First Pitch: This is the Deepest Farm System the Pirates Have Had in Years

The 2015 season will be the seventh year that this site has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. When I first started this site, things were very bleak. There were a few prospects in the upper levels (actually it was mostly just Andrew McCutchen for like two months, and Neil Walker struggling for another year), and most of the actual prospects in the system were in Lynchburg.

That Lynchburg team was good, and not just in a “they were the only team with prospects” kind of way. They had Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Alex Presley, Chase d’Arnaud, Matt Hague, and Starling Marte and Tony Sanchez at the end of the year. That’s amazing for an A-ball team to produce that much MLB talent, including 75% of the current infield, and leading to five of the eight starters if you count Marte and Cervelli (who was acquired for Wilson).

I was fortunate enough to cover that team, not just because it was such a good team, but because it really was the only team you’d want to cover that season. Any other team would have given you a view of maybe one good prospect, or two if you were lucky.

Over the years, things have gotten better in that regard. The Pirates have built up a strong system, leading to fewer organizational players, and more prospects. Some of these guys are just low upside guys who have a small chance of breaking out, but you always give those guys a shot over 26-27 year old guys playing below Triple-A, who have no chance to reach the majors (which was the situation before Huntington took over). Even with the system building up, there were still some weak teams. There were teams that had just one or two prospects. Mid-season promotions would see those prospects get promoted to the next level, and the remaining team would be a disaster to watch.

Looking at the rosters this year, it looks like the most interesting farm system I’ve covered since starting this site in 2009. I won’t say it’s the best farm system I’ve covered, because I don’t know if it’s fully recovered at the top after losing Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco the last few years. But the depth in the current system runs deeper than the Pirates’ system has run in any previous year. It used to be criticized as being top-heavy. Now they’ve got the talent at the top, and the talent runs deep.

Every single full-season level this year includes plenty of interesting guys to watch, and that has never happened while this site has been running.

You go to Indianapolis and you’ve got a lot of interesting arms in the rotation (especially when Jameson Taillon arrives), plus there’s Elias Diaz and Alen Hanson in the lineup. With Nick Kingham, that gives the top level three of the top ten prospects in the system, with a fourth on the way.

Altoona has two of the best prospects in the system, with Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. This team is more top-heavy than the others, but there are some interesting guys like Willy Garcia, Keon Broxton, Jason Creasy, Chad Kuhl, and Angel Sanchez, to name a few.

Maybe I’m biased, but Bradenton seems like the best team in the system this year. You’ve got the talent at the top with Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire. Then there are the mid-tier guys like JaCoby Jones, Wyatt Mathisen, Cody Dickson, and Steven Brault (plus eventually Clay Holmes, Luis Heredia, Harold Ramirez, and Tyler Eppler when they arrive in the first half). Even the less notable guys have some projection.

West Virginia seems like more of a depth team than a top-heavy team, although they do have Cole Tucker, who is a top ten prospect, and who might be primed for a breakout season. Another breakout candidate at the level is Tito Polo, and both players got off to a nice start tonight. Then there are guys like Taylor Gushue, Chase Simpson, Pablo Reyes, John Sever, Jake Burnette, and then Connor Joe, Stephen Tarpley, and Jordan Luplow when they return. All have good upside, but aren’t established as top prospects yet.

There’s also a common theme here. Taillon is missing from Indianapolis. Holmes, Heredia, Ramirez, and Eppler (a breakout candidate in the rotation) are missing from Bradenton. Luplow, Joe, and Tarpley are missing in West Virginia. That’s the number two prospect in the system, four guys who fit in the 11-20 range, and three more who fit in the top 30. Those guys are all out at the start of the year, and the system looks interesting at every level despite those absences. A few years ago, that kind of injury/rehab/conditioning list would be a disaster.

This is exactly what the Pirates need to stay competitive for the long-term. But in the short-term, it’s going to be a lot of fun covering the system this year. For those of you who are new to our minor league coverage this season (Welcome! And I hope you stick around after this week!), we feature a nightly recap with live reports from our reporters covering the games, along with analysis and quick summaries from our experience seeing the players in action and knowing what they’re working on. Each morning we have our Morning Report, which has the daily schedule, highlights, a recap of the Pirates’ recent game graph, the daily starters with a summary of the pitchers, This Date in Pirates History, and a brief analysis on a different minor league topic each morning. Plus we have daily minor league features from all of the affiliates in the system.

Our live coverage started tonight with Ryan Palencer getting things going in Indianapolis. Here is what the schedule looks like now for the next month:

**Ryan will be covering Indianapolis from the 10th-17th, and again when they return home at the end of the month.

**I’ll be covering the opening series in Altoona, starting next Thursday, along with our new Altoona writer Sean McCool, who will take over after that first series.

**I’ll also be covering Bradenton for the two home games this weekend, plus two games when I get back from Altoona, along with coverage at the end of the month when they return home. When they’re on the road, I’ll have coverage from extended Spring Training, which has a lot of interesting players and situations to follow.

**I’ll be traveling up to West Virginia at the start of May to cover West Virginia for five games. We hope to have a writer in Charleston soon, and will have coverage for a few of their road trips.

We’ll be switching over to a subscription site next week, and you can get all of our coverage for the low price of $2.50 per month if you sign up for our Annual plan (or less if you go with the three-year Top Prospect plan). You can also get a one-year subscription for free with just a minimum $5 deposit if you participate in our DraftKings promotion. Details can be found on the subscription page.

I’m excited about the start of the season, about the live coverage we have shaping up, and about covering the deepest and most interesting system in the seven seasons that this site has been following the Pirates’ farm system. To get prepared for the season, check out the previews below of each level, along with the first of the nightly Prospect Watch.

**Prospect Watch: Nick Kingham Looks Strong In Opener, Cole Tucker Has A Big Day At The Plate

**2015 Indianapolis Indians Season Preview

**2015 Altoona Curve Season Preview

**2015 Bradenton Marauders Season Preview

**2015 West Virginia Power Season Preview

First Pitch

  • pilbobuggins
    April 11, 2015 3:04 am

    It’s always nice to see these boys turn into men and hopefully into mlb talent. Keep up the good work tim and have a safe journey.

  • So, Tim will be visiting “the Toastman” in Charleston.

    Have a good trip. Don’t think will be able to get there
    until June or early July.

  • And I think you even overlooked a couple of guys who are still interesting prospects, even though they have work still to do – Barrett Barnes and Mel Rojas.

    • I actually mentioned both in the breakout article. Rojas was a mention for an upper level guy, and Barnes was one of my two hitters in Bradenton.

      • Sorry Tim, I missed that then. Barnes got off to a good start – just needs to stay healthy. Given his age and lost time, I think the Pirates will move him to Altoona by July 1, if he’s really producing at a high level at Bradenton. He’s a guy, along with Burnette, who could be in the Pirates top 15-20 prospects by the end of the year. That’s assuming a couple of guys “graduate” off of that list, like Holzkom, Kingham.

  • I’m interested in seeing how quickly they’ll push this group of corner college bats (Luplow, Joe, Barnes, and ultimately Gushue) into the high-minors. None of them are really the uber-toolsy, raw types that should require year-per-level progress below AA before being challenged.

    That Bradenton team is going to be fun to watch.

    • The interesting situation to watch will be with Jones.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Luplow and Joe stay in WV all year to learn the new positions, like Jones did last year. But where do they go from that point? When do they get aggressive with the promotions?

  • Scott Kliesen
    April 10, 2015 7:45 am

    Great pick me up article, Tim. Much appreciated after the awful start to the Pirates season.