First Pitch: The Minor Leagues Exist For a Reason

The Pirates are often criticized for having a slow approach at promoting prospects through the levels. That’s not accurate criticism. There are plenty of examples where they’ve made aggressive promotions. The decision to send Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Willy Garcia, and Jose Osuna to West Virginia this year was aggressive. Sending Luis Heredia to the GCL at the age of 16, and to the NYPL at the age of 17 were aggressive. They did the same thing with Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar going straight to the GCL. Skipping Matt Curry over high-A was aggressive. Even having Gerrit Cole reach Triple-A in his first year is aggressive.

I think there are two issues here. First, I think most of the complaints about the Pirates having a slow approach come from people who follow the Pirates. They’re only closely following one team, and comparing that team to every other team in the league. Second, I think there are some moves that are extremely aggressive which make aggressive moves (like Gerrit Cole going to Triple-A in his first year) seem closer to conservative. When you combine the two you usually get a situation where Pirates fans see one team being aggressive with one player, then wondering why the Pirates don’t take the same approach with every player in their system.

You also don’t really get much followup on the players receiving the aggressive promotions. Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer will always be compared to each other since they were top pitchers from the same school, in the same draft, and drafted in the top three picks. A lot of the early evaluations have revolved around Bauer reaching the majors first, with Cole only getting as high as Triple-A at the end of the 2012 season. Bauer is getting more credit for just making it quickly to the majors than he is for his long-term results.

Coincidentally, a lot of the off-season rumors lately have surrounded players who have been aggressively promoted. I was looking at a few of them today after Bauer was traded to the Cleveland Indians, and noticed a trend. A lot of the guys who were aggressively promoted have seen their values drop after reaching the upper levels. Here is a look at their situations.

Trevor Bauer

Let’s start with Bauer. He was just traded by Arizona tonight to Cleveland in a three team deal. The main return was shortstop Didi Gregorius. Bauer was recently rated as the fifth best prospect in the league by Gregorius wasn’t in their top 100. He’s a plus defensive shortstop who had a .243/.288/.427 line in 185 at-bats in Triple-A last year. Heading into the 2012 season, Baseball America rated him the 8th best prospect in Cincinnati’s system. If the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole and got the return Arizona got, I’m sure Pirates fans would be furious. From the looks of Twitter tonight, Arizona fans were furious. The Diamondbacks also received left-hander Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson, and gave up relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers.

For the most part this was Bauer for Gregorius. That could be considered an over-pay for Arizona. It could be considered dealing from a position of strength to fill a position of need (which is an approach that can sometimes lead to bad trades). Or maybe it reflects Bauer’s value. He’s dealt with control issues in the minors, and in a limited sample in the majors he had a 6.06 ERA and a 17:13 K/BB ratio in 16.1 innings. Even though he made it to the majors a year after being drafted, he didn’t look ready for the majors. He’s walked batters at a 4.2 BB/9 rate in his minor league career. He also pitched nine innings below Double-A. Perhaps a slower approach and more time in the lower levels would have helped that control.

Rick Porcello

A name I saw a lot today was Rick Porcello. He seems to be the popular name to mention when talking about who the Detroit Tigers could trade to fill any of their needs. The right-hander pitched one season in the minors out of high school, making 24 starts in high-A. From there he jumped right to the majors at the start of the 2009 season, putting up a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. He never recaptured those numbers. In 2010 he had a 4.92 ERA in 27 starts, and spent time in Triple-A. In 2011 he had a 4.75 ERA in 31 starts, and a 4.59 ERA in 31 starts in 2012.

Part of his problem is that he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher with a poor defense behind him. Looking at his advanced numbers, his xFIP is always much better than his ERA, around a 4.00 for his career. But he also doesn’t help himself by striking out batters. He has a career 5.0 K/9 ratio. That’s the exact same as Jeff Karstens. Perhaps some time in Double-A and Triple-A could have helped him develop a strikeout pitch. Pitching to contact isn’t a horrible thing though, as long as he has a good defense behind him. That would make him a good fit with the Pirates, which is why I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him in a Hanrahan deal. But that combination still seems more like a message board trade offer than an actual rumor based on actual talks.

