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The Pirates rank No. 1. What is the expected return?


CLARK BUILDING –  The most significant development to date in a quiet offseason for the Pirates is not any signing or trade, it is the level the farm system has obtained. As we reported earlier this month, the Pirates will be ranked as the No. 1 farm system entering 2014 for the first time in the history of the Baseball America Handbook.

While the No. 1 ranking seems meaningful for the club what exactly does it mean? What exactly is a team gaining with that status? After all, you’re probably aware the prospect game is quite the inexact science and there’s a significant attrition involved.

So because we’d like to think we’ve become better at evaluating prospects as a people, I thought I’d examine the top of the Baseball America’s organizational rankings from 2006-09, the most recent classes that have had five seasons to elapse from the time of the ranking.


What do we find? The following ….



*Bolded records denote postseason trips

Team                    Year/record

2006                          2006              2007            2008            2009             2010         Total

1.  Arizona                 76-86            90-72         82-80           70-92          65-97        383-427

2.  Dodgers                88-74            82-80            84-78         95-67         80-82       429-381

3.  Miami                   78-84            71-81             84-77          87-75          80-82       395-415

Here’s what Baseball America wrote: Signing Justin Upton is the icing on the cake for minor’s most loaded system (which included Stephen Drew) …..(Miami’s) postseason fire sale brought depth, top-tier talent to a system that already had some of both.

Justin Upton is valuable but has not become the next Griffey Jr… and he’s now with another team. Stephen Drew also developed into a solid regular but fell short of superstar status some predicted … The Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera to Detroit for a package that was headlined by Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. Whoops. … The Dodgers had an amazing collection of top 100 prospects that included Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton and Chad Billingsley.


2007                          2007            2008              2009              2010            2011            Total

1. Tampa                   66-96            97-65           84-78             96-66          91-71         434-376

2. Colorado              90-73          74-88            92-70            83-79           73-89        412-398

3. Arizona                 90-72          82-80            70-92             65-97           94-68      401-409

Here’s what Baseball America wrote:The Devil Rays have benefited from their lofty draft position, taking OF Delmon Young (No. 1 overall, 2003), RHP Jeff Niemann (No. 4, 2004) and 3B Evan Longoria (No. 3, 2006) with premium picks in recent years.   … Much like the Devil Rays, the Rockies have a balance of hitting and pitching and have procured talent in a variety of ways. They’ve done well with early draft picks such as SS Troy Tulowitzki, 3B Ian Stewart and RHP Greg Reynolds, and they’ve also scored with OF Dexter Fowler, C Chris Ianetta, OF Jeff Baker and 1B Joe Koshansky—all taken in the fourth round or later.  ….No. 1 on this list a year ago, the Diamondbacks remain strong despite graduating SS Stephen Drew, 1B Conor Jackson and OF Carlos Quentin to the majors and trading three prospects to the Yankees for Randy Johnson. It’s still a hitter-heavy system, headlined by OFs Justin Upton, Chris Young and Carlos Gonzalez, 2B Alberto Callaspo and C Miguel Montero. Many of Arizona’s best prospects came from the drafts of former scouting director Mike Rizzo,

Tampa Bay actually missed on a fair amount of early picks… but they made up for that by turning late-round picks Alex CobbJames Shields and Matt Moore  into top-of-the-rotation starters while hitting on Longoria and Price…. Colorado had its hits and misses but still delivered two postseason berths with its collection of talent.


2008                         2008             2009               2010              2011           2012              Total

1. Tampa                   97-65            84-78            96-66           91-71           90-72          460-350

2. Boston                  95-67            95-67            89-73            90-72         69-93          437-373

3. Cincinnati           74-88              78-84            91-71             79-83          97-65         409-401

Here’s what Baseball America wrote:  Unlike in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series last year with plenty of contributions from homegrown players. More help is on the way, as RHP Clay Buchholz and OF Jacoby Ellsbury are ready for full-time duty and RHP Justin Masterson and SS Jed Lowrie could join them at midseason. Boston’s willingness to invest in the draft and in the foreign market have the lower levels of the system teeming with talent as well. The Red Sox’ No. 2 ranking is their highest ever. 

The biggest difference between big-market rivals Boston and New York in recent years is Boston’s ability to draft and develop talent. Even though they lost Jacoby Ellsbury this season, Jackie Bradley and Xander Bogaerts are ready to become regulars. … The majority of Cincy’s core players are homegrown.


