Leveling Up In The Pirates Minor League System

On paper it appears to be a very simple process, especially after the full Minor League Realignment this past offseason, as a player starts out in Low A-Bradenton, travels north to High A-Greensboro, then even further north-pretty close to Pittsburgh-arriving at Double A-Altoona and finally across the map to Triple A-Indianapolis before eventually arriving at PNC Park. However, for anyone that has ever watched any Minor League Prospect’s career, it is obviously not this simple, and often has many individual boxes to check off before a player is truly ready to level up; with the chance of being sent down to a previously conquered stage of development as another distinct possibility.

Also, before going any further, it should be noted-but probably goes without saying-that just because a player has experienced success and/or check off all the boxes at a particular level, this doesn’t imply success at the impending level, or that they are supposed to be completely prepared to be elevated; because as casual fans, amateur scouts and even for some of the most seasoned of professional scouts, there is little awareness or transparency concerning what the player and his coaches are working on, and what they truly expect from each individual player.

Sure a fan, or someone that falls into the other categories, can luck into some pretty decent analysis of a particular player or situation, however it’s tough to recognize exactly what you thought was correct, how it was correct and especially what it means for the player as the season progresses.

A minimum of three times yesterday on Pirates Social Media, I saw that Quinn Priester was back on track, or primed for a breakout, after a five inning shutout performance against the Hickory Crawdads on Tuesday Night. During his outing he allowed only three hits, walked one and struck out four. I first wondered if anyone actually knew he was off track, because no one other than Priester and his coaches knew what the track was for this 20 year old young man. Next I thought about the quotes about him attacking the zone, with a 67% strike rate; which is promising don’t get me wrong. Nevertheless, it’s not like there is a Ump Scorecard in the Minors or someone calculating how many times batters swung, for a strike, for pitchers outside the zone. Also, he could have been working on the control of one particular pitch, which would be a step in the right direction, but not a breakout on the horizon. A better way to phrase this might be that he executed the game plan; still a positive for those of you keeping track at home.

The next target of praise, much deserved by the way, was Roansy Contreras. In his three starts of the year, the young right hander, who was acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade, has not allowed a run in 17.2 innings, while striking out 28, allowing 7 hits and only walking 3. Obviously this is unbelievably impressive, but I still see the calls to have him promoted to Triple A-Indianapolis as a little bit premature, as I just don’t want people putting undue pressure or unfair expectations on such a young man, since we as fans usually either jump to blame the player or the organization for keeping a guy down for too long or for him struggling with a promotion. It’s honestly a no win situation unless the player exceeds expectations immediately upon his promotion. At 21 years old he is one of the youngest players at Double A, and almost a full 4 years younger than the average player at that level. It’s not a bad idea to pump the breaks every once in a while; the kid has time.

In my recent interview with former First Round Pick for the Pirates back in 1995, Chad Hermansen, who was labeled a can’t miss prospect, that flew through the system with great success, I became more aware of the pitfalls that often follow inflated expectations. It happens to everyone. Many times I have fallen victim to this train of thought, most recently with current Pirates Pitcher Mitch Keller.

Back in 2018 Keller was a consensus top 20 prospect in all of MLB, which I reference on a regular basis, when trying to punctuate that he has the potential to be so much more than what he has shown thus far in his career. In 24 career starts Keller has posted a 6.24 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP, with 115 strikeouts and 54 walks. Clearly not ideal; however, when you step back and think about how often these rankings have been wrong. Being a top 100 prospect in MLB or a top 30 prospect in a system doesn’t guarantee anything. And neither does your impression of a MiLB player two and a half weeks into a four and a half month season.

But remember, it’s OK, we all do it. It’s fun to try to predict the future; still, be prepared to be wrong as often, or possibly more often, than you are right.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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