With the season in it’s last week, I want to take a look at what FanGraphs thinks of the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system at the end of the campaign.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the best farm systems in the sport right now. After major strides made since general manager Ben Cherington took over at the beginning of the 2019-2020 off-season, the Bucs have one of the brightest futures and the most potential than nearly every single other team. FanGraphs’ THE BOARD ranks many different top prospects, extending past the 30 that MLB Pipeline grades. With the end of the season just ahead of us, let’s take a look at what the farm system’s rankings look like at the end of the 2021 regular season. To take a look at the full Pirate list, you can click here.
Currently, the only farm system worth more in the eyes of FanGraphs is the Baltimore Orioles. Ranking at #2, the Pittsburgh farm has a value of $357 million. They, along with the O’s and the Tampa Bay Rays are the only teams with a system worth greater than $300 million. Not only do the Pittsburgh Pirates rank second, but they rank second by a fair margin of nearly $40 million ($38 million to be exact, Rays’ system valued at $319 million).
The Pittsburgh Pirates also have the second most ranked prospects, coming in with 60. The Texas Rangers are ranked with more at 66, though the composition of the two systems is very different. The Rangers only have 3, 50, or higher FV prospects (only 2 top 100 prospects) while the Pirates 9 (8 ranking in the top 100). They also have 20, 35+ FV prospects compared to the Pirates with only 13. Now overall FV isn’t the be-all-end-all. After all, if going by this measure, then FanGraphs only projects 29 top prospects to become above average major leaguers with a 55-FV or higher. It’s also worth mentioning FanGraphs gives them the most top 100 prospects with 8.
So who are the Pirates’ top-ranked prospects per FanGraphs? We’ll first start with Henry Davis, the Pirates’ 1/1 pick this past draft. Davis provides big-time power potential to the system along with a solid hit tool. Arguably the best power hitter in this year’s draft, Davis brings another big bat to the system. While Davis has some trouble with blocking, and his overall large frame can get into the way of his defensive prowess, he does have a rocket arm. Even if he has to move out from behind the plate, his bat should play anywhere. He’s currently ranked as the 27th best prospect in the league. Before suffering an injury in August, Davis got off to an outstanding start to his pro career, collecting 8 total hits in his first 31 plate appearances, drawing 4 walks, while having 6 extra base hits (2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers).
Their 2nd best prospect is Quinn Priester. Priester made huge strides last season at the alternative site and at instructionals, which skyrocketed his value. Plus it also helps he had a very solid season at High-A Greensboro. Despite being in his age-20 season and essentially skipping straight from rookie-ball directly to a step below Double-A (aside from 4 IP at Low-A in 2019), Preister managed to put up very solid results while flashing very exciting stuff on the mound. Priester comes in at #36 while ranking as their 8th best pitching prospect.
Next, we have Roansy Contreras, who recently made his MLB debut. Acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade, Contreras prospect stock also skyrocketed this past season. He saw a noticeable uptick in velocity while adding some movement to his breaking stuff. Contreras put up very good numbers at Double-A, Triple-A, and then tossed 3 scoreless innings with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk in his debut. He easily has 2, 60-grade pitches (fastball and slider) and a 55-grade change-up. Contreras went all the way from a 40+ FV prospect to the 50th best prospect in the game, by FanGraphs’ measure.
Another player acquired in a trade, Liover Peguero comes in as the team’s 4th best prospect. Like Priester, Peguero essentially skipped Low-A and High-A, going directly to High-A aside from a sample size amount of plate appearances back in 2019 at Low-A. Peguero was the headliner of the Marte trade and is now considered a consensus top 100 prospect across the board. At just 20-years-old, he put up above-average numbers down at Greensboro. He’ll likely be added to the 40-man roster and may even start 2022 at Double-A. He comes in at #67.
At #70, the Pirates have Miguel Yajure. Yajure was also part of the Jameson Taillon trade. Now while Yajure doesn’t particularly throw hard, he throws efficiently and with strong command. Had it not been for an injury earlier this year, he probably would have stuck in the major league rotation. Regardless, he showed some pretty decent stuff in his 2 starts, including a 50-pitch, 5 scoreless inning outing vs a hot San Francisco Giants team. Yajure has 4 offerings that project as average or better and given his strong command, he could be a long-term rotation anchor. Not bad to get two players who rank as top 70 prospects by FanGraphs for Taillon, who only has a 97 ERA+ (100 ERA+ is league average. Essentially, wRC+ but for ERA).