2009                         2009             2010             2011                 2012           2013              Total

1. Texas                     87-75            90-72          96-66              93-69          91-72          457-353

2. Miami                    87-75           80-82           72-90              69-93            62-100       366-444

3. Oakland                75-87            81-81           74-88               94-68          96-66         420-390



While this is not a perfect study, it’s meaningful to be on this list.

Texas, Tampa, Oakland, Boston, Arizona, Los Angeles (N), Cincinnati and Colorado each appeared at least once on this list in the four-year study and each made at least two postseason appearances (3 small markets, 2 mid-markets, 3 large  markets) … The only team to be ranked in the top three from 2006-09 and not reach the postseason is Miami. So eight teams enjoyed some postseason time after earning a top three ranking and only one, the Marlins, failed to covert a rich system into success.

Now, any system has to be supplemented with prudent trades and signings. But an elite farm system should correlate to on-field success, according to Baseball America’s most recent applicable lists. The Pirates should be in position to make a postseason trip or two in the next five years.


– TS




  1. NMR says:

    Fascinating, Travis. You always find an angle. Great research.

    Your point about Miguel Cabrera is a salient one.

  2. bill says:

    even with good to great draft picks – organizations need to supplement with wise trades & obtain some veteran savvy players. Lets see if Bucs can do that.

  3. Keith says:

    Having great prospects means one of three things: the team should win when they all come due, the team has lots of trade chips to get top players, or a combination of both. How have the Pirates not been in this position even one other time in twenty years?!

  4. BostonsCommon says:

    Yes, very true… Drafting and developing talented players, keeping them healthy, and preparing them for MLB is a huge part of the process. It’s not the only part though, and alone, will not guarantee success.

    That said, gives you a hell of an advantage over the other teams… Not quite the same as a $200M+ payroll, but it’s something.

  5. Justin says:

    Plus there’s the possibility that player evaluation done by these publications has gotten better over the years as well. so HOPEFULLY the Pirates fare even better than this study indicates.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Justin, you wouldn’t take two postseason trips over the next five years? That was about the average return.

  7. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, NMR. I think teams are getting to the point where they’re overvaluing prospects.

  8. macchamp74 says:

    McClatchy and Littlefield is your answer.

  9. Steelkings says:

    Sam the skeptic here!

    How is it exactly that you gain no#1 status when you have no depth at either corner or shortstop?

  10. brendan says:

    1) No team is deep at every position. Take a look at other organizations prospect depth.
    2) I think you’ll find the amount of talent in the Pirates organization–especially high ceiling talent–compares very very favorably to other teams.
    3) The corners, particularly 1B, are positions players tend to get moved to. There are very few first base prospects of great significance.

  11. Ghost says:

    I’m curious how the Brewers ranked about half a decade ago. The became a playoff team with a core of largely homegrown players just a few years back, though they’ve fallen off the cliff of late. I’m also curious why they fell off that cliff…

  12. brendan says:

    Off the top of my head I’d say a combination of not continuing to draft/scout well and giving up some of their better prospects via trade, in attempt to go ‘all in’ as they say.

  13. Ghost says:

    A cautionary tale for the Pirates. Though Huntington managed to go “all in” and acquire Byrd and Morneau without seemingly giving up the farm (to make a weak pun).

  14. tedwins says:

    I have made a conscience decision not to bore pgh blogs with my infatuation oh how I see Drew improving the PBC. With that said I do reserve the right to post in response to drew comments. Anyway, I am now resigned to think even if we offered 3 years 35 he will end up with the yanks at 4 years 45.5 or more. Obvious fit with them, potentially move Jeter to 3rd, other infield gaps/question marks, sigh sigh… well hope runs eternal

  15. NorthPiratesFan says:

    I’m curious to know if a similar evaluation could be done with Baseball Prospectus’s rankings. In recent years Baseball America’s rankings and evaluations haven’t carried a lot of weight with me as their people still seem to favor “tools” over objective analysis and they seem to take a throw as many against the wall and see what sticks approach. BP on the other hands seems much more willing to go out on a limb and focus on a smaller number of players and provide evidence to back up their case as to why they think a particular player or organization is a top prospect.

  16. NMR says:

    The interesting part about the Brewers “all-in” narrative is that Michael Brantley is the only player they traded who actually has ended up contributing at the big league level.

    The Brewers success, or in this case lack there of, has had almost nothing to do with going “all-in”.

  17. NMR says:

    I thought that as well, but I’m wondering if the Yankees would rather wait for next winter when Hanley Ramirez and JJ Hardy become free agents rather than go with Drew long term.

