There has been a growing narrative in Pittsburgh over the last week that the Pirates are having a down year in their farm system. The narrative also says that the Pirates don’t have prospects to trade, or that they have done a poor job drafting, which is why they don’t have any help coming up this year at their specific area of need.
I specify that this narrative only exists in Pittsburgh, because the Pirates continue to get great ratings for their farm system and prospects from national evaluators outside of Pittsburgh. Keith Law had the Pirates just outside of his top five farm systems this week, and that was after ranking four Pirates in his mid-season top 50. Baseball America only had two in their top 50, but Baseball Prospectus had four. Both left off Jameson Taillon, due to his injury, although when healthy, he would have most likely ranked in the top 50.
And then there’s this site, which covers the Pirates’ system closer than any other outlet. We see every player, and talk with scouts regularly. Nothing we’ve seen supports the claims that the Pirates are having a down year, or won’t be able to help their MLB roster. In fact, I’m here to tell you the exact opposite. They’re having a good year, and they’ve got guys who could be traded who add an upgrade to the MLB roster.
The biggest knock on the system this year has come from injuries. Nick Kingham underwent Tommy John surgery. Jameson Taillon had a long return from Tommy John, and then went down with hernia surgery. Tyler Glasnow missed some time with an ankle injury, although he has been absolutely dominant outside of that injury period.
The losses of Kingham and Taillon, combined with injuries to Brandon Cumpton and Casey Sadler, mean that the Pirates are weaker with their starting pitching depth than they would have been if just a few of those guys were healthy. I doubt this impacted their trade chances. For one, they’ve got plenty of prospects of value at other positions. They also don’t tend to trade top pitching prospects.
As for the prospects the Pirates could trade, it definitely helps that they’ve had very few players lose value, and a lot of players see an increase in value this year. There might be some who disagree with this, especially when it involves the power department. The Pirates have aggressively pushed a lot of young players (Reese McGuire, Austin Meadows, Cole Tucker) while stressing hitting for average, using the middle and opposite fields, limiting strikeouts, and getting on base. The result is that you’re not seeing a lot of home runs, but you’re seeing a lot of guys being developed to be well-rounded hitters who can add some power as they get older and more mature.
Looking at the trends in the game today, power hitters can be neutralized by the shift, and there are very few power hitters who can hit to all fields. It seems like the more valuable skill would be putting the ball in play to all fields, with the ability to hit for some power as well. The Pirates have bought in defensively to the shift. It seems the solution for the offensive side is developing players who don’t have strong shift tendencies, and the Pirates seem to be taking this approach.
That’s why I’m not worried about the upsides of Meadows, McGuire, Tucker, Harold Ramirez, or anyone else hitting for a high average, getting on base, limiting strikeouts, but not hitting for a ton of power. The steroid era is over, and the advanced stats era is in full swing. The Pirates are working to develop the type of hitters that will be successful in the modern version of Major League Baseball, and if those guys do end up adding power to the rest of their game, then you’ve got a star in today’s MLB.
Then we’ve got the success stories. Harold Ramirez has really impressed me this year, looking like one of the best pure hitters in the system. Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault have both been fantastic since coming over in the Travis Snider trade. Alen Hanson’s biggest drawback was his defense at shortstop, and he’s been much more consistent at second base. Max Moroff is having a breakout season in Altoona, and could emerge as a starter. Barrett Barnes is showing off some nice raw power, and is finally staying healthy. JaCoby Jones continues getting more comfortable at shortstop by the day, which is extremely valuable with his power stroke. Yeudy Garcia has emerged as a guy throwing an easy mid-90s fastball, along with some potential for his secondary stuff. Then you’ve got promising stories, like the emergence of Adam Frazier, or the fact that the Pirates have so many teenage arms touching or even sitting in the mid-90s with their fastballs (Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, Gage Hinsz, Billy Roth).
There have been things that have gone wrong. Luis Heredia continues trending down. Some of the toolsy young players in the lower levels haven’t worked out yet. And then there’s the injuries. But these are just common stories across all of baseball. Not every prospect will succeed, and these days it seems injuries are impossible to avoid for pitchers. The Pirates are among the norm with the downsides in their system this year, and they’re above average with all of the guys trending upward.
If you’ve been following the system closely, and we have been, then you’d see that the Pirates have a specific plan to develop well-rounded hitters, while putting power on the back seat for now. They’ve got a lot of prospects trending upwards, and very few on the way down. The guys who have been injured haven’t lost a lot of value. The main guy who is still uncertain there is Nick Kingham, as we don’t know how he will return from Tommy John surgery yet. But Taillon returned better than ever, and Glasnow’s ankle injury is a blip on the radar.