Directly behind Yajure at #71 is shortstop Oneil Cruz. Cruz is arguably the only other player who can give Davis a run for his money when it comes to power potential. The left-handed slugger can leverage his massive 6’7″, 210-pound frame to generate a ton of power. He spent most of the year at Double-A (while also missing some time with injury) but has gotten promoted to Triple-A at the end of the season. So far, he’s only played in 4 games and has 24 plate appearances, but has 10 hits, four of which have left the park, plus a double, and has a 5/5 BB/K ratio. Now his final position may be the outfield, but he’ll likely first come up as a shortstop. After all, his rocket arm would play both on the left side of the infield and in the grass. The only thing is that he’s made a few errant throws from short.
Now this one may come as a shock, but FanGraphs has Tahnaj Thomas ranked at #91 and the Pirates’ 7th best prospect. Based on the last 2 names we’ll talk about, it may come as even more of a shock. Thomas struggled at Greensboro this year but has an 80-projected fastball. Plus with a good slider, there’s at least a reason why he’s ranked so high. The question if he can remain in the rotation will come down to his command, which is very spotty at the moment, as well as the development of a change-up. If he can at least get his change-up to an average level, staying as an SP long-term isn’t out of the question. Though as of right now, he only projects as a closing pitcher, albeit a good one. This is one of the only few questionable rankings I have with FanGraphs’ list.
The last, and even more questionable ranking is Nick Gonzales at #99. Gonzales was the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2020. Seen as one of, if not the most advanced hitter in the draft, Gonzales showed off everything you’d want from a hitter throughout college. Ability to make consistent contact, draw walks, avoid the K, and do it all with some pop. Now while he did have a bit of a swing and miss issue this year at High-A Greensboro, it was mostly at the beginning of the year as he cut down on strikeouts as the season went on. His 150 wRC+, which is adjusted for the hitter-friendly confines of Greensboro’s park, ranked as the highest mark down at High-A. During next year’s rankings, he should be around the top 50 given that other sources rank him around #50 or higher.
Last but not least, we have Travis Swaggerty who ranks just outside the top 100 at 108. The Pirates’ 1st round pick in 2018, Swaggerty looked like he was on his way for regular playing time in the major leagues this year. He had a quality start with a .772 OPS, .343 wOBA, and 108 wRC+, albiet throughout his first small sample size of 48 plate appearances, but also got extremely unlucky with a .200 batting average on balls in play despite a very low ground ball rate, and high line drive rate. Put his BAbip even around .250 and he’s an easy .820+ OPS hitter. But those 48 plate appearances are all he would get before dislocating his shoulder and sitting out the rest of the season. If he’s back to 100% to start 2022, you can easily see him taking over a regular outfield role by the end of April next season.
There are also a handful of fresh new faces to the organization compared to the beginning of the year. While Henry Davis is the most notable, he is far from the only notable one. Second-round pick Anthony Solometo and two-way high school star Bubba Chandler also rank within the Pirates’ top 20. Lonnie White Jr. is another highly ranked prospect from the 2021 draft, coming in at #2. Both Owen Kellington and Jackson Glenn are ranked, but much lower in their list (#49 and #56).
Many of the players the Pittsburgh Pirates got back at the trade deadline are also part of their top system hands. Infielder Tucupita Marcano (#32) and outfield slugger Jack Suwinski (#52) both came over in the Adam Frazier trade. Ricky DeVito (#37) was one of the two players that came over in the Richard Rodriguez swap (the other being Bryse Wilson). Backstop Carter Bins (#41) and Joaquin Tejada (#39) were the two prospects the Mariners sent back for Tyler Anderson. Finally, Abrahan Gutierrez (#54) was the player the Pirates got back in the one-for-one swap involving left-hander Braeden Ogle. Both infielders Diego Castillo (#22) and Hoy Park (#36) were acquired for Clay Holmes. All told, between the draft and the trade deadline, 14 new ranked prospects were added to the system, further increasing their prospect depth.
Overall, that’s a very promising system. Not only do they have high-end names like Priester, Davis, Gonzales, and Contreras, but also plenty of depth to it as well. There are many prospects that could easily take over regular roles for the club in the very near future. There will be a handful in 2022 that take regular roles with more following them in 2023 and 2024. It gives the Pirates a very bright outlook for the next handful of seasons and then some.