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Baseball America praises depth of Pirates farm system

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 10:09 p.m.

Strong recent drafts coupled with value-focused efforts in Latin America helped lift the Pirates to their first No. 1 farm-system ranking in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, which has been published since 2000 and will be available in February.

“It's good to have depth, but what you want to have is that depth of future regulars. Guys who are going to get 500 at-bats or make 30 starts on championship-caliber teams,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “Our information is the industry is bullish on the Pirates' depth of those caliber of players.”

Despite the graduation of Gerrit Cole from top prospect to major league contributor, the Pirates jumped from No. 7 last year to first in 2014 in part because of their 2013 draft, which Baseball America ranked as the best in the game. The Pirates had the benefit of two first-round picks, which they used to select high-upside prep talents in outfielder Austin Meadows and catcher Reese McGuire, both of whom had excellent debuts.

“The industry believes in Reese McGuire's glove, and that's pretty rare for a high school catcher to have the kind of praise for his defense,” Manuel said. “It's a risky demographic (high school catchers). But the ones who have hit recently, (Joe) Mauer and (Brian) McCann and (Yadier) Molina, the best catchers, with the exception of (Buster) Posey, have been high school draft picks.”

The Pirates also enjoyed the breakout of 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow, whose overpowering fastball helped him record remarkable numbers at Low-A West Virginia in 2013, striking out 164 batters and allowing just 54 hits in 111 innings.

Glasnow was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft and was signed for more dollars than baseball's recommended bonus amount for his draft position, a over-slot strategy, which a staple one in the 2008-12 Pirates' drafts. The Pirates spent an MLB record $51 million on draft bonuses over a five-year period from 2008-12.

“People in the office are very bullish on Glasnow,” Manuel said. “There's not a lot of 6-foot-7 starters in the major leagues. He's the most likely to be a reliever in the (Pirates') top 10 because of his size and command issues.”

Manuel also praised the depth of the system, noting Brandon Cumpton had a small sample of major league success but was unable to crack the top 10.

When Neal Huntington took over as Pirates general manger in late 2007 he inherited the game's 26th-ranked farm system.

“Baseball America is very well respected,” Huntington said. “We believe in the quality of our scouting department.”

The No. 1 ranking is not the product of a number of early first-round picks. Only two players drafted in the top 10 are in Baseball America's list of the top 10 Pirate prospects: pitcher Jameson Taillon (2nd overall, 2010) and Meadows (9th overall, 2013). Huntington is particularly proud of value finds, like top-rated prospect Gregory Polanco, who was signed for a relatively modest $150,000 out of Latin America by Rene Gayo and his staff.

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

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