It’s no shock to the baseball community to see the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system continually ranked in the top five, even top three, in updated power rankings.
General manager Ben Cherington has made a concerted effort to improve the system through various outlets, including the draft, trades, and international free agency.
Through this, and leftover pieces acquired during the Neal Hungtington era, the Pirates have experienced success at the lower Minor Leagues, creating a new wave built on winning and developing together with the same common goal in mind.
Pittsburgh has seen at least six top prospects in overall Top 100 lists as new rankings continue to be released from the sport’s brightest Minor League observers.
Baseball America is thought of as one of, if not the best outlet for Minor League baseball and draft content. The team frequently releases organizational reviews as well as risers and fallers throughout organizations.
BA ranked the Pirates as the third-best farm system entering the 2022 season, only trailing the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays.
Pittsburgh earned six highly regarded prospects on the site’s Top 100 Prospects list led by shortstop Oneil Cruz at No. 14.
First-overall pick Henry Davis checked in at No. 41, with second baseman Nick Gonzales helping to round out the top 50 at No. 49.
Speedy and energetic shortstop Liover Peguero placed at No. 78, right-handed starter Roansy Contreras No. 80, and fellow right-hander Quinn Priester rounding out the top six at No. 88 overall.
Baseball America noted how Ben Cherington is rebuilding the Pirates’ organizational talent “after executing consecutive drafts with clockwork precision.” They also mentioned the ushering in of a new era in Pirates baseball, something heard multiple times by the fanbase, with some not holding their breath for it to pay off and play out on the field.
Pittsburgh is a top-heavy farm system but through minor trades has done a strong job of adding depth pieces necessary to completing a full 162-game season and finishing in position for a playoff spot.
The Bucs have significantly lacked this throughout the past three to five seasons, especially in Triple A, and will have decisions to make down the line regarding the protection of fringe players on the 40-man roster.
One observation critical to the quick load-up of talent is how they were acquired. Cruz was snatched away from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 Tony Watson deadline-day trade, Davis was the 2021 top pick, Gonzales was a first-rounder in 2020, Peguero and Contreras were acquired from the Diamondbacks and Yankees, respectively, in trades, and Priester was the Pirates top choice in 2019.
Capitalizing off of draft picks has been a detriment to the organization the past 10 seasons, with underachieving performances and the failure to develop players like Will Craig (2016), Connor Joe, and potentially Cole Tucker (2014), and Barrett Barnes (2012). Failing to sign current Cincinnati Reds top flamethrower Nick Lodolo with the 41st pick in 2016 has also left a blemish on the system.
A new hope is in order with Cruz, Davis, Gonzales, Peguero, Contreras, Priester, and others ready to burst onto the scene and restone PNC Park to its magical 2013-15 atmospheres.
Keith Law of The Athletic is respected throughout the game for his preparation, knowledge, and strength in writing about prospects from all levels of the Minor Leagues.
He released his updated top 100 rankings and also on Tuesday his latest top 20 players in the Pirates’ system. Law also selected six Bucs into his top 100 but values Davis as a more valuable asset than Cruz.
The catcher was rated No. 20 overall as the Pirates’ best Minor Leaguer followed by Priester (No. 57) and Cruz (No. 65).
“His bat should allow him to reach the majors as quickly as his glove develops, and this kind of offensive profile – contact, OBP, with power – would make him a potential All-Star for that position,” Law said in his Pirates top 20 article.
Law thinks highly of Priester, especially compared to BA, with No. 2 starter upside and continuing to fill out his frame and add velocity.
The remaining three top 100 players are Peguero (No. 77), Contreras (No. 83), and Gonzales (No. 93).
What is most fascinating is who Law has identified throughout the remainder of his list.
He places Endy Rodriguez No. 7, Jared Triolo No. 9, Diego Castillo No. 11, and Kyle Nicolas No. 16.
Three of the four were acquired by trades, with Tiolo standing out as the complete home-grown talent. At age 23, Triolo hit .304 in 2021 and stole 25 bases in 31 attempts. Law said that if he can pick up his power numbers, Triolo has the potential to go from “a probable regular to an occasional All-Star.” This is high praise for a player not many outside of Greensboro has seen and being overshadowed by Priester, Peguero, and Gonzales.
Rodriguez and Castillo have been solid since being traded over from the Mets and Yankees, respectively, as Rodriguez has especially shown power in his bat and versatility to catch and play other positions at now 22-years-old.
Matt Frazier has become the organization’s fastest riser, dominating High A and competing solidly at the Double A level. He improved his power stroke and became a solid defender in center field, proving he could stay at the position rather than moving off to a corner spot.
Regardless of individual rankings, the respect being paid to the Pirates’ farm system is due in part to the restructuring Cherington has implemented since he arrived in Pittsburgh.
It has not yet resulted in wins on the Major League diamond, but the Minor League teams have been successful enough to pave the way and teach winning as an example throughout each level.
The next two seasons will prove if Cherington’s decisions were worth the while and now keep Pirates fans in suspense to see how the top prospects can pan out to be not just prospects but become valuable assets at the Major League level.