There's been a little difference of opinion regarding the Pirate farm system. The Bucco FO compares it favorably to KC's, widely recognized as the best in MLB, while national pundits rank it 19th and 21st. The truth? Well, they're both right to a degree.
First, you have to recall that the bright lights of the organization - Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and yes, even Steve Pearce - have made the jump to the bigs in the past season and a half, and that's a pretty impressive feat.
Not many teams have four starting position players jumping from the farm to the show that quickly, and some would argue that Garrett Jones be included among that group (Not GW; a minor league free agent is still a free agent, but hey, to each his own).
So the FO hangs its hat on the quick rebuilding from within. But the national guys look at Indy, and frankly, they don't see much on the horizon. Brad Lincoln and Rudy Owens, Alex Presley as an extra OF'er, maybe Daniel Moskos. There's not much left after the raids of the last two seasons.
So their point is that the Pirates don't have much MLB-ready talent; hence the low rankings.
The reality falls in between.
The current Pirate braintrust is just three draft classes into restocking a minor league system left bare by Dave Littlefield. The FO tries to get the elite guys on the fast track, and the rest of the players are pretty much on the traditional level-at-a-time schedule.
The college picks should be showing up at Altoona and Indy now, while the high school guys should be in high A or AA ball in 2011. And that's about where the Pirates prospects are at.
Chase d'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer will man Indy's middle infield along with Brian Friday. Gorkys Hernandez will be in CF; the question is whether the best defensive outfielder in the organization can develop an eye. Jim Negrych is a Delwyn Young clone.
Tony Sanchez, Andrew Lambo, Starling Marte, Brock Holt, Jarek Cunningham, Josh Harrison, Eric Avila, Exicardo Cayones, Robert Grossman, and Quincy Latimore are the bright lights among the up-and-coming position players. It's a list that needs more names and deeper talent, for sure.
The pitching wave is finally hitting the higher levels. Along with Lincoln and Owens are Justin Miller, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke. Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia will all be rocketed through the system if possible.
In between are pitchers like Zack Von Rosenberg, Quinton Miller, Zack Dodson, Nick Kingham, Brooks Pounder, Victor Black, and Colton Cain. Diego Moreno and Ramon Aguero are future closers. So the Bucco FO is developing depth where an organization most needs it, at pitching. But it's still young.
And they've done a much better job of signing Latino talent. The problem there is that it takes those guys forever to percolate through an organization since they're inked at such ridiculously young ages. But some are beginning to make their mark in the Pirates' system: Moreno, Aguero, Heredia, Marte, Avila, Cayones, Yhonathan Barrios, Jorge Bishop, Elevys Gonzalez...it's a promising list, and hopefully will grow.
One thing about the Pirates is that they like high school players; it's easier to sign them and get them into the system. You concede two things, though: time and ability to evaluate against higher levels of competition. Apparently they feel the prep route is the best way to combine upside and value in the draft.
But you have a better handle of the talent level of a college player, and you can usually run them through your system far more quickly and aggressively than a high school kid. That would be our main quibble with the Pirate farm template; we'd prefer a better mix of college and prep players.
Another issue is that so few of their picks are impact players; only Pedro and Taillon, so far. That's not to say that there aren't guys who will develop into big-time baseballers, but there are none with pedigrees like that pair. And teams need difference makers to mix in with the foot soldiers.
We'd like to see a few more position guys added to the mix. But three years isn't a huge sample, and the pitching needed the attention, so we'll wait and see. It is easier to find an everyday guy in the free market than it is to land a pitcher.
We give the Pirates a solid B so far in the Coonelly/Huntington era for building a system. They could have have done it maybe a little quicker and with a little more starpower, but they're bringing in players with upside, emphasizing pitching depth, augmenting the organization with Latino talent, and willing to dig deep into Bob Nutting's pocket to sign people.
It's a day and night improvement from the McClatchy/Littlefield years.