Baseball America updated their farm system rankings on Thursday morning to reflect the changes in each system after the draft and trading deadline. The Pittsburgh Pirates now rank 14th overall on their updated list.

The NL Central is closely bunched up in the new rankings, except for the Chicago Cubs. The Milwaukee Brewers rank the highest at eighth overall. BA calls them a near-elite farm system, or as they separated them into groups, the Brewers would be in their third tier. They are followed by the Cincinnati Reds at #11 in that same tier, which ends with them. The next tier includes the Pirates one spot behind the St Louis Cardinals. The Chicago Cubs are all the way down at #28 in a small group called the bottom of the barrel.

MLB Pipeline also ranked their top farm systems, although they stopped at the top ten. Their list also had the Brewers eighth overall. They are the only NL Central club in the top ten as well, so at least the top ten is very similar to Baseball America. Beyond that they didn’t give any clues as to where the Pirates would rank. Pipeline had three Pirates (Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller and Shane Baz) in their mid-season top 100 prospects list. If they were higher on Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker or Ke’Bryan Hayes, then maybe the Pirates would get a more favorable rating.

Coming into the season, the Pirates were ranked as one of the best systems in baseball, but that was when their prospects included Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. Since most people who rank farm systems factor in impact talent far more than they consider depth, then losing two of the top prospects in baseball is going to knock the system down.

We compared the system now to the preseason in a recent article and showed that the top of the system for the Pirates is weaker, but the depth is stronger, making the entire system overall slightly stronger. It’s a small difference though, which got a little bit of help at the trade deadline, but not enough to make much of a difference. For a team to be ranked highly, they are going to need impact prospects. Basically, Josh Bell helps your system a lot more than adding ten players like Oneil Cruz would, but ten players like Cruz would make you a much deeper system.

The Pirates will need players like Shane Baz, Steven Jennings, Calvin Mitchell, Braeden Ogle, etc to start to look like top 100 prospects before the system gets rated higher again, unless there is farm system addition by MLB roster subtraction in this upcoming off-season.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates shutout the Cincinnati Reds by a 6-0 score on Thursday night. The Pirates will now take on the San Diego Padres for three games and send Ivan Nova to the mound tonight for his 22nd start. He faced the Padres last week and allowed four runs over five innings. Nova put up a 6.28 ERA in five July starts. The Padres will counter with lefty Travis Wood, who faced the Pirates in his only start with the Padres and allowed two runs over six innings last Friday.

In the minors, Nick Kingham goes for Indianapolis, looking to continue a recent run of success. In his last two starts, he has allowed one run over seven innings in both games. He didn’t walk a batter in either start. Bradenton had a rain out yesterday, so they will play a doubleheader today. Bret Helton will start one of the games. Domingo Robles is scheduled for Bristol. Oddy Nunez will be activated from the West Virginia disabled list today to start tonight’s game. He last pitched on July 24th. Ike Schlabach goes for Morgantown. He allowed four runs over 3.2 innings in his last game, after giving up one run over 24 innings in his previous two starts.

MLB: Pittsburgh (52-56) vs Padres (48-59) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Ivan Nova (3.75 ERA, 17:84 BB/SO, 136.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (59-52) @ Louisville (44-66) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (4.42 ERA, 22:69 BB/SO, 73.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (57-52) @ Trenton (73-36) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (2.88 ERA, 26:89 BB/SO, 112.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (60-45) @ Florida (36-64) 5:05 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Bret Helton (3.12 ERA, 25:68 BB/SO, 86.2 IP) and TBD

Low-A: West Virginia (49-57) vs Delmarva (49-58) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Oddy Nunez (3.59 ERA, 26:76 BB/SO, 85.1 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (25-18) vs State College (24-19) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Ike Schlabach (2.38 ERA, 10:29 BB/SO, 41.2 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (9-32) @ Kingsport (16-24) 6:30 PM

GCL: Pirates (12-22) vs Blue Jays (23-11) 12:00 PM

DSL: Pirates (27-25) vs Astros Orange (19-30) 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here is Stephen Alemais with the walk-off single in extra innings scoring Will Craig

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

8/3: Angel German and Oneil Cruz added to West Virginia roster. Jordan Jess promoted to Bradenton. Nick King assigned to Morgantown.

