Pirates Come Up Empty on Baseball America’s Top 20 Eastern League Prospects List

Baseball America released their list of the top 20 prospects in the Eastern League on Thursday morning and the Pittsburgh Pirates came up empty. That comes two days after the International League list snubbed Austin Meadows, although it did have Tyler Glasnow #12, even though he used up his prospect status before being sent to the minors this year.

The Eastern League top 20 not having any Pirates wouldn’t be as big of a snub as the IL, but it’s still not good to see. Kevin Newman was the highest rated player from the Curve this season. Baseball America had him as their 88th best prospect in the mid-season update in July. That was down from #50 in their preseason list. If you look at that mid-season list and compare it to the top 20 released today, just ten of those players were ranked ahead of Newman in July and eight of the other ten weren’t even in the top 100.

Newman was hitting .260/.315/.365 through 75 games when the mid-season update came out. His stay in Altoona was short after that. He put up a .555 OPS in his final seven games before being promoted to Indianapolis. In Triple-A, he hit .283/.314/.373 in 40 games, showing slight improvements in OBP and slugging while putting up a higher average.

His biggest improvement this season came on the defensive side, where he went from someone who began last year as still questionable as to whether he could stick at shortstop full-time. While he isn’t flashy defensively, and is far from the best in the system, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt now that he can handle shortstop. That doesn’t mean he will stick there, just because the Pirates have plenty of above average defenders behind him in the system.

We had Cole Tucker rated ahead of Newman in our own mid-season update, and that clearly didn’t change with the way each of them performed after the update. So in my mind Tucker would be the bigger snub from the EL list, although I didn’t think he would be ahead of Newman on this list. Meaning, since Newman didn’t make the list, I’m not surprised that Tucker didn’t either. While with Altoona, Tucker had just over 30 more plate appearances than the minimum required by BA, so he qualified for this list.

In comparison to Newman at Altoona, Tucker put up a .726 OPS in 42 games, while stealing bases and putting on a show defensively. Add in the fact that he is three years younger than Newman and the gap between the two is probably bigger than what it was back in July.

As for any other Curve players, Mitch Keller would be the best player they had all season, but he wasn’t there long enough to qualify for this list. Kevin Kramer was headed for a season that would have put him in the EL top 20, but missing three months with a broken hand took away any chances of that happening.

Our Player of the Year Jordan Luplow, put up strong stats in the EL, but due to his upside, I don’t think you’ll see him in any top 100 prospect lists this off-season. Maybe if he finishes strong in the majors, he will get more attention, but after last night, he has a .601 OPS and Baseball-Reference has him as a -0.6 WAR.

It’s really not fair to judge him on just his Major League stats, since it took injuries to Austin Meadows and Gregory Polanco for him to get rushed to the majors. In a typical year, he would have stayed in Indianapolis, where he was putting up big stats, and you wouldn’t have MLB stats to look at. I still think people will look at those stats though, so he would need a strong finish to possibly get some top 100 consideration. Luplow finished with a .907 OPS in 117 games split over two levels this season, showing a slight improvement in offense after his promotion to Indianapolis.

So the EL list is disappointing because it shows that Newman’s stock has dropped. I think anyone who followed him closely knew he wasn’t having a strong season. Even when he put together a couple of hitting streaks during the year, they usually came with an asterisk because he doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t draw many walks (29 in 552 plate appearances). Tucker still doesn’t get the attention that Newman does, but I expect that to change this off-season, especially if he’s able to play in the Arizona Fall League and scouts get a chance to see the tools in action. Luplow being a corner outfielder without speed or strong defense, will need to do more to get on the prospect map.

The Florida State League rankings should drop early next week and Bradenton should do much better than these first two lists.

  • Couple of points……………….
    1. Altoona Curve place no players at top of league, nevertheless won the EL title! (exception – Mitch Keller)
    2. Sums up the Huntington GM dilemma – lots of good, average players but no All Stars, no #3 or #4 hitters in the system, no power hitters and even with the pitching, lots of good arms, but maybe only two great #1 arms (Keller and Glasnow).

    Unless Marte, Polanco and Kang come back STRONG, I see lots of sub .500 seasons under this regime with the finger pointing to Bob Nutting and his stingy pocketbook!

  • I think Cole Tucker will turn out to have been underrated all the way from the draft into his early major league career. His youth and his injuries have thrown people off the “scent” so to speak.

  • Ironic that Altoona won the Eastern League Championship without any “players (prospects)”!

  • Truthfully none of the Pirate prospects in the eastern league deserved to be in the top 20.

  • the snubs at IL and El don’t bode well for the near future success of the big club.

    • This franchise has taken a pretty stark turn the last 3 years. In 2014 you had the #1 ranked farm system with a very good MLB team. Now you have an objectively bad MLB team with an average(or slightly worse) farm system. Yet 4 year extensions are warranted?

      • The #1 ranked farm system didn’t translate into good MLB players.

        • It certainly did not. And there just are not enough high end players left in the system to give the MLB team the bump it needs(they need a lot of help), Keller and Meadows and then a pretty big air pocket. Besides a really poor year in the box, you have to wonder about Meadow’s long term viability as a CF with the chronic hamstring issues.

