First Pitch: A Quick Look at The State of the Pirates’ Farm System

The Pirates announced their Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year yesterday, giving the awards to James Marvel and Mason Martin, respectively. These kind of announcements are almost met with a confusion every year, as people try to take them as a sign of the quality of the overall system.

The yearly awards are simply recognizing the best players from that specific year, regardless of prospect status. I know that for our awards, we look at numbers, compare the levels of the players, and the age/experience of the players. The last two are tiebreakers to separate numbers from the lower and upper levels, and to separate performances on the same teams. The Pirates have also included developmental goals and accomplishments in the past, but usually have about the same results.

Marvel and Martin aren’t the top prospects in the system. We’ve got them both as top 30 prospects, and you could make the argument that both are top 20 prospects. But this isn’t the top pitching and top hitting prospect in the system, and doesn’t really give any indication of the quality of the system.

So what does the system look like right now? We’ve been unrolling our year-end coverage to get a better look, but for a quick summary…

**The top of the system still has some elite prospects. Technically Mitch Keller is still prospect eligible, but that should change by the end of the year, and it really doesn’t change the Pirates’ future when he becomes ineligible. Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz provide potential impact position players at the top to join Keller.

**There is a lot of upside throughout the system, but after those top three guys, the system drastically shifts from upper level, top 100 prospects, to lower level guys who could eventually be on the rise. A lot of the guys that I mentioned yesterday — Quinn Priester, Tahnaj Thomas, Ji-Hwan Bae — have top 100 potential, but probably won’t get there for another year or two.

**Beyond guys like Thomas, Bae, and Priester, there are plenty of other toolsy guys in the lower levels, although their chances for a breakout are lower, and that group can be seen as more of a collective group of prospects where you hope one or two breaks out, rather than focusing on any individual prospect.

**Pitching is the strength for these lower level breakout candidates, either in the Priester/Thomas group, or the lower guys. But there are some interesting position players making their way up from this year’s draft, and from the DSL. These guys are obviously years away, and probably a year or two away from mentioning any of them in the current Priester/Thomas/Bae tier.

**Overall, the Pirates have some talent to join the team in the next year or two, led by Keller, Hayes, Cruz, Cole Tucker, and others in the top levels. As for the overall system, it’s going to be weak in the rankings — especially after Keller graduates — and that will be the case until the lower level guys start to break out. In short, the system is in a rebuild after graduating so many prospects the last few years, and the Pirates are off to a good start getting talented guys for that rebuild.

**The questions going forward: Can the Pirates take all of these lower level guys and have a few breakout candidates, and then can they translate that to MLB success? Based on their track record, I have little doubt they can do the former, but they need improvements on the latter.


I’ve got a column going up later today. We’ll also have any news and the live discussion.


Today’s song is “Now” from Joywave. I’ve seen this band a few times opening for other bands. If you like their music, I’d also recommend the songs “Tongues”, “Destruction”, and “Traveling at the Speed of Light”.


Have fun with this one. Every starting pitcher from 1980-2018 who has started a game for the Pirates.


By John Dreker

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, starting with the most recent first. Robinzon Diaz, catcher during the 2008-09 season. He was the player the Pirates got back for Jose Bautista. I’m still not sure why they gave up on Diaz so quick, considering he didn’t do bad in his brief time in Pittsburgh, plus he was still fairly young with strong numbers in the minors. That made the trade look even worse, though you had to ignore the fact Bautista probably wouldn’t have been around after the 2008 season (certainly not after 2009) due to his upcoming salary and poor play. He was also disgruntled over losing his spot to Andy LaRoche (wouldn’t you be too?) and was sent to the minors prior to the trade. Diaz last played pro ball during the winter of 2017. He finished 15-year career with a .295 minor league average in 1,049 games.

Ray Sadler, has a similar story to Diaz, which if you remember Sadler, you probably won’t believe the next part. He spent 2015 playing independent ball, ten seasons after his only three Major League games, which came between May 8th and 11th, 2015 for the Pirates. He played 16 years of pro ball, four years of winter ball and even played in the Italy version of the big leagues.

Stuffy McInnis, first baseman for the 1925-26 Pirates. He is probably the best mid-season pick-up in franchise history. The Pirates signed him two months into the 1925 season and all he did was hit .368 for them, helping them to win their second World Series title. McInnis had a terrific career that saw him bat .307, with over 1,000 RBIs, 2,405 hits and he’s third all-time in sacrifice hits with 383 of them. That’s a lot of at-bats to give away for the good of the team, yet he still managed over 2,400 hits.

He was also a sure-handed first baseman during an era in which defense at first base was a lot more important than now. For 11 straight seasons, he finished first or second in fielding percentage at first base. Somehow he is a -4.3 career for defensive WAR, despite being widely regarded as being great defensively and he has the range/numbers to back it up.