Keith Law: Pittsburgh Pirates

Midseason top five farm systems 

July, 22, 2014
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Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesTheo Epstein has stocked the Cubs' farm system with elite prospects such as Addison Russell.
Ranking all 30 organizations based on their minor league talent is a major undertaking each winter, which is why I always decline to do a re-ranking during the season. There's simply no way I could do it justice given the amount of work it requires.

We've had a couple of major news events that affected two of the teams near the top of last offseason's rankings, however, and a slew of questions from readers about which system is now at the top of the heap. So here's a revised look at the top five, considering only what's in the systems right now and excluding anyone on major league rosters.

1. Chicago Cubs

I know Cubs fans have heard this before, but just wait 'til next year, because this club is going to get good in a hurry, at least on the run-scoring side of the ledger.
SALISBURY, Md. -- Baltimore Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey threw for the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds on Monday night, and it was another outstanding effort from the 19-year-old who learned on Tuesday that he'll represent the Orioles in this year's MLB Futures Game. This was my second time seeing Harvey this year, and he had a better fastball Monday than he did when I saw him in April on a 46-degree day, and had better results, too.

Harvey started the game working from 93 and 96 mph with 70-grade life on his fastball, getting tremendous bore on the pitch; he broke at least three right-handed hitters' bats over the course of the outing. He located the fastball well to both corners and in the lower third of the zone, especially working inside to righties. By the fifth and sixth innings, he was down to 90-94, but he still had the same command and life to the pitch. His curveball, which was plus when I've seen him in the past, was just average Monday night, although he did punch out four hitters with it (with three others striking out on fastballs). The breaking ball was 77-80 mph with good rotation but less depth than before, and he left a few of 'em up over the course of the game, including one that led to a single, plating West Virginia's only run of the game. Harvey threw only one changeup, a good one at 84 mph. He'll have to use that pitch more often, though Sally League hitters aren't going to make him do that.

Harvey is ready to move up, at least to high-A but possibly all the way to Double-A, because he has the fastball velocity, life and command to eviscerate low-A hitters without needing to work on developing his changeup or tightening his curveball.

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Ike DavisJustin Berl/Icon SMIIke Davis' trade to the Pirates was completed on Sunday, with the Mets acquiring Blake Taylor.
On Sunday, the Mets and Pirates put a face on the “player-to-be-named” component of the trade from earlier this season that sent Ike Davis to Pittsburgh, with New York acquiring lefty Blake Taylor, the Pirates' second-round pick from last year's Rule 4 draft.

Taylor, who won't turn 19 until August, hasn't pitched this year because of a lat strain that kept him in extended spring training. When healthy, he has a fastball that's mostly 89-91 mph with some life, but he was clocked as high as 94-95 in high school. His main feature is a sharp-breaking curveball that should allow him to miss left- and right-handed bats as he fills out and adds a little velocity to the pitch.

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Thursday is Opening Day for the minor leagues, and final rosters have been appearing online over the last 24 hours. Christopher Crawford has compiled lists showing where the top 10 prospects in each organization have been assigned, and here I'll highlight six rosters in particular that are loaded with top prospects or other guys I'd gladly travel to go watch.

Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals, high Class A)

Top 100 prospects: SS Raul Mondesi Jr., RHP Miguel Almonte
Former top 100 guys: OF Bubba Starling
First-round picks: IF Hunter Dozier (2013), LHP Sean Manaea (2013), Starling (2011)
Other prospects of note: RHP Aroni Nina, C Zane Evans, C Cam Gallagher, RHP Christian Binford

I may be biased, but the team in my own backyard might just be the most loaded roster in all of minor league baseball.

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With the help of Christopher Crawford of MLB Draft Insider, we have compiled the minor league assignments for all prospects in Keith Law's organizational top 10 rankings.

Due to injuries and late assignments, some minor league rosters are not yet official. In those instances, we took our best guess as to where those prospects will be assigned to begin the year.

Note: Players with an asterisk have been traded since the top-10 lists came out, and they are listed with their assignment for their new club.