8/3: Eury Perez traded to Miami Marlins for cash.

8/2: Gregory Polanco activated from disabled list. Jordan Luplow optioned to Indianapolis.

8/2: Wade LeBlanc placed on Bereavement List. Dovydas Neverauskas recalled from Indianapolis.

8/1: Oddy Nunez and Blake Cederlind placed on disabled list. Oneil Cruz and Angel German assigned to West Virginia.

8/1: Adrian Valerio activated from disabled list.

8/1: Stephan Meyer assigned to West Virginia. Hector Quinones assigned to Bristol.

7/31: Tony Watson traded to Los Angeles Dodgers for Oneil Cruz and Angel German

7/31: Seth McGarry traded to Philadelphia Phillies for Joaquin Benoit and cash

7/31: Brandon Waddell activated from disabled list. Miguel  Rosario assigned to Bradenton

7/28: Jordan Luplow promoted to Pittsburgh Pirates. Edwin Espinal promoted to Indianapolis. Jordan George promoted to Altoona.

7/28: Austin Meadows assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/27: Logan Hill placed on disabled list. Justin Maffei assigned to Altoona.

7/27: Steven Brault optioned to Indianapolis.

7/25: Connor Joe activated from Altoona disabled list. Justin Maffei assigned to Indianapolis.

7/25: Jonathan Schwind assigned to Morgantown.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus an unfortunate transaction of note. On this date in 1917, the Pirates put first baseman George Kelly on waivers, losing him to the Giants. He did not do well for the Pittsburgh, but the Pirates weren’t good back then, so they would have been better off holding onto Kelly. By 1920, he led the league in RBIs and averaged over 100 per season from 1920-25. He also lead the league again in 1924. During that streak, the Giants played in four straight World Series. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Former players born on this date include:

Steve Bieser, 1998 outfielder.

Ruben Rodriguez, caught two games in both the 1986 and 1988 season, his only Major League experience. Pirates signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 1981.

Bill Schuster, shortstop for the 1937 Pirates. Made his debut as pinch-runner during a late season call-up, then played both games of a doubleheader at shortstop during his brief time with Pirates. Those were his only three games with the team.

Homer Blankenship, 1928 pitcher. Had a 5.82 ERA in 21.2 innings for Pirates. Pitched with his older brother Ted on the 1922 White Sox.

Cliff Lee, catcher during the 1919-20 seasons. Pirates put him on waivers prior to the 1921 season and he ended up hitting .322 with 17 homers for the Phillies that year.

Paddy O’Connor, catcher for the 1909 champs. He played for the team from 1908-10, backing up George Gibson.

Lew Moren, pitcher for the 1903-04 teams. Late season call-up for 1903 World Series team, did not pitch in series.

Jake Beckley, Hall of Fame first base, played for team in 1888-89, then again from 1891 until 1896. For the Pirates, he was a .300 hitter in 950 games, driving in 664 runs and scoring 701 times. He is fourth all-time in triples. You can read a full bio for Beckley here.

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72 COMMENTS

  1. I understand why the ranking pundits prefer impact talent over depth of talent, having 3 or 4 players that profile as 4-6 WAR players will always be preferable to having 20-30 0-2 WAR players. Having a team of replacement level players gets you a 54 win team, having 3, 5 WAR players on that team gets the team close to 70 wins. Obviously, it takes more that that to put together a championship caliber team, but it is impossible to do without top tier talent.

  2. Makes sense that our rankings would fall to the mid tier given the graduations the past year. It’s tough to consistently stay ranked as a top system….look at the Cubs. i think there’s enough talent at the lower levels that if they develop and we add prospects with likely trades of McCutchen and Cole in the next year, that we could move back up to a top 5 or so system.

