Williams: One of the Deepest Pirates Systems I’ve Seen, But a Question Remains Unanswered

Development

When does it happen?

Where does it happen?

How does it happen?

Is it a process of learning how to use the body,

Or learning how to use your mind?

Does that choice depend on where you are in time?

What you need at that stage of your climb

Varies from person to person

Depending on How

Now

Let’s talk about how

The Pittsburgh Pirates

Are going to develop the players currently in their system, because as I detailed in my column on Wednesday, they don’t have a lot of options remaining to trade, which means if they’re going to win in the next few years, it’s going to have to happen with — *GASP!* — prospects that Neal Huntington acquired!

Ben Cherington has done a good job boosting the farm system in his one-plus year on the job. He’s traded Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, and anyone who could land him international bonus pool space. Those trades, plus the draft and international signings, led to Cherington acquiring 19 of the top 50 prospects in our 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide. (Available now in Digital form in a “Pay What You Can” format!) That included four of the top ten prospects — two from the 2020 draft, and two from the Starling Marte trade.

Most of the recent moves have added depth to the system, rather than top-end talent. The moves have trended more toward younger players with upside, giving the possibility of some of the players from the Bell/Musgrove/Taillon deals ending up as top prospects in the system.

All of this requires a good development system.

A good development system that can also develop the prospects that Neal Huntington left behind.

Ben Cherington traded a lot of players who were under control through the 2022 season. He’s got younger players in the majors who project to be here beyond 2022. Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman will be arbitration eligible by the end of the 2022 season. Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes will be nearing their first years of arbitration. A lot of the top prospects in the system have a chance of making their debuts by 2022-23.

This is setting up the potential for a window, starting to open as early as 2022, with the Pirates having a chance to contend starting in 2023.

That’s not entirely dependent on player development. The Pirates won under Neal Huntington in large part due to their acquisitions of Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Edinson Volquez, A.J. Burnett, and so on. They will need Ben Cherington to add talent through MLB free agent signings and trades.

Cherington can improve the Pirates in the biggest way by improving the results from the player development system. I talked a lot about that in the Prospect Guide. At this point, we’re still waiting to see results. There hasn’t been minor league baseball since Cherington took over, and it’s difficult to credit or fault any of his development practices for MLB guys with the crazy 2020 season. I’m encouraged by conversations with players who have confirmed that the organization is making more resources available for learning and developing their games.

It will be easy to see the results when they arrive, and it will be obvious when they’re missing.

If the Pirates are going to win by 2023, they’ll need Ke’Bryan Hayes leading the offense and Mitch Keller leading the pitching staff.

They’ll need guys like Oneil Cruz, Nick Gonzales, Cody Bolton, Carmen Mlodzinski, Travis Swaggerty, Mason Martin, and others to arrive and help fill starting spots on the roster. A group of potential impact prospects like Quinn Priester, Liover Peguero, Tahnaj Thomas, Brennan Malone, Ji-Hwan Bae, Hudson Head, and Eddy Yean on the rise behind those guys, to extend the length of the window.

It doesn’t matter who acquired these players, how they were acquired, what round, or how much the signing bonus was. The only thing that matters now is that they’re all Pirates prospects. They’re all part of the plan to get the Pirates back to the playoffs, and ideally to a World Series.

Ben Cherington might be able to get back to the post-season without improving on the player development results in this organization, but it would be much more difficult.

On the flip side, the current farm system looks like one of the deepest systems I’ve covered. Maybe not the most top-heavy. But arguably the deepest system. If that can translate to more and better MLB players in Pittsburgh than the previous deep systems, then it won’t take long for the fresh air to start sweeping through that open window at PNC Park.

Analysis

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