First Pitch: Where Would the Farm System Be Without Cole and Taillon?

Yesterday, Jim Callis wrote that he had the Pittsburgh Pirates as his 8th best farm system. That brought up a discussion on Twitter tonight about the quality of the system. I missed the original discussion. I was driving across Florida all day, finalizing things for this year’s coverage (aka, making sure I have a place to live down here). From what I gathered from scanning over the discussion was that there was a debate over the quality of the system behind top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The theory is that the Pirates wouldn’t be ranked in the top ten without those two top prospects.

I decided it would be a fun thing to look at the system without Cole and Taillon. Scratch that. Fun might not be the right word when talking about removing two of the top pitching prospects in the game from the system. Perhaps interesting is a better word to use. So let’s look at the system without Cole and Taillon.

**First of all, we can’t just remove Cole and Taillon. You have to replace them with something. The idea behind all of this is that the Pirates spent a ton in the draft, and the only talent they received were two easy picks at the top of the first round. So for the purposes of this exercise, we’d have to replace Cole and Taillon with two other prospects. This presents a problem. First, where do the Pirates pick? Fifth? Would that still put them in the “they only have talented players because of high draft picks” range? 10th? 15th? Also, who do they pick in those spots? Do we go with the guys who were actually picked, or do we assume the Pirates would have taken someone different?

I think the simple answer with this is that we have no clue who they’d take. An educated guess might be the best route. So we’ll assume they’re picking in the 6-15 range in each draft, and base the pick on the actual picks from that range.

2010: The players in the 6-15 range span from young impact pitchers out of college (Chris Sale, Matt Harvey) to guys who don’t crack the top 100 prospect lists (Deck McGuire, Delino DeShields Jr.). In the middle there’s prospects in the 50 range. So we’ll go conservative and assume this pick is a prospect in the 50 range.

2011: All but two of the guys in the 6-15 range of this draft ended up in BA’s 2012 top 100. That could be the shiny new toy syndrome, although a lot of those guys have legitimately broken out. Most rank in the 20-40 range. Once again we’ll go conservative and say the prospect would be ranked around 30.

So we’ve taken guys who ranked 12th and 15th last year, and replaced them with guys who rank 30th and 50th.

**After replacing Cole and Taillon it’s time to review what the system actually has. First there’s Luis Heredia. The right-hander has just as much upside as Cole or Taillon, but he also has a lower floor and is risky due to his young age and proximity to the majors. Baseball America ranked him as the second best prospect in the NYPL this year.

**There’s also Josh Bell, who signed for $5 M after falling to the Pirates in the second round. For anyone who might say Bell was an obvious pick, tell that to the Red Sox and every other team who passed on him. He was no guarantee to sign and looked like a risky pick at the time. Bell missed most of his first pro season with a knee injury, but still has all of the tools and plenty of time to realize his upside. That upside could end up being a special hitter with power from both sides of the plate.

**Next we get to the two breakout prospects: Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. Baseball America writers gave both a lot of press this year. Ben Badler called them two of the biggest breakout prospects in the game. They’re both far off from the majors which means two things. One is that they’re not guarantees. The other is that they might not be done developing. Polanco added some power this year, and there’s room for more in the future. Hanson’s big drawback is his defense at shortstop, and he’s got time to work on that.

**By this point we’ve finished with the current impact prospects. It’s now time to point out some of the guys in the middle of the system who have received recognition.

-Gift Ngoepe was ranked the 20th best prospect in the Florida State League by Baseball America, and his defense at short has received rave reviews, with some saying it could be the best of any prospect in the game.

-Barrett Barnes (10) and Clay Holmes (15) both ranked in the NYPL top 20. Barnes was a first round compensation pick in 2012 and has the potential to jump up to that impact level due to his bat and power potential. Holmes is a starting pitcher out of high school with some good upside. The 2011 9th rounder, who received $1.2 M, put up some impressive numbers in the NYPL this year, going up against college level hitters.

-Wyatt Mathisen (5), Dilson Herrera (7), Tyler Glasnow (9), and Jin-De Jhang (19) rated in the GCL top 20. Mathisen (2012 2nd round) and Glasnow (2011 5th round) were both draft picks, while Herrera and Jhang were international signings. Herrera has already received recognition from BA, being named the number one player out of ten international prospects who could see a Hanson/Polanco break-through in 2013. Glasnow not only put up dominant numbers, but he saw a velocity increase with his fastball going up to 96 MPH. His size and stuff could eventually yield another top of the rotation pitcher, and with the way he’s developing that could be sooner, rather than later. Jhang and Mathisen are both catchers. Mathisen was the top prep catcher in the 2012 draft, while Jhang has been a surprise breakout and is one of the best pure hitters in the system. Both have the potential to be two-way catchers.

