Feel free to vote in the poll below before you read the rest of this. But I guess I'm asking because I, personally, am getting a little restless, and I've been thinking about this since David and I talked about it on the radio earlier today. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are, of course, performing well, as are Starling Marte, Drew Maggi and Matt Curry. Justin Wilson and Rudy Owens have taken steps forward after uneven 2011 seasons. At West Virginia, Alen Hanson has been a great breakout story, Jose Osuna and Junior Sosa have hit pretty well, and Gregory Polanco has shown signs of turning his tools into skills.
Beyond that, though ... Kyle McPherson and Josh Bell have already suffered significant injuries. Stetson Allie looks like the next Nuke LaLoosh right now. Zack Von Rosenberg hasn't even pitched yet. Beyond Curry, fringe prospect Brock Holt, the now-injured Adalberto Santos, and a couple relievers, nobody on the entire Altoona roster is doing anything interesting, and that includes Robbie Grossman (who's probably still recovering from hamate surgery) and 2009 No. 4 overall pick Tony Sanchez, who's now in his second year at Class AA. The Curve's rotation has been loaded with fringe players and non-prospects like Matt McSwain, Aaron Poreda, Kris Johnson, Nate Baker, and Aaron Pribanic.
No one on the entire Bradenton roster has an OPS above .800, and beyond Cole and Taillon, the pitching staff isn't much to write home about either. And at West Virginia, I don't want to be too tough on guys like Nick Kingham and Zack Dodson, because they're young and their peripherals are at least passable, but they've gotten hit hard.
It's true that it's only been a month and that some of these guys, like Grossman (injury) and some of the West Virginia players (due to their ages relative to those of the league) have excuses for having less-than-sparkling numbers.
To take a broader view here, though, it's very hard to look at the Pirates' performance in the minor leagues this year and make a compelling case that the Bucs are doing a very good job drafting and developing. If this were the only year in which that were true, that would be one thing, but the Pirates also didn't have a lot of breakout performances last year, either.
The Pirates have spent more in the draft the last four years than any other team, and they've got to start showing results. Not at the major-league level, obviously, as it's way too soon for that, but at least in the low levels of the minors. That Cole, Taillon and Pedro Alvarez all appear to be progressing is huge, but these guys were all picked either first or second overall, and all three received huge bonuses. They should be progressing well. (And obviously, the Pirates are a long way from being able to claim victory on Alvarez.)
Meanwhile, where's the rest of the system? The early returns on some of the Pirates' Latin American investments are certainly promising. The drafts, though, not so much. Four years into Neal Huntington's tenure, it isn't necessarily reasonable to expect lots of grand results from the Latin players his underlings have signed, since those players are so young. In the draft, though, it's not too early to begin evaluating the results, and we should expect big things, given the Pirates' (admirable) big spending. In particular, while it certainly makes sense on paper to draft promising players in the late rounds and offer big bonuses to sign them away from college commitments or senior seasons, the Bucs simply aren't getting results from late-round, big-bonus players.
The entire $9 million 2009 draft, for example, which was built around big bonuses for late-round players like Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain, is a mess: Cain hasn't pitched well, Sanchez and Von Rosenberg don't look like top prospects, and other big-bonus players from that draft, like Trent Stevenson and Jeff Inman, don't look like prospects at all.
Among big-bonus players from the '08 draft, Grossman and Jarek Cunningham have had quiet years, and Wes Freeman is off to a terrible start. Quinton Miller isn't much of a prospect, either.
From the '10 draft, there's Maggi. Ryan Hafner struck out less than half a batter an inning last year and is currently making his way back after starting the season with an injury. Jared Lakind is completely MIA.
I'm sure that, regardless of how carefully I make the point that I'm not "writing these guys off," I'll get comments accusing me of doing just that. But I'm not saying that someone like Kingham or Cunningham or Allie (to name three examples) can't still be a good big-leaguer. I'm saying that the longer so many of these guys continue to post disappointing numbers, the tougher the odds. We really need to be seeing more from the Pirates' farm system than we're getting right now. And we need to make a distinction between the Pirates' strategy of spending lots of money on amateur talent acquisition (which is obviously a good, admirable strategy), and the actual results they've gotten.