Andy Oliver

The Pirates acquired Oliver last week in exchange for Ramon Cabrera. Here’s another situation where a player was rushed. Oliver was a first round draft prospect in 2009, but fell to Detroit in the second round. He made his pro debut in 2010, going straight to Double-A. After 14 starts in Double-A with strong numbers, he went to Triple-A. The results in Triple-A were good, although his control went from a 2.9 BB/9 in Double-A to a 4.2 BB/9 in Triple-A. Oliver was promoted to the majors that same year and had a 7.36 ERA and an 18:13 K/BB ratio in 22 innings. He had a 6.52 ERA and a 5:8 K/BB ratio in 9.2 innings in the majors the following year. His BB/9 ratio in Triple-A in 2012 was 6.7.

Oliver skipped over A-ball, and was sent to the majors in his first professional season. If I’m looking for a reason why his control has been so horrible, it would be because he was rushed.

That’s only a few examples, based on some of the names that have been talked about in the last week. I don’t think we can draw any large conclusions here, since it’s a small group of pitchers. There are other top prospects who weren’t rushed through the minors, and have struggled in the majors (Zach Stewart, for example). We can’t say that rushing a pitcher is guaranteed to lead to problems, or that taking a slower approach gives a guy a better chance at success. But perhaps we can stop giving credit to players and teams just because a player was moved aggressively, all while we stop criticizing teams and players who don’t move ultra fast through the system. Lost in all of this is how the player is actually performing, and more importantly, how the player will eventually perform in the majors.

The minor league levels are there for a reason. They exist to teach players and gradually get them ready for the majors. However, it seems that the focus is too often on how quickly a player is moving through the system, rather than what he is doing while he moves through the system. Perhaps that’s due to the ETAs we put on players before they even sign their first contracts. A player gets drafted and he’s assigned a random date to arrive in the majors. That date only assumes everything will go perfectly along the way. The ETA usually comes with a projection for that player. Lost in that projection is the definition of the word projection. The projection talks about what the player could become, and too often that’s confused with what the player currently is. That’s how we get situations where people call for Gerrit Cole to be in the major league bullpen in September 2012, noting that he’s supposed to be an ace. He’s not an ace. He will eventually be an ace, but right now he’s a Double-A pitcher with a taste of Triple-A.

That’s not a bad thing, even though it’s treated like a bad thing. The irony with prospects is that players tend to get more credit for rushing through the minors and struggling in the majors, rather than going slower through the minors aimed at being better prepared for success in the majors. The major league success is all that matters. That’s where the focus should be, not how quickly a guy arrives in the majors. We won’t know for sure what led to the control issues with Oliver, or the lack of strikeouts with Porcello. It’s too early to say much on Bauer’s career, although he does have some alarming control issues. I think in each case, the pitchers would have a better chance of improving their problem area if they were given more time in the minors to develop, rather than being rushed through the minors and straight to the majors. And that’s something to keep in mind the next time we see someone dominating after five starts in high-A, and see people calling for a promotion to the next level.

Links and Notes

**Pre-order your copy of the 2013 Prospect Guide, which is expected to be released later this week.

**Pirates Have Shown Interest in Shin-Soo Choo, Who May Be Going to the Reds.

**Pirates Continue to Discuss Trading Hanrahan.

**Winter Leagues Update: Howard Wins Player of the Week.

+ posts

Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

look at what Baseball Prospectus says about Tabata and Snider (both could be considered rushed):

What is it that gives Tabata a chance to still be successful, but Snider a likely 5th outfielder? Many pirate fans might think that those descriptions are reversed (that’s responding to their respective descriptions in Under 25 rankings portion of the piece).

