Pittsburgh Pirates: How the Organization Built the Farm System

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pittsburgh Pirates
PITTSBURGH, PA – JULY 18: Catcher Henry Davis who was selected first overall in the 2021 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates speaks after signing a contract with the Pirates during a press conference at PNC Park on July 18, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have the second best farm system per FanGraphs’ rankings. So how has the organization built up their prospect capital?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently ranked with the second-best farm system in all of baseball by FanGraphs’ measurement. With a value of $358 million, their system is worth nearly $40 million more than the Tampa Bay Rays whose system is valued at $319 million. They also have the second most ranked prospects with 60, as well as the most top 100 prospects, coming in with 8.

Needless to say, the Pirates have accumulated a whole lot of young talent. They’ve done this in multiple ways. Mainly, through drafts, trades, and the international market. But they’ve also acquired some through the Rule 5 draft, and other methods.

Today, we’re going to look at how the Pirates built up their strong farm system. There’s been a lot of work that has gone into it throughout the past 2 years. We’re going to be using FanGraphs’ rankings for this. So where did they get all of their best prospects from?

The Draft

The Pittsburgh Pirates best prospects have come from the draft. Currently, their highest ranking prospect is catcher Henry Davis. The backstop was selected with the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

FanGraphs had Davis as the second-best draft prospect available and while the Pirates did go under slot to get him, it ended up paying off in the end. Davis is now the 27th best prospect in baseball. He has some of the best power potential in the minor leagues with a 70-projected game and raw power. He also has a solid hit tool. While he does have a cannon of an arm, there are some questions about his defensive ability and long term ability to stay behind the dish, given he’s only a projected 40-grade defender behind the plate, he still has a fantastic bat and some of the best offensive potential in all of minor league baseball.

Neal Huntington’s last first-round draft pick comes in behind Davis, that being right-handed pitcher Quinn Priester. Preister went from a borderline top 100 prospect after the 2019 season to a consensus top 50 prospect by the end of 2020. Priester now ranks as FanGraphs’s 35th best name. Priester has a good fastball, an even better cutter, and a solid change-up. But his curveball is considered the best in the minor leagues. It has a current 70-grade with a projected 80, the best possible grade a player can get. With three offerings that project as above average, Priester is the Pirates’ best pitching prospect.

We have yet another top 100 prospect from the draft, that being Nick Gonzales. Gonzales is ranked as the 98th best prospect per FG. That is a bit low, but these rankings aren’t updated for Gonzales’ phenomenal second half. Seen as one of, if not the best pure hitting prospect available, Gonzales showed off massive potential down at High-A Greensboro this year. He had a 150 wRC+, .405 wOBA, and blasted 18 home runs in just 369 plate appearances. Gonzales has an excellent hit tool with some solid pop. Plus he isn’t slow and is considered a decent defender at the keystone.

Next, we have centerfielder Travis Swaggerty coming in at #107. Another first-round pick from Neal Huntington, Swaggerty is known for his outstanding defensive ability, strong arm, and speed. Though his bat is overlooked time and time again. Before having to undergo shoulder surgery, Swaggerty got off to quite a solid start at Triple-A having a .772 OPS, .343 wOBA, and 108 wRC+. His numbers should have been much better once you consider he had a .200 batting average on balls in play, 26.7% line drive rate and a 36.7% ground ball rate. If Swaggerty’s power output to start 2021 wasn’t a fluke, nor is hampered by the shoulder injury, you’re looking at a potential five-tool player.

Past Swaggerty, we get past the players with an FV lower than 50 (which aren’t given a ranked number by FanGraphs). Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any talent pats Swags. Bubba Chandler is one of the players the Pirates got, partly because they went under slot with Henry Davis. He was a two-way high school star who is a highly athletic shortstop with some pop and #2 starting pitcher potential. Another overslot guy from the 2021 draft was high school outfielder Lonnie White Jr. He also has high-end potential.

One of their top slugging prospects, Mason Martin was a 2017 draft pick. He has some of the best power potential in the system, up there with Davis and Oneil Cruz. Martin has big power, but it comes at the cost of a lot of strikeouts. He’ll likely get a shot at major league playing time next season.

Many of the Pittsburgh Pirates prospects are high-ceiling pitchers. That’s the case for Anthony Solometo (2021), Jared Jones, Carmen Mlodzinski, Nick Garcia (all three from 2020), and Owen Kellington (2021).

Their remaining ranked prospects from the draft include Cody Bolton, Jared Oliva, Cal Mitchell, Sammy Siani, Michael Burrows, Austin Roberts, Max Kranick, Blake Cederlind, Steven Jennings, Jared Triolo, Jack Herman, Braxton Ashcraft, Matt Gorski, and Jackson Glenn. That’s a total of 26 ranked prospects that came from the draft, making up nearly half of the Pirates’ ranked prospects, coming in with a 43.3% mark.