ESPN Ranks the Pirates as the Ninth Best Farm System

One day after Keith Law at The Athletic ranked the Pittsburgh Pirates as the sixth best farm system, Kiley McDaniel from ESPN has the Pirates ranked as the ninth best system.

McDaniel uses a system where the players are given a value, then you add up that value to get a value for the entire system. That system put the Pirates just behind the eighth place team (Texas Rangers), but well behind the seventh place Tampa Bay Rays.

The Pirates had three top 100 prospects for McDaniel, and three others who received honorable mention.

Yesterday’s list had the Pirates third in the National League behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers. That placed them first among NL Central clubs. Today’s list has the Diamondbacks and Dodgers ahead of the Pirates, but the Cincinnati Reds are fifth on the list, placing the Pirates second in the division and fourth in the league.

The rest of the NL Central ranks tenth (St Louis Cardinals), 11th (Chicago Cubs) and 15th (Milwaukee Brewers). Both lists released so far for farm system rankings have all five NL Central teams in the top half of MLB.

When we get more of these lists, we can look at an average ranking for the Pirates vs the division/league.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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I alluded to this yesterday but what is jumping out to me about these organizational rankings isn’t where we’re ranked as much as how the rest of the NL Central has closed the gap. For example, last year Kiley had us as 3rd, the Cards at 14th, the Cubs at 19th, the Reds at 20th, and the Brewers at 25th. It was easy to dream that we had the inside track on winning the Central in, say, ’26. Now with all five teams in the top 15, there’s no reason to think that we’re any better set up for the future than are our competitors.

And again, I love the model the Brewers follow where they can put an 86-win team on the field last year and a 95-win team the year before (i.e., no high draft picks last year) and yet improve their farm ranking ten spots (and more according to other rankings). Smart.


ive said this before but this all ends up being pretty pointless.

either 1) someone likes the direction of the team, and so does Analyst X, so that person is walking on cloud 9
2) someone likes the direction of the team, but analyst X is flaccid on the team, so that person dismisses the analyst and the exercise altogether
3) someone doent like the direction of the team, but analyst X does, and the person says “gotta see it on the mlb field first”
4) someone doesnt like the direction of the team, and neither does analyst X, and they say “SEE!? bad!”

i guess it’s all just entertainment, which means it’s not pointless.


or, i suppose, the pointlessness is the point


I’m going to file this ranking report with all other ranking reports in the “Useless Bullshit” file folder.

Prospects oftentimes exceed expectations or fail to live up to high hopes. And despite what you may think, these “experts” don’t have some special talent to know who will or won’t work out.

But feel free to freak out or throw a baby fit about the current state of the farm system if it makes you feel better.


I’m waiting to freak out during next offseason R5 crunch!,!,

Wilbur Miller

One thing worth remembering about these rankings is that they only examine one part of the equation, which is talent. Two other big ones are development and integrating prospects into the majors. Development filters into the rankings some. Quinn Priester by now has had a lot of exposure to the Pirates’ development guys. Termarr’s had basically none.
Integration—probably need a better term—is something I’ve been convinced since the Bonifay days is a legit and vital skill. The Cards are great at it. The Pirates have been awful at it under . . . uh . . . everybody. Maybe that’ll change once they decide to try to win a few games. But system rankings, however accurate, are just one determinant in what you get in the end.


Agree with every bit of this. I sometimes wonder what Gregory Polanco, Tyler Glasnow, or (way back machine) Chad Hermanson would have done with better INTEGRATION into the bigs.


Internet thesaurus has terms such as unification or consolidation as synonyms for integration. Also fusing or blending! I like that last one. Glad I could help.
Could you define blending/integration? Meaning, the Cards aren’t jerking guys up and down from AAA like Pgh? Or the Bucs can’t decide what to do with guys like Bae, so his position is decided by dart throwing? Breaking in young arms in the pen? For me, it’s hard to think of specific examples with the Cards (don’t follow them that closely), but this also may be one of those things that is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. It could just be as simple is “this guy is talented, why are they using him this way, it seems dumb.”

Wilbur Miller

I think there are a lot of judgments that go into it. Deciding when a guy is ready. Deciding when he does or doesn’t need to go back down, or just needs to live through the struggles. Relatedly, being willing to make a commitment to a guy. (If you lived through the Gene Lamont years, you know that unwillingness to do this can be a huge barrier.) Just plain old coaching, as we saw with Glasnow.


BA just did an awesome article on this topic:

That’s essentially a list of recent top prospects who’ve failed to “integrate” into the majors.

One commonality across nearly every one of them is very young age with relatively little AAA experience when entering the big leagues.

Whether or not that’s causal if up for debate, but the pattern cannot be ignored.

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
Wilbur Miller

The pattern I’m seeing in those writeups isn’t that those guys had too little time in AAA, it’s that they had the raw tools to dominate at lower levels but lacked the skills to succeed at upper levels, as in, ever. Most of those scouts’ comments come across like, you could leave this guy at AAA for ten years and he still wouldn’t succeed in the majors.


Quite possible.

Wilbur Miller

It’s also occurred to me that there might be more of a tendency to rush top guys now because they’re seen as so valuable. Say, you’ve got a primo prospect, your team needs a boost, and you figure you’ll bring him up instead of pay a big price for a FA, and hope he turns into Acuna or Tatis. There are a lot of forces changing the old dynamics.