A: For me, Tabata’s overall profile is more diverse and the secondary offensive skills are superior to Snider’s. It’s unlikely either is an impact player, but Tabata still has a chance to carve out everyday value with a little ISO improvement and some BABIP bounceback. I can still see a .275/.350/.450 line as a possibility, which I imagine combined with average defense and slightly above-average on-base value would make him around a 2-win player or slightly below. Snider’s bat-to-ball struggles make it harder for me to buy into him as an everyday hitter. There is still pop there, but I haven’t seen consistent production from him in years outside of some stretches in hitter haven Vegas. In short, Snider profiles to me as a straight up-down guy, while Tabata’s profile still has some breathing room on the ML side, mostly because of secondary skills and the fact that the hit tool grades better. I wouldn’t be shocked if I ended-up on the wrong side, but I feel pretty comfortable with their respective 25U rankings.


Another “stud” name I am curious about is the Royal’s top prospect Bubba Starling. From what I’ve read and seen, he looks terrible — long awful swing and all. How did the scouts miss this. The Royals make Pittsburgh look competent at times.

Ian Rothermund

I don’t think anyone missed it. The simple fact was, that kid wasn’t one of those, play high school baseball in the spring, summer leagues, fall leagues, then winter leagues….he was a dual sport guy. Saying a player will be completely unable to fix something like a long swing is like saying a 19 year old pitcher will never learn to not drop his elbow when he throws a breaking pitch. Maybe he’ll never be able to fix it. I’ll be interested to see if he can improve. At least the Royals weren’t stupid enough to trade him off after 5 seconds of disappointment.

La Pirate

No one has specifically mentioned Gerrit Cole but I believe if he does well in the spring he needs to make the club. Sure he will have some learning curve at the major level but all of them do. I am not sure he can benefit much at the Triple A level but of course I could be wrong. Hopefully he will be up their pretty soon. Someone asked about Marte. I bet the Pirates wished they had him on the team when the team broke camp. Its understandable that they thought Presley and Tabata would perform better but neither is starter material. The Pirates would have been better with Marte starting immediately but that is using hindsight..The point is when they are ready bring them on and understand they are going to struggle some. Most all do but the team will be much stronger for the season and the long run.

Stephen Stull

Secondly, who cares if we promoted a couple of young guys aggressively. WE want guys being promoted to the SHOW, not A or AA.

Ian Rothermund

So what is an appropriate pace to replace an entire system completely devoid of internal talent aside from McCutchen and Walker? Not to say things couldn’t be marginally better, but it also seems that this model is nearly fruition and could be a relatively sustainable model at that.


looks like the pirates held back on Cutch and NFW appropriately, especially Walker. Pedro was obviously rushed but thats all hindsight now.

Ian Rothermund

I think I just have a, better safe than sorry, mentality.

Stephen Stull

First off, I don’t think it’s a critism of not promoting players quickly enough. I think the critism is that we don’t have enough good players to promote. The minor leagues are there for a reason but serve no purpose if you don’t scout or train well. Pirates FO has shown that they don’t care to upgrade scouting and even let the best one leave this off season. They obviously aren’t very good at training players either, I constantly see players drafted by other teams reaching majors and being productive well before Pirates players are. That, my friends, is the problem with this organization. If you draft in the Top 10 every year you should have stud prospects waiting to get to show but we do not.


one more thing about always drafting in the top 10:
the Royals have had success with offensive players in the draft, yet their heralded pitching drafts have flopped miserably over the last few years.
hochevar, montgomery, lamb, etc… all top talents who havent come through in one way or another. it truly is a crap shoot.
so what did the royals do? they trade for an established starter who originally was a 16th round draft pick.


also, the pirates hired i believe 4 new scouts recently. links are easy to find as well.


multiple outlets, including BA and BP, have said that the pirates farm system has improved greatly and that 2013 will be their deepest in years. if Sano and Appel were both signed, you would be looking at probably the #1 farm system in the game.

i dont have the links but you can easily find them.

Ian Rothermund

What are the statistics you’ve used for this statement?

