Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, with the schedule moved up to the morning due to expected thunderstorms in the afternoon. So I decided to head over to the Buccos sub-Reddit and hold an AMA (ask me anything, for those unfamiliar with Reddit terminology). The questions were good, with a lot of discussion about players in the farm system, along with some questions on the MLB battles. There were also some questions and comments about the site’s upcoming switch to a subscription format.
One of the questions ended up being a question I get often, and it was along the lines of “why should I care about prospects?”
I gave a response there, but I’ll go into more detail here for anyone who didn’t see it, or anyone else who has the same question. Technically, you don’t have to care about prospects. But if you want to be informed about the Pirates, then you’re going to want to follow the progress of the prospects in the system.
The Pirates are always going to be a team that builds their core through the farm system. Take a look at their starting lineup for the 2015 season.
C – Francisco Cervelli (Acquired for Justin Wilson)
1B – Pedro Alvarez (Draft)
2B – Neil Walker (Draft)
SS – Jordy Mercer (Draft)
3B – Josh Harrison (Acquired in a 2009 trade)
LF – Starling Marte (International Signing)
CF – Andrew McCutchen (Draft)
RF – Gregory Polanco (International Signing)
Pretty much all of those guys are home-grown. The two exceptions are Cervelli — who was acquired for a home-grown player — and Harrison, who spent all but one year of his career and his development in the Pirates’ system. Some of the guys above were in the organization already when Neal Huntington took over. Some were added after Huntington took over. But either way, this organization under Huntington has focused heavily on the farm system, and used that to build the core of a team that has made the playoffs the last two years, and projects to make it again this year.
The playoffs won’t change that approach. Just look at the first base situation as proof. The Pirates are going with Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart this year as their first base options. Alvarez is coming off a down year at the plate, and is new to the first base position. Hart is also coming off a down year, with question marks about whether he can bounce back to his pre-double knee surgery form. These are not exactly guarantees.
The minor leagues will put the first base situation in perspective. If you don’t follow the prospects, then you don’t know about Josh Bell. You don’t know that he was moved to first base this off-season, with the sole purpose of being the first baseman of the future, possibly by mid-2016. If you know about that information, then you’d know that the Pirates are going to roll the dice with short-term options like Alvarez and Hart, then wait on Bell to arrive. They did the same thing prior to Gregory Polanco’s arrival, and prior to every other big prospect who was the “Player of the Future” at their position.
That’s not the only example. Going into this off-season, if you followed the farm system you would have known that the Pirates had a short-term need at catcher and starting pitcher. They didn’t have the short-term options at the Major League level, unlike the situation with Alvarez at first base. They did have prospects in the system. Elias Diaz had a breakout year at the plate in 2014, looking like the catcher of the future. However, he wouldn’t be ready until the middle of the season, at the earliest. The pitching staff has top prospects in the upper levels like Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, and Tyler Glasnow. But none of them were going to be ready by Opening Day, meaning the Pirates needed at least two free agent starters. Thus, the Pirates needed a short-term catching option and two starters for the 2015 season.
If you’re not following the prospects, then you aren’t fully informed about the Pirates. I often get asked why I devote time to the Major League team when this is a prospect site. We cover the majors because it’s all connected. The Pirates don’t just have this farm system operating as a separate division from the majors, and occasionally churning out MLB players by happy coincidence. It’s all one organization. Everything the Pirates do in the minors has one goal in mind: future success in the majors. And every move the Pirates make at the major league level can be explained by what is going on in the minors. The reason to follow prospects is because it gives you the full insight into the short-term and long-term plans of this organization.
The Best Way to Follow the Prospects
As you may know, we announced this week that the site will be switching over to a subscription site on April 13th. We provide better information on the Pirates’ farm system than any other site. That includes live reports, in-depth coverage and analysis, and putting everything in perspective by revealing the thought process behind all of the moves the Pirates make, from the minors to the majors.
Let’s go back to the Josh Bell example. You might have known about Bell, because he’s one of the guys that the rest of the Pittsburgh media will talk about when they do an occasional minor league story. You can go to Baseball-Reference or one of many other sites and look up his stats for free. And you might have even seen an article on him being the first baseman of the future at MiLB.com, Baseball America, or Baseball Prospectus. But you’re not going to get an idea of how he’s making the transition to first base, or what he has done to prepare to the move unless you follow this site.
At the start of Spring Training, I wrote about how Bell added muscle this off-season, which he can afford to add due to his move from the outfield to first. I also talked about how he wore down at the end of last year, and how the move to first base should eliminate the fatigue. He saw a drop in power at the end of the year, and I would argue that the added muscle, and the lower intensity position will help him avoid that power drop in the future. And then there’s the actual performance at first base, which I provided in a video earlier this month.
This is information you can’t get from the stat pages. It’s information you won’t get from the national outlets that are just looking for the big story on Bell (he’s moving to first base) and not looking for all of the detailed ongoing coverage of the move. It’s only information you will find here. I know that because I sit alone in the Pirate City media room every day, and I’m the only reporter interviewing the prospects and watching them on the field for the majority of these days. And then during the season we are the only outlet that has regular coverage from every minor league city in the system.
I mentioned the national outlets like MiLB.com, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus. All of those sites do an outstanding job covering minor league baseball, and I’m a personal subscriber to BA and BP. But when it comes to individual teams, you’re not going to get detailed coverage. You’ll get the top ten prospects, and usually those are the prospects they feature during the season. You won’t get reports on every prospect in the Pirates’ system, and you won’t get a deep look at how the Pirates operate like you do at Pirates Prospects.
For example, take a look at the article I wrote last week about how the Pirates are now trying to stay ahead of the curve with the new draft rules. Or there’s the article I did earlier this month breaking down Jameson Taillon’s delivery over the last four years. No other site would offer this level of analysis on the Pirates’ system. Our close coverage of the farm system led to us spotting the trend with Wyatt Mathisen, JaCoby Jones, Connor Joe, Jordan Luplow, and then confirming that the trend is related to the new draft rules. In Taillon’s case, I have a library of video dating back to his debut, and was able to use that, plus my many conversations with Taillon over the years, to ask the right questions to get that level of insight on his delivery changes.
Getting back to the original question: why should you follow the prospects? If you’re a Pirates fan, then you’re not going to be fully informed about how this organization operates if you don’t follow the farm system. The Pirates put a huge focus on their farm system, and so should you. And the best way to follow the farm system is by subscribing to and reading Pirates Prospects. For the price of one cup of coffee each month, you can get the best coverage of the Pirates’ system, from the majors to the minors, and you can follow the only site that gives detailed coverage on the Pirates’ minor league system.