First Pitch: Adding to the FanGraphs Evaluation of the Pirates’ Farm System

I didn’t get a chance to read the prospect rundown of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system on FanGraphs earlier today, written by Kiley McDaniel. I spent most of the day at Pirate City watching the two A-ball teams, and didn’t get a chance to read it right away when I got home. Normally we pass these types of articles along, as I always like giving an outside view of the system and the players in the system.

I got a chance to read the article tonight, and felt it was a good summary for an outsider view. There were a lot of details missing with the players, with some of them being key details, although that’s to be expected when you’ve got one person writing about every notable prospect on every team, plus all of the draft prospects that McDaniel covers. I only cover this system. That’s a little over 200 players, and it’s difficult keeping track with all of that. I can only imagine keeping track of 30-50 players in the other 29 systems, along with keeping track of extra guys to the point where you know who the notable 30-50 players are.

Not to knock McDaniel’s report, but with the intention of sharing the details that I saw were missing, I thought I would expand on some of the players. Last week I posted a list of the articles we’ve posted this Spring on the top 20+ prospects in the system. If you read most of those, then you already know what I’m going to discuss below. I’m not going to get into disagreements about the upsides of prospects, simply because it would be boring if everyone had the same opinion on each guy. There were some guys that McDaniel had lower than I’d place them, and some guys who he had higher than I’d place them. Here are my thoughts on some of the key pieces of information left out of his report.

Tyler Glasnow – There wasn’t much of a mention of his changeup, which has been the biggest focus of his development in the last year, including in the AFL. I wrote about that here.

Austin Meadows/Reese McGuire – Both players have lowered their hand position this Spring, in order to shorten their swings and give them more time to react. The hope is that this helps Meadows tap into his power more (McDaniel mentioned that he hasn’t fully done that often). In McGuire’s case, the hope is to remove his bat wrap and help him shorten the swing to make solid contact to the middle of the field.

Jameson Taillon – There was a reference to his poor command in the past, but not much detail on what caused that. I broke that down last month when I took a very detailed look at the evolution of his delivery, where he stayed firm on his backside, and improved on driving toward the plate, rather than falling off to the first base side of the mound.

Josh Bell – McDaniel went over the basics — the draft bonus, the 2012 knee injury, and the move to first base. A big thing that should help Bell this year is the reduced workload. He added some muscle this year, and shouldn’t see much fatigue moving from the outfield to first. That could allow him to tap into his power all year, rather than seeing a drop off like he saw in 2014.

Nick Kingham – I disagreed with the idea that Kingham doesn’t have a swing and miss curve. FanGraphs has actually pointed out in the past how this isn’t the case. Kingham has also been working heavily this Spring on a two-seam fastball. That’s a typical progression for Pirates’ pitchers, since the team likes having that pitch to get more ground balls and play into the defensive shifts.

Harold Ramirez – There wasn’t any mention of his conditioning issues this Spring, or his injury issues in the past. The latter is part of the reason why we have been lower on Ramirez than other people, although only slightly.

Mitch Keller – McDaniel talks about his fastball, and I love the pitch and the velocity that Keller has, although he dealt with some big command problems at times last year in the GCL. Right now the hope is that it’s just due to a lack of inexperience.

Stephen Tarpley – A big reason for his turnaround last year was his drop to a three-quarters arm slot.

JaCoby Jones – He’s athletic, and a fast guy for his size, but I don’t see plus speed. I have been impressed with his skills at shortstop, and could see him having a future there.

Connor Joe – The reason the Pirates abandoned plans for Joe to catch was due to his back injury, and not his skills behind the plate. They didn’t want him taking on that workload after returning from an injury that put him off the field for eight months (including the off-season). In addition to third base, he will be playing first base, and he won’t be an option in the outfield at all.

Jordan Luplow – Most of the writeup was about his ability in the outfield, and where he projects there, but Luplow will be moving to third base this year. The Pirates drafted him last year with plans to move him to third from the outfield.

Steven Brault – McDaniel mentions that his velocity changes from start to start. The reason for this is that he’s throwing two different fastballs. The upper 80s velocity is his sinker, while the low 90s velocity is his four seam pitch. The velocity you see on a given day depends on what pitch is working better for him.

Jin-De Jhang – In the past I’d agree that Jhang’s arm is above-average, but he seems to have regressed some this Spring, with some wild throws and not as much arm strength.

Jason Creasy – I disagree with the idea that he has fringy command. He primarily works off his fastball, and has some of the best command in the system.

Orlando Castro – I don’t see him making it as a number five starter. He had labrum surgery last year, and has struggled mid-season in each of the last two years, fading in the second half. I see him as a potential middle relief option, but I’m skeptical of any pitcher returning from labrum surgery.

As I said earlier, it was a good report overall. There were a lot of write ups that completely matched what I’ve written about this Spring. There were some that had different upsides than I had, good and bad, but the information was good. And again, I don’t expect the national writers who cover every system to have all of the fine details of one specific system. That’s my job.

**Site Updates: Announcing 2015 Minors Coverage, App/Podcast Status, WV Writer Needed. All of the latest updates in our move to a subscription site, including the early season coverage plans, and a call for a West Virginia writer.

