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