On prospect rankings and trade strategies

Since the trade deadline, I’ve had a bunch of thoughts bouncing around in my head about the Pirates. They kind of vaguely relate to each other, and so I’m going to use this one post to round all of them up.

There’s been a lot of talk today about Jim Callis’ post-deadline re-ranking of the Pirates’ top ten prospects. Callis was pretty blunt in his assessment of the system and I think some people took that as a condemnation of Huntington’s work:

There are no obvious cornerstones to build around other than Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, and amassing depth in complementary players isn’t going to lead the Pirates to their first winning season since 1992.

We ranked Pittsburgh 18th among the 30 farm systems coming into 2009, and that evaluation doesn’t figure to change dramatically when we evaluate organization talent again this offseason.

Stemming from this (and from several other places) is a general consensus that the Pirates got a lot more quantity than quality at this year’s trade deadline. They certainly did, but I wish people wouldn’t say that with such disdain. Most of the quantity the Pirates acquired this year was of the pitching variety. Most of the guys probably won’t amount to much, but it seemed to me that Huntington focused pretty strongly on power arms (Ascanio, Hart, Lorin, Adcock, Morton, and Locke) that could break out or sinkerballers (Pribanic and Strickland) who could be underrated because of low strikeout rates that mean less to their style of pitcher.

Those guys are all guys that could end up as relievers or worse, organizational depth, but there seems to be a pretty clear method in acquiring the “quantity.” Not one of those players were acquired to boost the Pirates’ Baseball America ranking, they were all acquired because for one reason or another, Huntington thinks they have a chance to break out. If just one or two of these guys do, the trades become a success. With the most MLB teams operate, it’s incredibly difficult to pry away a top prospect. The three best prospects the Pirates received in the trades they made this year are Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, and Tim Alderson. It shouldn’t be any surpise that those players were acquired in the trades for Nate McLouth and Freddy Sanchez; the two best players the Pirates traded, and two players the acquiring teams will have for more than one year.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that some of the more interesting pieces Huntington picked up are no longer prospects. Neither Lastings Milledge nor Jeff Clement qualifies any longer, but they’re both very talented players Huntington was able to snag in buy-low situations. And it’s also worth noting that when Callis ranked the Pirates’ system 18th last year, that was done with Andrew McCutchen still considered a “prospect.” They lose him from the minor league system when next year’s rankings come out, so if they rank similarly to last year it’s a sign that they’re bringing talent into the system.

Both the “quantity over quality” increase in organization depth and the acquisition of buy-low guys like Milledge and Clement were done to supplement the upper levels of the system while Huntington tries to establish the lower levels through the draft and international signings. It may be true that only two guys on Callis’s list were acquired by Huntington through trades in 2009, but of the ten guys listed, only Brad Lincoln is more strongly associated with the Dave Littlefield era. Huntington traded for Tabata, drafted Alvarez, Sanchez, Grossman (who I think Callis sells way short), and von Rosenberg (if he signs). Of the two guys left, Rene Gayo (who’s quite obviously still a huge part of the club’s international operation) signed Starling Marte during the Littlefield era and while DL drafted Rudy Owens, it’s the current developmental staff that’s worked with him the past two seasons.

Maybe the team’s Baseball America ranking hasn’t improved, but that doesn’t mean Huntington did a bad job at the deadline.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.