  3. Do any of the ranking services take into consideration the success/failure of players produced by organizations in their rankings? Are the rankings purely about potential, not actual results? If they don’t look at actual success, how do we have any faith that the evaluations of organizations are actually credible? For example, a guy who picks teams for betting purposes has a track record indicating whether his predictions are credible or not. Anyone can guess but how are these ranking services held accountable to their predictions?

    • Farm system rankings are based on possible future results and the strength of the system at the time of the ranking. It would be tough to factor in results in the majors when those results eliminate them from being a prospect. The Pirates are seeing results from Josh Bell, but Josh Bell being in the majors is a reason the farm system dropped. They didn’t get results from Tyler Glasnow, but again, him not being a prospect, even though he’s in the minors right now, takes away from the farm system ranking. They hurt the rankings equally as much despite how they have performed in the majors.

      If you just want to look at how many quality Major League players teams produce, then I’ve seen plenty of charts showing things like the number of current players in the majors, or the WAR from certain drafts, stuff like that. I don’t think that would factor into any future results though, nor should it, because you would be overlooking the current players while projecting the success of others onto them

      • Thank you for the response. I think looking at results would help someone evaluate the credibility of current predictions about the prospects for players’ success currently in the system. If past predictions don’t bear out (whether positively or negatively), wouldn’t that be valuable in the overall evaluation of an organization’s effectiveness at acquiring and developing talent? The method of guessing without accountability seems to be lacking. I understand that graduating players into the majors has an impact on ratings but if the ratings of those players was wrong in the first place, that might tell you whether a system has truly fallen in its quality or not.

        • “If past predictions don’t bear out (whether positively or negatively), wouldn’t that be valuable in the overall evaluation of an organization’s effectiveness at acquiring and developing talent? ”

          It may be a misnomer, but “farm system rankings” aren’t actually trying to judge what you’re saying. The rankings are simply a sum of the parts at a given time.

          While I absolutely agree with your *intent*, I think there’s simply too many variables to ever come close to accurately boost or knock an individual prospect based on the organization he’s in. Coaches change, player types get developed differently, players *themselves* change organizations…it would be an endless rabbit hole. Now certain orgs probably have earned some leeway here; you probably don’t want to sleep on a Giants infielder with average tools across the board despite nothing being plus or an Orioles pitching prospect with huge stuff, for instance, but otherwise I think it would be extremely difficult to find enough signal through the noise.

          • i agree there are lots of variables and no system would be perfect. Those variables are true for all teams and probably wash out in the end. I think the data once they make the bigs is more reliable. Based on actual performance, not simply projections. Players are rated on a wide variety of metrics, including WAR (and I’m not a stats buff so I won’t venture too far in that subject). These evaluations already exist. so taking them into consideration, it seems like you could look back a rankings to evaluate whether those rankings were “accurate” or not. In any event, there must be some way to hold these rankings accountable. Otherwise, they are just guesses from people who watch minor leaguers a lot and who maybe have some experience in evaluating players.

      • I would enjoy reading an article in which you use the stats you suggest as a resource to make a retrospective evaluation of the Pirates’ system. It could even be a rolling retrospective evaluation, like you do with evaluating prior drafts. I’m not sure why the retrospective evaluation stops once players make the bigs.

      • John, I’ve been on PP before it was a good website. I mentioned this to Tim and never got a comment. I told him for ads, he would still get rated because his main page was still on. He doesn’t need that now, because he has no advertisement.
        And no, he never had open in new tab.

    • In addition to the control button trick, at least with a PC, you can right click and select open in a new tab or click with the mouse wheel (which is my preferred method).

  4. rankings make sense. this system has quite a few players who will probably make the major leagues. but little elite impact talent….for now at least.

    though i do have high hopes for this draft class. and any big trades (cutch, cole, harrison) *should* net us impact talent in return.

