It’s always at the end of prospect lists where you learn the most about a system. Usually, you already know about the top guys, and you know whether there are a bunch of them or just one or two. At the end of the list, though, you find out one of two things. Either you start struggling before you hit the magic number (that being 30 today), or after you hit it, you think, Damn, what do I do with these guys?
Happily, this one is the latter. My biggest worry is whether we’re going to look bad at some point because we don’t have Owen Kellington or Jack Suwinski in there. I won’t darken anybody’s day with specific names, but as somebody who’s followed the Pirates’ system intensively for about 25 years, this isn’t normal. I can guarantee you that there’ve been players in their top ten who wouldn’t make this top 30. Or even top 50 — we actually did our own top 50s to come up with this list and there were prospects I was reluctant to leave off mine.
The toughest part of ranking prospects is always trying to compare prospects who are all-ceiling with ones who have more of a track record but a bit less upside to dream about. This list, though, has a heavy element of both. Everybody in the top ten except Endy Rodriguez and Jared Jones stands a very good chance of reaching AAA this year. (I wouldn’t totally rule Rodriguez out, either.) In the 11-20 range, though, are four players who haven’t played above rookie ball, including one (Anthony Solometo) who has yet to make his pro debut and another (Bubba Chandler) who has yet to do so at his more likely spot on the mound.
The most important thing of all, though, isn’t how many prospects the Pirates accumulate or whether the team can teach them to strike out Class A hitters. It’s whether they can successfully transition enough prospects to the majors. That’s the hardest part of development and we’ve seen the Pirates fail at it over and over. Years ago, the Pirates did their best to wreck prospects like Aramis Ramirez and Chad Hermansen. Fortunately for Ramirez, he was so exceptionally talented that the Pirates’ best efforts to undermine him failed, in large part because he got away from Pittsburgh. More recently, the Pirates’ bungling with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows led to one of the worst trades in recent baseball history.
So far, we’ve got very little data to show whether the current front office can handle the hardest part of the prospect thing. We’re going to start seeing in a big way, though, this year. Out of this top thirty, at least eight (Cruz, Contreras, Swaggerty, Castillo, Yajure, Castro, Smith-Njigba and Bolton) should be close to locks to appear in the majors this year, barring injury. Castillo, of course, will start the season there. Quite a few others, such as Peguero, Bae and Fraizer, could reasonably make it with a good showing. And a whole bunch of others should have a good chance of reaching at least AAA.
I think the most interesting thing to do with this list will be looking at it after the season to see how many guys made it. If at least 4-5 don’t finish the season in Pittsburgh — and not just in a token September callup — then there’s reason to doubt whether this impressive list of prospects is going to be what it needs to be.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.