You can always make the argument about drafting highly, and that I understand. However, looking at the first round picks they’ve had the last few years, or actually during the current administration, goes as follows…Pedro, Tony Sanchez, then 3 stud pitchers in a row in Taillon, Cole, and Appel. Granted, they didn’t sign Appel, but I’d agree that it was worth the chance. Other than that…um, their top-10 picks are in; MLB, AAA (probably ready for a shot in MLB), AA 2 years out of high school, AAA (probably ready for MLB), and unsigned. I just don’t understand the argument about all the Pirates’ top 10 picks…if you want to question some of their middle rounders, that might make more sense, but everyone really knows that’s a crap shoot.


I think what is forgotten in this discussion is the idea of years of control and when it would be most valuable for an org like the Pirates to have those years take place. Years of control are extremely valuable to small market teams and it’s what allows somebody like the Rays to stay in contention for multiple years. Thinking rationally, wouldn’t you rather have a guy like Alen Hanson under control for his years from 22-28 rather than 19-25? Prime years are important. That way we could get 5 prime years out of Taillon, let’s say, and then move him for a top prospect at the end if we have to…that’s my 2 cents.

Mark Busch

No one suggested that Hanson should have been in Pittsburgh last season (as you implied when you talked about his age 19-25 seasons). I thought the best hitter in the SAL should have been promoted to A+ last summer.

But I am very uncomfortable with the notion that it is OK to leave players in the Minors as long as possible just so that we can have them in the mid-late 20s instead of their early 20s. I know that the Pirates will definitely keep Cole in Indy to start the year to delay his service clock. I think that’s a reasonable calculation. But keeping a player for several more years in the Minors could potentially cost the player tens of millions over his playing career. It treats the prospects like property instead of people. I mean, how far would you be willing to take it? Should the Pirates have kept Cutch in the Minors for several more seasons, since the Pirates weren’t going to be competitive in 2009, anyway? Should keep keep all of our top prospects in the Minors until we have a team that can compete, then promote them all at once?


I believe that it takes 4-5 years to develop a player in the minors and 3-4 to develop them in the majors before you see their full talents emerge. Of course there will be exceptions like Trout. Examples of players that need major league development time would be guys like Presley, Tabata, Snider, Locke, these guys can’t get much better in the minors.


ive read that it takes an average of 6 seasons for a player to “stick” in the big leagues, if he we were going to stick at all. this is mostly for the high school players. college players just slightly less time.


Fans are the last people to decide who should be advanced. The people who work with these players every day can judge not only their skill level but also their maturity. Everybody wishes it could be like the NFL, draft a player and that player is starting the next season.

Lee Young


Lee Young

Personally, the major takeaway to me is this:
1) I don’t care if the Pirates rush players or develop them slowly, as long as they get put in the best position possible to succeed by the time they get to the majors. AND, even if they are, its no guarantee they’ll succeed.

I believe Pedro was rushed. I believe they took their good ‘ol time with Cutch.

IMHO, the Pirates neither rush nor ‘overly develop’ their players more than any other org. I like to peruse other teams’ boards, esp the Royals and Mariners and bloggers there say the same things that are being said about our developmental procedures.

It’s what fans do. lol

Ian Rothermund

Just as a comment here, but didn’t Hanson’s number start to fall off by the end of the year? I mean, not to rip on the guy, he had a great year, but weren’t one of the serious questions about him in regards to his longevity and ability to stay consistent? You’re looking at his offensive numbers; what he does with the bat and saying that it should entirely dictate his progression through the minors. All the while, there are still issues with him defensively, in regards to his physical conditioning, and quite likely his baseball IQ since he was what…19, 20 maybe? Wasn’t this also his first year in the States? My main argument is that it shouldn’t be about a slash line, it should be about how he gets it, his overall game.