Wilbur Miller

I meant to add, Stumpf commented a little while ago that he’s hearing from baseball people that the gap between the minors and majors has gotten larger in recent years. Could be the lost pandemic year, prospects being rushed, prospects being over-coached or overwhelmed with analytics. A lot of things, I guess.


Would you have the same comment if they were ranked 1 or 2?
I’ve always tried to look at these ratings outside this site as a bit of a reality check within the industry. In our black and gold specs, we look at the best of these guys who are showing serious warts. I’d also this pretty much confirms what others in the industry has said: the system is solid and deep with plenty of likely big leaguers, but other than Endy, they don’t have anyone who broke out and looks like a big star (where Baltimore and Arizona have had several).
Finally, these rankings are a snapshot in time; so many of these systems shot up or down due to talent infusions or graduations. This system may be 15th next year because Endy, Hank, Bae, and Priester tore it up and graduated. Wouldn’t that be nice?


In a word, yes!

I’m not saying these rankings are completely useless, but they’re damn close to it.

What I like is to see Nick G, QP, and Davis being downgraded. I’m hopeful these guys will use this as fuel to work harder to prove these “experts” wrong.


Bad teams that aren’t trading prospects should have a higher ranking I’d think- so this isn’t that impressive.


I think this could be a huge year for the farm. We have had some serious bad luck lately with our prospects due to injuries and just some questionable development. I see some players taking a step forward or being moved off the prospect list altogether. Hank Davis needs to stay healthy and could right the ship. He has been good when healthy. Nick Gonzalez seems to be putting it together a bit then got injured. Peggy started fairly strong then faded bad. Can he get back on track? Gorski showed real power before the hamstring. Is he for real? Another guy that can come up huge if he makes the right adjustment is T-Swag. If he doesn’t he won’t be around next year. Some of the young pitchers can take a large step this year includes Solomento, Chandler, and Jared Jones. I think this year will be telling in where we truly are in the building phase. Hopefully some of our players make the jump from possible major leaguer to possible future major league all star.


Given the vast number of high draft picks the Pirates have had over the past several years and many young prospects added in trades, a ranking of 9th is not very impressive anf not to be celebrated in my opinion. Instead it is a further indication of very poor drafting and international signings, along with abysmal player development.


I actually think of it differently. A young(ish) team at the core in the bigs, a good system that is ranked in the top 10 BEFORE MASSIVE upside hits (thanks PP for letting us know the under radar guys). We could in a few years have the best of both worlds- a young (and largely pre-arb) team in the bigs with talent and winning games AND a top 3 farm system at the same time.

I think THAT is when BC will earn his pay. How to put the big league team over the final hump to win a championship? How to go all-in when appropriate from a salary standpoint? How to steward farm resources (trades) as well as keep the pipeline sustainable? How to do it all without having to tank every 5 years to have a 1-2 year window?

Can it be done?


I figured you’d roll away your rock to make a comment like this.


nobody’s really celebrating

there’s really not a huge problem with the recent drafts. and one of the tanking years is yet to yield what should be a star-level prospect for the 2023 draft. Gonzales, Johnson, Davis, etc are all perfectly reasonable prospects.

I 100 percent agree that the trades did not yield quite enough. they shouldve yielded enough to be a few ranks higher.

and also farm ranks dont really take into account guys who just graduated. like. say the pirates held cruz and roansy down and they ranked 5th instead. would that make you or anyone happier? it shouldnt, but i bet it would.

Last edited 1 month ago by jaygray007

Great point re: graduations. The natural ebb and flow will likely put Bucs higher next year with a likely college pick at 1.1 that’s very high regarded, whatever they get from the Reynolds trade, and whoever else they can sell off at the deadline.

I guess the bigger concern is that the Bucs need a stud to breakthrough, preferably a handful together, and they haven’t had very many top 10 prospects / 60+ FV in the last decade, much less top 20, despite all their high draft picks and trades. Depth is valuable (and cost effective), but studs win ships. Where are the studs?


Need a stud finder! That’s a great point though. The likely big leaguers are nice. You need that productivity, and that depth. But you win with stars and those stars are mostly big prospects, and they don’t have many right now.


Year end, year out, these rankings usually turn out to be a joke. They’re entertainment only. There’s top 10 ranked players who never make it & there’s non top 100 prospects who turn into 2018 Brian Reynolds was ranked 13rh in Pirates system, behind Swaggerty, Tucker, Newman, Lolo, Kramer, Mitchell & a few other’s of “who”.
Just use it as entertainment


I count 7 of the last 10 World Series champions having a top 5 system within three years of winning it all.

This applies for the Dodgers all the way down to the Royals. Quite literally, nothing matters more than farm system quality.


Pipeline did a podcast/article last year about correlation between top farm systems and success at the big league level. It was just as you said, having a top 3 system all but guarantees post season appearances if not also success


By BA rankings or something else? Just for fun, I went to FG and took a look back at ratings. They didn’t do org rankings until 2019, but Houston’s was 4th (after winning in 2017). They had a 65, a 60, and five 50’s. The 60 is Kyle Tucker, and one of the 50’s is Yordan Alvarez. The rest are Whitley, Corbin Martin, JB Bukauskas (both traded for Greinke) Josh James and Cionel Perez. It’s sobering the amount of attrition even a good development system like even Houston goes through.
Edit: I did all of this without using my brain helmet to realize you likely meant those high farm rankings were within three years BEFORE winning a title and not after. Sigh.

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