First Pitch: Can the Pirates Farm System Stay Healthy in the Second Half?

The first half of the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system was full of injuries. More than half of the top ten prospects suffered an injury at one point in time, with a few of the top 20 guys going down for the year. The good news was that Gregory Polanco developed as planned, and there were a few breakouts, such as JaCoby Jones and Josh Bell at the plate, along with Adrian Sampson on the mound.

Over the last few weeks the Pirates have started seeing a lot of their injured players returning on rehab appearances. Austin Meadows has been rehabbing, and is on pace to return to West Virginia by the start of next week, if not earlier. Barrett Barnes will wrap up his rehab this week, and could get a push up to Bradenton. Andrew Lambo is playing full games after being out with thumb surgery, and will get some time in Jamestown before moving up to Indianapolis after their All-Star break.

The Pirates lost Gregory Polanco as a prospect this year, along with other guys like Tony Sanchez, Brandon Cumpton, and more. Despite this, they still have a top farm system, ending up with 4-5 of the top 50 prospects in the game in the mid-season updates.

It would definitely help if the Pirates continued to improve on those numbers. It’s obviously hard for prospects to develop when they’re injured. The injuries have already taken their toll on the system this year. Tyler Glasnow might be in Altoona right now if he hadn’t missed a month at the start of the season. Andrew Lambo could have been an option to join the majors a few different times had it not been for his thumb surgery. Austin Meadows might have to return to West Virginia next year, after missing the first three months of the 2014 season. Barrett Barnes hasn’t had a chance to get consistent playing time and development, which has prevented him from moving higher than West Virginia. Luis Heredia missed two months with a shoulder injury, preventing him from pitching a full season and improving his fastball command and his stuff in the process. Jameson Taillon (Tommy John) could have been in the majors by now. Clay Holmes (Tommy John) could have been in Glasnow territory, either close to a promotion to Altoona, or in Altoona.

There’s still two months remaining in the minor league season, and it looks like the Pirates will have most of their guys coming back (with the exception of the guys who are out for the year) for the final stretch. Here are a few things that could be key for the farm system in those final months.

Austin Meadows – Can he hit enough in two months to propel himself up the prospect ranks? This was supposed to be a potential breakout year for him, but a breakout would be hard with two months remaining.

Barrett Barnes – Can he stay healthy and make it to Bradenton? He’s got a lot of tools and talent, but hasn’t had much time on the field, leading to poor numbers. His prospect status has fallen because of the injuries. If he can return, stay healthy, and have success at a level higher than West Virginia, then he could see a rebound to his prospect status.

Andrew Lambo – What will his role be? He was hitting well before his injury. He could be a depth option for the Pirates at first base or in the outfield. Or he could be a trade chip at the deadline if he re-establishes his value right after his return.

Tyler Glasnow/Josh Bell – When will they move up to Altoona, and how will they do? To the first question, I think it will be soon. As for the second question, that’s something that we don’t know. It’s also something that could propel them even higher in the rankings if they have success in Double-A.

Luis Heredia – The last two years the West Virginia rotation has seen second half improvements from Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and Tyler Glasnow. Can Heredia do the same thing? Right now his first half has been pretty disappointing, which was kind of the case with Kingham and Holmes.

Harold Ramirez – He currently has his second leg injury of the season. He’s got a lot of potential with the bat, but has lacked consistency with his hitting this year, and hasn’t added much power.

Adrian Sampson/JaCoby Jones/Mel Rojas/Elias Diaz/Anyone Else Having a Breakout First Half – Can they continue over the final months and be a breakout prospect?

Of that list, Glasnow and Bell are the only guys locked into the top 100 rankings, although their question marks could allow them to move much higher if they have success in Altoona. The rest of the guys might not become top 100 prospects by the end of the year, but they could have a chance to give the Pirates’ system a boost, and maybe a future top prospect in the game. The Pirates just need guys to stay healthy this time around, and avoid the injury bug that was so common and harmful to the system’s development in the first half.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Five Home Runs in Five Games For JaCoby Jones

**Minor League Schedule: Morning Start Time For West Virginia Power Today

**Andrew Lambo Could Return to Indianapolis After the All-Star Break

**First Round Pick Cole Tucker Suffers a Minor Thumb Injury

**Barrett Barnes Close to a Return From His Hamstring Injury

**Pirates Sign Colombian Catcher Roberto Noguera

**Top 10 Pitchers: A Group of Lefties at the Top of the Pitching Ranks Last Week

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.

