The Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the best farm systems in Major League Baseball.
That said, the Pirates don’t have the best prospects in Major League Baseball.
On the individual side, the Pirates have several prospects inside the top 100 lists, but most of their top guys fall toward the middle of end of the list.
At Baseball America, Oneil Cruz is the top ranked prospect, coming in at number 28. He’s followed by Henry Davis at 46, giving the Pirates two inside the top 50, but none inside the top 25. They have three more on the list, with Quinn Priester (56), Nick Gonzales (58), and Liover Peguero (79) joining the ranks.
From that perspective, having five prospects inside the top 100 — the top 80, actually — seems good. The average team should have 2-3 players in that group in a league with 30 teams.
The top 100 list is a microcosm of how the Pirates’ system ranks, and how they’re one of the top systems in the game without one of the top prospects in the game.
The explanation, in a word: Depth.
The Pirates likely wouldn’t survive in a “Trial by Combat” game, pitting their best prospect against another team’s best prospect. There are 16 teams with higher ranked prospects than Cruz on the BA list.
The Pirates don’t even have the highest total of top prospects inside the top 100. The Royals and Marlins each have six, and the Giants, Blue Jays, and Braves join the Pirates with five each. Only one of those teams ranks higher than the Pirates for overall system rankings.
Not just top 100 depth.
Depth, throughout the entire system.
MLB Pipeline has similar overall rankings for the Pirates, with a different order. They have five top 100 prospects in the system, but have Henry Davis ranked first in the system, at 23rd overall.
The Pipeline rankings display the depth when looking at overall grades. The top 100 prospects are all 55+ Future Value guys. The 50 FV players run through the 13th best player in the system, and every other top 30 prospect received a 45 FV grade.
We’ve been compiling our own update to the prospect rankings, and I thought we may have been too optimistic in how many guys we graded as 50+ grade guys. We actually ended up being more conservative than Pipeline in those grades, at least how they stand now. And our rankings are still reflecting depth, with potential starters in the majors who are outside of the top 30.
Depth is good. Depth is essential. You need depth, especially for a team among the worst in the majors right now. One top prospect isn’t going to propel the Pirates to the playoffs. They need a group of 45-50 grade guys to raise the MLB team up to the point where that 60-grade guy won’t be wasted.
They will eventually need a top prospect. Fortunately, they’re set up for the best of both worlds.
Three of the top five prospects in the system still have at least another year in the minors, and a chance to improve their stock. The 2021 draft class gave the Pirates a group of prep players who could move up the ranks as they get older. Those guys join an already growing group of young players that cam in from various other efforts, including the trades that Pirates’ General Manager Ben Cherington made prior to the 2021 season.
The Pirates have a good amount of top 100 prospects, but none of the very best in the game. They have depth, and with that depth, they have a collection of younger players. That collection includes a few of the current top 100 guys. The system ranks high due to the depth, but it also has plenty of room to continue growing and moving up. The Pirates have plenty of candidates to grow and move into, or move higher on the top 100 list.
The sum of it all is that the Pirates have a top farm system right now, and enough upside inside that system to maintain a top farm system ranking for a few years.