Yah, we've been slacking, but those dang Bucco FO guys are keeping a low market profile. We fear that they're about done playing with the roster, and we're not as sure as they are that it's been upgraded. We'll discuss that issue a little later; today we'll focus on the captive market, Pittsburgh's prospects.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked the farm systems, and the Bucs came in at 12th, in the upper-middle of the pack. We have no beef with that. The system boasts of a couple of high-end guys but mostly consists of players whose future level has yet to be determined.
That's because the Pirates have burned their energy on implementing the long term plan of picking high school talent. The kids all have oodles of upside but precious little time in the crucible and no history of top flight competition as a basis for future projections. But as Sickels noted "Heavy draft investments (are) slowly-but-steadily raising the talent level in this system."
Based on our own thoughts and the individual prospect ratings of Sickels, Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects, John Perrotto of Baseball America, Thomas Belmont of Baseball Instincts and the MLB.com rankings, here is the state of minors for the Pirates:
Everybody agrees that RHPs Gerritt Cole and Jameson Taillon are potential aces, with emphasis on potential. Both should start out at High A with the hope that Cole can make the jump to Altoona before too terribly long and then Indy the following season. He could, with his college pedigree, be in Pittsburgh by late 2013 if all goes according to plan, with Taillon maybe a year behind.
If they live up to their hype and escape any big time injuries, by 2015 the Bucs could at long last have a top of the rotation that's under team control for most of the remaining decade.
A couple of outfielders fill in the next spots, Josh Bell and Starling Marte. Bell is a puppy yet, but fills the bill as a switch hitter with power although years away from the show. Marte has every tool in the kit except for raw power, but still could be a 25/25 guy in the show. Questions linger regarding his poor plate discipline and Rube Goldberg routes in the outfield. The 23 year old will be at Indy this year, and improving his mental approach is key.
Other position players who bear watching are C Tony Sanchez, a first-rounder who has been hurt and not making the progress anticipated by the FO. His defensive ability behind the plate remains unquestioned, but his bat needs some heavy duty work.
1B Alex Dickerson is off to a promising start, and as a college player could be on a fast track (he's a top ten prospect per MLB.com). He looks like he's ready to pass Matt Curry as the Bucs' top 1B prospect. OF Robby Grossman made strides to get on the radar; now he needs to repeat his success, although thought of as a tweener.
SS Jordy Mercer is 25, and he may be ready to make a move. He better, with Brock Holt breathing down his neck. OF Gorkys Hernandez has the glove and wheels to play, but the Bucs aren't sold on his stick. 2B Jarek Cunningham has shown some flash, too, but isn't in the immediate plans.
That leaves us with a whole kettle of pitchers that may or may not pan out. Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie top that list of guys who could break through as elite arms. Only time will tell if their youthful potential will ever be harnessed into major league production.
Names like Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke, Nick Kingham, Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Zach Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Colton Cain, Clay Holmes and Duke Welker all pop out as as possible MLB arms to differing degrees. Some will learn their craft; others will fall by the wayside. Baseball Darwinism is the reason the Pirates have committed so many of its resources to hoarding pitching.
There's also a crew of Latin players currently bumping along in the lower levels, like 3B Elevys Gonzalez, 1B Jose Osuna, OFs Adalberto Santos & Exicardo Cayonez, and C Ramon Cabrera. We'll see how an unleashed Rene Gayos and the new Dominican camp work out in farming that fertile field of dreams.
The Pirate farm system has made marked improvement in the Coonelly/Huntington era, especially considering that Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Alex Presley have all moved through it to the show in recent seasons, along with contributors like Brad Lincoln, Tony Watson and Danny Moskos. Chase d'Arnaud and Josh Harrison have shown they can be capable role players.
The farm has advanced from the bottom of the pack to solidly in the middle and knocking on top ten's door. But their future plans will have to adapt in the new world of capped draft budgets, which makes their over slot signings a thing of the past.
For now the Pirates have stocked the lower minors with talent, and that should work its way up in the next couple of seasons. How they'll approach future drafts - possibly the new paradigm (no, I don't know what it means, but I always wanted to use it in a post) will focus more on proven college players mixed in with Latin signings - should tell the tale of Pittsburgh's goal of competing in the long run.