Harvesting Opinion: Pittsburgh Pirates – Do They Have a Top-10 System?

Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.

Please note that any statistics used may be a day or two out of date, as we prepare our answers over the course of a week.

In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Pittsburgh Pirates site Rum Bunter:

After the 2011 draft, would you consider the Pirates farm system a secure top ten now? Why or why not?

Nathaniel says:

I’m not sure I’d go that far. Certainly, the draft brought in a ton of intriguing talent, but a system doesn’t elevate to “secure top-10” solely through a bunch of unproven commodities. The reason why, say, the Rays, Royals, Rangers, or Braves have ranked so highly recently is because they not only had good drafts, but they also had a number of proven and high-upside guys in the top three levels of the minors.

The Pirates, now that Alex Presley and Josh Harrison have graduated, simply don’t have too much to brag about up there. Perhaps Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens can be reliable lefties like Paul Maholm, and I’m not sold on Starling Marte as being anything other than a faster version of Jeff Francoeur with less power and arm strength.

Now, I absolutely love Jameson Taillon, and I also think more people need to take notice of three of Pittsburgh’s High-A bats—catcher Ramon Cabrera, 2B/OF Adalberto Santos, and infielder Elevys Gonzalez. Robbie Grossman is a Top 100 prospect as well.

So, overall, there’s a lot to like. Other than my nitpicking about the upper levels and a fairly big dropoff after 12-15 players, it’s a very good system. Perhaps it is a top-10 system, but I could also justify it being in the 11-15 range, so I wouldn’t say it’s “rock-solid” top-10.

If the draft pans out as well as it should, this system could get to the elite level this time next year, especially if the 2012 draft brings similarly high-caliber prospects.

Wally says:

This is a tricky question to answer since the Pirates system doesn’t exist on an island. Their ranking is obviously dependent on the strength and depth of each other team’s farm system as well, and that brings in a ton of moving parts.

If we use the rankings provided in Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook as the initial framework in this discussion, I think we can try to nail down some of those moving parts.

Heading into 2011, the Pirates system was ranked 19th by BA, so they would have to leapfrog or surpass 9 other organizations to get into the top-10. That’s certainly doable, as a number of teams have moved up or down that much between years; that includes this year’s top-rated Kansas City Royals, who jumped from 16th in 2010 to 1st in 2011.

In fact, the Royals have a history of riding a roller coaster when it comes to the ranking of their system. They were 23rd in 2006, then 11th, 24th, 11th, 16th, and 1st. Of the Royals’ top-20 prospects this season, 9 of them have logged a fair amount of service time in the majors. Of the remaining 11, only young 3B Cheslor Cuthbert has improved his stock this season. They did add Bubba Starling and some other intriguing guys via the draft and through the international market, but I’m not sure that it’s not going to be enough to keep them in the Top-10.

Looking at the other top-10 organizations heading into this season, I think you can make the argument that the they shake down as follows:

Probably No Longer Top-10: Kansas City Royals (#1), Atlanta Braves (#2), Tampa Bay Rays (#3), Cleveland Indians (#7), Chicago Cubs (#8)

On the Border/Debatable: New York Yankees (#5), Colorado Rockies (#10)

Definitely Still Top-10: Toronto Blue Jays (#4), Cincinnati Reds (#6), San Diego Padres (#9)

So based on the above we know that 5 top-10 spots are open, and you could argue 7 if you feel like the Yankees and Rockies are in the 11-15 range.

However we have to look at other clubs, like the Pirates, who figure to climb in the rankings. Chief among those are the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals, who both figure to wind up toward the top of the rankings heading into the 2012 season. In addition, the Seattle Mariners figure to settle in somewhere in the 6-10 range.

So now we have 6 of the top-10 filled with the Rangers, Nationals, Blue Jays, Reds, Padres and Mariners. I’m going to keep the Yankees in as well so they make 7.

That leaves 3 spots up for grabs with the Rockies, Royals, Twins, Red Sox, Braves, Rays, and Pirates in the running. And we now have an idea of who Pittsburgh is “competing” with for the remaining top-10 slots. Combined with Nathaniel’s thoughts above, the addition of Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell at the top of their 2011 Draft Class certainly puts them in strong consideration. Another factor in play is their willingness to spend to acquire amateur talent, which means more of their later round picks are generally of better quality than those of teams who aren’t willing to overpay. This is one of the things that has worked in the Royals’ favor—not only was the top of their system loaded coming into this season, they also had a significant amount of depth all over the field.

If I had to put pen to paper and sign my name to it today, I would probably have the Pirates, Royals and Rays occupying spots 8-10. However none of the three are definitely in, and I reserve the right to alter my assessment during the offseason, as we will be doing a lot of work and research assessing how each team’s minor league system has shifted and changed since the spring.

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Follow us on Twitter: Nathaniel (@stoltz_baseball), Wally (@thebaseballfish) and James (@JAYRC_MCB). You can also keep up to date with all things S2S by liking our Facebook page.

Topics: Organizational Rankings, Pittsburgh Pirates

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