      • The PG article today pointed out another performance metric of this front office — the value they get from players relative to amount paid. The Pirates are getting 27th out of 30 teams in value for pay. The value rec’d is actually below what they are paying in payroll (or a best, right around it). Objective evidence that this management team has run its course is everywhere.

        • Article was published today? Can you post link? Thanks

        • Saw it, thanks Mike. Was it 27th in value for pay or 27th in value?

          Either way, I’ve long felt that the Pirates absolutely must get a lot of surplus value from most of their contracts and have too many where guys aren’t providing much.

        • NH actually received a higher value of WAR vs what it would cost on the open market.

          A win purchased on the free agent market (on average) is worth $8 million. (Also a team full of 0 WAR replacement players should win 48 games based on fangraphs.) A team is forced to pay $13 million each year solely based on minimum required salaries. So the Pirates paid an additional $87 million to reach a $100 million payroll. That should have moved them to 59 wins – if purchased on the market.

          • Since no one purchases all of their salaries via free agency, I did a little more research.

            The average baseball team payroll is about $151.5 million (Sportrac). Minus the minimum $13 million, that means a team actually makes decisions on $138.5 million. Average baseball teams win 81 games. Again, a team “starts with 48 wins so they actually earn the other 33. That means that an actual win (WAR) is worth $4.25 ($138.5/33).

            And since an average team wants to get to the playoffs (90 wins), they need to be better than average – $3.3 million per WAR ($138.5/42).

            — NH’s Pirates are currently on pace for a 3.5 average WAR. With an average payroll and the same talent choices, we would be on pace for 88 wins–

            And finally, the Pirates at around $100 million need to get great value – NH’s $2 million per WAR ($87/42).

          • For those that don’t need the math (which are in the next post):
            – Free agent market value of 1 WAR is about $8 million
            – Actual value of 1 WAR is $4.25
            – A team with a $151.5 million payroll (league average) winning 90 games would be getting 1 WAR for $3.3
            – A team with a $100 million payroll need to get 1 WAR at a great discount $2 million

            – NH’s 2017 Pirates are currently on pace for $3.5 million per WAR – this would have gotten them to 88 wins with a league average payroll

            • “NH’s Pirates are currently on pace for a 3.5 average WAR. With an average payroll and the same talent choices, we would be on pace for 88 wins.”

              So I think you inadvertently figured out why teams cannot easily buy their way to wins.

              WAR is a *cumulative* statistic based on a *finite* number of opportunities. Huntington making the *same* talent choices with a ~$150m budget would’ve meant far more players than potential opportunities for them to add value.

              The trick is to *optimize* talent choices across a finite number of opportunities. How to pack the most bang into a limited number of chances.

              • That’s an intersting insight.

                In hindsight, NH could have not played, traded, cut, or not ever signed our bevy of 0 or sub 0 WAR players (like Osuna, Jaso, Polanco, Stewart, Hudson, Glasnow, Bastardo, and Diaz).
                That act alone would have gained 5 WAR pushing our win total to a projected 78.
                NH would then have had not only the difference in payroll ($51) to play with but an extra $20 million from shedded contracts.

                With that $71 million, he could have signed a quartet of hitters to divvy up the 1,200 ABs, an awesome late inning reliever, and a stud starter. It is conceivable that those players could produce the extra 12 WAR.

                • Bingo! This is the teambuilding sweetspot.

                  Avoid the awful (replacement level and below), and pour the remaining resources into upside.

                  This is also why mega-contracts still make sense for clubs with high payroll budgets. There’s only so many ways you can spend money, so when you do, you may as well target players that can deliver the most value over the least amount of playing time. The player wants security, so you spread the money that he’s worth over a larger time period than he’ll be good and acceptance dead years at the end knowing you’ll get more bang for your buck up front. Once the dead years come, find another guy and eat the rest. It’s a luxury, but it’s utilizing the resources available.

                  This is *also* why marginal starting pitchers aren’t actually more valuable than good relievers. Your standard #5 starter is going to be worth about 1-1.5 WAR over 180 IP whereas Juan Nicasio, for instance, has been worth 1.2 WAR in just 67 innings this year. He’s provided as much value as a starter in less than half the innings, opening up opportunity for another pitcher to add value in his place.

          • I’ve never understood this stuff. So 90 wins costs $720 million? It never does. By any measure, whatever “value” actually rec’d by the Pirates for its roster is far below the value rec’d by other teams. Something is lost in translation for me. For me, what matters is the actual win/loss column.

            • They say a team of 25 0.0 WAR players would win 48 games and cost $13 million (the MLB minimum).

              So a 90 win team would require an additional 42 WAR. If you bought 42 million in free agency (meaning you didn’t develop even 1 WAR value), it would cost $256 million.

              It never does because you are always getting value from either a young pre or early arbitration player.

  • I really don’t think they’re considering his 167 ABs. He’s 20 vice Scott Kingery’s 23. When Tucker is 23 he’ll be in the show not AA.

    • They had Tucker ranked 9th for the Pirates in mid-July. If the guy they had ranked third in the system didn’t make it, seems logical that the guy they had ninth also didn’t make it. We had Tucker rated higher in our mid-season update around the same time and I think everyone saw why with his performance in Altoona. That would be a huge swing for him to get on the EL top 20 list though. They might not even have Tucker on the FSL list. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just Keller and Hayes