-A this year.  However, with an expanded pitch selection, especially if his change-up continues to improve, but also if he’s allowed to use his slider which was projected to be close to the level of his curveball, I find it difficult to believe that he won’t be able to achieve and very possibly far exceed his stats from last year in WV. 

To reiterate, I can easily see the Pirates having a top-10 farm system this time next year with a simply encouraging, consistent season all-around.  However, if one or two of the guys in WV or Bradenton can have breakout years that establish them as serious prospects, I think some thought has to be put into what’s holding them back from being a top-5.


Objectivity went out the window about 15 posts ago when the pro-NH crowd got their fur up. This ranking is a good opportunity to step back and be objective. Obviously we all like the state of our system right now, that’s why we visit and support websites like this one. The fact that the best regarded experts in the country don’t like it nearly as much should be a warning bell to step back and evaluate why. It shouldn’t be a marching cry to blindly defend management with simple rhetoric and excuses.

I agree with the system defenders, but I can’t help but be concerned by how others view us, particularly when those “others” are the best of the best.

Jay Yovanovich

good post


At least the ranking is going up. For it to be meaningful to Bucs the team needs to get to 1-3 and then stay there for a number of years.  That appears to be the plan but it seems to be an extemely difficult one to execute.

Lee Young

I thought for sure we’d be in the Top 10. I am shocked at the ranking. Oh well.


Huntington screwed everything up.

If the Pirates lost more we could have had Strasberg…Harper…Ackley.


Hahaha…only our Buccos could be so inept as to pick the wrong years to not suck bad enough!

white angus

thats right!  lol


So I guess that means there are 12 better farm systems … BS

Justin Gray

I lack the patience to look up every trade made by NH over the past few years and the returns. 

many are saying that the team should be stacked with prospects considering all the veteran-for-prospect deals made.  yes, many of those prospects were failures, but many of those prospects are already in the major leagues, and therefore no longer count in the prospect ranking.

just off the top of my head, morton, karstens, hanrahan, dan mccutchen, james mcdonald, josh harrison, and tabata were acquired in those veteran for young player deals.

yes, hanrahan and mcdonald weren’t really prospects when the bucs traded for them, but my point is that a lot of the return from those deals is already in the big leagues, and i think that’s something that many ignore when they complain about NH and his farm system ranking.



Our top 5 may be as good as anyone in the league, but out of those top 5 Cole and Bell haven’t played a pro game, Tallion has limited work, and Marte doesn’t like to walk.  That hurts a teams chances at being ranked so high.

It’s not surprising that we’re ranked so low.  4+ years on the job and the active roster worse now than it was when Huntington took over and the farm system is at best average.  Huntington should’ve been shown the door last season instead of being given a rediculous extension.


Right cause the great Dave Littlefield did such a great job! You know nothing fans loved him though cause he signed great veterans that you knew the names of, and he drafted so so well.

Todd Smith

Huntington took over in 2007.  The 2006 Opening Day lineup was Chris Duffy, Jack Wilson, Sean Casey, Jason Bay, Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz, Jose Castillo, Humberto Cota, Oliver Perez.  The top 10 prospects in the system were  Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Brad Lincoln, Yoslan Herrera, Josh Sharpless, Steve Pearce, Brian Bixler, Brad Corley, Todd Redmond and Mike Felix.

Clearly, nothing has improved at all.

John Lease

Exactly.  Any improvement has been marginal at best.  Most of the farm system that is here now is entirely Neil’s.  Dave Littlefield was a poor GM, but he had a better handle on getting ML ready talent.  Andy LaRoche doesn’t completely wash out Bobby Hill, but I’m convinced Ramirez was dealt due to the debt situation.


Do you know what sarcasm is? And yea the Farm system is at least 10x better under Neal than that under Dave ever.

Haha Debt situation you mean the Great Kevin McClatchy couldn’t afford to keep someone? But will bash Bob Nutting to death cause hes soo cheap, when hes spent more than anyone else on the MLB draft in last 4 years.