**One pitcher who wasn’t named to any of those lists was Nick Kingham. I’d rank him right up there with Glasnow and Holmes. Kingham reminds me of Kyle McPherson, who is also prospect eligible. That doesn’t mean much since McPherson isn’t established in the majors. However, I see both as solid three pitch guys who could end up as number three starters with the ability to throw 200 innings per year.

**Finally, if we’re going to penalize the Pirates for where they picked in the draft, we have to do the same for every other team in Callis’ top ten. I’m not going to go into the same detail, but let’s just look at the draft situations for the top eight teams.

1. St. Louis

They haven’t had any first round picks higher than 13th since 2008, and only one higher than 19th. They do have a ton of quantity. The Cardinals had 12 first round picks (including compensation round picks) from 2008-2012. That’s just over two per year. They had five in 2012. The Pirates had seven in the 2008-2012 span, and one of those didn’t sign.

2. Seattle

They’ve had some easy picks, and perhaps some were easier than the Pirates. They picked 2nd or 3rd in three of the last four years. One of those picks (Dustin Ackley) is no longer prospect eligible. Credit where credit is due, they did well taking Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin in the late first round in separate drafts, but Zunino/Hultzen should get the same treatment as Taillon/Cole.

3. Miami

Callis notes that the trade with Toronto propelled them from the middle of the pack.

4. Texas

Like the Cardinals, the Rangers have had a lot of picks. They’ve had 12 from 2008-2012, with none higher than 11th.

5. Boston

Another team with a lot of picks. This time it’s 13 from 2008-2012.

6. Tampa Bay

Probably the king of additional picks. The Rays had 16 from 2008-2012. However, their drafts haven’t been that good lately, and Callis notes that their off-season trades made up for this.

7. Minnesota

They had 12 picks from 2008-2012, and also had the number two pick in the 2012 draft.

8. Pittsburgh

Here is what Callis said: “System isn’t deep but has impressive trios of arms and bats that most can’t match.” In the “trios of arms and bats”, I’m assuming he’s including Heredia with the pitchers, and the hitting trio of Polanco/Hanson/Bell.

If you’re going to chalk up the ranking of the Pirates to one factor, you’ve got to take the same approach with every team. It would be hard to say where the Pirates rank, since you’ve got to make exceptions for every other team. Cole and Taillon are definitely part of why the Pirates are ranked high, but you could make that same argument for other teams on this list. Seattle had high picks. St. Louis, Texas, Boston, and Tampa Bay had twice as many picks as most teams. Minnesota had a high pick and twice as many picks. Miami traded away a lot of big name players this off-season. That’s not to take away from what any of those teams have done. That’s actually my point. I wouldn’t take away from the Pirates because they had high picks for Cole and Taillon, just like I wouldn’t take away from any of these teams due to their individual circumstances.

The most important thing here is what Callis noted. He noted a trio of arms and bats, and said that most systems can’t match that. If you take out Cole and Taillon, then you’ve still got a trio of bats and a top pitching prospect. Then when you consider all of the players who have received recognition from Baseball America — whether it’s the individual league rankings, the credit to Hanson and Polanco, or the Dilson Herrera prediction — you see that the system ranking is more than just Cole and Taillon.

Having two top pitching prospects as a result of two high picks certainly helps. But the system isn’t built around those two guys. Baseball America has given credit to international guys and draft picks. The underlying argument is that the Pirates didn’t get anything from their draft spending. A closer look at that would show that the argument is incorrect. It’s almost like the first impressions have dominated the discussion. The 2009 draft was the first draft where the Pirates took an extreme over-slot approach. That draft looks very disappointing, but the 2010 and 2011 drafts are different stories. The 2010 draft could produce a top of the rotation starter, a middle of the rotation starter, and several 5th starter/bullpen/bench types. The 2011 draft could be the best one yet. That’s not just because of Cole and Bell, but because of the breakouts of Glasnow and Holmes.

It shouldn’t be a new idea that the Pirates have a top system and that it goes beyond Cole and Taillon. We just spent an entire season with Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson getting coverage from national prospect writers for their breakout performances. People who saw Luis Heredia dominate college hitters at the age of 17 came away impressed. Draft picks like Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, and Barrett Barnes all opened enough eyes to gain recognition in the end of the year rankings. Then there’s Cole and Taillon. You can’t take them out. They’re part of the system, and not just the only part. The system has received a lot of credit this year, and the people crediting the system aren’t just talking about those two pitchers. But if you did take them out, the Pirates would still have four impact prospects and a lot of guys in the middle with breakout potential. That’s still a good system.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Pirates Rank in Jim Callis’ Top Ten Farm Systems.

**Injury Delays Liriano Deal.

**Link Roundup: Kyle McPherson, Jameson Taillon, Kris Johnson, Gerrit Cole.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top Prospects: #20 – Jin-De Jhang.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top Prospects: #19 – Andrew Oliver.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Mark Busch

If the Pirates get deducted points for drafting Cole and Taillon, then surely we should get bonus points for drafting Appel and having that extra pick next year.

