Mar. 10, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Canada pitcher Jameson Taillon throws in the first inning against USA during the World Baseball Classic at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Farm System Rankings: #2 Pittsburgh Pirates


It’s that time of year again. Time to give this prospect junkie his fix. Last year, I did farm system rankings for all of baseball, and so I wanted to do so again. As I explain with any farm system rankings, this is a completely subjective business. I do watch minor league baseball, I do a lot of research on the players, and I do talk to people who do talent evaluation in baseball. I certainly don’t have the clout in the prospect world that the guys at Baseball America have, nor do I care to. This is meant to be fun for me, and hopefully fun and informative for the reader. At the very least it should allow for some debate from other teams’ fans, as well as allow Tigers fans a glimpse into other organizations farm systems, so when the Tigers make a trade, there may be some knowledge of who they are getting. Last year, the Texas Rangers took the top spot. Who will it be this year?

*This is where the rankings get tough, because starting with the Cubs, these systems are very good to elite. I have gone back and forth on multiple scenarios, but hey, it’s not life and death, it’s just some pretty awesome farm system rankings.

Top 20:

1. Gerrit Cole (SP)- I truly believe that Gerit Cole has the potential to be a dominant front line starter in the major leagues. The stuff is similar to that of Justin Verlander, and despite being a bit hittable so far, the Pirates don’t want their pitchers focusing on strikeouts in the minors. I think he will strike out guys going forward.

2. Jameson Taillon(SP)- Tallion is just a step below Cole at this point. This big body youngster has plus stuff, but is still working on the finer things involved with pitching like command and sequencing. He should fit very nicely in the rotation as a quality number two, and has a ceiling higher than that if the change up comes along further.

3. Gregory Polanco (OF)- Polanco is a tooled up center fielder who broke out in 2012. Defensively, he should remain in CF with his above average speed and quality arm strength. Offensively, Polanco looks like he should hit for average, and has the frame to develop 20 home run type power. He will need to be a bit more selective though, but has made strides in that arena.

4. Alen Hanson (SS)- Hanson has huge offensive ability for a middle infield prospect. He consistently barrels baseballs and uses the entire field, leading many to believe he will hit for average in the future. He has good strength and bat speed, so 20 homers a year down the road isn’t out of the question. Hanson also runs at an above average clip, though needs to develop better instincts on the paths. Defensively, he has good agility and hands, but his arm is mediocre, and inaccurate at times. Might be a better than average second baseman down the road.

5. Luis Heredia (SP)- At 6’6″ and just 18 years old heading into low A ball in 2013, Heredia offers some of the most exciting projection in all of minor league baseball. He already sits comfortably in the low 90′s with his fastball, flashing a plus change up at times. He also shows a good curve at times, but sometimes doesn’t stay on top of it. A youngster that is still growing into his body, Heredia could easily be a top prospect in by the end of 2013 or 2014.

6. Tyler Glasnow (SP)- I am getting majorly aggressive here with Glasnow based on a report from a friend that saw Glasnow in the GCL. Much like Heredia, there is a lot to dream on with Glasnow. His fastball sits low 90′s right now, and touches more. He shows tight rotation with his curve, and it should be plus down the road. His change lags behind, and he is still quite raw with command and mechanics, but there is plenty to like.

7. Josh Bell (OF)- Bell was considered a plus hitter coming out of high school in the draft, and while losing a year of development due to a knee injury doesn’t help, it still doesn’t change the projection for me. Bell should hit, and hit for power down the road, while being able to play a corner outfield position. He has the arm for right, but lacks a bit of athleticism, and may end up in left field.

8. Nicholas Kingham (SP)- Kingham has a nice strong pitchers build and has potential for three above average to plus pitches. His fastball sits comfortably 91-93 with good movement, and touches higher at times. His change up is his best secondary showing good fade with good arm motion. His curve ball still needs some work but his strong finish at the end of 2012 suggests he has made progress in that arena. I think he is a mid rotation guy in the making.