  5. NH’s recent idiotic comments about allowing this team to compete coupled with a diminishing farm system at least gives a sliver of hope his contract might not be renewed. But that is very small possibility. I’m assuming he returns unless Nutting and co really wake up. Small chance.

    • As some places have opined (Zeise and others), he might be getting tired of having his hands tied by Nutting and may even leave as a free agent.

      When you are saddled with a payroll in the low 20s, year after year, it has to grate on you.

      • Yes. I don’t think is all NH’s fault. The drafting and development of young talent(even elite prospects) is hard to defend. But I think the purse strings might be even tighter than we ever guessed.

          • No analysis is perfect but Gajtka did one looking at drafts since Huntington took over and just within the division the Pirates were last with about 41 BWAR. Even the Reds were slightly ahead. The Cards had near 85 BWAR and Cubs had 65 in those same drafts.

            Now Tim and others will defend NH saying his drafts have been better since early in his tenure and these numbers don’t represent guys we have in the pipeline. Well these numbers don’t reflect guys other teams have in the pipeline.

            And keep in mind many of our high pedigree prospects haven’t produced nearly as much as they were supposed to so you might want to temper future production one is assuming from Glasnow, Meadows or Newman.

            Polanco was projected to do 3 WAR as a rookie and 4 years into his career has yet to match that total.

            Meadow has a WRC+ below 90 in Triple A but a lot of people assume he is going to be a 4-5 WAR ballplayer.

            NH has been on the job a decade- that’s enough time to judge his drafts and development.

            • Quick hits…

              1. I felt the method Matt used to evaluate the draft was flawed in many ways. It’s a tough field to evaluate, and easy to leave things out of the analysis. We’ll have our own look this offseason when we can spend a lot of time on all of the nuances.

              2. Comparing past results from some players, and then downgrading Glasnow/Meadows/Newman as a result is as flawed logic as you can get.

              3. Polanco was a 2.2-2.5 WAR guy in each of the last two years. Not what was expected, but it also came in his ages 23-24 seasons. Not bad.

              4. Meadows is 22 and still adjusting/developing.

              • Exactly what I suspected. You can have your own look- we shall see if it’s a better barometer than Gajtkas.

                Polanco was a 65 Medium according to Baseball America- his production is consistent with an average to slightly above average MLB ball player. That is nowhere near what people expected- including many on this site.

                There are a lot of other ballplayers who were projected for big things and we got nothing from. Hanson for example.

                • Most players drop out as the rise through the system. Hnson was no surprise. He started showing problems with the bat as far back s Bradenton.
                  I look at Bradenton today and see several potential impact players. I don’t get your unwavering pessimism.

                  • This Pirates system is not nearly as good as it was 3 years ago. That is an undeniable fact. This year your highest rated prospect was Meadows at 60 Medium. His rating most likely goes down as yes he is still highly skilled so his ceiling probably remains a 60 but I’m guessing 60 HIGH.

                    Newman was rated 55 HIGH going into this year and I bet he is dropped down to at least 50 HIGH or lower. Everyone is expecting huge things from Newman. Coming into this year he didn’t even rate as high as Alen Hanson or Kingham did a few years ago.

                    Same old story, people continue to count chickens before they hatch

                • Hanson was projected for big things in 2012, based on potential. He had a steady decline after that from all outlets, this site included.

                  Polanco is in his age 25 season.

                  If you’re saying that Glasnow/Newman/Meadows need to be evaluated differently because Hanson never lived up to his potential, then I don’t think we have anything to discuss.

                  • LOL OK Tim. Hanson was rated 55 Medium coming into the 2014 season by Baseball America.

                    Hell, in your 2016 Prospects Guide your were talking Hanson up and had a 5.5 Medium Grade on him.

                    • What’s your point? He was finally dropped in the rankings coming into 2017? You were arguing with me as recently as last June/July about Hanson still having a strong future.

                      The thing is Hanson isn’t even the point. He is evidence of how often highly ranked prospects bust. My point is Hanson was every bit the prospect Newman is and more. Does it mean Newman will bust? Of course not.

