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First Pitch: NL Central Farm System Rankings


In the comment section on Monday, someone suggested that we look at the farm system rankings around the NL Central to see what the competition has in store for the future. That seemed like a good topic for today, so here we go…

The Pirates ranked 14th according to Keith Law, 14th by MiLB.com, 15th by MLB Pipeline and 23rd by Baseball America. Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus haven’t released their farm system rankings yet, so for those two sources I included a list of players among their top 100 prospects from all five teams.

Here are the farm system rankings for comparison (listed in order by Law, MiLB, Pipeline, BA):

Pirates: 14, 14, 15, 23

Cardinals: 9, 12, 18, 13

Cubs: 28, 22, 23, 22

Brewers: 30, 30, 30, 30

Reds: 23, 28, 24, 28

A little quick math will tell you that the Cubs, Reds and especially the Brewers, have poor farm systems. The Pirates are basically middle of the road, while the Cardinals are considered to be a little better.

Here are the prospects in the top 100 for Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus for all five teams:


Pirates: 30. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 32. Oneil Cruz, 34. Mitch Keller, 61. Travis Swaggerty, 78. Tahnaj Thomas, 98. Liover Peguero

Cardinals: 38. Nolan Gorman, 39. Dylan Carlson, 94. Matthew Liberatore

Cubs: 46. Nico Hoerner, 50. Brennan Davis, 65. Miguel Amaya

Brewers: None

Reds: 73. Tyler Stevenson, 77. Hunter Greene, 82. Jose Garcia, 92. Nick Lodolo

Baseball Prospectus

Pirates: 53. Mitch Keller, 55. Oneil Cruz, 63. Ke’Bryan Hayes

Cardinals: 18. Dylan Carlson, 23. Nolan Gorman, 50. Matthew Liberatore

Cubs: 41. Nico Hoerner, 78. Miguel Amaya, 84. Brailyn Marquez, 92. Brennan Davis

Brewers: None

Reds: 59. Nick Lodolo

Looking at those two lists combined with the farm system rankings, it appears that St Louis would still have a slight edge. Fangraphs obviously likes the Pirates prospects more than BP, while BP is much higher on the Cardinals top prospects.

The Cubs maintained that third spot by a nice showing in each top 100, while Fangraphs would probably have the Reds rated higher than anyone else with four top 100 prospects, though when you throw in the BP ranking, they would still be fourth just behind the Cubs. The Brewers are awful no matter who you ask.

So these rankings tell you that the Pirates are in a pretty good spot with prospects when you only look at NL Central clubs. The Cardinals are only slightly better in the combined rankings, with the Pirates getting the edge from two sources, while the other three clubs are among the worst stocked systems in baseball.




Just found the full special for an underappreciated comedian. Lost in his brother’s shadow. Good stuff if you have the time.


By John Dreker

Two Pittsburgh Pirates trades and five former players born on this date.

On this date in 1987, the Pirates traded catcher Tony Pena to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Mike Dunne, catcher Mike LaValliere and outfielder Andy Van Slyke. Pena, at age 29, was a four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner during his seven seasons in Pittsburgh. He hit .286 with 340 RBIs and 307 runs scored in 801 games for the Pirates. In 1986, he hit .288 with ten homers and 52 RBIs. It was the first time since 1982 he didn’t win the Gold Glove award.

Dunne was a first round draft pick in 1984, who already pitched a full season at Triple-A in 1986, although his numbers were subpar at 9-12, 4.56 in 28 starts. LaValliere, at age 26, just played his first full season in the majors in 1986. He hit .234 with three homers and 30 RBIs in 110 games. Van Slyke was also 26 years old, but he had four full seasons in at the big league level already. He played all three outfield positions, as well as the two corner infielder positions with the Cardinals. In 1986 he hit .270 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs. All three were career high marks up to that point.

This trade worked extremely well for the Pirates. Dunne wasn’t around for the playoff years but he had a strong rookie season in 1987, going 13-6, 3.03 in 23 starts, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He went 7-11, 3.92 in 1988, then was traded to the Mariners less than a month into the 1989 season. LaValliere ended up winning the Gold Glove award his first season in Pittsburgh and he had a .300 average in 121 games. He spent five more full seasons in Pittsburgh, forming a strong catching duo with the righty hitting Don Slaught during the Pirates three-year run of playoff appearances. LaValliere hit .278 in 609 games with the Pirates. Van Slyke was the best of the group, a three-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner with the Pirates. He batted .283 with 117 homers, 134 steals, 564 RBIs and 598 runs scored in 1,057 games over eight seasons with Pittsburgh.

Pena really struggled his first season with the Cardinals, hitting just .214 with 44 RBIs in 116 games. He also threw out just 28% of attempted base stealers, his lowest percentage up to that point. He had two more decent seasons with the Cardinals before they let him leave via free agency. After leaving St Louis, he ended up playing another eight seasons before retiring.