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Yu DarvishAP Photo/Darron CummingsThe AL leader in strikeout rate last year, Yu Darvish is an AL Cy Young frontrunner.
Keith Law offers up his win-loss predictions for all 30 teams and winners for the six major postseason awards. Furthermore, explanations for each team are included, along with notes on key players or possible impact call-ups. Award predictions follow the division picks.

AL East

It's hard to pick against a Boston Red Sox team that returns so many of the players who helped them win the World Series last year, losing Stephen Drew but replacing him with one of the majors' best rookies in Xander Bogaerts.

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 Rick PorcelloAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarRick Porcello is ready to thrive with a better infield defense behind him.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- I've started a brief run through some Florida spring training games, tied to seeing a couple of potential first-round picks from the high school ranks, before heading to Arizona next week for a longer scouting run. Here are my notes from Tuesday's game in Lakeland between the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates:

Rick Porcello's superficial numbers the past two years have given a lot of people the impression -- based on my Twitter replies Tuesday, at least -- that he's a disappointment, nothing more than a fifth starter. That's unfair to Porcello, a ground-ball pitcher who played in front of a pretty bad infield defense in 2012 and for most of 2013, at least until Jose Iglesias arrived to shore things up a little bit. He'll benefit even more this year from having Miguel Cabrera, who looked fully healthy again, at first rather than at third, plus a full year of Iglesias' wizardry behind him.

On Tuesday, Porcello's pure stuff was good -- a sinker at 89-93 mph, an average to slightly above-average curveball at 74-78 with tight rotation and an inconsistent changeup at 83-86 that ranged from below-average to pushing plus.

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A.J. BurnettJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesA.J. Burnett's transformation into a ground ball pitcher won't be as useful given the defense in Philly.
Without context, the signing of A.J. Burnett looks like a coup for the Phillies. They signed one of the top dozen starters in the National League from 2013 to a one-year deal that, at $16 million, doesn't overpay based on his recent standard of production. Burnett is 37 years old and has had injury problems earlier in his career as well as a reputation for an unwillingness to play through pain or discomfort that he has disproved in the past few seasons. He was worth 4 Wins Above Replacement in 2013 (using Fangraphs' version, which normalizes BABIP), 3 the year before, and even at that level would represent good value at $16 million.

Context is everything, of course, and the Phillies aren't the right team to hand a 37-year-old pitcher a one-year deal unless it is with the idea of flipping him for long-term assets at some point during the season.

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Now that the 2014 preseason top prospect package is complete, here are links to all of the rankings, videos, podcasts and chat wraps.

Top 100 prospects Insider
Index | Prospects No. 1-50 | Prospects 51-00
10 who just missed
Top 20 impact prospects for 2014

Top 10 prospects by team Insider
AL East | AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West
Astros No. 1 in farm system rankings

Videos Video
Why Buxton is the No. 1 prospect
AL breakout prospects | NL breakout prospects
Twins, Pirates just behind Astros in farm rankings

Podcast Listen
Discussing the top 100 rankings
Xander Bogaerts and Mets GM Sandy Alderson

Chat wraps
Keith Law
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow
Byron Buxton
Addison Russell

Quick thoughts on two Pittsburgh moves 

December, 13, 2013
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The Pittsburgh Pirates made a pair of smaller moves on Wednesday, one great, one ... a little less so.

Signing Charlie Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension that buys out two of his free agent years at a small discount to market makes a ton of sense for a team that ordinarily can't play in the deep end of the free agent pitching pool.

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Analyzing the Navarro and Stewart deals 

December, 2, 2013
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I liked Dioner Navarro as a potential value signing in free agency this winter, looking at the catcher for one year and about $2 million (which could easily stretch to $2.5 million to $3 million, with continued acceleration in free-agent salaries this winter) to see if his offensive spike in 2013 had any legs to it.

He does a few things well enough to merit giving him a major league deal and a starting job, including solid walk rates, average pop and above-average throwing, but just hadn't performed anything like this in five years, and the breakout came back in the National League.