9. Wyatt Mathisen (C)- Mathisen isn’t a natural catcher as he didn’t play the position in high school, but he brings an intriguing set of tools to the position, namely some athleticism and a strong arm. It will take him time to learn the nuances of handling pitchers, but reports say he was impressive early on. His approach at the dish is impressive for a 19 year old, so most are comfortable projecting him to hit for average.

10. Dilson Herrera (2B)- The Pirates might be able to expect another low A ball breakout from a player this year in Dilson Herrera. Herrera uses good hand-eye coordination and bat speed to drive baseballs all around the field. He shows good pop for a kid his size, and should get stronger in the next year or two. He also runs well and is a base stealing threat too. Defensively, he will have the range to play an above average second base.

11. Kyle McPherson (SP)- I usually wouldn’t rank a guy like McPherson 11th in a good top 2o like this, but I have my reasons here. McPherson has pretty ordinary stuff, a 88-92 mph fastball, solid change up, and a fringe curve ball. The difference is McPherson commands his arsenal exceptionally, making his average stuff play up a bit. It was only 26 innings, but he showed he can pitch in the big leagues.

12. Barrett Barnes (OF)- Barnes is an athletic outfielder whose power and speed tools are his greatest asset. Scouts wonder if he will hit in the future, as there is some swing and miss in his game, but I think he can. He shows good patience at the dish, and if he can tap into his power enough, there is some value there. He has a below average arm, which might eventually push him to LF.

13. Clay Holmes (SP)- Holmes is another big right hander that the Pirates drafted out of high school. Like the others, he has good fastball projection, and pairs that with a potential plus curve ball. His change lags behind, and he still has to learn to be a pitcher rather than thrower, but again, another good piece of clay for the Pirates development staff to work with.

14. Justin Wilson (P)- Wilson is a power left hander that has massive potential, but will likely fail to realize it because of command. His fastball and sharp curve are 60 pitches on the scouting scale, but would be better with some ability to throw it where he wants. Despite the wavering command, Wilson has enough of an arsenal to pitch in the back end of a rotation, or be a dominant closer. Left handers that have no problem hitting the upper 90′s pitch in the big leagues.

15. Jose Osuna (1B)- Osuna is a sturdy 20 year old kid, who if not for Hanson and Polanco, would be talked about much more. Osuna isn’t athletic, and is going to be relegated to first base, but he has tremendous power potential. He could stand to have more patience at the dish, but has good bat to ball skills, making loud contact regularly.

16. Adrian Sampson (SP)- Sampson should get plenty of opportunity to remain a starter, but I do believe he could move quickly as a pen guy. As a starter, his low 90′s fastball with his solid curve and a little better than average change could lend to him being a back of the rotation guy. His fastball can play up in shorter stints, however, and could be a mid 90′s three pitch set up guy down the road.

17. Bryan Morris (RP)- After trying for years to develop as a starter, Morris now looks to be a reliever full time. He is essentially a two pitch pitcher with a plus fastball and solid average slider. His fastball is really heavy and will break bats as well as generate ground balls. His slider at times shows sharp break, but can flatten out too often. When he throws strikes he can be tough.

18. Jin-De Jhang (C)- It will be interesting to see who sticks at catcher moving forward between De Jhang and Mathisen. De Jhang is built more like a classic catcher. His already sturdy frame doesn’t lend itself to athleticism, but he does have good arm strength. Offensively, he projects to have some thunder in his bat as well as owning a good approach at the dish.

19. Alex Dickerson (1B)- Dickerson to me is James Loney re-incarnate. Not a lot of pop for a first baseman, but shows good enough ability to http://motorcitybengals.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpspray line drives around the field, he could get some time at first base if the Pirates don’t need pop from the position. He might be more useful to an American League team as a DH, because LF doesn’t look like an option either.

20. Willy Garcia (OF)- Garcia has really good raw power, and with improvement in his pitch recognition and strike zone discipline should be able to tap into it more frequently. Garcia isn’t particularly athletic, so defensively he fits a bit better in left field, despite having plenty of arm strength for right field. Will play all of 2013 at age 20, likely in high A.

