Pirates youngsters in the majors, not the minors, giving the franchise life

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 28: Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 28, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 28: Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 28, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

To quote the great Toby Keith, the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system “ain’t as good as it once was.”

The farm ain’t void of talent, mind you. The Pirates have four top 100 prospects, and only five other teams have more. The system, however, doesn’t have the depth that it did a few years back, and its top prospects don’t have the “wow” factor that other young Bucs have had in this decade.

The Pirates top-rated prospect, Mitch Keller, is one of the most highly touted minor league pitchers around, and we caught a glimpse of him on the big team in 2019. However, his 10.50 ERA through three major league starts isn’t exactly good.

Along with that, any hype for Keller’s future in Pittsburgh comes with justifiable caution tape because of the last two Indy studs—Sir Gerrit Cole and Lord Tyler Glasnow— not reaching their potential until moving to the junior circuit, as well as the organization seemingly waging a war on curveballs with the kid.

While Ke’Bryan Hayes and Will Craig are promising hitting prospects, is anybody itching to see them play with the big boys the way they were for Pedro Alvarez and Austin Meadows? I’m sure there are some that have that itch, but most probably don’t need to take an oatmeal bath to tame it.

The big-league Pirates, while currently on a roll, have still lost more games than they’ve won. The farm system is solid, but not elite the way it was deemed not too long ago. This is all coupled with three straight seasons of mediocrity, so on the surface, the “big picture” doesn’t look so hot.

There’s a reason, however, that fans aren’t clamoring for a rebuild.

That’s because of the contributions of young talents that have already survived the minor league buses and made their way to the show.

Of the Pirates usual starting lineup, two players are rookies, one is a sophomore, and the remaining five are no older than 30. The two rooks are studs, and the sophomore is establishing himself as a part of future amid mixed early reviews. These three have joined up with the more established Pirates to keep this team in the hunt despite an ungodly amount of injuries.

To be fair, I suppose there’s a downside to an organization’s best young talent already being with the big team.

For one, major-league players, believe it or not, tend to be older than minor leaguers. None of the Pirates regulars are younger than 24, which means their days in the sun are thinner than those of hotshot 19 year-olds tearing up A, AA, and even AAA.

Another issue is that there’s minimal anticipation. Remember in 2010, when Pittsburgh distracted themselves from one of the worst Pirates teams ever with thoughts of the day Alvarez and Jose Tabata would grace the PNC Park grass and, hopefully, make things better?

Now, I’m not longing for a return to that dark ally, but the point is it’s always exciting to ponder the possibility of one day watching potentially generational talent who is, at this point, barely old enough for a shot of Crown Royal.

The Pirates organization is lacking that type of player, and should the big team fall off again in the summer of ’19 it’s harder to look at the minor leagues as a point of light than it was in years past. Maybe somebody in A ball will make a name for himself, but right now, the Pirates minor league system is good. It’s fine. Nothing more, nothing less.

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The benefit, however, of the Pirates best young talent being in the major leagues rather than the minors is that we are seeing the future right in front of us, and our optimism for what lies ahead is based on what these guys are doing right now, not what they might be doing in a year, two years or more.

In the present, if we choose to pay attention, the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates is right in front of us.

Rookie #1, Bryan Reynolds (24) is a putting up video game numbers— well if you ignore his earthly six home runs and 29 RBI. Fellow newbie Kevin Newman just wrapped a 19 game hitting streak, which is impressive compared to guys whose names don’t rhyme with Bo… uh, DiMaggio, and especially impressive considering no Pirates rookie had accomplished it in more than 100 years.

The sophomore, Colin Moran (25) is having a quietly solid campaign and posted a four-hit night in Monday’s 18-5 romp over the Cubs.

For those who are spending the summer in Antarctica, Josh Bell might be the Pirates best power bat since Wilver Dornell Stargell… and he’s just approaching his prime.

At 41-43, the Pirates are nothing more than adequate at the big league level, and in the minors, they don’t really have that prospect casual fans are dying to see come up, at least not yet. What they do have, however, is a solid young core that may be the focal point of making this team playoff-caliber again, if not this year, then 2020 when players hopefully aren’t entering the injured list as if it’s a South Beach nightclub.

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If nothing else, this group is fun to watch, and excitement is something this franchise needs after three straight summers of discontent on the North Shore.