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Pirates organization ranks fifth in overall 2021 MiLB standings

Greensboro and Bradenton lead the way.

The future hits so hard, we gotta wear a batting helmet.
Chris Robertson/

Okay, the big-league Pirates have been like this in 2021:

The Bucs’ minor league affiliates, though, are doing pretty well. In fact, they own the fifth-best collective record in MiLB this season.

Look at the company they’re keeping, per Baseball America:

The Bucs’ High-A affiliate, the Greensboro (NC) Grasshoppers, is its most successful team in 2021, with a 74-46 record. It should be considering that the last three number-one Bucs draft picks are currently playing on it (RHP Quinn Priester, infielder Nick Gonzales, and this year’s overall number-one pick, catcher Henry Davis). The High-A championship series starts tonight, with the Hoppers up against the Bowling Green (KY) Hot Rods, the Rays’ affiliate. It should also be noted that the Hoppers had the best two batters in the league in Matt Fraizer, now with Double-A Altoona, and Gonzales.

The Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates’ Low-A team, had a 71-48 2021 season, with RHP Eddy Yean going 5-2 in 66.2 innings pitched. Along with Wil Crowe, he was part of the package when the Bucs traded Josh Bell to the Nationals. Catcher Endy Rodriguez arrived in Bradenton courtesy of the Joe Musgrove trade to the Padres and logged a slash line of .294/.380/.892. They also start their championship series against the Tampa Tarpons, an affiliate of ... yeah, we’re sensing a pattern here.

You have to scroll down the list a bit to find the Altoona Curve, which managed only a 58-59 record this year but has lots of players who may very well see PNC Park as a Pirate next year. The Triple-A Indianapolis Indians bring up the rear, although their season isn’t done yet, and it’s not by much. Again, lots of familiar faces here. As for the Florida Complex League, aka the Artist Formerly Known as the Gulf Coast League, the Pirates Gold team ranked third out of sixteen teams, with Pirates Black ranked eleventh (note that not all teams have two FCL affiliates)

If you’ve been following Robert Kelley’s excellent Minors Matters articles, you know that there’s a lot to be excited about as far as future Bucs are concerned. Of course, we’ll always have the naysayers:

(virtually slaps both of them)

Even the wealthiest teams know that their farm systems can’t be neglected for long, as seen by the Yankees and Red Sox’s rankings, the latter still bearing Ben Cherington’s fingerprints. I’ll speak about a team I know well, the Yankees. In the eighties and nineties, George Steinbrenner was throwing money at every free agent that came on the market, enticing their former teams by dealing them tons of prospects. As a result, the Yankees’ farm system was practically decimated, and the big league team didn’t sniff the postseason nearly as much as you would think with all that money getting tossed around. Enter Gene Michael as GM in 1990, who told George, “dude, listen. We need to cool it on the big-money players and start developing from within.” Steinbrenner actually listened (treat this as the miracle it was), and Stick put together some outstanding drafts. You might know some of the guys he got.

Derek Jeter.

Andy Pettite.

Jorge Posada.

Mariano Rivera.

Five years later, the Yankees started winning World Series with those guys. Consecutively.

I must bring this point home again—if Travis Williams (via Bob Nutting) hadn’t indicated to Cherington that if he worked the same magic with the Pirates as he did with the Red Sox and, to a lesser extent, the Blue Jays, the money to retain high-performing players would be there, Cherington wouldn’t have taken the job. Unlike Derek Shelton, who never managed at the major league level before now, this isn’t Cherington’s first MLB GM rodeo. He’s got a proven track record, and while I do believe he looks at being the Pirates GM as a challenge, he’s not stupid to take a job where his hands are tied from the get-go.

In this MUST WIN NOW world in which we live, I know it’s hard to have patience. But as someone who paid attention when Cherington was running the Red Sox show, I was delighted when he came to Pittsburgh. Of course, some will go on about how minor league performances are no indication of how a player will do in the bigs, and there’s truth to that.

Ben knows what he’s doing, though, and these rankings are proof that the Pirates are getting somewhere.