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FanGraphs releases Pirates top 25 prospect list

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MiLB: JUL 15 Florida State League - Bradenton Marauders at Dunedin Blue Jays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sorry if this is a bit dated, but FanGraphs a few days ago released Eric Longenhagen’s list of the Pirates’ top 25 prospects, along with a lengthy list of honorable mentions. Mitch Keller ranks at the top, of course. Beyond that, the list is a bit quirky compared to some others, I think because FG tends to dig deeper to find guys with some ceiling and puts less value on upper level players who are likely major leaguers but don’t profile as more than backups or relievers. Hence, they have rookie-level outfielder Lolo Sanchez at #6 (which I’m perfectly happy to see), rookie-level right-hander Steven Jennings at #10 and DSL third baseman Sherten Apostel at #14.

Longenhagen’s overall comments, in my opinion are right on point. He describes the system as “deeper than it is exciting up top,” and points out how damaging the failure of Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to develop has been. (He adds that the system “looks healthy in the same way it did when the organization finally began producing talent again;” I think Longenhagen would laugh at the notion that the system isn’t much stronger than it was when the current front office took over.) Longenhagen sees most of the team’s top prospects as projecting only to be average everyday players.

The comments about depth and the long list of honorable mentions reinforce my own view that the Pirates’ problem hasn’t been development. They’re very good at getting players to AA and AAA, and having them perform well there. There’s a reason the Pirates are signing far fewer minor league free agents these days than they did 4-5 years ago or more. It’s counter-intuitive to think that the same staff that can turn guys like Tanner Anderson and Brett McKinney into effective pitchers at the upper levels can’t turn much more talented players into good major leaguers. I think the problem is in the scouting, where the Pirates just don’t seem to aim high enough. Their refusal to pursue the top international talents is one obvious reason. I also tend to think they’ve hurt themselves over the years by under-emphasizing power with hitters, and breaking balls and off-speed stuff with pitchers.

Longenhagen does seem to think that the Pirates have some wild cards in the system who could add upside if they develop. He sees “lots of intriguing Latin American talent that was relatively unheralded on signing day,” and adds that “while volatile, prospects like Apostel, (Oneil) Cruz, (Taylor) Hearn, and all of the 2017 draft class have unique, exciting qualities.” Hopefully, players like Sanchez, Apostel and Rodolfo Castro show the Pirates managed in the last couple years to come up with some Latin American prospects with enough upside to end a long drought; the team hasn’t had a Latin American prospect with even the potential to be an impact player reach the majors since Gregory Polanco’s debut in 2014, and there won’t be another for at least several more years. Longenhagen’s comment about the 2017 draft is also interesting due to the possibility — he didn’t say this explicitly — that he was referring to the team’s heavy focus on power hitters. He has Conner Uselton, who played only two games before getting hurt, and Calvin Mitchell ranked #15-16 in the system (ahead of Will Craig — ugh), although he doesn’t seem so high on Mason Martin.