First Pitch: The State of the Pirates’ Farm System and Their Future Chances of Contending

Baseball America released their top 30 prospects for every team yesterday, including my top 30 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I won’t go into the rankings or reports in this article, as they can be found in the link above. I did want to discuss the quality of the system today, and how I see that shaping the Pirates’ future chances of contending.

The system, as I see it, is divided right now. There is talent in the upper levels, which could help the Pirates win in the next few years. They’ve got guys like Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, and Cody Bolton arriving in the next year or two. Those guys will join other younger players like Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman.

The Pirates can contend with this group, especially if they get results from the prospects in time to contend with guys like Josh Bell on the team. In order for this to happen, they’d need to find help from the outside to supplement this current group. Keller, Hayes, and Cruz are about as good of a trio of prospects that you can have at the top of your system, but I don’t think that’s enough to get the Pirates back to being contenders.

Ben Cherington had success with the Red Sox in the past by finding value in mid-tier free agents. If he wants to win with the Pirates earlier, rather than later, he’s going to need to find similar value to pair with the younger guys.

I like the long-term chances better, with a good development system. The Pirates have collected a nice group of young prospects in the lower levels. The Starling Marte trade brought in Liover Peguero and Brennan Malone. They joined young prospects like Tahnaj Thomas, Quinn Priester, Ji-Hwan Bae, Sammy Siani, Braxton Ashcraft, Michael Burrows, Alexander Mojica, and more in the lower levels.

Not all of those players will make the majors or come close to their upsides. But this does remind me of some of the lower level groups under Huntington, where the Pirates had a large collection of higher upside guys. Huntington oversaw a system that turned a lot of those guys into prospects, even if they didn’t take the final step and reach their upside in Pittsburgh.

Cherington now has a lot of talent to work with, and a lot of the same development system in place that led to the previous talented lower level prospects turning into top prospects in the game. That’s a good start, and it will be exciting watching all of those lower level guys to see which ones step up for the future. Cherington will eventually need to show that his system can do a better job getting prospects to their upsides in the majors.

In the short-term, I think the Pirates can contend with some good additions from the outside. I like their system better in the long-term due to all of the talent they’re collecting in the lower levels. There is a gap between those guys and the group led by Keller, but it’s not large enough to prevent both groups of prospects from being on the same team one day. If that happens, and if Cherington oversees a strong development system, then the Pirates will have a good chance to contend and exceed anything they did from 2013-15.





By John Dreker

No major transactions on this date, and just three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on February 21st, including a very recent one who didn’t last long.

Tyler Lyons, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates. He was signed as a minor league free agent and lasted just three relief appearances over a four-day stretch. Lyons allowed five runs in four innings before being designated for assignment. He remained with the Pirates in Triple-A for three months before they released him in August, so he could sign elsewhere. He finished the season with the New York Yankees. Lyons has a 4.20 ERA in 281 innings over 161 big league appearances. The first 147 games of his career came with the 2013-18 St Louis Cardinals.

Ted Savage, outfielder for the 1963 Pirates. He had a strong rookie season in 1962 for the Phillies, hitting .266 with 54 runs scored and 16 stolen bases in 127 games. That November the Pirates acquired him and infielder Poncho Herrera in exchange for third baseman Don Hoak. Savage was used mainly off the bench for the Pirates. He hit well through early May, but his average dropped, and he made just five starts over the last 94 games of the season. He ended up playing 85 games for the Pirates, hitting .195 in 166 plate appearances. He spent the entire 1964 season in the minors, where hit he .229 in 115 games with ten homers and 26 steals. The Pirates traded him after the season, along with pitcher Earl Francis, to the St Louis Cardinals for two minor leaguers. Savage played parts of three seasons with the Cardinals, batting .160 over 55 games. He played four more seasons in the majors, playing for five different teams. With the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, he hit a career high .279 with 12 homers, 50 RBI’s and 57 walks in 114 games, but by the end of the 1971 season his baseball career was over. Savage finished with a .233 career average over nine seasons and 642 games.

Jouett Meekin, pitcher for the 1900 Pirates. He had a 19-36 record with an ERA just over 4.00 his first two seasons (1891-92). While his ERA went up to 4.96 in 1893, the entire league saw a rise in runs scored, so it isn’t as bad as it sounds. By 1894, which some consider the best year for offense in all of baseball, he was 33-9 with a 3.70 ERA. That was the second best ERA and second most wins in the league. Meekin went on to win 78 total games over the 1895-98 seasons, all spent with the New York Giants. He started off slow in 1899 and was sold to the Boston Beaneaters, who need an extra arm for their pennant run. He would bounce back with them, going 7-6 2.83 in 13 starts, completing 12 of those games. A month prior to the start of the 1900 season Boston released Meekin, who found a job with the Pirates a short time later. He would make just two starts for Pittsburgh, one in June that he lost 8-1, and another one in July that he lost 17-3, with his opponent on the mound being Cy Young. That what would end up being the last Major League game for Meekin. He played two more seasons of minor league ball before retiring. He finished his major league career with a 152-133 record.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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