I’ve had a recurring thought over the last few years: How long can I keep doing this?
I love following the game of baseball. There are times where I think, “I’d gladly do this for as long as I possibly can.” But how long can a niche site covering the Pirates’ minor league system really operate? Next year will be our 12th season covering the organization. I didn’t envision anything close to that when I started this site in January 2009.
The last few years have raised some thoughts about the future. Our approach as a niche site already limits our audience; the audience gets further limited when the organization (in this case, the Pirates) struggles or turns their fans away, which definitely happened over the last few years to the point where this site almost shut down. It was clear during that time that we needed to expand.
I can’t start another site like this for another team; running one site like this is hard enough. I could expand to other Pittsburgh sports; but I’d just be trying to compete with all of the other sports sections in town, which reminds me of the line from Moneyball: “If we play like them in here, we’re going to lose to them out there.”
So how do I expand on a niche site?
By focusing on what we do best.
This site is called Pirates Prospects, but everyone who follows this site knows it’s more than just prospect coverage. We cover every level of baseball, from high school all the way up to the majors. In that coverage, we try to break down the game like no one else, and explain how and why things are happening. We have enough coverage that we could run multiple sites just on the Pirates organization alone. We’re a Pirates site, but our main focus is on baseball and baseball development.
With that idea, I had my expansion plans:
Today I’d like to announce the Pittsburgh Baseball Network, launching in 2020 prior to the start of Spring Training.
Pittsburgh Baseball Network, or PBN, will be a network of individual baseball sites, all under one subscription. The sites on the network will reflect our current coverage of the game — analysis, development, finding new trends, and giving a comprehensive look at the game — but expanding that throughout the city of Pittsburgh.
Anyone with a current Pirates Prospects subscription will have the remainder of their subscription transferred over to PBN when it launches.
So what is PBN?
Pittsburgh Baseball Network
The goal of Pittsburgh Baseball Network will eventually be to follow every aspect of baseball in Pittsburgh. We’ve already got that at the top with our current coverage on this site. But the network will bring some big changes to how this site operates.
Pirates Prospects will no longer cover anything other than Pirates prospects. There will be no more MLB coverage. For that, we’ll have a new site.
There won’t be any Pirates history on Pirates Prospects. For that, we’ll have a new site.
We’ll expand beyond the Pirates, eventually covering Pitt baseball, and perhaps expanding to other local college teams. The Pitt baseball site will be its own site.
After that, we’ll expand to prep baseball in Pittsburgh, at first focusing on guys who could be taken in the draft, and some of the top teams in the state. That also will be its own site.
All five of those sites are “Phase One” of Pittsburgh Baseball Network. Let’s walk through each one.
A New Pirates Blog
I’ve thought over the years about separating MLB coverage from this site and starting up a separate site. It never made sense until now.
For most of the time running this site, Pirates fans could go to places like Bucs Dugout and WHYGAVS for a community and good blogging perspective on the Pirates at the MLB level. They could go to any of the news outlets in town to get the daily news.
We reported news, and we provided analysis, but that was never a primary focus. We also have a great community here in the comments, but that was also more of a side benefit than something we focused on.
WHYGAVS is gone. Bucs Dugout is, well, “existing in name only” would be the most accurate way of saying it.
About a year ago, I got an email from Wilbur Miller telling me that SB Nation was looking for a new site manager for Bucs Dugout. He suggested that I apply to run the site, and sent in a recommendation to the people running SBN on my behalf.
I had a lot of great ideas for running the site. Pirates Prospects would cover only the minors, while Bucs Dugout would have the big league writing. It would create an unofficial network of sorts, where both sites worked together to provide comprehensive coverage.
I didn’t even get a call from the SBN people, and I’m kind of glad after seeing the chaos that has happened there over the last year. But I still had all of those ideas, and started to implement them on this site. I didn’t realize a year ago that I was starting the framework of PBN.
We’ll be following that same strategy next season. Wilbur Miller will be overseeing a new Pirates blog that I would like to be a replacement for the lost community at Bucs Dugout. A lot of those posters and readers are already here, so it’s not much of a change.
I’m treating this the same way I would have treated Bucs Dugout. The site won’t aim to break news, but will try to keep updated on everything going on in the majors, with the site’s main focus being on analysis. All of the former Pirates coverage will go from Pirates Prospects to the new site.
Once the new Pirates blog launches, we’ll also be expanding with more writers, so you’ll get more MLB coverage than what you’re used to on Pirates Prospects right now.
The first step of building up PBN will be creating this new blog. I’m hoping to have it launched in the next month.
The Future of Pirates Prospects
With no MLB coverage to focus on, Pirates Prospects can focus solely on the Pirates’ minor league system. It’s also going to transition to more technical analysis.
I’ve always tried to keep things general on this site. I didn’t often use the 20-80 scale in writeups, or grades like “fringe average” to “plus” and everything else on the ratings scales. I tried to simplify mechanical descriptions and other technical terms.
We were already a niche site covering the farm system of one organization. I didn’t want to further reduce our audience by constantly talking in a way that the casual reader wouldn’t understand.
Pirates Prospects is no longer going to be the main site. It’s going to be one of the top sites on PBN, and that provides a bit of freedom to change our focus.
