Pirates building impressive farm system

Travis Sawchik
| Friday, June 21, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

When the next top 100 baseball prospect lists are released, the Pirates could make organizational history.

Baseball America released its updated top 10 organizational prospect list for the Pirates earlier this week and ranked ninth was 18-year-old right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, who was assigned to Low-A West Virginia this week.

Why is that significant? Heredia ranked 78th in Baseball America's preseason top 100 rankings this spring, and his upside remains that of a top-of-the-rotation starter. The Royals had nine prospects ranked in the Baseball America top 100 in 2011, the most in the history of the publication's rankings, which began in 1990.

While Baseball America editor John Manuel thinks it's unlikely the Pirates will challenge the Royals' mark, he thinks the Pirates have a chance to match their organizational record of seven top 100 prospects set in 1997 with right-handed pitcher Kris Benson (8th), shortstop Chad Hermansen (24th), outfielder Jose Guillen (26th), third baseman Aramis Ramirez, first baseman Ron Wright (48th), shortstop Abraham Nunez (69th) and left-handed pitcher Jimmy Anderson (88th).

“You are looking at one of the deeper systems in the game right now,” Manuel said. “They've had a good year, and they made two picks in the first 15, both of whom we think pretty highly of.

“They didn't get Mark Appel, but they got two high-upside high school hitters ... a couple of interesting guys, and most the rest of their guys are progressing nicely.”

The depth and talent of the Pirates' top-10 list has been strengthened by the additions of the Pirates' two first-round picks — Austin Meadows, assuming he signs, and Reese McGuire — and breakout performances by right-handed pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham, who was recently promoted to Double-A. They are all new top-10 additions.

“Kingham is doing pretty much everything you want him to do,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “He's moving his fastball around the zone. He's throwing his breaking ball for strikes. He has a good changeup. There's really no flaw in his game.”

The Pirates are starting to see results. Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez have graduated to the big leagues. Gregory Polanco has been promoted to Double-A. Jameson Taillon is pitching effectively, and Josh Bell has returned to health.

“I think you are looking at an organization that has a chance to have between five and seven top 100 guys,” Manuel said.

Heredia's stock could have been higher.

Manuel said Heredia's standing suffered somewhat because of his delay in starting the 2013 season. Alen Hanson also struggled earlier this year, and there is doubt in the scouting community about whether he can stick at shortstop. Manuel said McGuire, as of now, is barely a top 100 prospect.

“It's not a good sign when (Heredia) didn't show up in spring training in good enough shape to make a full season team's roster,” Manuel said. “That's our information. His stock has fallen somewhat.”

Every Major League club strives to have a deep and talented farm system, but the Royals' prospects ranked in the 2011 class and the Pirates' 1997 prospect class also serve as reminders to curb enthusiasm regarding prospects. A number of players from those classes either failed to reach the Majors, or failed to reach expectations like Hermansen. The Royals have seen a number of prospects go backward. And the Pirates' 1997 class never helped produce a winning season.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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