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What About Depth?

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Sorry for the absence of updates the past few days; it can be hard to post when there isn't much news coming out.

Anyway, there was some interesting discussion of the BA top prospects here, and the basic take-away criticism (particularly from Mike Emeigh, a smart long-time Pirates fan and critic) is that the Pirates' farm system still isn't that strong yet. If you look only at the ten-player list BA published, I think that's true, but I don't think a list of ten players tells the whole story.

Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington have been on the job about two years, and thus have had two drafts to improve what was essentially a barren system. They've also fixated pretty intensely on high school talent after the first round in those drafts, at least in the guys to whom they've paid big bonuses. Lots of them have considerable upside, but given their age, understandably haven't done enough to make it into the top ten yet. And so any evaluation of the Pirates' system that doesn't take guys like Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller, Jarek Cunningham, Colton Cain and Trent Stevenson into account just isn't really getting it done. 

Then there's the fact that the Pirates traded away most of their starting players, and only three players acquired in those trades (Jose Tabata, Tim Alderson and Gorkys Hernandez) fit into BA's top ten--and even then, including Hernandez was probably a stretch. The problem was that besides Jason Bay, the Pirates didn't have anyone particularly good to trade. The Pirates' return for Bay was mediocre, which hurt, but it was counterbalanced by the fact that they got a very good prospect (Tabata), a good starting pitcher (Ross Ohlendorf) and another interesting player (Dan McCutchen) for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. That trade was, it turns out, a steal for the Pirates.

Beyond that, the Pirates' problem has been that teams are increasingly unwilling to trade genuinely excellent prospects. It's a hard enough sell to get two great prospects when you're trying to trade Cliff Lee. When you're trying to trade Jack Wilson, it's pretty much impossible. As a result, a lot of the players the Bucs got in trades fit into the #11-#30 bracket. This includes Jeff Locke (from the Nate McLouth deal), Brett Lorin and Nathan Adcock (from Wilson and Ian Snell) and Josh Harrison (from John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny). 

All of which is to say that the Pirates have done pretty well with the options available to them, and given the obstacles they've encountered in getting obvious impact talents, they've done well in building a farm system that's 30 deep, not just ten deep. And there's really nothing wrong with most of the guys they've acquired, either in the draft or in trades, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if several from among Grossman, Miller, Cunningham, Cain, Stevenson, Locke, Lorin, Adcock, Brooks Pounders, Victor Black and Justin Wilson broke out and joined the top ten next year. 

The top ten still does look a bit thin right now. But I'm not sure how Huntington and Coonelly could have acquired a bunch of talent much faster. Getting more for Bay would have been great, as would signing Miguel Sano. And reasonable people can disagree about the Pirates' strategy in the first round of the 2009 draft. Overall, though, I think their plan and execution have been quite good. And I think that if Dave Littlefield had done his job and left some interesting guys in A-ball who'd just now be graduating into the top ten themselves, there wouldn't seem to be a problem. Huntington and Coonelly have been placed in the awkward position of having to acquire lots of those sorts of players themselves and then wait for them to develop.