All of this means that the Pirates are in a great position when it comes to the upcoming trade deadline. They’ve got a very young team with a lot of core pieces under team control for several years. They have very few long-term needs, and top prospects in the upper levels to fill those needs they do have in the next year or two. They have excess talent at certain positions, which means they could trade promising prospects like Harold Ramirez or Barrett Barnes and they wouldn’t be hurt in the short-term or the long-term.
They didn’t give up anything they’d miss when they acquired Aramis Ramirez, sending out Yhonathan Barrios. He was one of many hard-throwing right-handed relievers who can hit the upper 90s, while currently lacking good secondary stuff. Today’s rumors had them looking at Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, who are both along the same lines of Ramirez. They’re older players, and the best years are in the past. The Pirates would be taking on salary, giving up a Grade C prospect that they won’t miss, and hoping to get a few more good months out of these guys.
But the Pirates don’t have to go that route. They don’t have to take this type of gamble. They’re in a better position this year to trade prospects away than they have been during each of the last few deadlines. And a big part of that was because they didn’t trade guys like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, or others in previous years.
I know that the knock on this article will be that I’m biased, because I cover the Pirates’ farm system. Never mind that this same argument isn’t used for people who cover any other topic. The argument ignores a few key points, such as the fact that people have been interested in the prospects even in the dark days when there were no prospects in the Pirates’ system. It also ignores the biggest point: negativity sells. A lot. You can write a negative article that’s total bullshit, and it will get more attention than a positive article that is well researched and right on the mark.
And of course, I spent years saying the exact opposite, that the Pirates shouldn’t trade prospects, and they should instead just take on cash and go with gambles like Napoli. Those arguments were all seen as biased, because I cover the Pirates’ farm system. Basically, that’s a lazy way to try and dismiss an argument.
The truth is that the Pirates spent years building up their system, and during their early years of contending it didn’t make sense to deal a lot of top prospects. They’ve now got a team that is mostly under control for several years, and a lot of top prospects ready to come up and help fill the weak spots. Beyond that, they’ve got a few areas where they have long-term options in the majors, top prospects in the minors, and several other good prospects who they could trade at the same positions.
The Pirates still have a strong farm system. That system is having a good year, with a lot of guys seeing an increase in their prospect values. And it makes sense now more than ever to dip into that farm system and add a few pieces for the MLB club.
**I was debating between making this a free article last night, or keeping it for subscribers. I decided to keep it for subscribers at first, but then decided there was enough bad information out there for free from people who spent zero time covering the prospects in the farm system. Might as well put a view out there from a site that is fully dedicated to covering every prospect in the system. You can get this coverage for the low price of $2.99 per month, or less under an annual plan. Or you can participate in our DraftKings promotion and get a year for free with a $5 deposit in a new DraftKings account. All of the details can be found on the subscription page.
**I’ll be heading up north tomorrow, starting a two-week stretch of live game coverage throughout the minor league system. I’ll be covering Bristol, West Virginia, Morgantown, and the Pirates during their Sunday night game on August 9th. That live coverage is in addition to our normal live coverage from Ryan Palencer in Indianapolis, Sean McCool in Altoona, and Pete Ellis in Pittsburgh. At the end of that stretch, I’ll have a day off before a five game stretch in Bradenton, followed by a few GCL games. Over the next month we will have live coverage from every team in the system.
**Prospect Watch: Glasnow Strikes Out 12, Bradenton Hitters Stay Hot. Subscribers can now check out our new and improved Prospect Watch, giving you everything you’d want to know on the system each day, all on one page. If you missed it, our site updates had all of the details of the new Prospect Watch, plus details on the travel schedule, and more upgrades.
**Pirates Continue to Roll, Led By More Strong Pitching. Sean McCool’s live game report from PNC Park tonight.
**Pirates Could Be Interested in Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. I think they could do better. Napoli would make some sense if they think he could bounce back, but it’s hard to argue that he’s a better option than Pedro Alvarez at this point.
**Justin Sellers Outrighted to Indianapolis. Kind of a minor move, leaving one spot open on the 40-man roster.
**Injury Updates: Harrison, Sadler, Hernandez, Lambo, Scahill, Taillon. A lot of injury updates here, including somewhat good news for Casey Sadler.
**Morning Report: Jin-De Jhang Leads a Group of Players That Are Tough to Strikeout. Seems to be the focus in the minor league system lately.