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What Does Pirates’ Farm System Receiving Little Outside Love Mean?

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More than three years into general manager Ben Cherington’s commitment to rebuilding the Pirates’ organization from the minor leagues up, executives around the league still don’t see much reason to give Pittsburgh any credit, even with one of the better farm systems in the big leagues.

With Henry Davis (No. 20), Termarr Johnson (No. 30), Quinn Priester (No. 47), Liover Peguero (No. 65) and Nick Gonzales (No. 99) all ranked among MLB’s Top 100 prospects, the Pirates had the No. 7 farm system as of August 2022.

Cause for Concern…

Front office executives seem to see it differently. A poll run by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com quizzed MLB higher ups on what team they thought managed their farm system best in eight different categories, including drafting, the international market (the Pirates were a notable exception in this category, despite their commitment to building their facility in the Dominican Republic), and developing hitters and pitchers.

Perennial heavyweights like the Dodgers, Yankees and Cardinals saw their names mentioned repeatedly throughout the poll, as did teams like the Orioles (who are perhaps the gold standard for a tanking rebuild as their process nears completion), Guardians and Rays (who succeed in drafting and developing on a budget through scouting and savvy).

29 of 30 MLB teams received votes in this poll, with the Toronto Blue Jays the lone team frozen out of the process. Pittsburgh was right on their heels, however, receiving votes in just one category: most likely to horde prospects. 

While there is virtue in knowing the value of one’s players and having the conviction and patience to hang on to them throughout the brutal process of a rebuild, these polls underscore a difficult truth: in a “what have you done for me?” league, it doesn’t matter how many high-end draft picks the Pirates continue to amass if they don’t turn into results on the field. 

The draft isn’t the end-all, be-all of building a competitive roster…but if the Pirates don’t want to spend much money to win games, it plays a massive role.

…And Cause for Hope

Mayo also polled executives regarding the best prospects and player tools in the minor leagues, where Johnson received six percent of the vote for best hitting tool; Davis and Endy Rodriguez received at least one vote each as having the best baseball IQ and being the most underrated prospect, respectively. 

Although Pittsburgh’s prospects received a marginal amount of recognition around the league, until the Pirates show that they can develop the talent they’ve drafted and translate it into success at all levels of the organization, other teams won’t take them seriously: it’ll be ‘same old Pirates’ until they definitively shake the monkey off their back. 

That isn’t an indictment of Cherington, per se, as rebuilds can take the better part of a decade—especially in an organization as rotten from top to bottom as the 2019 Pirates.

It’s up to the Pirates to stay the course with Cherington and not give in to outside pressure: not giving a general manager time to see the process through leads them on the fast track to franchise purgatory with one aborted rebuild after another. 

With the top pick in the 2023 draft, the Pirates could have a much larger share of the votes in a year’s time. 

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