Lee Young

One last point on those comp picks. Looking at this chart:

Teams have about a 17% chance of getting a regular or better player.

Is it really worth taking those chances? I don’t think so.



sure it is. You are saying why should any team ever want to get an extra draft pick or why invest in draft as the odds are low.

17% chance to get a regular or better player(and one that you would have for his cheap pre-arbitration years) is worth it. If you are good at drafting maybe your odds would go up slightly, after all, all folks making drafting decisions are not equal.

The big key is getting the chance to get players who are better than the average regular as they are hard to come by (can trade but cost is more than a pick to make up for lower risk).


The Pirates did nothing creative with the 2012 draft and they got nothing, with 2 picks in the top 15 this year, they know they can’t pay both of them unless they do what other teams did last year, make phone calls before the draft and find out who they can sign, possibly passing up the best player on the board at the time. The Pirates did not do that last year other teams did. The Pirates could have 5 NO.1 draft picks this year and 5 Comp picks, but where would the money come from to sign the best player available at selection time?

Mark Ludwig

Really? I disagree. With the #8 pick, they took a hard to sign guy who some considered the top talent in the draft. During the rest of the first 10 rounds, they signed enough below slot guys that they were able to offer Appel well above slot (Boras&#8 217; claim that they never could have signed him and would have known it if they called him pre-draft was demonstrably false as he claimed immediately after the signing deadline that they could have signed him if they offered more). Despite being the only team to not sign their 1st round pick they still came away from the 2012 draft with two guys who were top prospects in their given leagues (Barnes and Mathisen) and some interesting players like Sampson and Moroff&#8 230;and the #9 pick next year.

You&#8 217;re also not right that they can&#8 217;t sign two first rounders because they get additional money in the draft pool because they have an extra pick. I guess if they take somebody who makes the very questionable decision to hold out for an absurd, never-gonna-happen-level bonus like Appel (who will be kicking himself&#8 230;or Boras&#8 217; crotchal region&#8 230;if he goes #13 like I have seen predicted) then they might have trouble but it would have been fine with any other two players. IIRC, Deven Marerro was the highest drafted player to sign an overslot deal and even if I am mistake, I am certain that nobody signed a deal that was so far overslot that it would have prevented other signings like Appel&#8 217;s demands would have.

Lee Young

Leadoff….I disagree…i believe we were given the $$$ to sign both of our picks.

“The Pirates could have 5 NO.1 draft picks this year and 5 Comp picks, but where would the money come from to sign the best player available at selection time?”

The new system gives you the money to take those picks.



IMO, I think the Pirates have a poor strategy with comp picks, almost as if they thought that pick was a chance to go experimental, the pick to go outside the box with. I always thought being able to trade a draft pick was a good idea, but when they traded one of their comp picks this year for a utility (Platoon) player I began to realize what the Pirates think of comp picks.


The Pirates traded a comp pick for a 1B with 3+ years of control. The same 1B prior to 2012 that was a 2-3 WAR player. He’s not a top 1B, but 20 HR’s would be useful if he earns the playing time.

It was a good move to make and I could care less about losing the comp pick. If you draft a player in 2013 and he makes the majors in 2016 as a 2-3 WAR player, I would rather have the 2-3 WAR player right now in this current talent window instead.


But the Bucs may not have gotten the 2-3 WAR player. If Sanchez was performing in 2012 as he did in 2010 and 2011 it could be viewed as good move. But for someone who has been demoted to AAA and who you are probably going to use a part time player seems like a bit much to me.

Lee Young

A bird in hand is better than 17% in the bush (leagues)?



If Sanchez hits 20 Hrs. and has a 2-3 WAR this year, I will say it was a good move, but I don’t think a part time player that will get as few at bats as he will get will accomplish a 2-3 WAR. Jones will get the majority of the playing time at 1st base because Jones will not be getting a lot of playing time in right field with the crowed outfield the Pirates have.
Of course, Jones could get hurt, slump or something and what I just said might all go out the window in the “What if game”.


we could do a similar, but opposite exercise. where would the system be if it had… say…. Mark Appel/David Dahl and Brandon Thomas.



good point. that is definitely the more reasonable way to look at it.

i guess we can change my dahl/appel comment into

“the pirates even have the extra first rounder this year, making a system without cole and taillon even better by the time the draft comes around”

Lee Young

Tim….but you just played the ‘what if we didn’t have JT or Cole” game??


Lee Young

We agreed with your point. And decided to go off in another direction as us bloggers are wont to do.

🙂 🙂

Lee Young

Mark Appel would’ve definitely jumped us up a notch, imho.

Still not a fan of Dahl…tweener type.