  18. tedwins says:

    Excellent point but believe they maybe more desperate than we think. They lost significant money dropping out of the race last year in tv or perhaps attendance revenue. The article surprised me that the money received was substantially impacted by them being in contention

  19. NMR says:

    Very true, ted. I wonder how close the Pirates would be to that number the Yankees claimed?

  20. NMR says:

    I agree.

    One area I believe teams, or at least pundits, over undervalue or not value at all is timing. I appreciate those that try and put a dollar value on prospects and trade targets, but the goal is and always should be to win a championship. Not get the best value.

    The Brewers and CC Sabathia are a perfect example of a situation where the trade target unquestionably got the team closer to the goal than any of the prospects would have.

  21. NMR says:

    Sorry, sub “either” for “over” in the first sentence.

  22. Clemson Travis,

    Very interesting study. Makes me think.

    However, it looks to me that it may be slanted.
    Dodgers, Colorado, Boston, Texas, and Arizona were already good when their Farm System was honored.
    How much did their lofty farm contribute to those “playoff years” they attained?
    Especially when playoff appearance was in same year as lofty farm standing?

    Certainly you appear to be correct on Tampa, Oakland, and Cincinnati——but I’m dubious about other five.

    Yet very good grist for thought. I’ll continue to contemplate.

  23. NMR says:

    I actually found that aspect most interesting, Groat. Those teams that were already good are the ones that are most applicable to the Pirates.

  24. Steelkings says:

    Ramirez is set to sign an extension with the Dodgers

  25. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yeah, Matt LaPorta was the No. 1 piece of that deal and he was a significant bust. Brewers would make that trade again.

  26. NMR says:

    Interesting. When you say “objective analysis”, I assume you mean statistics. In that case, how does BP scout low levels players?

  27. NMR says:

    Yeah you’re probably right, but I keep thinking one of these guys will make the Dodgers get into a bidding war with the Yankees. Kershaw’s deal was a bit of a surprise in that it took so long.

  28. Travis Sawchik says:

    NorthPirates, I think BP’s focus is pretty tools heavy as well, which is interesting since it is a saber-analytics site. I think BP was more numbers based in how they evaluated prospects earlier in the Goldstein Era and gradually become more tools focused. Not that that’s better or worse, just my macro-level take.

  29. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good points, Brendan.

    There’s typically very few legit 1B prospects. Teams only move players there when they can’t hang at 3B or a corner outfield spot.

    I know Rene Gayo really likes some lower-level shortstop talent, so that position could see a boost in coming years. And Alen Hanson will get every chance to stick there, too.

  30. Ghost says:

    I don’t know about “narrative,” NMR. Brendan was just guessing “off the top of his head.” I too, didn’t even bother to look at exactly who it had been the Brewers gave up for Sabathia. Maybe others have pointed to that trade as setting the Brewers back., but Brendan and I were just chatting in the wee hours before going to bed.
    Nevertheless, that the Sabathia trade clearly wasn’t the reason for the Brewers big slide, indeed, takes that explanation off the table. So I guess we have to explore other ways their management may have erred. The Brewers had looked to be an emerging model of how a team like the Pirates might compete. I believe (though again, have not checked) that the Brewers drew over 3 mil. fans for a few years there. Now they’ve lost that, too. WHATEVER the lessons are with the Brewers, they’re worth figuring out.
    (I’ll check back in, later tonight.)

  31. Andrew says:

    NMR while simply stating the Brewers went “all in” is certainly an over simplification, there is some truth to it. There are several factors for the Brewers’ current plight, home grown talent becoming expensive and injured, (or suspended) and possibly Jack Z leaving and taking Tony Blengino with him, however there were a series of short term moves that compounded themselves.

    -The Sabathia trade, Brantley has provided Indians with the same value that Sabathia gave the Brewers.
    -The Grenkie trade in retrospect is a wash because they got Jean Segura back, but they gave up Lorenzo Cain and Escobar who have provided the Royals with over 9 WAR.
    -Brewers gave up Brett Lawrie for a year and 21 starts form Maracum.
    -There are a lot of questionable free agency moves $9 million/year for Randy Wolf and league average ERA. $40 million over 4 years to a 31 yo Jeff Suppan who performed at a 1.3 WAR rate in the prior three years.
    –$10 million for a year of Gagne, which is part of a trend of paying a premium for bullpen arms.

    It is/was definitely several factors but I see a lot of sacrificing potential long-term gains. (I fully believed the “all in” narrative until your comment sent me looking at trades, which like everything was not black and white but some shade of gray.)

