Earlier today I was on The Fan, discussing the Pirates’ farm system (what else?) and some of the options that could help the team this year. I was asked about the lack of hitters in the upper levels, which reminded me of how the system looked just two years ago.
The Pirates entered the 2010 season with a lot of hitting talent in the upper levels. Andrew McCutchen had just made the jump to the majors in 2009 with strong results. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata were set to make their highly anticipated debuts by mid-season that year. No one was expecting much out of Neil Walker until he started putting up some surprise breakout numbers to start the year, eventually getting the call to take over second base.
The group of Alvarez, McCutchen, Walker, and Tabata was supposed to provide the core of the offense. McCutchen has been the only consistent player from that group. Walker and Tabata have been inconsistent, while inconsistent doesn’t really do justice to the roller coaster ride that Alvarez has been on. But in 2010, all four players were looking promising.
The situation in the farm system was the exact opposite in 2010 as it is now. The Pirates had a lot of hitting talent, but no pitching. “The Altoona Four” was a group of pitchers that led the Lynchburg Hillcats to the Carolina League championship in 2009. But not many were counting on them. Rudy Owens had a strong year. Justin Wilson flashed dominant stuff at times, but his overall numbers weren’t encouraging. Bryan Morris was learning a new delivery. And Jeff Locke was cursed by my presence at every one of his starts. On top of all of this, Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, and Luis Heredia weren’t in the system.
Two years ago the offense looked set for the near future, while the pitching was a big question mark. Two years later the pitching looks great. The Pirates are seeing a lot of success in the majors. The “Altoona Four” has gone on to become the…well, we don’t really have a name for them. I guess you only get one of those names if you lead your team to the Eastern League title, one year after winning the Carolina League title. Whatever the name, they’re looking like good options in Triple-A. None of them top of the rotation guys, but guys who can have success in the majors. Then, lower in the system, we could see Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole start to make their way through the system, potentially arriving next year.
The pitching looks set for the near future, just like the offense did in 2010. That’s something to keep in mind when suggesting draft strategies based on need. The first round pick this year isn’t going to arrive until 2014 at the earliest. The offensive problems might not be a problem by then.
In 2010 we didn’t expect Charlie Morton to be a key part of the rotation in 2012 (especially as the 2010 season went on). We didn’t expect that the Dodgers would trade James McDonald for Octavio Dotel, and that McDonald would become arguably the best pitcher on the staff. We didn’t know that Erik Bedard would eventually sign with the Pirates, or that the Yankees would pay the Pirates to take A.J. Burnett. We didn’t know about the Altoona Four, Taillon, Cole, or Heredia.
What offensive player this year will pull a Charlie Morton, going from a disaster of a season to a key contributor in two years? What player will come via trade? What free agents will sign? What lower level minor league players will emerge as options?
If the best player is a bat, take the bat. But don’t take a bat because the 2012 team needs a bat. Regardless of what the 2012 team needs, that bat won’t arrive until 2014 or later. And the needs in 2014 may be totally different than the needs in 2012.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 7-4 to the Nationals. Erik Bedard made his first start since his injury.
**Prospect Watch: A rough start for Jameson Taillon, and Alen Hanson hits his sixth homer.