A few years ago, you were in the minority if you said the Pittsburgh Pirates were well-run and heading in the right direction. They were spending a lot of money to build up their farm system, and they were showing early signs of making smart moves on the trade and free agent markets. But they hadn’t won yet, and there were questions about whether they could take that next step and become a contender.
Now you’re in the minority if you think the Pirates aren’t well-run. There definitely are those people out there, which is no surprise. You’re going to get every opinion possible when you talk about a fan base that has millions of fans. Here’s a place you aren’t hearing that opinion: the national media.
It would be no surprise at this point to say that Buster Olney gave the Pirates high praise. He ranked them the fifth best team in baseball, after ranking them among the top ten in a lot of categories. Today, Olney wrote about “the well-run Pittsburgh Pirates” and about how they have a lot of offensive depth (the article is Insider only). I wrote a similar article about the subject last week, looking at how strong the bench will be this year.
Olney pointed out a lot of the options the Pirates have to back up each position, and all of them are strong. At almost every position, if a player goes down with an injury or under-performs, the Pirates have someone who definitely belongs in the majors, and who could easily be justified as a replacement starter. He also brought up an interesting scenario when talking about Russell Martin’s departure.
“Martin has moved on, but the Pirates took something away from that experience. Martin loves to play as much as possible, having had seasons earlier in his career in which he appeared in more than 150 games. But the Pirates thought he was a better player last season partly because he rested more.
It figures that with his deep roster, Hurdle will give more rest to his regulars, giving Walker a breather, or Marte, or perhaps protect Polanco against a tough left-hander on a given day (he could start Harrison in right and use Rodriguez at third).”
I wrote about something similar this week, looking at how the modern trend is to give players a day off and take caution with injuries, rather than playing every day. That article was more about playing through injuries, but the extra rest angle fits in. The Pirates have guys on their bench who either have been starters in previous years, or could be starters in the future. They don’t necessarily have to wait for an injury or poor performance to get those guys in the game. They could afford to give their starters time off this year, without having to worry about the typical dreadful “Sunday afternoon lineup” that we’ve seen from the bench in previous years when the starters get a break.
And that brings me to the most interesting thing Olney said about the Pirates: they’re becoming the Cardinals. No, they don’t have the annoying fans that talk about how they are the best fans the game has ever seen, before proceeding to pull the covers over their heads to smell their own farts all night. This is something better.
“Year by year, the Pirates take on the shape of the St. Louis Cardinals, who have been the model for Plan Bs over the past 15 years, with veterans and young players stepping in seamlessly when needed.”
The Cardinals have benefitted from a strong bench over the last few years. For example, having Matt Adams off the bench in 2013 was huge for them. The Pirates haven’t had that big bat off the bench in recent years, up until last year. Josh Harrison and Travis Snider really stepped up, with Harrison earning a starting spot, and Snider having what could be a second half breakout.
This year, Snider will return on the bench, joined by Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Jung Ho Kang. Hart and Rodriguez fall into the “former starter” category, while Kang is an unknown. The potential from this group, with Snider included, could easily rival what the Cardinals have had in recent years.
And that’s not even mentioning the depth in the farm system, which is just starting to spill over into the major leagues. The pitching in the upper levels includes Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, and Tyler Glasnow, with the first three having a shot at making it to the majors in 2015. Top position player prospects like Alen Hanson and Elias Diaz could arrive in 2015 as well. Josh Bell projects to follow them in 2016. Then there are guys like Mel Rojas, Keon Broxton, and Andrew Lambo, who could be strong bench players, or possibly a starter as an injury replacement.
The Pirates are absolutely loaded with depth this year, as Olney writes. Looking at what they’ve got in the farm system, that depth doesn’t look to be a one-year deal. This looks like just the start of a team that could be one of the strongest teams in the NL for several years.
Two years ago if you said the Pirates were on the right track to contending, you might have been in the minority, and you might have been seen as crazy. I don’t know if the same is true right now about the following statement, but in two more years it wouldn’t surprise me if the Pirates are soon recognized as the new “model for Plan Bs”, as Olney puts it.
**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #12 – Adrian Sampson. Speaking of depth, Sampson ranks third of the three pitchers I mentioned above who could arrive in 2015, and that’s not a knock on him. It wasn’t that long ago that a guy like Sampson would have been the best pitching prospect in the system, and looked at as one of the best future pitchers in the major league rotation. Now? If all goes well, he would barely squeeze in as the fifth best starter in the future rotation.
**The top 20 prospects will continue tomorrow with the 11th best prospect in the system, then will resume on Monday. For the full list now, plus the complete top 50, all 200+ prospect profiles, and everything else you want to know about the farm system, order the 2015 Prospect Guide.
**Starling Marte Ranks Near the Top Among All Left Fielders. It’s not just the depth. Marte was ranked the fourth best left fielder by MLB Network. Last week they ranked Mercer the sixth best shortstop and Andrew McCutchen the top center fielder. That depth is backing up a pretty strong team.
**MLB.com Names Reese McGuire Among Top Catching Prospects. Elias Diaz didn’t make the list, and didn’t get an honorable mention. He’s the guy of the immediate future, possibly making a debut this year. Long-term, McGuire looks to be the catcher of the future in Pittsburgh.
**I’ve been working on some behind the scenes stuff on the site this week. Monday I posted a survey, asking what you want to see in the future. Last night I posted our job openings for the 2015 season. I also talked with a few of our returning writers today, and am really looking forward to the upcoming season. From the surveys, one of the things you guys said you loved was our extensive coverage of the farm system, which makes sense, as the site name is Pirates Prospects, and that’s our number one focus. I’m excited about the prospect coverage this year after speaking with several of our prospect writers this afternoon. As for the coverage before the season, I’ve done a ton of interviews over the last week, and will start rolling out articles tomorrow, spreading them out over the next few weeks until Spring Training begins.