  32. Jim S. says:

    Some of the best 1b in MLB 5 years from now are playing OF in the minors right now.

    It is very unlikely that any of the best OF in MLB 5 years from now are playing 1b in the minors right now.

  33. Andrew says:

    I concur, another point about Oakland they have spend relatively little on the draft, much less than the Pirates and even the small market average.

  34. Jim S. says:

    I agree, Justin. I could be wrong on this, but my sense is that teams are getting better at hitting pay dirt on 1st round picks now than ever before. I think the best publications are likewise getting better at rating the organizations of each team. I put more stock in a team being rated #1 now than 10 years ago.

  35. Jim S. says:

    I’m not sure Groat would agree with you that the Pirates are currently a good team, NMR.

  36. Jim S. says:

    Were you at the Pete last night, Travis? If so, were you wearing orange and purple?

  37. NMR says:

    Hey buddy, sorry for coming off combative. I didn’t mean anything negative by using the term “narrative”, and certainly wasn’t trying to call you guys out. I’ve heard the same thing said about the Brewers and the Sabathia trade countless times, so it’s not just you guys.

    You’re absolutely right, though. Whatever the reason for their fall, it is worth learning from.

  38. NMR says:

    Haha, true. Some people…

  39. NMR says:

    Those trades seem like issues in the abstract, but are you sure the Brewers weren’t just trading from surplus?

    Where were Brantley, Cain, and Lawrie going to play?

  40. NorthPiratesFan says:

    That maybe true as I haven’t been following them as closely or buying their annuals for several years since their website went pay and the book analysis became significantly shallower. I’d still be curious to see a similar evaluation though.

  41. brendan says:

    You’re right that prospects given up in some of the Brewers biggest trades have ended up underperforming, despite being highly regarded at the time. So that’s not the whole story by any means, it’s certainly a bit more complicated than that, as has already been detailed by some folks above.

    What I meant when referring to going ‘all in’ (which I was using somewhat tongue in cheek) is that most of their trades were designed to make the team better that season rather than to build for sustained success, ala the Rays. Guys like LaPorta may have failed to pan out, but at the time of the trade they had fairly significant value rather than trading them for players who were certain to be gone after the season the alternative might have been to swap them for someone who’d contribute for a slightly longer period of time. Likewise one could argue that perhaps they should have traded Prince Fielder rather than allowing him to leave via free agency, etc. I don’t necessarily fault them for any of those decisions, flags do fly forever as they say, and for several years the Brewers were well positioned to win a world series.

    That said I’m not sure that signing Kyle Lohse for instance and forfeiting a draft pick is the best way for a team like the Brewers to operate.

    Lawrie would be playing 3B for the Brewers had they not swapped him for Marcum. Granted his first two full seasons have been disappointing but he’s still young and has plenty of time to fufill the promise of his rookie season. Had they not traded him they would have been able to spend the money required to sign Aramis Ramirez elsewhere.

    The biggest issue though is that they’ve not been as successful acquiring amateur talent as they were in the early part of the decade, perhaps a function of drafting lower, but as was mentioned above it may have something to do w/ changes in their scouting department.

    Brewers Draft Picks 2000 to 2005 – Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun, Michael Brantley, Matt Gamel

    Brewers Draft Picks 2006 to 2013 – Jeremy Jeffries, Matt LaPorta, Jonathan Lucroy, Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Logan Schafer, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Tyler Thornburg, Taylor Jungmann, Jedd Bradley, Victor Roache

    The jury is obviously still out on the second group. Lucroy is already quite good and valuable, Lawrie has the potential to be. But obviously for a number of reasons–including draft position–there are fewer impact players (or potential impact players in that group). I also noticed looking through the last decade of drafts that while they were able to hit on some truly impactful players during the first half of the decade their drafts look to me to not be particularly deep. Which combined with a relative lack of success in Latin America is probably a factor as well.

    Brewers Draft Picks 2007-

  42. brendan says:

    My sense is there’s a combination of scouting/tools and at play over at BP.

    That strikes me that it’s as it should be since the minors are intended to develop players for MLB. If a pitcher isn’t utilizing his best pitch because the team wants him to concentrate on developing his secondary stuff I’m not sure that quantitative analysis alone is going to be an especially useful way of evaluating him. Gerrit Cole being the obvious example. I know Jason Parks over at BP remained high on him, ranking him the #3 prospect overall going into 2013, despite his less than dominant numbers, while other outlets had him a bit lower and favored players with more dominant minor league stat lines.

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