BA’s John Manuel on the Pirates’ No. 1 status, Wandy “feels good,” and more


SOUTH HILLS – You can argue the Pirates’ lack of activity this offseason has been damaging because fellow NL contenders like the Cardinals, Nationals, Dodgers and Diamondbacks have been more aggressive in the free agent and trade markets. But we learned the Pirates will earn something more important from a long-term perspective Monday: they will be named Baseball America’s No. 1 farm system next month when the 2014 Prospect Handbook is published.

The Pirates have never ranked No. 1 in the Handbook Era, which dates back to 2000. Pittsburgh ranked 7th last year and 26th in Neal Huntington‘s first year on the job in 2008.


To understand how far the Pirates’ system has come here’s what Baseball America has to say about the Pirates’ farm system back in 2008:


Red SoxCumulative Ranking, Last Five Years: No. 18
State Of The System: The Pirates have endured 15 consecutive losing seasons, one shy of the big league record, and the farm system isn’t about to spark an immediate turnaround under new GM Neal Huntington. Pittsburgh passed on more talented players to take more signable LHP Daniel Moskos with the No. 4 overall pick in 2007, and with the exception of OF/1B Steve Pearce (an eighth-rounder in 2005), the Bucs have done little after the first round of the draft. And while they’ve hit on prospects such as OF Andrew McCutchen and 3B Neil Walker with their top picks, they also have a history of taking pitchers who soon after needed major surgery (Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, Brad Lincoln).


Times have changed. The 2014 State of the System report will be glowing. And the only way the Pirates are going to compete consistently on baseball’s slanted playing surface is by drafting and developing their own talent. And according to Baseball America, no organization has a better collection of prospects than the Pirates entering 2014… and this is a year after the Pirates graduated a top 10 overall prospect in Gerrit Cole.


Pirates’ Baseball America organizational rank by year:


2008: 26th

2009: 18th

2010: 15th

2011: 19th

2012: 11th

2013:  7th

2014:  1st


Notice a trend?


While plenty question Bob Nutting‘s commitment to MLB payroll, those record $51 million Nutting committed to the draft from 2008-12 and the tireless efforts by Rene Gayo in his staff in Latin America are beginning to payoff in a big way. I caught up with Baseball America editor John Manuel on Monday to discus what led to the Pirates’ No. 1 status.


TS:  What is the key driver in the No. 1 ranking?


JM: “They have several players we felt would contend to be No. 1 in a lot of different organizations. They have several players who fit the profile to be starters on championship-caliber teams. They have more of those than other teams. If they were tied, or if they were similar (to other teams), more of their guys were in Double-A or Triple-A.”


TS: How do you weigh depth vs. impact talent when ranking systems?


JM: “It’s impact players, it’s not role players, and that’s what separates it for us. The other part that is impressive for me is this comes after graduating Gerrit Cole. Usually teams that graduate players like that fall back in the rankings like the Cardinals (who will go from No. 1 to No. 7 – graduating Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha).  It’s good to have depth but what you want to have that depth of future regulars. Guys who are going to get 500 at bast or make 30 starts on championship-caliber teams. Our information is the industry is bullish the Pirates’ depth of those caliber of players.”


TS: The 2013 draft no doubt helped the ranking along with the Glasnow breakout, correct?


JM:  “The industry believes in Reese McGuire’s glove and that’s pretty rare for a high school catcher to have the kind of praise for his defense, then the fact he went out and hit in his pro debut … It’s a risky demographic (high school catchers). But the ones who have hit recently (Joe) Mauer and (Brian) McCann and (Yaider) Molina, the best catchers, with the exception of (Buster) Posey, have been high school draft picks. …. People in the office very bullish on Glasnow. Not a lot of 6-foot-7 starters in the major leagues.  He’s the most likely to be a reliever in the top 10 because of his size and command issues.  You don’t see a lot of big league starters who are 6-7.”


Manuel also noted its rare for a guy like Brandon Cumpton to have some limited big-league success and not be ranked in the top 10, speaking to the system’s depth,  and Manuel noted most orgs have a relievers ranked in the top 10 (which is not idea) … but not the Pirates. (That’s a good thing)



Rob Biertempfel is down in Florida for the Pirates’ minicamp this week. Wandy Rodriguez began a throwing program in December and told Biertempfel his arm “feels good.” It’s really early but that has to be encouraging for the Pirates, who will likely need to make up 190 quality innings from free agent AJ Burnett .... Rob also caught up  with Andrew Lambo who has spent much of the offseason playing first base in winter ball.


Said Lambo:“It’s all about getting up to game speed, and that’s what I wanted to do in Venezuela. It’s a little quicker (at first base) than the outfield. The ball’s coming at you quick. Getting the hang of that was the biggest adjustment. I had to put in the work. I wanted to get better at it, so I was out there every day.”




Reds starter Homer Bailey is entering his final year of arbitration and it doesn’t sound like the Reds are encouraged about are reaching one.


Said Reds GM Walk Jocketty to “probably the one guy that’s going to be the most difficult [to sign] because of how well he’s done and where he’s at in this service class.  Young pitchers are getting quite a bit.”


The Reds took a major hit this offseason in losing .423 OBP  man Shin-Soo Choo, and are likely to lose Bailey after 2014. It took Bailey four seasons to become the kind of pitcher the Reds expected him to be and now he looks like a $100 million-plus arm. The Reds’ farm systems ranks behind the Pirates,’ Cardinals,’ and Cubs’ in the division and it is going to be tough for the Reds to remain a 90-win plus team going forward.