                      But in total this system isn’t nearly highly regarded as it was a few years ago and the production from the “next wave” has been minimal so far. So I think people should be conservative as to how much they project from the next, next wave

                    • “You were arguing with me as recently as last June/July about Hanson still having a strong future.”

                      No, I wasn’t.

                      “My point is Hanson was every bit the prospect Newman is and more.”

                      Two different prospects. Hanson was high risk/high reward. Newman is a lower ceiling and a higher floor.

                    • Interesting. You weren’t telling me less than a year ago that Hanson was still young and his production at Triple A was good when many here were skeptical he would ever materially contribute to the Pirates at the MLB level?

                      You didn’t explain away his mediocre line as a result of “swinging for the fences” after his early 2016 brief promotion?

                    • I’ve said that his problem is that he swings for the fences, yes. I said this leads to the inconsistent play in Triple-A, as he’s trying too hard to reach the majors. I don’t think I ever claimed he would get over this.

                      I also had him ranked as a future bench player, with a best case scenario of an average starter. And I didn’t have that as a likely scenario.

                      Try again.

                • “…his production is consistent with an average to slightly above average MLB ball player.”

                  That’s a 55 on the scouting scale, 2.5ish WAR. Being off by one grade may be a bit disappointing, but still well within reasonable estimation.

                  If the were able to develop Polanco’s power like a 6’6″ monster with above average bat speed should have, then 65 would’ve been *light*.

                  • I completely agree with you. My point is I hear people talking about the pipeline and get the distinct impression they are assuming 75-80th or better percentile outcomes for almost all our top prospects going forward. It just doesn’t work like that.

                    And I find it undeniable that NH’s drafting and development has been average at best. And that’s being generous.

                    • I’ve contended from the start that they took a 6’6″ monster and developed him to be a contact hitter.

                      They were so worried about the “holes” in his swing that they took leverage out of his frame needed to produce power. Quantity of contact over quality.

                    • Well, maybe if they took leverage out they can put it back in. Thy should send Riggs to the Dominican this winter on “vacation”and have him exclusively work with Polanco. If Polanco could be turned into the 35 HR / YR hitter that his frame says that he is the impact on he Pirates would be huge.

                • Here’s the Pirates ranking from another analysis of WAR from drafts from 2008 to the present (data through 2016). Expected WAR looks at how much WAR the Pirates should get based on their position in the draft. The net WAR stat takes into account actual WAR, expected WAR and also credit for potential future WAR for BA top 100 prospects
                  fWAR
                  actual WAR – 18th
                  expected WAR – 3rd
                  net WAR – 21st

                  bWAR
                  actual WAR – 20th
                  expected WAR – 3rd
                  net WAR – 21st

                  Based on draft position in the Huntington ERA, this analysis expects the Pirates to have the 3rd most WAR of any team. Their actual WAR is 18th or 20th depending how it is calculated. Their net WAR, as noted above takes into account highly ranked prospects, puts the Pirates at 21st.

                  It’ll be interesting to see P2s analysis of draft history and also to see how this data looks after 2017.

                  • This is fascinating, really appreciate it. Could you link me to where you found this or tell who who prepared this. I would like to read a little more about their methodology for expected WAR. But at first glance it makes a lot of sense to me based on where we have drafted. Thanks again.

                    • I don’t want to post a link since that isn’t very cool to do to the people that run p2. But, links have been posted to PMB and bucsdugout. If Tim or John or someone here says its okay, I’ll post a link.

                  • What do the same stats say if you start in 2011? The first several years NH was stuck with Littlefield’s scouts, and they in general sucked. NH made major changes to the scouting department, but it took about three years to overall it.

                    • The data isn’t presented in a way that allows a look at snippets of your choice. Its presented year-by-year. But there is also an aggregate from from 2008 to the present, which is how the data I posted was easy to get at.