Case in point…this coming year, I don’t think Cole should be automatically promoted to Pittsburgh just because he has a handful of good starts at the beginning of the season. You’ll be able to see…is he leaving his fastball up? Is he overpowering his slider? Does he work himself into situation where he is forced to throw too many pitches per inning? You will literally be able to see what his drawbacks in the majors will be. Not that he will really be able to fully be prepared, but if there are glaring weaknesses that can be corrected before its too late, then they should be addressed before they’re forced into the spotlight.

Mark Busch

“If there arre glaring weaknesses that can be corrected before its too late.”

I think this is the source of our disagreement. I don’t think it’s ever to late to fix a leak. Like someone else pointed out, he’ll have better coaches in the Majors, and veteran teammates to give him advice.

Lots of MLB aces start out the first season or two as a relatively average pitcher before they hit their stride. Cole would have to really struggle at AAA imo to not promote him to Pittsburgh in June. With the inconsistent play of J-Mac and the unknowns like Locke, it is unclear who will be the weakest link in the rotation at that time, but I have little doubt that Cole will be an upgrade for the Pirates next summer.

Ian Rothermund

I’m just of the opinion that simply moving a player up because he could be better than the guy ahead of him is a bad idea. Subtle holes in a player’s game can be exploited at hIgher level, and while ultimately you’ll never know what you have until you give them a chance, I just don’t think a guy like Hanson needed to be moved up. If he would’ve gone up to Bradenton last year, what happens to Gift? His bat wasn’t ready for AA, but his defense is far beyond what Hanson can offer at this point in time. Furthermore, if they were both on the same team, that means one of them (and likely both) would be losing reps at the position, and that doesn’t make sense.

The same goes for Cole in my opinion as well. Starting next season, I’m sure he’s one of the top-5 starters in the organization. If this were a video game and all that went into it was a bar graph of stats, he would be in Pittsburgh’s opening day roster. However, I don’t see any point in rushing a guy’s developmental process and advancing him a few months ahead of time and risking a potentially several year set back. Now, he still might fail, but what does everyone really lose by giving an extra few months or even a year to work on peripheral skills?

Going back to Hanson for one last comment…right now he’s seen as a potential impact player. Not that he should be treated with kid gloves his entire minor league career, but I just didn’t see last year as the time to do that considering his age and need to improve defensively

Ian Rothermund

I’m just of the opinion that simply moving a player up because he could be better than the guy ahead of him is a bad idea. Subtle holes in a player’s game can be exploited at hIgher level, and while ultimately you’ll never know what y

Mark Busch

Tim, do you agree with my assertion that Hanson can just as easily work on his defense at any of the MiLB levels, as long as he is getting consistent playing time? He needs reps and coaching. The reps will be the same at any level, and coaches shouldn’t be any worse at the higher levels.

Mark Busch

Count me among the fans who wishes that the Pirates made more aggressive promotions. The problem I have with your anaylsis, Tim, and others like it is that you point to all these prospects who were promoted aggressively or “rushed”, and when they fail you suggest that more seasoning in the Minors could have done the trick. But the fact is, most prospects fail. If Porcello – a player who has put up at least 2 fWAR each of the last four seasons – is a failure, then the majority of former top 100 prospects are failures.

Some players who are rushed, like Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, and Mike Trout, come to the Majors and become superstars. Did the Cardinals stunt Pujols’ development by not giving him extended time beyond A+ ball? Were the Marlins nuts to call up Hanley from AA?

I haven’t seen any compelling evidence to suggest that there is a causal connection between rushing prospects to the Majors and them failing when they get there. I believe that most players can continue to develop in the Majors even if they don’t arrive as finished products. So keeping top prospects in the Minors becomes about two things besides development: (1) the player’s service clock is delayed until he is a superior player, and (2) waiting until the player is better than his Major League counterpart.


 Mark Busch : I would think that comparing hitting prospects to pitching prospects and their developement would be an apple to oranges situation. There is absolutely no way to draw a omparison.For a really good example of the slower developement of pitching prospects and the success of that approach,check out how the Rays do it compared to,say,the Tigers.

