First Pitch: Do the Pirates Have Depth in Their Farm System?

Baseball America released their mid-season top 50 prospects today, which featured four Pirates Prospects. The bonus content suggested that the Pirates could have eight top 100 prospects next year (or seven if you assume that Starling Marte loses his eligibility in the second half of this year).

Heading in to the year, the comments on the system were that it was top heavy, but didn’t have a lot of depth. That was something I agreed with, although with one disclaimer. The Pirates were top heavy, and they didn’t have a lot of depth in the middle, but they had a lot of high upside guys who hadn’t broken out yet.

This year we’re starting to see some of those upside guys break out, while the guys at the top have mostly maintained their production. Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco are the two biggest breakout prospects. Hanson was rated as the 40th best prospect in the game by Baseball America, while Polanco was mentioned as a guy who would draw consideration for the top 100 next year.

The top guys have either maintained their top status, or have improved. That list includes Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, and Luis Heredia. Bell has dealt with an injury and strikeout issues, while Taillon has been hit hard in half of his starts this year. But their upsides will still keep them as top prospects.

Then there’s the question of depth. The word “depth” is typically used to describe players who aren’t good enough to be your top options in the majors, but are good enough to be major leaguers. There’s a difference when it comes to evaluating prospects in a system. To me, “depth” always meant guys who had already broken out, but weren’t quite on the same level as Jameson Taillon or Gerrit Cole as top prospects. These are the guys who might have a shot at sneaking in to the 76-100 portion of a rankings list, but probably won’t ever become top 50 prospects. Good guys to have in the system behind your top guys, and every system needs them, since not every prospect has the upside of a star player.

The depth guys coming in to the year have seen some mixed results. Stetson Allie was converted to a hitter, and isn’t seeing the strongest results in the GCL so far. Robbie Grossman started slow, but has been on fire since the conclusion of a week long suspension in early June. Kyle McPherson missed the first two and a half months with shoulder inflammation, and hasn’t had the easiest return to the mound. Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, and Justin Wilson have all rebounded, and look like major league ready depth. Tony Sanchez continues to struggle with the bat, although he has hit homers in each of his last three games, which provides a bit of hope.

Allie has been a disappointment, and Sanchez is looking more like a future backup catcher or an average starter with most of his value coming defensively. You can give McPherson a pass for now because of the injury and the long layoff. Grossman has turned his numbers around. The Indianapolis left-handers are all putting up impressive numbers.

The Pirates are still loaded with high upside guys who haven’t broken out yet. Guys like Willy Garcia, Jose Osuna, Barrett Barnes, Wyatt Mathisen, Luis Urena, Nick Kingham, the 2009 prep pitchers, the 2011 prep pitchers, Mel Rojas, and Matt Curry and Alex Dickerson. The final two have put up good numbers recently, although I tend to judge first base prospects harder than any other prospect until they hit in the upper levels.

Curry has a .304/.363/.500 line in 230 at-bats this year in Double-A, which is a positive. He was on fire in June, with a .385 average and a 1.275 OPS. Dickerson has a .294/.357/.436 line in the year, which isn’t ideal. However, he also had a good June, with a .316 average and a .906 OPS. He’s carried that over in to July with a 1.119 OPS in six games.

I’d probably put Curry’s performance ahead of Dickerson, as it happened in Double-A, which is harder than high-A. Both hitters have the chance to jump in to that “depth” category above, although I wouldn’t put them there among the Pirates’ top ten prospects until they show they can mash in Double-A and Triple-A (good start for Curry).

Overall the Pirates don’t have the deepest system in baseball. They’re not the Toronto Blue Jays, with guys in the 15-20 spots who could be in most team’s 6-10 spots. But they’re starting to collect a good amount of depth. The top of the system has only gotten stronger this year with the emergence of Alen Hanson, and drafting Mark Appel. The depth in the middle has grown stronger, with a few breakout guys, a few rebound guys, and some guys playing well at a higher level. And the high upside group continues to grow with plenty of talented players from the 2012 draft, plus the newest wave of international talent to hit the GCL. Those high-upside guys are important, as they’ll be the next Alen Hanson’s, or Gregory Polanco’s, or Robbie Grossman’s, which will only strengthen the system in the future.

I wouldn’t say the Pirates are a top heavy system anymore. Right now it’s looking like they’re a pretty solid system, with a lot of top talent, and some good depth behind the top guys.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Astros 2-0.

**Pirates Notebook: Karstens Looking Like the 2011 Version.

**Prospect Watch: Tony Sanchez Homers In Third Straight Game.

**Four Pirates Prospects in Baseball America Mid-Season Top 50.

**Kevin Correia No Longer On the Block?

**Pirates Likely Suitors For Chase Headley.

**Alex Presley to the 7-Day DL, Jordy Mercer Recalled.

**Yamaico Navarro Arrested for DUI.

**Jason Grilli Not Slowing Down After Reaching 300 Career Appearances.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Lee Young

    A ‘solid system’? I’ll take that………………..for now. :)

  • ElGaupo77

    The fact that no one will graduate this year will help the depth. Not trading any prospects at the deadline will also help.

  • szielinski

    I wonder if Karsten’s was considered a Yankees high-ceiling prospect, a depth-prospect or even a prospect? Currently, he’s a quality mid-rotation guy!

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      At the time of the deal the key pieces were Tabata and Ohlendorf. The Pirates had two choices for the final parts of the deal. Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, or Phil Coke and George Kontos. So that shows how he was valued. He was the third or fourth piece in the deal. So likely a C-level prospect at the time (although I’m not sure if he still had prospect eligibility).