Pirate organization ranks fifth overall in MiLB 2021

Okay, big league pirates were like this in 2021:

The Bucs minor league affiliates, however, are doing quite well. In fact, they own MiLB’s fifth-best collective record this season.

Look at the company they keep, by Baseball America:

The High-A subsidiary of Bucs, the Grasshoppers of Greensboro (NC), is his most successful team in 2021, with a record of 74-46. It’s worth considering that the Bucs’ last three draft picks are currently playing there (RHP Quinn Priester, infielder Nick Gonzales and this year’s number one pick receiver Henry Davis). The High-A Championship Series begins tonight, with the Hoppers versus the Hot Rods of Bowling Green (KY), the Rays branch. It’s also worth noting that the Hoppers had the league’s two best hitters in Matt Fraizer, now with Double-A Altoona, and Gonzales.

the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates’ Low-A team, had a 71-48 season in 2021, with RHP Eddy Yean going 5-2 in 66.2 innings pitched. Along with Wil Crowe, he was part of the package when the Bucs traded Josh Bell to the Nationals. Wide receiver Endy Rodriguez came to Bradenton through Joe Musgrove’s trade with the Padres and posted a line of .294 / .380 / .892. They’re also starting their championship series against the Tampa Tarpons, a subsidiary of… yeah, we’re feeling a trend here.

You have to scroll down a bit to find the Altoona curve, who only managed a 58-59 record this year but has plenty of players who could very well see PNC Park as a pirate next year. The Triple-A Indianapolis Indians bring up the rear, even if their season is not yet over, and it is not by much. Again, a lot of familiar faces here. As for the Florida Complex League, aka the Artist Formerly known as the Gulf Coast League, the Pirates Gold team ranked third out of sixteen teams, with Pirates Black ranked eleventh (note that not all teams have two FCL affiliates)

If you’ve been following Robert Kelley’s excellent articles on Minors Matters, you know there is something to be excited about about future Bucs. Of course, we will always have the naysayers:

(virtually slaps them both)

Even the wealthiest teams know their farming systems can’t be neglected for long, as the Yankees and Red Sox rankings show, the latter still bearing Ben Cherington’s fingerprints. I’m going to talk about a team that I know well, the Yankees. In the eighties and nineties, George Steinbrenner was throwing money at every free agent that came into the market, luring their old teams in by offering them tons of leads. As a result, the Yankees’ farming system was all but wiped out and the major league team didn’t sniff the playoffs as much as you might think with all that money that was thrown away. Enter Gene Michael as CEO in 1990, who said to George, “man, listen. We need to cool off the high income players and start developing from the inside out. Steinbrenner actually listened (consider it a miracle) and Stick put together some outstanding drafts. You might know some of the guys he’s had.

Derek Jeter.

Andy Pettite.

Jorge Posada.

Mariano Rivera.

Five years later the Yankees started winning the World Series with these guys. Consecutively.

I have to take this point home – if Travis Williams (via Bob Nutting) hadn’t indicated to Cherington that if he was working the same magic with the Pirates as he did with the Red Sox and, to a lesser extent, the Blue Jays, the money to retain top performing players would be there, Cherington would not have accepted the post. Unlike Derek Shelton, who has never made it at the major league level before, this is not Cherington’s first MLB GM rodeo. He’s a proven track record, and while I think he sees being the CEO of Pirates as a challenge, it’s not stupid to take a job where his hands are tied from the start.

In this MUST WIN NOW world we live in, I know it’s hard to have patience. But as someone who paid attention when Cherington was running the Red Sox show, I was elated when he came to Pittsburgh. Of course, some would argue that minor league performance is no indication of how a player will perform in the bigs, and there is some truth to this.

Ben knows what he’s doing, however, and these rankings are proof the Pirates are going somewhere.

Aubrey L. Morgan