Mark Ludwig

If you go back far enough (I know it’s a different front office) you can find the extreme pushes in the Pirates system. For the most part, they were wildly unsuccessful. Way back when, the Pirate had a 20 year old outfielder dominating High A. The next season, Jose Guillen was their starting RF. Maybe if they let him play a game in AA or (GASP!) AAA he would have learned to take a walk. Since it worked so well the first time, they did the same thing the next season by bumping the #5 prospect in baseball up and having him jump to AAA. Then after 6 solid but not spectacular weeks, Aramis Ramirez was in Pittsburgh before swimming pools were even open for the summer. We be so smart! Bouncing him back and forth for the next 3 years which played a role in his being dealt to Chicago when he was and made it less than shocking when he struggled to stay consistent in the majors.

Being aggressive is fine. Rushing guys just so they can get to Pittsburgh sooner is not. Couldn’t agree with you more!


Tim – what are your feelings in retrospect about Marte last season. Was he rushed?

Mark Busch

I realize Pujols, HanRam, and Trout are all great players and their developments should not necessarily be used as templates for all prospects. They are merely anecdotes intended to counter the frequent anecdotes I see people using when they want to argue for more conservation promotion schedules.

Figuring out the causal connection between rushing prospects and their rate of success in the Majors is above my pay grade. I was merely suggesting that providing a few examples as proof is not very compelling, as there are always counter examples to be had.

I hear you on the West Virginia roster, but I’d imagine that being aggressive at that stage, when there are still four jumps to make until The Show, isn’t nearly the risk that jumping a player straight from A+ or AA to the Majors is. We say that Pujols is the exception because he is the best hitter of the last decade or so. But would the Pirates know what an exception looked like in their system, or would they follow a more cookie cutter approach? I believe that Alen Hanson was a clear exception last season, and should have been in A+ if not AA by the summer when he was putting up an absolutely absurd slash line. His fielding still needs work, but those reps are essentially the same at any MiLB level.

Mark Ludwig

Why should Hanson have been bumped up 1 or 2 levels? He had a good slash line…a very good one. At the same, his numbers weren’t quite as good after the first month or so. Would you feel better about him if he were bumped up like Nick Castellanos and his end of the season line had 1 level with an OPS over 1.000 and another with an OPS under .700?

Furthermore, why is Hanson the clear exception and not Gregory Polanco? Polanco had better K:BB rates, his defense was much better and their overall lines were comparable. Could the Pirates have been more aggressive? Yeah, probably, but I don’t think they needed to be and I have no problem with their aggressive (but not overly aggressive) pace.

Mark Busch

Hanson was the clear exception because of his insane slash line over the first half of the season. That’s when the Pirates should have promoted him. He was leading the South Atlantic League in a lot of offensive categories. And he’s a shortstop (hopefully he sticks there), making his bat play even better.

He cooled off in July, but with his August resurgence, it looks like that down month was nothing more than standard variance.

And finally, organizational need ought to be considered. It takes a back seat to a player’s development, but when you’re the best offensive player in a league as a shortstop, and there are still four more levels to climb until you reach the show, it’s time to get promoted. The Pirates are a team on the cusp of contention, and they’ve had a black hole at shortstop the last few seasons. I’d like to see him in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later. If he struggles at A+, or AA ball, then sure, you keep him there for a while and try to make him a better player. But he dominated at the plate in A ball, it was time for him to move on.

Blue Bomber

I love the question ‘How do you know who the next Pujols is?’ Who decided, or made the case, to promote Pujols? Player development, scouting, MLB staff?

I wonder too if the reward of promoting a player early outweighs the risk based on the high % of players who fail at the MLB level anyway? Aren’t your best instructors on the MLB staff, so wouldn’t that also mitigate some of the risk? Just a thought.

Matt Beam

I’d do Porcello for Hanny in a heartbeat

Capuano for Hanny might be fair but I’d love to see them get the LAD to throw in somebody else like AA LHP Aaron Miller

Lee Young

Unfortunately Detroit won’t!

Pirates Prospects Daily


Latest articles

Latest comments