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Put Yer Eye Patch On: Pirates Farm System Making Major Strides

Despite the Buccos' streak of 17 straight losing seasons, there may be hope in the city of Pittsburgh. Following a very successful 2010 draft, Neal Huntington and co. look to do the same in '11, but at the same time, see the farm system greatly improve yet again. The potential progression of prospects such as Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, Tony Sanchez, Rudy Owens, Quincy Latimore, Justin Wilson, and others could impact the system yet again, and of course, the future of the Bucs.

Not only that, but the young talent enriched on the Pirates major league lineup looks to do the same. No one really does or should expect the Pirates win 90-100 games this year, but improvement and progression yet again is the equivalent. Another strong draft in '11 could bring winning baseball to Pittsburgh even sooner.

Way back in 2008, the old, slow, non-exciting, and losing team did nothing but disappoint. Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, and many more had to be traded. In order for the team to be competitive as soon as possible, Neal Huntington knew that he had to one by one, dismantile the team. So he did. He traded Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Jose Tabata, Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and Ross Ohlendorf. He traded Jason Bay to the Red Sox(and the Sox traded Manny to the Dodgers) in exchange for Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, and Bryan Morris.

The following year Huntington then traded Nate McLouth to the Braves for Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton. Freddy Sanchez was also shipped to the Giants for Tim Alderson. Obviously, the demolition of the 2008/2009 Pirates consisted of many more trades, but the important thing is the precedent they set for acquiring young players - a good organization needs to do what's best for the future state of their franchise.

Huntington, a graduate of Amherst College, is the perfect businessman for an organization such as the Pirates. Entering his tenure as the general manager, he knew the road wouldn't be all easy. However, in 2010, he showed his true colors. He showed the players, fans, and management in Pittsburgh that he's not only confident, but that he knows exactly what he's doing.

Entering draft day, the decision between Manny Machado and Jameson Tailloncouldn't be more difficult in the eyes of many. A 5-tool shortstop against an 18 year old pitcher who has better raw stuff than almost any pitcher in the majors. The decision was also tough due to the fact that the last three pitchers taken with the Pirates first overall pick, were complete busts. In 2002, Brian Bullington was made the first overall pick of the draft, in 2006, Brad Lincoln was taken 4th overall, and in 2007, Daniel Moskoswas taken 4thoverall as well.

Obviously, we can look at all of the players to whom the Pirates passed on and what they did not get, but their recent drafts (including 2010) and the semi-successful trades helped make up for it. Withthe Pirates second pick, he took a pitcher who not only was arguably one of the top three high school pitchers in the draft, but might even have some of the best raw power (with his bat) among prep kids, Stetson Allie. He then selected Mel Rojas Jr., Nicholas Kingham, and many other interesting young players. It shows a lot of guts when your first two selections are mega-over slot guys, but surely, Neal Huntington signed both and got the job done.

2010 wasn't just a year of good drafting for the Pirates. It was a year of legitimate minor league progression. The Altoona Curve (Double-A Pirates affiliate) were an exciting team to say the least. By mid-season, a rotation that consisted of Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke would eventually lead the team to an Eastern League title. The Curve also had some hitters. One of them would be Chase D'Arnaud, the exciting older brother of Blue Jays prospect, Travis. Chase showed his true colors when he went deep in the final game of the Eastern League Championship game off of some guy named Andy Petitte. That home run eventually led to a title.

Even in the lower levels of the Pirates system there are players to be excited for in '11. Quincy Latimore, regarded as the system's best power hitter, looks to improve on a strong season this year. Last year, he was one of several minor leaguers to reach the 100 RBI mark. Another guy, is Starling Marte, the speedy outfielder. Marte will most likely be in Altoona this year, hoping to continue upon what he did in Bradenton. This quote is from Dejan Kovacevic, repeating what I stated previously:

The Pirates' management team is aiming for a "flood" of talent in the system, to borrow general manager Neal Huntington's oft-used term. The organization currently has a wave of hitting that has just crested over the top, a wave of pitching coming from the bottom and a whole lot of question marks in between.

With all of that said, the system is greatly improved. Ever since '07, the Pirates as an organization have done their best to revive a broken farm system and get back on the winning path. The charts below are Baseball America's Top 10. This is displaying how poor their farm system was in 2007 and 2008, and the difference since then.

                             Pirates1_medium Pirates2_medium Pirates3_medium

As you can see, the team has made some major leaps. Even with a several of the 2010 top 10 guys being extremely raw and light years away, they are much easier and more fun to project than someone like Brian Bixler, who probably causes many to pull their hair out. (EDIT: That box should say 2010, not 2011. Sorry)

But all in all, the system has come a long way. The system does consist of a small amount of impact position players in the farm system, but only because most of those guys have graduated. Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Tony Sanchez, and potentially, Anthony Rendon are among those who are expected to be the center of a competitive franchise within the next couple of years. As ZiPS projects, Andrew McCutchenwill put up a 118 OPS+ this year, while Pedro Alvarez (despite gaining 15 pounds) is expected to reach a 116 OPS+, along with Neil Walker sitting at 105. To accompany the trio, Jose Tabata is expected to have a huge season as well. Bill James projects Tabata at 612 PA'swhile hitting .287/.339 with 37 stolen bases. ZiPS has Tabata at a 99 OPS+ and a .289/.343 line with 33 stolen bases - similar projections.

Again, the system has taken some major leaps rather than setbacks. It takes very talented personnel and management to do what Neal Huntington and co. have done over the past few seasons. Good drafting, spending internationally, and hiring better player development personnel. The organization is simply making every necessary move, to their knowledge, that must be made in order to bring winning baseball back to Pittsburgh. You may get your wish soon Pirates fans. Definitely sooner rather than later.