Williams: The Pirates Have a Group of High Upside Prospects Collecting in the Lower Levels

The Pirates have a rebuilding farm system. That kind of stuff happens when you graduate as many players as they have graduated in the past two years.

Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Chad Kuhl, and Tyler Glasnow are just some of the names who have left the prospect ranks. That takes a toll on the top of the system, and on the farm system rankings.

Those rankings really only mean so much when you’re trading a high ranking for guys who are performing in the majors. The guys who have graduated in the last year or two all have five or six years remaining in the system. They didn’t go anywhere. Some of them are still working on their development, even if they aren’t technically “prospects” anymore.

But all of those graduates raise a question as to who will make up the next wave. The Pirates have guys like Taillon and Bell under control for at least five more years, but they will eventually need replacements for them, or for other players who have arrived in recent years.

Fortunately the Pirates have the start of what they need for that to happen. Between the last few drafts, and the emergence of international talent signed over the last few years, they have a group of promising young players forming in the lower levels.

It started with the draft from the last few years. The Pirates went heavy on prep pitchers in 2016, signing Braeden Ogle, Max Kranick, Travis MacGregor, and Austin Shields with over-slot deals. They followed that up in 2017, taking over-slot prep pitchers Steven Jennings and Cody Bolton, along with prep outfielders Calvin Mitchell and Conner Uselton in the top ten rounds, along with Mason Martin and Jacob Webb outside of the top ten. The prep ranks got a big boost with first round pick Shane Baz.

This is no new approach for the Pirates. They went heavy on prep pitchers in 2014, and that seems to have worked out very well, as one of those prep pitchers was Mitch Keller. They also went heavy on younger players from 2008-2011, adding notable prospects like Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, and Nick Kingham.

Those players add some perspective to the approach. For one, you need to draft and develop a lot of players in order for a few to make it to the upper levels and have a shot at the majors. But also, it takes a long time for these young players to arrive in the majors. All four of those players were drafted in 2010-11, and they are now on the verge of making the majors, or just getting established in the majors, seven years later. So it’s a good thing the Pirates have already gotten started adding players in the lower levels, since they will need plenty of time to develop replacements for guys like Taillon, Bell, and others.

It’s not just the draft though. The international market is starting to show promise again, after struggling for a few years. Lolo Sanchez was the top signing in 2015, and looked like a legit prospect this year, with the chance to continue his power development and become one of the top prospects in the system, maybe as soon as next year. Rodolfo Castro and Jeremias Portorreal have also shown promise. And the Pirates have seen some promise with pitchers like Domingo Robles and a few other guys who profile more as relievers and back of the rotation starters.

The last time the Pirates had a wave of young talent coming through the lower levels, it led to most of their current MLB team. Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco were in West Virginia, along with guys like Jose Osuna, Elias Diaz, and Nick Kingham. As you moved up the ladder, you had Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, and Starling Marte, with the latter two on more of a fast track. Behind the West Virginia group you had Glasnow and Holmes.

The young guys really start to stand out once they reach full season ball in West Virginia. That is where the numbers start becoming legit, and the tools are put to the test. If a guy can perform at that level, he gets on the radar as a legit prospect to watch, with a potential timeline to the majors, and an upside that becomes a bit more clear.

West Virginia should see a loaded team next year, with players from both the 2016 and 2017 drafts, along with several of those top international hitting prospects. If all goes well, the Pirates should have a good wave of prospects making their way through the lower levels. And based on their history, I don’t expect them to stop taking high upside guys any time soon, which means there should be more guys following the players currently in the system.

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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William R. Maloni Sr

“Showing promise” equals the kiss of death in the Bucs system.


Loosely related, BP listed Oneil Cruz as having one of the best power tools in their Midwest League in their tools recap this morning.

He’ll surely remain in WV next year while the group of kids Tim talked about above joins him, and it’ll be interesting to see where he fits. There’s almost no way he stays on the infield anywhere other than 1B, but the outfield is starting to fill up pretty quickly.