The Toronto Blue Jays seem a lot more optimistic about Navarro than I was, giving him two years and $8 million guaranteed, which isn't every-day player money, but is more than just a backup's cost.

Toronto received nothing but grief from the catcher's spot in 2013, where J.P. Arencibia posted a .227 OBP in nearly 500 plate appearances -- the only player with at least 400 PAs to post an OBP under .240 in 2013.

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My MVP and Cy Young picks 

November, 14, 2013
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Mike TroutAP Photo/Jae C. HongYes, folks, Mike Trout should be on the verge of his second straight MVP.
On Monday, I revealed my rookie of the year ballots (I voted in the National League). Today I wanted to reveal what my ballots would look like for the other major player awards. Again, I only voted for NL ROY, so this is for the purpose of discussion.

National League Cy Young

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Adam Wainwright
3. Cliff Lee
4. Matt Harvey
5. Jose Fernandez

This one was a rout, and the first-place vote that Wainwright received is quite a bit surprising. Wainwright was a pretty clear No. 2 for me, with Lee third as he was below Wainwright in WAR (per FanGraphs) and pitched in 19 fewer innings.

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Royals punished by CBA; LDS picks 

October, 3, 2013
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RoyalsOtto Geule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Royals get punished by the new CBA for being good but not making the playoffs.

By the standards of their own recent history, the Royals had a very successful season. The team won 86 games, their best record since 1989, and they outscored their opponents on a season for the first time since 1991. Their two biggest offseason acquisitions, Ervin Santana (in a dump trade with the Angels) and James Shields (in the Wil Myers trade with Tampa Bay), both pitched very well for the big club, helping the Royals allow the fewest runs of any team in the American League, 23 fewer than the division-winning Tigers. Some young players took strides: Eric Hosmer hit .317/.365/.492 after the team fired hitting coach Jack Maloof; catcher Salvador Perez had his first full, healthy season in the majors and performed well.

There were plenty of positives for the Royals, but because the season went well, some of the structural reasons that helped the team get to this point will now work against the team.

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Analyzing the Marlon Byrd trade 

August, 27, 2013
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In sending prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later to the Mets for Marlon Byrd and John Buck, the Pirates made a truly all-in move, acquiring a rental player to fill their right-field hole while giving up a true prospect, for the first time in probably two decades. Meanwhile, the Mets shed some parts they didn't need for one prospect we know and another player who I'm told will be a decent prospect.

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Top MLB teams at each position 

August, 20, 2013
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Cardinals StartersLeon Halip/Getty ImagesFor starting pitching depth throughout an organization, it's tough to top St. Louis.
For this post I was asked to take a look at every position and pick which team has the most overall talent if you look at the organization as a whole. So if a team has a strong shortstop at the major league level but no depth within the organization, it could come in behind a team with a decent shortstop but a couple of really good prospects at the position. So think of this as the sum of current MLB talent plus what's in the pipeline.

It's worth a reminder that strong depth at one position is a good way to fill holes via trades. Anybody saying too much talent at one position doesn't matter because you can't play three shortstops is clueless from a business and personnel standpoint. As a note: outfield and pitching have been consolidated because of how we calculate value at those positions.

Catcher

The Yankees have more prospect depth at the catcher position than any other team, with Gary Sanchez a potential star if he can improve his receiving enough to remain at the position, while J.R. Murphy is emerging as at least a strong backup. Austin Romine should be getting regular playing time in the majors down the stretch, at least once the Yankees decide their playoff odds are too low to ... well, playing Chris Stewart isn't exactly pushing them toward the playoffs anyway, so why not just play Romine and see what you've got?

That said, the Pirates probably have more present value than the Yankees because of Russell Martin, with Tony Sanchez probably a solid major league backup and 18-year-old Reese McGuire among the game's top dozen or so catching prospects. There is so little catching in full-season minor leagues right now that you would be hard-pressed to identify 10 clear everyday starters without reaching down to short-season leagues.

First base

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