Just Missed The List:

Andrew Oliver (P), Tony Sanchez (C), Max Moroff (2B), Victor Black (RP), and Gift Ngoepe (SS)

Oliver is a hard throwing lefty that with a bit more command could be a mid rotation starter. Sanchez still could hit for  solid average and run a quality pitching staff as a starting catcher. Moroff could easily jump into the top 20 this year, solid athlete with a good bat. Black has electric stuff, but little idea where it is going…a slightly less talented Bruce Rondon from the Tigers. Gift Ngoepe is an athletic and skilled defensive shortstop whose offense has been getting a bit better, but is still slow in coming.

Sleepers:

Candon Myles (OF), Elvis Escobar (OF), Harold Ramirez (OF), and Eric Wood (3B)

Myles is an athletic young outfielder who could have a future at the top of an order with his on base ability and above average speed. Escobar is a toolsy outfielder that the Pirates spent a good bit of money on, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him breakout a bit this season. Ramirez is yet another toolsy guy from the international program that has a chance to develop. Wood is still a bit raw, but has some power potential down the road.

Summary:

I think many of the national prospect rankings guys are selling the Pirates system a bit short. There is really good balance here between pitching prospects and hitting prospects. Amongst the pitchers, there is a good number of starting options and bullpen guys. They have top tier talent, and could easily have five to six guys in the top 60 come mid-season depending on what Josh Bell does. If they would’ve signed Appel and Thomas from the last draft, I likely would’ve had them first.

Beyond the players I have listed here, there are even more projectable pitchers in the system. Jonathan Sandfort is a big right hander, as is Colten Brewer and Jason Creasy. Guys like Zack Von Rosenberg and Zack Dodson have talent, and could still put things together.

I like this system just slightly ahead of the Cardinals because I believe like St. Louis, there is some top tier talent at the top, but I prefer the upside offered in Pittsburgh’s system 8-30. It could be entirely likely more Cardinals prospects make the big leagues, but I believe the Pirates guys will provide more impact, though it may take a little bit longer.

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  • Adam Barry

    I just have to say, I check several sources and you are my favorite prospect evaluator John. Many other evaluators I almost get the feeling that they are forming their opinions off the consensus, but you sincerely seem independent in your judgements. And you seem to have solid reasoning which, in my mind, puts you ahead of the curve.

    Regarding Pittsburgh’s system, I love rooting for the underdog, and they really have me optimistic recently. I love how aggressive they have been in the drafts, which it seems like has been paying huge dividends with the exception of Mark Appel. If they could’ve pulled him in, wow, what a future rotation they could have had. Cole, Taillon, and Appel’s potential could’ve rivaled the Holliday, Lee, and Hamels trio. Then with other position player prospects factored in, and I know prospects are prospects, but this would’ve felt like a future World Series team. But, even without Appel, there are still many reasons Pirates fans have to be happy.

    • John Verburg

      Thanks Adam. Appreciate the kind words. I put a lot of time into prospect evaluation so all of you don’t have to.I’m wrong on guys just as much as I’m right, but I strive to rank guys where I think I should, not where everyone else thinks they are, though it’s hard to deny that Nick Castellanos is clearly the Tigers best prospect for instance.There is bound to be consensus on some guys.

      Tyler Glasnow is the perfect example of why I am so high on Pittsburgh’s system. His frame screams future top tier velocity, and if you know anything about Glasnow, he grew quickly in high school. In other words, he is just getting used to his body, and once that comfort level gets better every day, it’s easy to believe he can work out his mechanical inconsistencies that affect his command. He’s already made great strides, and in two years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a top tier starting pitching prospect.

      Appel of course would’ve been huge for the Pirates, but they have still have plenty of weapons. Look for Starling Marte to begin to assert himself a bit more this year. Pittsburgh has a bright future, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised with a couple smart free agent signings to see them playoff bound in 2014-15.