Trade them now for guaranteed mlb talent. That’s the opposite of what we’ve been doing. Might as well change it up- we’ve seen several generations of these top talent come through and rarely do they reach close to their potential. Maybe Dave Dombrowski is onto something…

Nuke Laloosh

comment image


Hahaha – exactly Opposite Day!! That’s what we need

Nuke Laloosh

Worked for Costanza!


Let’s hope that this group of prospects becomes a good to great wave!!!


I think the uptick in talent in the low minors reflects the poor seasons the Pirates had the last few years. You get a lot better choices when you are drafting in the top fifteen than when you are in the bottom fifteen. Part of that mid-level talent gap has to be made up from trades of players reaching the end of their terms with the ML team. Cutch this year, Cole next year. Unfortunately, that’s the business model.

joe s

look at the baseball America top 20 GCL players and see how many other teams are represented by international signings that were in the range of what the Pirates pay to sign these players and ask yourself why the pirates are not getting those more talented players? Is Gayo a failure or is he beholding to Banana for his high priced players?

joe s

I don’t think you fully understand my comment. What I was pointing out was that other teams had similar success to the Pirates by spending similar bonuses. So the Pirates are not special because they had the number 2 listed prospect. Spreading out the money can bee successful as the other teams shown. My ask is why weren’t the Pirates in on those players since they were in their price range and had the money to spend on them? My guess is they may have slipped on a Banana peel.


Not to be cynical but to be cynical (don’t want to be): so there are some players in the low minors who may project to be legit prospects once they get to West Virginia and see if they prove out or not. Presumably a 3 – 5 year trajectory to the majors from W. Virginia. And the high impact players now pushing for spots on the MLB roster are exactly who…….(aside from maybe Austin Meadows?). So the likelihood of actually contending in the foreseeable future are exactly what? It seems like things went seriously off the rails with the disastrous off-season between 2015 and 2016, and this FO’s drafting and signing of international players has been…”poor/terrible”. Am I missing something or is there not an obvious lack of commitment to winning evidenced here????? Combined with terrible recuritment of talent? One might ask, why did this team not make more of a commitment to signing talent like Trea Turner and Miguel Sano when they had the chance? They lost Sano for a few hundred thousand dollars – dumb!


I think the next wave is being considered as the following players: Meadows (if he develops hamstrings), Newman (Newman will get to the show first but Tucker offers so much more than Newman does), Tucker, Keller (Keller will be fast tracked for sure If he produces in AA like he did at the end of this year. He will be in Indy within a month), Kramer(Potentially), Espinal (Potentially), A couple bullpen arms as well….sad but true, I think we have to consider Glasnow as “part of the next wave” as he has still not been able to get comfortable in the majors. A few more bad starts then he maybe officially labeled a bust unless he carves out an effective role in the pen or is traded for a good return. This is all assuming however, the Pirates are going to try and actually develop their most promising talent currently and possibly contend. I do not think that is going to be the objective for quite some time and wont be until we can get NH back in his comfort zone of picking at the top of the draft. Bottom line is, we do not have enough talent that is MLB ready and would have to supplement that fallacy with free agents which will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever happen.


The DSL players in instructs also seem to have a lot of upside


The Pirates focus on high upside guys from earlier in NH’s tenure and now again in the last couple of years makes the in-between years more perplexing. For hitters, they went with a bunch of good average and OBP guys but not much power. Winning teams need those players, but they also need some stars. I really wonder if they misread the future and thought the high OBP guys who didn’t strike out much was going to become the norm.

Robert Reznik

Bingo. I guess they weren’t there when mlb decided decided the balls needed to be wound tighter!


What positions do you see Mitchell, Martin, and Sanchez eventually staying at?

Mike G

Corner OF for Mitch, 1st for Martin and CF for Lolo.

Mike G

I pay every month, I’m reading ’em all.

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