SOUTH HILLS – It’s that time of the year again when in the bleakness of January top 100 prospects give us a brief reprieve from polar vortexes and serve as a starter course for that hopeful, optimistic time when pitchers and catchers report. MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list came out last week and featured six Pirates. On Monday, Baseball Prospectus released its top 101.
I suggested last week that the Pirates’ representation in the MLB.com list might be a little light and up to eight Pirate prospects are worthy of inclusion.
BP included the following seven:
19 - Jameson Taillon
24 – Gregory Polanco
42 – Tyler Glasnow
59 – Reese McGuire (Love this placement)
77 – Josh Bell (Bucco blog breakout candidate)
80 – Nick Kingham
89 – Austin Meadows
The differences between the two lists? Alen Hanson did not make BP’s top 101, which to me is surprising, but Kingham and McGuire did. BP was aggressive with McGuire’s placement, and I’m in the small camp that prefers McGuire to Meadows. All-Star, two-way impact catchers don’t grow up trees. Also, MLB.com ranked Polanco about 10 spots higher.
For me the Baseball America list is still king – though I’d welcome subjective data that demonstrates otherwise. We know Baseball America ranked the Pirates as having the No. 1 system in the game so I think we could see eight Pirates on that list.
The rankings again show that while the Pirates have not been perfect in amateur evaluations, the system is much healthier than it’s been in some time. But the Pirates are not alone in the NL Central in possessing an rich collection of prospect talent …
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. Here is the top 101 prospect membership breakdown by team in the NL Central:
Pirates – 7
Cubs – 7
Cardinals – 4
Reds – 3
Brewers – 0
So 21 of the game’s top 100 prospects reside in the NL Central, which is a disproportionate share of talent. The only organization to top the Cubs and Pirates with top 100 talent is Minnesota, which placed eight prospects in the top 101.
8. The Cubs are not an immediate threat to NL Central clubs in 2014, but beginning perhaps by 2015 and I think by 2016 they will be a force to deal with — if, IF, they can get some pitching.
The Cubs collection of young offensive talent is unsurpassed in the National League and perhaps rivaled by only Minnesota’s dynamic prospect duo of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (Sorry to bring up that name, folks).
The Cubs’ quartet of SS/3B Javier Baez 3B/RF Kris Bryant, CF Albert Almora and OF Jorge Soler is a terrifying collection of positional players. Baez and Bryant both project to have 70+ power at the MLB level. Almora is a five-tool star in the making and the toolsy Soler is younger than Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig.
7. So in some ways it was a big deal for the division that the Cubs lost out on Tanaka, but then again I think a 7y/$155 million commitment to a pitcher who has already logged such a workload is a foolish investment.
6. The Cardinals graduated so much young talent to the game over the last two years they’ve dipped a bit in the prospect standings. But they have a very young MLB roster – younger than the Pirates’ – and they have game’s best pure hitting prospect in Oscar Taveras.
Four of the game’s top 13 position player prospects – Taveras, Baez, Bryant, Polanco – are members of NL Central organizations.
5. I don’t love the Reds’ system but think everyone is too light on Billy Hamilton. MLB.com ranked him at 39 and he just cracked Baseball Prospectus’s top 50. Look, I know the bat is in question but I think the approach is actually quite good (Career walk rate of 10 percent in the minors). And that speed is something we haven’t seen in decades. Even if he posts an OBP of .310ish he’ll be an impact force as a defender and baserunner. I like to bet on unique talent.
4. The Brewers are in long-term trouble. They have zero top 101 prospects in the game according to Baseball Prospectus and unlike the Yankees that cannot overcome scouting mistakes with a half billion dollars in free agent spending in the offseason
3. Now, unlike the Cubs they are a sleeper threat in 2014. I believe outside of one horrendous month last season the Brewers actually played respectable baseball in 2013. And with Matt Garza now officially in the fold, Ryan Braun off suspension, freshly minted stars in Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Jean Segura and a similar openness to defensive shifting as the Pirates – maybe the Brewers could be a surprise team in 2014. I still think their pitching is light, especially with Yovani Gallardo following off his track to acehood, but the Brewers did become more interesting in a division that hasn’t done much to improve itself in the short term.
2. Brendan posted this in the last thread, but here are some Pirates-related excerpts from Jason Parks’ chat last week:
1) vegetto712 (Florida): Name game time! Outside of the top 50 prospects, give me 2 pitchers and 2 hitters you think are going to be well within the top 50 by this time next year!
Jason Parks: David Dahl and Josh Bell with the stick; Alex Reyes and Braden Shipley with the arm
2) tr (Mattress factory by the Goldsteins): In a couple years, which 2013 draftee are teams gonna be sick they didn’t draft earlier?
Jason Parks: From the first round, McGuire, Shipley, Marco Gonzalez, and Hunter Harvey come to mind as guys that will be viewed as draft steals.
3) Mike (Utica, NY): Why do people still think Jameson Taillon is highly regarded, is it because he was the 2nd pick of a draft in between two perennial All Stars? Looking back do the Pirates have to be kicking themselves for not taking Machado at 2?
Jason Parks: The same people down on Taillon are most likely the same people that were down on Cole. They focus too much on the minor league numbers and lose the developmental context involved with the process. Taillon might not be the ace some thought when he was drafted, but I guarantee he makes some of doubters look short-sighted and foolish in the coming years. He’s still a top 20 prospect in baseball and the top prospect in the Pirates system. Don’t overthink things.
4) Matt Trueblood (F**k Minnesota): Taillon over Polanco surprises me. What’s your stance on GP these days?
Jason Parks: I like him. He’s a legit high-end prospect, but he isn’t without warts. I just like Taillon more. Higher ceiling for me.
5) Daddyboy (Mpls): Would you trade Profar for Cole, based on need?
Jason Parks: Gerrit Cole? Hell yes. No question or hesitation. Cole has the stuff to develop into a legit number one starter. Give me that all day long.
1. So in summary, when you look at these lists there’s plenty of reasons to think the NL Central is going to be a tough playground for the coming years despite the inactivity this offseason. Few if any divisions offer a similar collection of talent, particularly if you take into account young major league talents like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez etc.
HE SAID IT
Pirates president Frank Coonelly to ESPN Radio 970’s David Todd:
“Some of the TV numbers [for other teams’ TV deals] that I’ve seen reported publicly are way overstated,”
Coonelly also maintained the Pirates’ local cable deal was “grossly understated” and that teams will receive “significantly less” than the reported $25-27 million in national TV dollars in 2014. That level will be reached later in the contract, Coonelly said.
HE SAID IT II
To ESPN on A.J. Burnett. “We’d love to have A.J. back, but right now we’ve turned the page and we’re heading to Bradenton (Fla.) thinking he’s not going to be with us,” Coonelly said. “But if he surprises us and calls up tomorrow and says he wants to pitch again, we’d love to have him.”
Sounds like the door isn’t shut but it’s getting there …
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK
When possible, avoid polar vortexes