We don’t have to worry about chasing people away with more technical write-ups. Going forward, this site will be more scouting focused. If you’re a hardcore prospect follower, you’re going to love this site even more than you already do, because it’s now going to be geared exclusively to you.
John Dreker will be running Pirates Prospects, and like the other site, we will be expanding coverage here. John and Wilbur Miller will be the main contributors at the start, and I’ll be adding bigger features. As the network grows, we’ll grow Pirates Prospects, focusing more on mechanical, analytical, and scouting going forward.
It’s Not Just Pirates History Anymore
John Dreker’s Pirates history articles have been a feature on this site in some form or another for a long time. They’ve also been limited at times, because that’s not the primary focus of this site.
The history features will no longer be part of this site. John Dreker will be starting a new site under PBN, where all of the daily history articles will go.
It won’t just be Pirates history though. This is Pittsburgh Baseball Network, so the history site will be focused on Pittsburgh baseball history. That will allow John to expand his research beyond the Pirates and focus on other teams in Pittsburgh, or even players who were born in Pittsburgh but played elsewhere.
We’ve been releasing the Prospect Guide for ten years now. We released a Pirates Annual for a few years. The Prospect Guide will continue to be produced annually under PBN, and we’ll have more information on the 2020 book very soon.
John Dreker also has a book coming out next month, focusing on the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He’s been working on this book for over a year, and it will be available in eBook form before Christmas. Here’s the summary from John:
The 1890 season was easily the worst season in the 138 year history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
They finished with the worst record in franchise history and the second worst record in baseball history. They had to compete for fans with their own former players, who moved to a new park across town to play in the upstart Player’s League.
In the year before they first got tagged with the nickname “Pirates”, the Alleghenys were called many different names by the press, describing their travels and lack of winning.
Some of the local papers stopped including their boxscores and said that the team should fold or move to another city. The Alleghenys would often draw crowds of 100-200 fans at home, and they ended up moving many of their home games on the road because they made more money that way.
They used a total of 46 players back when most teams could go an entire season with a maximum of 20-25 players. Some of those players only lasted one day with the team and never played in the majors again.
The president of the team was a man named J. Palmer O’Neil, who made wild claims about the team from day one, believing that they had the best group of players in team history up to that point. That was even after the team finished 80-55 just four seasons earlier.
The 1890 team is filled with interesting stories to tell, from the players to the losing streaks to controversial games. I went through five news sources from 1890 that covered the team daily and pulled out all of the best notes from the season to tell the day-by-day story, from Spring Training until postseason exhibition games, of the worst baseball team that Pittsburgh has ever seen.
Below the Pro Levels
Once the above three sites are finalized, we’ll be working to launch sites covering Pitt baseball and Pittsburgh prep baseball. Those will launch after the PBN site launches, and probably will start up in the middle of the 2020 prep and college seasons. The Pitt site will be first, and the amateur site will spin off of that.
My hope is to get these sites up and running before the 2020 MLB draft, with the initial focus of covering local prep outfielder Austin Hendrick (projected 10th in Baseball America’s mock draft) and anyone else who gets draft discussion.
I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve got for the future of PBN. Some of them will be implemented sooner than later. Some of them are long-term projects. The big expansion after the first five sites will be adding other Pirates blogs to the network.
I mentioned WHYGAVS and Bucs Dugout above, but when I started this site there was a huge blogging community. Raise the Jolly Roger, North Side Notch, Rumbunter, Mondesi’s House, and I feel there was even a site with Adam Hyzdu’s name in it.
This site’s early growth was because of that blogging community. I want to bring that aspect back to Pittsburgh.
We’ll be working to expand the Pittsburgh baseball blogging community with select blogs that can provide quality discussion. Those will be part of the network, but won’t require a subscription. Our goal with this is to highlight and promote writers who are providing strong analysis on baseball in Pittsburgh, and to build up a strong blogging network again.
The First Five
Pittsburgh Baseball Network will launch next year with three sites, and two more on the way. All of the sites under the network can be accessed from a single subscription, which will transition from current Pirates Prospects subscriptions. If you’re already a subscriber to Pirates Prospects, you don’t have to do anything to join PBN.
If you’re not a subscriber, you can join us today. All of the content will be on Pirates Prospects until the new sites launch, and you will have immediate access when they launch.
Sign up today to join Pirates Prospects, and to join us for the expansion to Pittsburgh Baseball Network.
**Pittsburgh Baseball Network will be launching in time for the 2020 season.
**PBN will include a new Pirates blog and community, led by Wilbur Miller.
**Pirates Prospects will gear more toward scouting, and will be exclusively prospect coverage, led by John Dreker.
**John Dreker will be starting a Pittsburgh baseball history site, expanding on his current Pirates history.
**John Dreker will have a Pirates history eBook being released before Christmas.
**The Prospect Guide will also continue to be released under PBN, with info on the 2020 book coming very soon.
**We’ll be expanding to sites covering Pitt baseball, and Pittsburgh prep baseball.
**After the first five PBN sites, we’ll be expanding to building a community of Pittsburgh baseball bloggers under the free section of the network.
**The entire network can be accessed with one subscription, and all current Pirates Prospects subscribers will have their subscriptions transferred over to PBN.
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.