First Pitch: The Pirates Are Middle of the Pack in the Latest Farm System Ranking

Keith Law released his farm system rankings at The Athletic today, continuing the discussion from this weekend on the quality of the Pirates’ farm system. Law had the Pirates ranked 14th, which is presumably in the middle of the previously discussed FanGraphs and Baseball America rankings.

In the summary for the system, Law said that Ben Cherington has inherited a decent farm system with a lot of athletes. He also said that those players may just need different approaches to reach their ceilings, which is an argument I’ve been making for some time.

The consensus of the system appears to be the same, regardless of the outlet doing the rankings.  The Pirates have talent in their system, and a large problem has been on the development side.

Law does mention a lot going wrong in Pittsburgh the last few years, saying that some of this is blamed on the previous regime, which he says wasn’t their fault at all. I’m not sure the argument he’s making here.

I’m guessing it’s a comment about how the bigger problem is Bob Nutting and his lack of spending. That’s true, and leaves the Pirates more prone to things going really bad when an issue like poor development rears its head.





By John Dreker

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates have been born on this date

Brandon Wood, third baseman/shortstop for the 2011 Pirates. The Pirates took him off waivers from the Angels on April 22, 2011. He had played parts of five seasons for the Angels, hitting .168 over 173 games, with 11 homers. In 764 minor league games over eight seasons, he batted .284, with 222 doubles and 161 homers, but his success never carried over to the majors. For the Pirates he played 99 games and hit .220 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. He was granted free agency in early November 2011 and signed with the Rockies two weeks later. Wood played pro ball until 2014 without making it back to the majors.

Don Schwall, pitcher for the 1963-66 Pirates. He broke into baseball in 1961 with a terrific rookie season for the Red Sox, going 15-7, 3.22 in 25 starts, completing ten games. He was named to the All-Star team and was also voted the AL Rookie of the Year. His sophomore season wasn’t quite as good as he posted a 9-15, 4.94 record. The Pirates acquired him in a deal for Dick Stuart in November of 1962. Schwall had a 3.33 ERA in 167.2 innings during his first season with the Pirates, but his record suffered from playing for a sub .500 team. He went 6-12 and didn’t win a game after July 16th, going 0-8 in nine starts and nine relief appearances over the last 71 games of the season. Don spent half of 1964 in the minors, then pitched the entire 1965 season in relief, picking up nine wins and posting a 2.92 ERA in 77 innings. He had a 3-2, 2.16 record in 11 games (four starts) through the first two months of 1966, before the Pirates sent him to the Braves in exchange for pitcher Billy O’Dell. Schwall finished the 1966 season with Atlanta, then pitched one game for them in 1967, which turned out to be his last appearance in the majors. While with the Pirates he went 22-23, 3.24 in 102 games.

Cal Abrams, outfielder for the 1953-54 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Dodgers in 1942, but due in part to serving three years in the Army during WWII, he didn’t make his Major League debut until 1949. Abrams was a strong minor league hitter, batting at least .331 every season from 1946-1950. He never got a chance to play full-time with the Dodgers during his four seasons in Brooklyn. He hit .280 and had a .419 OBP in 1951, but from August 1st on, he was used strictly as a pinch-hitter, getting just 11 plate appearances over the last 60 games. The Dodgers traded him to the Reds in June 1952, then Cincinnati shipped him to Pittsburgh in October of that year as part of a three-for-one swap in exchange for Gus Bell. Abrams played right field regularly for the Pirates in 1953, hitting .286 with 15 homers in 119 games. Just 17 games into the 1954 season, he was traded to Baltimore for pitcher Dick Littlefield. Abrams hit .293 in 115 games for the Orioles that season, but by May 1956 he was out of the majors.

Frank Colman, outfielder for the 1942-46 Pirates. In 1942 he hit .300 in 119 games for Toronto of the International League before joining the Pirates in September to make his Major League debut. He made the 1943 Opening Day roster, but through the first 82 games of the season, he played just 30 times and only started nine games. He was sent back to Toronto to finish the season. The 1944 season was his first full season in the majors and he hit .270 with 53 RBIs in 99 games, spending most of his playing time in right field. He didn’t hit well the following season, hitting .209 in 77 games and 162 plate appearances. Colman began the 1946 season with the Pirates before being sold to the Yankees on June 17, 1946. He hit .163 in 27 games with New York through the end of the 1947 season. In his five seasons with the Pirates, Frank hit .233 over 244 games. He was a .304 career minor league hitter in 1,035 games.

Rip Wheeler, pitcher for the 1921-22 Pirates. He pitched just two games for the Pirates, one in each season with the team. Wheeler had won 23 games and pitched 263 innings in the minors when he joined the Pirates late in the 1921 season. He made his Major League debut on September 30, 1921 in relief of Hal Carlson, who gave up eight runs to the Cardinals through 4.1 innings. Wheeler pitched three innings, allowing four runs on six hits and a walk in the 12-4 loss. He returned to the minors in 1922, winning 22 games and again finished with 263 innings pitched. His one big league game that season came during the 13th game of the season and this time he pitched one scoreless inning, allowing a hit and two walks. Wheeler spent the 1924 season with the Cubs, his last year and only full season in the majors. He had won 22 minor league games in 1923 and also made three September starts for Chicago, earning his full-time job in 1924.

William Fischer, catcher for the 1916-17 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1909 at the age of 18, playing in the New England League. By the end of 1912, he was playing for Toronto of the International League, a top minor league at the time. The Brooklyn Superbas (Dodgers) took him in the Rule 5 draft that September and he played two seasons for Brooklyn in the majors. He broke his contract and jumped to the Federal League for the 1915 season before returning to the NL to play for the Cubs in 1916. The Pirates acquired him on July 29, 1916 in a four-player deal and he would go on to play 42 games for Pittsburgh that season, hitting .257 with six RBIs in 113 at-bats. In 1917 he platooned at catcher for the Pirates with Walter Schmidt and Bill Wagner. It would be the last season in the majors for Fischer, and he hit .286 with 25 RBIs in 95 games. He hit just ten homers in his 412 major league games but twice he hit two homers in the same game.

Chick Robitaille, pitcher for the 1904-05 Pirates. He pitched 163 games for the Troy Trojans over four seasons before the Pirates purchased his contract in August of 1904. He made eight late season starts and had a 4-3, 1.91 record in 66 innings during that rookie season. In 1905 he spent the entire season with Pittsburgh, making 12 starts and five relief appearances, posting a record of 8-5, 2.92 in 120.1 innings. Despite the success in the majors, he did not return with the Pirates in 1906. They had acquired a strong starter in Vic Willis in the off-season and now had a five-man rotation in place ahead of Robitaille. He returned to the minors where he pitched eight more seasons, the last six near his hometown in upstate New York.

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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