A Ram being dealt for debt situation is a fact no convincing needed. The big problem with him is he should ve  never been brought up at age 19 and wouldnt have been making real $ at that time. Regardless of the debt situation I find it hard to believe someone else OUTSIDE of the division wouldnt offer more and not require Lofton. What a F’n joke

Patrick Kelly

Solid troll post.

NH took over one of the worst teams in baseball with one of the worst farm systems out there. They revamped the roster and overhauled the minor league system, getting rid of old players and replaced them with real prospects. They finished last season 4 wins ahead of what he was handed after the 07 season. How do you not call that improvement?


Very disappointing. Five years of building the system and we rank no better than we did under DL (anywhere from 11th to 19th from 2003-2006).

I just don’t buy the lack of depth and I can’t see how you can rank 12 teams better than us, our top 5 is a strong as anyone’s in MLB. Prove’em wrong boys.  


The system ranked 26th after DL’s last year (2007).  The system gradually deteriorated under him.  He inherited a lot of lower-level talent from Bonifay, but as those guys slowly made their way through they weren’t replaced.  Once they were all gone, the system dropped to the bottom.  13th is disappointing, but at least the system is going in the other direction.


wtm, I guess my issue is not understanding how we could rank worse than 2004 (ranked 11th). In 2004 we had 3 top 100 guys (JVB, Burnett, Bully) plus Maholm and Gorzo, no ace prospects and no top position prospects.

The system going in the other direction just isn’t good enough when we traded away the whole team and have had 4 drafts/latin signings periods. Particularly when two of top 6 prospects are holdovers from DL (Marte and McPherson).


and in 2012 we have 4 Top 100 guys Cole and Taillon alone make the 2004 list look like a joke. I love how we forget about the likes of Sanchez, Allie, Heredia, Grossman, Dickerson, ZVR, Cain, Kingham, Cunningham, Mercer etc. More talent in this system then you think.


I think the players you mentioned even being top 100 is a testimate to what these rankings mean.


The system isn’t as good as it should be given the expenditures, but I don’t think the trades had anything to do with it.  Fans wildly overestimate the talent NH traded away and the value of vet-for-prospect trades.  The real issue is that the drafting has been just OK.

Jay Yovanovich

We are simply not that good.  Huntington has failed all of us.

Dan Loften

I’m confused how he has failed.  He has traded players like Jason Bay, albeit that trade did not work well at all.  Still avoided the Pirates spending huge money on him during his down slide.  Turned Nady and Damaso Marte into Daniel McCutchen and Jose Tabata.  Traded Sanchez away, during his injury ridden years pathing the way for Neil Walker.  Come on now.  You can’t say he has failed at anything.  When was the last time the Pirates were OK with spending huge money in the draft?  Exactly.  I simply do not see how having 2 prospects in MLB.coms top 15 and both are projected as #1 starters.  Look what the Giants have done with Cain and Lincecum, who both projected high as well.  Huntington may get fired one day, however, his TRUE effect on this organization will not be seen until at least 2013. 

John Lease

How has he failed?  How many years of top draft choices, signing over slot players, etc. has he had?  Cole has thrown how many pro pitches?  The ranking is a guess.  An educated guess, but a guess.  The system as a whole should be MUCH better than it is.  The number of outright failures from high bonus guys should be reason to fire him now.


you should be fired from life


Outright failures? Tony Sanchez and Alvarez are outright failures after so much limited playing time? HIgh School pitchers that are barely 20 years old yet are all considered outright failures? Thats a little ridiculous.

white angus

how do you go on living?

Jay Yovanovich

one day at a time

F Lang

Maybe even barely slightly above!!! We have so many young under the radar pitchers that we bring along so painfully slowly that we could still make a jump. If some of these young pitchers step up and we add more impact type hitters in the draft, along with Bell, and the big 2 pitchers continued development…the bucs could make a nice jump next year…or not.

Tacho Bill

We are average! We are average! Woo-hoo!

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