                • When Polanco has been able to stay off the DL for more than 3 weeks at a time he is stud. See 1st half 2017. If he consistently got 500+ ABs we would have the 4-5 WAR. But caan he stay healthy?

              • Tim: Your “No Man’s Land” piece a few days ago was excellent analysis. The BMTIB chose the right strategy, draft and develop, but it appears that they may not be up to par in implementing that strategy. Also, since baseball is the most complex game ever designed by the mind of man, IMO, other factors impinge, like knowing when to add pieces to fill in the gaps (they failed to sufficiently strengthen the starting rotation during the 2015-16 offseason); or the ups and downs of the bench.

                Pittsburgh being a small market, relatively, the budget will ALWAYS be a factor. We have no margin for error, so even when we do spend money, as with Francisco who went to the Blue Jays and Nova, if it goes bad (as it looks like it may be going with Nova), we’re stuck. Factor in MLB’s business model, which favors large market teams no matter what they say; the fact that players can now literally become free agents, going to the highest bidder, and the fact that beyond a certain limit, the ownership seems to be risk averse, and I don’t see great reason for optimism.

                I see no reason to quibble with the ranking of The Pirates’ farm system. But it seems like only a few years ago, the Houston and Milwaukee organizations, to cite just two examples, were considered to be dumpster fires. How did they get turned around? As Pirates’ fans, we focus on The Pirates. I’d be curious to know what kind of competitive analysis the front office does and what, if any, role it plays in their plans.

  6. These rankings absolutely make sense. This is no longer a top 10 farm system. When Baseball America ranks then next Winter I assume Pirates will be somewhere in between 13-17.

    • Currently, at best, we might have two impact players in Keller and Meadows. Once Cutch leaves, we better pray that Meadows overcomes his injuries and at least becomes an above average OF’er.

      I still think Tucker is going to be better than Newman, but far from an impact player.

      All of the rest will be complimentary type players if they make the majors at all.

      To sum up, if Bell continues to improve, we will have just one big bopper.

      • To be fair, I do think there are quite a few sleepers in the system. It’s slim on high end talent but there is depth. There are plenty of excellent ballplayers that weren’t considered high end talent. I agree with you about Tucker especially if he finds his power stroke.

      • As a 20/21 year old at Hi A with excellent numbers offensively and better than excellent numbers defensively, Cole Tucker, IMO, has shown himself to be on the right path to be a future impact player at the MLB Level. In a half season (277 AB) he posted 25 EBH, 34 Walks, 36 SB and fielded .975 at SS.

        I expected a slight regression moving to Hi A, but instead, he improved on his overall performances at lower levels.

          • Tucker, Keller, Luplow, Eppler, Krause, McRae, Hinsz, Suiter, DuRapau could all contribute. Nine guys from one draft still in the hunt three years after being drafted, looks good to me.

  7. David Schoenfield (ESPN INsider) listed players most likely to be dealt in August the offseason for each team.

    He listed Will Craig for us, saying that he is blocked by Bell. While that somewhat makes sense, what in heavens name would a MLB club give us for him?

    Seriously.

    • Verlander… Unfortunately I can think of more negatives than positives for that acquisition aside from the fact that it’ll never happen.

    • I don’t understand why Craig is listed as a 3b in the PP prospect rankings when it appears that he’s destined as a 1b. Has he proven completely incapable of playing 3b? I may have missed or forgotten that article.

          • Okay….I will give you that, but, the point was that Schoenfeld said that we could possibly move Craig. What do you think another club would give for him?

            Now, if he could play 3b as well as he plays 1b, he’d be worth something.

            • I think that depends on when he would be traded. He’d have more value the further he moves up and the closer he gets to the big leagues.

              If they have a scenario where he’s blocked by Josh Bell, and he’s ready for the majors, he’d have a lot more trade value than he would as a guy in High-A ball.

              • You beat me to this. As someone that was not a fan of the pick he’s starting to grow on me. His value will absolutely increase if he proves to be able to hit in AA/AAA. And at that point you can get more for him then you can right now. Especially if the power picks up.

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