I don’t like the Liriano trade. It was bad. But let us not let that affect the way we view the Pirates farm system as a whole. WTM makes the comment that the Pirates lower part of the farm system is as bad as it was in the dark ages of the 90s, which means we ought to expect an end to our era of competitiveness soon.
While it is easy to see a real disparity between the upper levels that are loaded, and the lower levels, which have been drafting later, it is not talent poor. Nor is it as bad as the Littlefield days.
Let us remember first and foremost as we look at the West Virginia Power that this is the part of the year you want this team to be a little talent low. You almost never pull freshly drafted college kids up to A ball, but you do often send A ball kids up to High A. So as we look at the current roster of West Virginia remember that they have already sent up Tito Polo and the vastly underrated Taylor Scioneaux (batters hit under .100 at West Virginia against him and are currently hitting under .200 in High A). Ke’Bryan Hayes also is on the DL, and by all accounts he is still a top prospect with a little more to learn about adjusting to pitchers who adjust to him. Michael Tolman does not look awful at 2B and I have never understood why Daniel Arribas does not get more of a look. Not great talent hitting, I grant you, but pitching they have plenty. Recent addition Taylor Hearn will arrive soon. In addition to the aforementioned Scioneaux they have Mitch Keller. Keller has struck out over 100 people this year and walked less than 15. Yes, he needs work on the change like everyone at this level. And yes hitters have discovered lately to not swing at his curve because it is probably not a strike. But no one is saying he is major league ready. What we are saying is he looks like a real prospect. Hinsz also shows similar ability with a 41:11 K:BB. Let us not forget that both are pitching their first full season so a little drop off at the end should not worry anyone too much. This is especially true for Keller who was in A all year.
Morgantown is a similar story. These guys are also all playing longer than they ever have before. Will Craig started off awful, but has come back strong. His average is now up to .248, which if you remember his start, is impressive. He also showed he can take a walk, which is a good sign. His defense is a disaster, but he can move to 1B if he has to do so. And Sandy Santos has been more than up to the challenge making himself look like a prospect. And while Hunter Owen was a late round pick, he has played great including some signs of power. Don’t be too quick to overlook Kevin Krause, who missed a year for an injury. A bit early to write him off as a repeat offender of this league. And while pitching is not Morgantown’s strong suit, late round pick Danny Beddes looks very good, and closer Brandon Bingel has been good too. Usually you don’t too excited about closers, but he is pitching more than an inning an outing. Even 15th round pick last year Scooter Hightower is showing good control with a 21:6 K:BB with no homers allowed. He is improving and that is important at this age and level.
Now I am not quite sure I see the point in having two rookie league teams. It does dilute the talent level. But taken together there is some talent at the Rookie Level. Victor Fernandez and Jhoan Herrera are both on pace to be 22 in Short A ball next year. Both are hitting well. Fernandez has even shown improvement in his plate discipline striking out less and walking more against better competition. It is too early to write off Nelson Jorge who is hitting over .300 and has shown major improvement over the winter. Perhaps he can be something. There has nothing to be upset in over most of this year’s draft picks pitching performances (except Blake Cenderline). Travis MacGregor looks fine. Maybe you want a few more strikeouts, but really not a bad start. Matt Eckleman’s dominate performance at Bristol is probably a bit because he is too old for the league, but it is good enough to make one consider a jump to West Virginia next year rather than Morgantown. Adam Oller is only 21 and a bullpen guy, but he too has been very good for Bristol. He will be 22 at Morgantown next year and ought to see if he can be a steady bullpen hand.
The DSL has a horrible record, but that does not mean that some of these guys might not make it. I don’t know enough about these guys to see what will translate to American and what won’t but Christopher Perez leads the team in average and plays SS and 2B. Leandro Pina is 18 and has an ERA and a WHIP under 1 with a 27:4 K:BB ratio. Surely there is something there that could be developed into something. Roger Santana is 18 and has a 43:8 ratio. Does anyone remember what the Latin America program looked like under Littlefield? Let us not get too upset about the record. I think there are people here who have a shot at being good prospects.
Now are these guys top 25 prospects? Other than Keller, Hinsz, and Craig, Probably not. Are there guys here primed for a breakout season and could work their way into the top 25. Yes. Could we easily be talking about Sandy Santos and Hunter Owen next year as break out stars? I think so. Could Nelson Jorge or Travis MacGregor still work their way to the majors? Absolutely. The lower minors look bad by comparison to our upper levels, but they are not without talent.