As I enter my fifth decade of being a Pittsburgh Pirates Fan, I have noticed there is one thing that makes a large section fanbase become irate at its very mention; outside the very existence of Bob Nutting. The word prospect has embodied a positive connotation when used in any other context throughout history. However, to many Pirates Fans it has become like an albatross of false hope. Promises of player who would arrive at Three River Stadium, and the PNC, to lead this once great franchise back to greatness. For the most part these feelings of skepticism, mistrust and ultimately outright dismissal of the concept are justified, or at least understandable. From Alen Hanson to John Van Benschoten and Brad Lincoln to Conor Joe, Pirates Fans have been burned more times than I can count. However, we also can’t act like no prospect has ever worked out either; especially during the most recent playoff run from 2013 to 2015, with most arriving prior to that stretch.
With the way things are set up now it is possible that the stars could align again in the not too distant future, as General Manager Ben Cherington has already gone to work, improving the system in his short time on the job. According to MLB Pipeline the Pirates are in the top five of improved Farm Systems across all of Major League Baseball. Does this mean they are a top 5 system? No. Now I know that some of you may bring up that Fangraphs has the Pirates ranked as the fourth best system. However, Gary already covered this point in another article , but it bears repeating; don’t let that lull you to sleep or believe it’s mission accomplished time here in Pittsburgh. In their rankings they have put a lot of faith in players that are extremely young, many of whom have yet to step on the field in a professional baseball game. I for one am extremely cautious in my assessment of the Pirates being a successful and/or highly rated system. Show me Pittsburgh across the board as a having built up the Minor Leagues to a point where there is no question as to the talent the have from Bradenton to Indianapolis.
In 2016-17 the Pirates were almost unanimously ranked as a top 5 system. This was also true back in 2013. When Neil Huntington took over in 2007 they were right around twenty, so he was obviously doing something right. It must be noted that having a top farm system does not always equal success, or does it. Back in 1997 the Pirates had the top system according to Baseball America, which coincides with the team lovingly known as The Freak Show, who in spite of a ridiculously low $9 Million payroll almost made the playoffs. No matter your stance on ownership, prospects or the upper echelon of management, particularly the GM, it becomes clear that an elite farm system is one of the major keys to the Pirates overall success.
An example of this is when, just last week, I saw jealously, not just by Pirates Fans, over the moves the Padres had made to acquire both Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in a twenty-four hour period. Everyone knows how they did this. The Padres Farm System was absolutely stacked, and still is to some degree, with players throughout the MLB Top 100; fluctuating between #1 and #2 overall for a couple of seasons. It’s a fair simple formula actually; acquire prospects and trade for talent when the organization is overflowing with talent to the point that there isn’t room for all of your prospects at the Major League Level. To those of your that are doubting this process, please explain to me how the Pirates got AJ Burnett, the Batman, who won over countless Pirates Fans by telling Hanley Ramirez to “Sit The F- Down!” Or may the endearing Francisco Cervelli. Or Marlon Byrd, who’s homer actually proceeded the Russell Martin, “Cuuuueeeetoooo!” blast. You guessed it; the Pirates built up their farm system and made some trades.
Now just because it worked at least once before, does that mean it is going to work again? Absolutely not. There is no guarantee with prospects, or trades for that matter. However, it is happening, no matter what your opinion on the matter is. Just look at the growing prospect talk, not only on Pirates blogs, but also from those who cover the team more directly. In addition to this increase, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the Pirates Media Department created a Twitter Profile, just for the Young Bucs. That is where the discussion is headed. And, you can either come along, kicking and screaming if you prefer; although it will do no good, or find another team to put your support behind. The choice is yours.