On this date in 1981, the Pirates traded catcher Ed Ott and lefty pitcher Mickey Mahler to the California Angels in exchange for first baseman Jason Thompson. Ott has been with the organization since being drafted in 1970. He played 492 games over six seasons in the majors and in 1980 he hit .260 with eight homers and 41 RBIs in 120 games. The Pirates had a rookie catcher named Tony Pena ready to step in and take his place. Mahler was 27 years old at the time, with parts of four seasons experience in the majors. He pitched just two games for the Pirates in 1980, allowing seven runs in one inning of work. He had a 14-8, 2.65 record in 173 innings at Triple-A. Thompson was 25 years old at the time, coming off a season in which he hit .288 with 21 homers a 90 RBIs, splitting the year between the Angels and Tigers.

The trade was a one-sided win for the Pirates. Thompson spent five seasons at first base for Pittsburgh. In 1982 he hit .284 with 31 homers, 101 RBIs and 101 walks. He also made the All-Star team that year for the third time in his career. Overall in his five seasons, he hit .259 with 93 homers, 354 RBIs and 430 walks. Mahler pitched 12 games in relief for the Angels over two seasons, then spent 1983-84 in the minors before playing parts of two more years in the majors with four different teams. Ott hit .217 with 22 RBIs in 77 games in 1981, then missed all of 1982 while on the disabled list. He played 16 games in the minors between 1983-84, but never made it back to the majors.

John Axford, pitcher for the 2014 Pirates. He was acquired as a waiver pickup in August of 2014 to help with the playoff run. He made 13 appearances and allowed five runs over 11 innings with the Pirates. Axford has played ten seasons in the majors, last appearing in 2018, though he was injured for almost the entire 2019 season. In 543 appearances in the majors, he has a 3.87 ERA in 525.1 innings, with 144 saves. In 2011, he led the NL with 46 saves. He has played for eight different big league teams.

Masumi Kuwata, pitcher for the 2007 Pirates. He was a long-time veteran player in Japan, with a career than spanned from 1986-2006 before he signed with the Pirates in December of 2006. He was signed to a minor league deal and reported to Triple-A in late May after recovering from a Spring Training ankle injury. He was recalled for his Major League debut in early June after just three scoreless appearances with Indianapolis. Kuwata made 19 appearances with the Pirates, pitching 21 total innings and he did not fare well during his time in Pittsburgh. He had a 9.43 ERA and he allowed 25 hits and 15 walks. He was put on waivers in August, then released by the Pirates after he decided to return home instead of accepting a minor league assignment. Kuwata came to Spring Training in 2008 for the Pirates and pitched well, but decided to retire after being informed he would not make the Major League team.

Willie Montanez, first baseman for the 1981-82 Pirates. He was already in his 13th season in the majors when the Pirates traded John Milner to the Montreal Expos to get him on August 20, 1981. Montanez had some strong seasons earlier in his career, including his rookie season in 1971 when he hit 30 homers and drove in 99 runs. He also had three straight seasons hitting over .300 from 1974-76. By 1981 however, he was nearing the end of his career, being used mostly off the bench with the Expos and not hitting well. MLB went on strike that season for two months starting in mid-June. When play resumed in early August, Montanez played just one game for the Expos before he was traded to the Pirates. In Pittsburgh in 1981, Willie got 38 at-bats in 29 games, hitting .263 with a solo homer that accounted for his only RBI. In 1982 Montanez was used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter with the Pirates. When he was released in early June, he had played 36 games and only took the field four times, none as a starter. He signed with the Phillies, where he finished his playing career at the end of the season. In 14 years, Willie hit .275 with 139 homers and 802 RBIs in 1,632 games.

Jake Thies, pitcher for the 1954-55 Pirates. He pitched three seasons in the minors before the Pirates acquired him from a Class D team from Chanute, Kansas after he went 18-6, 2.57 in 217 innings. Thies pitched four seasons in the Pirates farm system before finally making it to the majors in 1954. That last season of minor league ball in 1953, he went 16-6, 2.43 in 196 innings for the Denver Bears of the Western League. For Pittsburgh in 1954, he had a 3-9 record with a 3.87 ERA in 130.1 innings. Jake made 18 starts, 15 relief appearances, and all of his decisions came during his starts. On August 13, 1954, pitching the second game of a doubleheader against the Phillies, Thies threw his only big league shutout. In 1955 Thies made the team out of Spring Training and pitched the fourth game of the season. He lost 10-3 to Johnny Podres and the Dodgers, in what ended up being the last game of Thies’ big league career. He returned to the minors, where he finished his playing career in 1956.

Fred Mann, outfielder for the 1885-86 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He made his pro debut for Worcester of the National League in 1882. After just 19 games he was released and moved on to the Philadelphia Athletics of the newly formed American Association, a second Major League at the time. Mann played two years for Columbus before he was purchased by the Alleghenys in October of 1884. That next season he hit .253 with 41 RBIs and 60 runs scored in 99 games, spending almost all of his playing time in center field. In 1886, he hit .250 with 60 RBIs and 86 runs in 116 games, all but one as a center fielder. He was second on the team in runs scored and third in RBI’s but when the Alleghenys moved to the National League for 1887, Mann stayed in the AA, where he played just one more season. He was released by St Louis (AA) just prior to the 1888 season and he finished his playing career three years later in the minors.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball. When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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