As we casually make our way through our own top prospect list here on BD, I thought this would be a nice time to write this article. Its something I have been thinking about doing for a few weeks now and have mentioned it here and there throughout my commenting. As we head into 2012, we may enter the most significant year for our minor league system.
After NH took over in 2007, the Pirates began a transition into a rebuild that has the potential to finally pay dividends that us Pirates fans have been longing for. Its not an easy task, as I like to point out, about 7 years is a good time line to follow a true rebuilding plan. The breakdowns and much more to follow -
- NH took over in Sept 2007, essentially the end of the season, and while he had that off season to work with, I will not consider 2007 his first year, as the point of the rebuild is to produce a product at the MLB level worthy of a pennant. He had no chance of this in 2007. Thus his rebuilding clock starts with the '08 season.
By this standard, 2008 = season 1 under NH. Thus '09 (2), '10 (3) and '11(4). Totalling 4 seasons under the helm, 2012 marks year 5. Now we each can make our own assumptions at this point, but I like to break things down like so: Years 1 - 3 complete rebuild effort. Sell, sell, sell. Years 4 - 5 talent should now be in the pipeline, some should be graduating while we wait on others, improvement on the field should be made by the MLB team. Years 6 - 7 Profit. These two years should see some of the best results at the MLB level.
What is the point of this? Well, were heading into year 5, the last year under my conditions that we should still accept moderate gains while not expecting the world. (I do expect more progress this season, not playoff bound progress, but something better than our 72 wins of last year). But why is it so important for our minor league system?
In my opinion, 2012 is quite possibly the make or break year for the Pirates system as a whole in determining just how successful we are in 2013-2014.Before this upcoming season our system as a whole was full of prospects that were mainly "high school arms" in low pro ball. Tough to get readings there. But alas, another year, another draft and players moving up in the system.
AAA (Indy) - Marte, Sanchez, Hernandez, Mercer, d'Arnaud, McPherson, Wilson, Morris, Owens, Locke. Theses guys are our key pieces in Indy. Its possible d'Arnaud and some others start in Pittsburgh, but for the sake of the post, lets just say they are here. Its a big development year for everyone on that list. The main shout outs to Marte, Sanchez, d'Arnaud, and McPherson. This will be the best look we get at Marte before he makes the move to the MLB and its no secret he will need to either bring the BB rate up, or K rate down. Sanchez needs a bounce back season at the dish, while he had a solid chance pre 2011 to crack the MLB roster come 2012, it looks like 2013 is his year. So not much time left for Sanchez if he/we expect him to contribute to the Pirates come 2013+. As for d'Arnaud, well he still could be our future SS, though his D and O need work, so another year at Indy could help him work out the kinks for what could be an impressive 2013. McPherson really shot up this past year. Getting love in top 10 lists abound. Solid stuff and a good chance at being a #3, how he does at AAA is crucial to his development and his ETA. Does he continue his success or end up like the Altoona 4, that is, not much luck at Indy.
AA (Altoona) - Grossman, Curry, Cole. This year at AA, the prospects are short and to the point. Starting with Grossman. He had a big AFL season but an injury could derail his power progress this season. We get to see if his plate discipline holds up though and if that goes well, he will have a chance to put his power back on display in 2013 at AAA. Curry made the infamous quantum leap to AA this year. All the way from A- ball too, but some of his holes at the plate started to show. Its no secret the Bucs need a 1B. Curry has a chance to fill that void in a season or two, a big year at AA could see him on pace for the Burgh late 2013, which would be a welcomed site. Then there was Cole, who I expect to start at A+ for the warm weather but he shouldn't be there long. Cole brings that "Ace" potential to the table as our #1 prospect. How he mows them down, or not will determine how soon we get to see him. Many have him pegged for mid 2013.
A+ (Bradenton) - This is where the fireworks comes out. Cole, Taillon, ZVR, Cain, the entire WV staff pretty much and Dickerson. Finally the high schoolers are out to play in A+. Facing some better bats, we should get a better feel for what they have to throw. Taillon is the big name of the group. With any sort of dominating success, I could see him up to Altoona not long after. But for so many who struggle placing a grade on these young arms, 2012 will be the season to finally get a better judgment on whether or not they could/will be something. For the 2009 prep class, this would be their junior campaign. So its time to see what they can really do. As for Dickerson, the same reasons for him as Curry. We need a future 1B. He was a pretty big college bat, maybe he does a fine job and gets to AA this year. That would also pay off large for the Bucs in the near future.
A- (WV) - Allie, Kingham. Allie may be at SC, but IMO can get the same kind of work there that he can at WV. Control will be the issue once again, but if he can flatten that out, he may jump back into Top Prospect status. Kingham, well I just like his project-ability and his stuff. I think he has the makings of a solid 2-3 guy. And in a season that could see him catapult into top prospect status as well in our system, 2012 is a big year.
Others - Heredia, 2011 prep class pitchers. Heredia is the main focus. He will/should be at SC. With any improvement he will once again be considered a future ace. Still at the lower levels, which is not the main focus here, its still tough to gauge his progress. The same for the 2011 class.
OVERALL the Pirates system is moving up the charts, with a shot at 5 top 100 prospects, 2 top 15 pitching prospects, and a top 10 system overall, how well all of these guys play in 2012 will determine how bright the near future is. With the main names on the list doubtful to see MLB time (minus maybe Sanchez, Marte) I expect all of them to be back in the system in 2013. Many of whom should be graduating that year or soon after. 2013 is the target year, and the years following it, 2014 and 2015. These seasons are coming up fast, which means these guys don't have a whole bunch of time left in the minors if we expect them to contribute in that window of 13-15. The problem is though, we expect to compete in those years because of some of those guys. THEREFORE progress in '12 is critical. And how this upcoming year plays out for a lot of these guys may be telling of how the future plays out as well.
Also for your enjoyment: Some prospect sites -
EDIT and final note of Opinion: My thoughts are simple, I think were in the transition phase to being successful. We need players to keep taking steps forward and that before this upcoming season it seemed premature and too soon to write players/prospects off. But this is a telling year as I think it bridges the gap to that window of success in 2013-2015.