The mid-season articles for MLB teams usually come out around the All-Star break in early July, even though the real half-way point is actually the end of June. For minor leagues, the season is only five months, which means the half-way mark is right after the draft, in the middle of June. There’s not a lot that really changes with most players in that time, but the mid-season point does provide a large enough sample size that we can evaluate how things are going in the farm system.
Today we released our mid-season top 20 prospects, which is something we always do after the MLB draft to show where the new guys rank. This also served as an update with Gregory Polanco no longer at the top of the list. The release of the list also gives the opportunity to evaluate how things are going with the Pirates’ system this year.
There have been two major themes in the farm system in 2014: injuries and Polanco. The amount of injuries have been staggering. Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes both had Tommy John surgery. Duke Welker isn’t on the same level as those two, but also joined that list. Austin Meadows has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and hasn’t made his 2014 debut yet. Harold Ramirez missed time with a hamstring injury, and Barrett Barnes is still out with a hamstring injury. Luis Heredia missed two months with shoulder soreness. Reese McGuire missed a few weeks with a groin contusion. Tyler Glasnow missed the first three weeks of the season after being set back in Spring Training with a bad back. Andrew Lambo is currently out for six to eight weeks after having thumb surgery.
It might have just been quicker to list the top prospects who weren’t injured.
None of the guys listed above really saw a decline in their future potential. The third hamstring injury for Barrett Barnes raises questions about his ability to stay healthy. Luis Heredia’s injury caused him to miss more time, delaying his development further. Otherwise, the injuries didn’t play a huge impact, other than being the dominating theme of the 2014 season thus far, and possibly preventing some of the top prospects from taking the next step or breaking out.
Then there’s the other topic, Gregory Polanco. The strange thing here is that Polanco hasn’t been considered part of the farm system this year. If you’re talking about success stories for the top prospects, he has been the biggest one. But he’s been tied to the MLB team, which means most people leave him out of the discussion when evaluating the farm system.
Beyond Polanco, there have been a few success stories. Adrian Sampson is doing an outstanding job in Altoona, currently posting a 2.07 ERA in 69.2 innings, with a 55:17 K/BB ratio at the age of 22. He’s looking like he could have the upside to be a starter in the majors, possibly at some point next season if he keeps this up. Josh Bell is crushing right-handers in Bradenton, but struggling against lefties. JaCoby Jones has shown some positive signs in West Virginia, hitting for a good amount of power, but lacking the average and plate patience for a big breakout season. Stetson Allie is showing a lot of power, although I’ll get to his downside in a moment. Buddy Borden has shown off his potential, putting up outstanding numbers before getting off track the last two starts.
Despite some good stories, there hasn’t been the major breakout like we saw last year with Tyler Glasnow, or the year before with Polanco and Alen Hanson. Expecting that kind of breakout each year might be unrealistic.
The good news is that there hasn’t been a major setback either. There have been some disappointing stories. Nick Kingham has struggled with his control, which has prevented him from taking the next step to Indianapolis, and possibly being in the rotation soon. Kingham has done better in this regard lately, but he’d still need time in Indianapolis before a stop in the majors. Luis Heredia is still struggling with control problems, which might be due to the missed time the last two years. Joely Rodriguez isn’t striking guys out in the rotation. And while Allie’s power has been a big positive, the lack of average and the high strikeouts have been a negative.
These guys have been disappointing, but nothing really changes about their upside. The one exception here could be Rodriguez, since his inability to get strikeouts might prevent him from being a starter.
Then you’ve got the holding steady group. Alen Hanson still is having issues with routine plays, while showing the defensive tools to stick at shortstop. Tyler Glasnow still has control issues, and has been working almost exclusively on his fastball/changeup, leaving little time for the curve, and limiting the numbers he can put up. Reese McGuire has the tools to be productive on offense, but that hasn’t translated to the stat lines yet. None of these guys have been disappointments, but they also haven’t taken the next step. They’re in a holding pattern at the moment.
I don’t really do letter grades for evaluations. I wouldn’t know how to put “The Pirates had a ton of injuries, but none that really have a long-term impact, and their top prospect went above and beyond expectations, while the rest of the healthy system was full of guys who were short-term disappointments, or smaller scale success stories” into a letter grade. So I’ll let that description speak for itself. It hasn’t been a bad year for the farm system, but it also hasn’t been a good year. The injuries have limited the potential upside in the first half. Long-term, the system remains strong, with a lot of top prospects, and a lot of guys who have the potential to breakout and become top prospects themselves.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.