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If you look deeper into the Pirates bullpen you will notice that there are actually only 2 pitchers that have been steady and reliable lately. Melancon gave up a home run his last time out in the 9th followed by two different pitchers that gave up home runs in the ninth. What is wrong with these guys that they can’t pitch the ninth inning.


How has Oliver’s control been lately?


Very good as a closer.


Then why not. I don’t think the bullpen can handle two Justin Wilsons but if his control is better then it’s a good question that you asked earlier – why groom someone if you’re not going to use them?


Why not give Oliver a chance in the back of the pen? He is vastly improved over the course of this year. We groom these prospects then when they are ready we bring in someone from the outside that is a project that can’t get the job done while we might have a prospect that can do the job.


Does Felipe Gonzalez count in the “Anyone Else Having a Breakout First Half”?


Does the fact that Cutch, Marte and Polanco are locked up through 2018 play a part in Meadows location next year (Low A vs. A) or do they just look at him and his development and ignore what’s on the major league team?


I’m not Tim, but my guess is that they will ignore what’s on the major league team until he earns his way AAA or so.

R Edwards

Hurdle blows another game by stubbornly using pitchers who cannot get anyone out – did this with Grilli a few times, and now twice with Frieri. Its not like Frieri is a huge mystery – he was terrible all year in LA – especially susceptible to HRs. So, what does he do – gives up a HR in the 9th inning of a tie game.

Frieri needs to be sent to Indy – if he won’t accept it, DFA him. If Pimentel and Gomez cannot be trusted in close games, than neither of them should be on team. Mazzaro and Oliver would be improvements over at least 2 of these 3.


I can’t pretend to know half as much as Ray, Jim or Clint but in Frieri’s few appearances he hasn’t really sparkled and didn’t warrant getting in the 9th last night. I would’ve gone to Gomez I guess because you “need” Melancon to save the game on the road. Although that’s debatable I understand the logic of not bringing Melancon in just yet. And I feel Mazzaro could go a couple innings and I’m not sure Frieri can. Some people get bent out of shape about the 7th reliever and others will say who cares – it’s the 7th reliever. But if that last guy out of the pen is costing you games is it really worth trying to fix him at the cost of losing games?
That being said if he gets DFA-ed someone will definitely take a shot at him so management probably knows he’s gone if they do that.


And if they DFA him has he been around long enough where his salary is guaranteed or does he risk losing that by not accepting an assignment to AAA like Tabata?

R Edwards

if someone is foolish to claim him, so be it – no big loss. It cost us little and he is of little value to the team. Replace with Mazzaro and move on.


My thought was they use him when they’re down, get his confidence back up, fix……….whatever Jim Benedict and Ray need to fix and we’ve got our next Hanrahan, Melancon or whomever maybe. But even if Mazzaro is only slightly better than Gomez and can go multiple innings I say make that move. Just my two cents. I realize Frieri’s upside is higher than Mazzaro’s but they need a little stability after Watson, Melancon and Hughes.

R Edwards

Makes the Morris trade all the more worse….


No it doesn’t, Morris could not get the job done here either, nothing from nothing equals nothing. Morris has nothing to do with it, the Pirates refuse to upgrade the back of their bullpen because they don’t see the same problems that we see, they see pitchers with good arms and upside and they are willing to wait for them to get it together, we are not willing to wait, make some moves Neal.

R Edwards

It was a knee jerk, impatient kind of trade – and we’re paying the price now. Morris has been lights out in Miami since the trade, and would have been here if the Pirates had just stuck with him – and instead gotten rid of guys like Grilli, Gomez, etc if they needed to free up a bullpen spot.

And then we made the bad trade horrible, by selecting a corner outfielder who cannot hit for power.

We will regret this trade for years.

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