Lee Young

Tim…instead of REMOVING Cole and JT, let’s just pretend they graduated to the majors, ok?

Btw, I LOVED this article. Just shows that people want to criticize NH just to criticize.



Lee Young

“Barnes was a first round compensation pick in 2012 and has the potential to jump up to that impact level due to his bat and power potential.”

Good thing we didn’t trade that comp lottery pick we got this year…….oh wait.


Enjoyed the analysis, Tim. Taking Cole and Taillon out would be like taking Strasburg and Harper off the Nats. Noone is criticizing their major league team for being so bad that they had two overall number 1 picks who could be historically great. And I don’t hear anyone putting a disclaimer on the Penguins teams because they stunk bad enough to get Crosby and Malkin, not to mention Fluery three drafts in a row.


Good stuff, Tim. Thanks for this analysis.

I thought this ( was an interesting post about Huntington’s lack of strategy (or lack of results – however it should be described) with respect to compensation picks. The Cardinals played the compensation game very well got five picks this year because of it. Not only that, they managed to lose all those FAs and still make the playoffs again in 2012. All this and a #1 system ranking from Callis without the benefit of a top 10 pick.


Then it turns into what happened with the Braves and Rafael Soriano — you hurry up and trade him for 10 cents on the dollar. The lesson is that Soriano is not very good when it comes to arbitration time.


Funny thing, when the Pirates got creative with the draft, they changed the rules!


Wonder if the rules would have changed if the Pirates were the ones getting creative with comp picks?

Lee Young

Leadoff…the rules DID change, mainly because of T Bay.

Lee Young

Sorry….Not gonna penalize NH for not ‘playing’ that comp system.



I am. If the system is set up that way then make it work for the Bucs.

Lee Young

not worth the risk for a 17% chance (see my post below). you could cripple your payroll if that player accepts arb.


I’m not worried about Huntington’s rep. I’m concerned with the Bucs place in the standings. At least one team in the division not only appears to have benefited greatly from the comp system, but they did so while still being competitive. That’s impressive. The Pirates – either thru a lack of a plan or a lack of execution on the plan – appear to have benefitted to a much smaller degree.


@beatem — The conversation was getting too condensed below.

If you wanted to have me pick one answer for why the Cards have a great system AND compete at the major league level, it would be Jeff Luhnow. He has his fingerprints over much of their current ML and MiL success.

He’s going to be a great GM for the Astros and he already has them going in the right direction. His 2012 draft was a potential work of art.


Kevin – OT, but what are you thoughts on the success of the Giants over the last couple of years? Any beliefs/opinions on who/what has been driving that?


If you’re using the 2008-12 draft comp picks for the Cards, the only one that contributed to their recent success is Lance Lynn from 2008 (for Troy Percival as a Type B).

The Cards typically operate on a payroll in the mid-$90M range (higher recently), so that’s a distinct talent advantage.

The Cards also have drafted/developed later round talent at a rate better than the vast majority of teams in the MLB. Allen Craig was an 8th round pick in 2006 and David Freese was a 9th round pick obtained in a trade 1 year after he was drafted, as just two examples.

If you want to argue the Cards have a superior draft/development system, fine. But it’s not because they gamed the comp pick system better than the Pirates.

The Rays and Blue Jays are the ones that took full advantage of that aspect.


The Cards have the #1 system right now, per Callis. The development of Freese and Craig has no bearing on that ranking (unless you are suggesting that Callis trusts the Cards development program and gives a nod to their prospects). Their current MLB payroll has no bearing on Callis’ ranking at all.

Based on what Tim wrote, STL got seven extra picks and the Pirates got just two extra picks over the same period of time. So, I’d say it’s pretty clear that STL participated in the comp system to a much stronger degree than PIT did. You might be right that TB and TOR might have done better than anyone else. But, I believe it is pretty clear that STL and their 12 picks is greater than the Pirates 7 picks. Maybe that’s not a cause concern.


That’s not what you said originally. You were saying that STL benefited greatly while still being competitive, thru the use of comp picks.

I showed that their comp picks from 2008-12 (NH’s tenure) did help them either be competitive at ML or aid their farm ranking.

They are #1 primarily because of their International program (Tavares and Martinez), which people like Dejan dismiss as “counting” towards a farm system, Shelby Miller (1st round), and Trevor Rosenthal (21st round pick — development).


Sorry if my original thought was confusing. My point was STL got comp picks by losing a bunch of FAs. Given that they have had five more comp picks than PIT. I think it stands to reason they benefitted more from the system, that is, their system is #1 , although as you pointed out it isn’t only from the draft.

My point about them staying competitive wasn’t meant to say that they stayed competitive thru the comp picks. But rather to show that they lost a bunch of front line players and continue to be at or near the front of the division as the result. So, they lost a bunch of FAs and never drafted in the top #1 0 , yet stayed good at the MLB level and have the best system.

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