**Pirates Acquire First Baseman Hunter Morris From Milwaukee. I talked about what this could signal for the final spot on the MLB bench.

**Chris Stewart, Jaff Decker, And Justin Sellers Set To Begin The Season On The DL. Stewart was playing a rehab game today at Pirate City. He caught five innings. The Pirates usually have their minor league players play two games at five innings each, two at seven each, and two full games before returning. We’ll see if that’s the case with Stewart.

**Phillies Place Rule 5 Pick Andy Oliver On Waivers

**Draft Prospect Watch: Another Top Pitcher Goes Down With Tommy John Surgery

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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Well done, Tim. I appreciate you still linking “competing” services while providing additional value in a professional way.

Couple points I found valuable:

-Very interesting opinion on Glasnow’s control issues, or lack-there-of according to Kiley. Also a great comparison of TG’s curveball to Jose Fernandez.

-Favorable view of ’14 draftees Cole Tucker, Connor Joe, and Jordan Luplow. That draft could end up being special with the three HS arms included.


Banknotes Industries (an offshoot blog replacing the old NotGraphs), and in addition to all these accolades the team is getting from outside sources, they also happen to have the number one player in the Relief Pitcher Cool Name Power Rankings.

Arquimedes Euclides Caminero. Now that’s a name. Seriously, I loved the name before I knew his middle name was Euclides, but knowing that just makes it so much cooler, and also so much more important that he sticks and succeeds at the Major League level.

(Liz and Pimentel also made the list, with LaFramboise getting an honorable mention for his last name.)

Jeremiah Ewing

EXACTLY why I pay for a subscription… great content as always!


Fangraphs also seems to be rather conservative in evaluating the Pirates’ ML team. Here’s a link to a blog covering all of the majors in position by position form.

I think they are much too conservative in evaluating the Bucs at 3B and C, and somewhat conservative at 1B and RF.


“…the data below is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems, with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.”

FanGraphs doesn’t really have much control over these rankings. More of a summary of projections.

Also worth reminding that WAR isn’t intended to be a fine-grained tool. Not really worth splitting hairs over fractions of a win. When you look at catcher, for instance, 17 other teams fall within one win of the Pirates. The actual difference between the Pirates ranking at #26 Boston’s ranking ten spots ahead is marginal.


And this explains it. The Pirates extract extra value from their players, especially defensively, for which projections cannot account. It also boosts the value of our pitchers above both what projections expect and what WAR measures.

When actually writing about it, Dave Cameron expected the Pirates to beat out the Cardinals and the Cubs for the NL Central crown this season.

Lee Foo Young

I am not high on Ramirez. At best, he is what we thought Jose Tabata could be (a corner OF with not enough power, but maybe a high avg). At worst, he is what Jose is now.

The fact that he is having conditioning issues tells me he may be more like the present day Tabby. One Tabby is enough, thank you.


Remember he had hamstring issues pretty much all last season. I won’t start worrying about any player until he reaches AA. If the three we currently have all pan out, he’ll more than likely be trade bait.


Excellent review. With the sheer numbers of prospects for 30 MLB teams, KMAC cannot possibly spend the amount of time on individual teams as you do with the Pirates. And, being right there where you will see the Rookies in the GCL and then again many of the same kids a few years later at Hi A with the Marauders, it provides a unique perspective.


I was also kind’ve disappointed the Pirates write-up came so late in the process. He seemed to put more energy and detail into the teams at the beginning, not that I blame him at all for running out of steam researching and writing >4000 words on 30 clubs.


I’m not sure if it’s running out of steam(although that is probably a factor as well) as much as there being more things going on right now for him to scout. Now that the college baseball season has started, he is scouting for the draft every weekend. Earlier in the off-season, it was pretty much him talking about Yoan Moncada, Yosmany Tomas and a few other IFAs. There was only so much time needed for those subjects, whereas for the draft there are so many different games to see, players to watch, etc. I’d have to agree that the teams he looked at earlier in the process had more in-depth write-ups, though. Still impressive the amount of guys he is able to give reports on.


Good point, and I absolutely agree that his work has been extremely impressive. Blown away Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and any other outlet I’m aware of in terms of breadth, depth, and quality .

Ron Heichel

Well tim I told you I would be subscibing first of the month and I just did. As I don’t gamble or play fantasy leagues your generous offer was lost on me, that’s ok though I don’t mind forking over the bills required to keep reading all the interesting things you and the other folks write about. Thanks again Tim and keep up the good work, it may not mean much but I am proud of you. By the way this is pilbo buggins, I can’t figure out how to get my paid account to use my avatars name. Any advice on how to do so would be much appreciated.

Lee Foo Young

Hover over your avatar. Select Profile from the box. Then, in the profile, upload an avatar from your computer, the web, wherever. Close and Voila. I just changed mine to Jerry Reuss.


Thanks lee, I meant the name though I don’t mind if folks know my real name I’m just kinda partial to pilbobuggins. The problem I have is that when I paid tim it on pp but pilbo is on discus so how do I get the two too meet?

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