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Tracking Pirates’ Top 100 Prospects Under Neal Huntington

Prospecting is a mixed bag of success. McCutchen has been well worth it, but jury still out on Glasnow (bottom left) and Bell (bottom right). The verdict is rendered on Alvarez (bottom center).

The whole Jose Quintana trade discussions that started in December and seemed to die down last month caused a great deal of debate among Pirate fans.  Some were very cautious in giving up multiple Top 100-level prospects, while others were fine with it because the end product is Jose Quintana.  It’s basically a risk-reward balance of present versus future success.

We’ve studied how Top 100 prospects have historically performed quite a bit at TPOP.  The following chart is pulled out from our Surplus Value model article:

Tier Number of Players Avg. WAR Surplus Value % Less than 3 WAR % Zero WAR or less
Hitters #1-10 54 15.3 $73.5M 12.96% 7.41%
Hitters #11-25 42 13.0 $62.0M 26.19% 7.14%
Hitters #26-50 89 8.1 $38.2M 47.19% 29.21%
Hitters #51-75 102 4.9 $22.4M 56.86% 46.08%
Hitters #76-100 102 4.5 $20.6M 63.73% 39.22%
Pitchers #1-10 22 14.6 $69.9M 4.55% 0%
Pitchers #11-25 43 8.3 $39.0M 44.19% 27.91%
Pitchers #26-50 85 6.4 $29.8M 41.18% 23.53%
Pitchers #51-75 104 3.7 $16.5M 69.23% 44.23%
Pitchers #76-100 113 3.5 $15.6M 65.49% 43.36%

Yes, when a prospect is a success, especially the top-tier ones, it is a great financial boon to the team.  They’re getting contributor production for cost-controlled rates.  But look at the last two columns which could be also headed as “Not Living Up To Expectations” and “Outright Bust”.  Those percentages get pretty scary outside the Top 25 for hitters and Top 10 for pitchers.  I’ve espoused a less rigid approach to hoarding prospects, especially if they can be used to obtain a key player such as Jose Quintana.

But how has Neal Huntington done with judging his own Top 100 prospects during his tenure?  The following shows each player to appear on a Baseball America Top 100 since 2008, his first full season with the team.  We’re showing how much WAR (from Fangraphs) each player has accrued during their first six years of team control.  Once they would be eligible for free agency (like McCutchen), we stopped accumulating.

CURRENT MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYERS

ANDREW MCCUTCHEN

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2008 #14, 2009 #33)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 40.2
  • Average WAR For Tier — 8.1

We don’t really need to discuss too much here.  McCutchen has been the cornerstone of this franchise since his June 4, 2009 debut.  His contract has paid for itself 6-7 times over, in terms of surplus value generated.

Instead, let’s look at other outfielders that Baseball America chose to rank ahead of McCutchen in 2009 after he stumbled with his production at AAA in 2008 — Colby Rasmus (#3), Jason Heyward (#5), Travis Snider (#6), Cameron Maybin (#8), Dexter Fowler (#15), Giancarlo Stanton (#16), Fernando Martinez (#33).  Would you take any of them, including the injury-prone Stanton, ahead of McCutchen?

NEIL WALKER

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2008 #61)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 19.1
  • Average WAR For Tier — 4.9

Walker was a declining prospect, to the point that he was actually off the list entirely in 2009, so by my rule-of-thumb he should have been considered in a trade.  The Pirates were not really in a position in 2009 to give up on any sort of talent, so they stuck with Walker and he turned into a very acceptable, solid 2B.  Walker was what allowed everyone else around him to function — he was a key cog in the watch, not fancy, just above-average production.

There is no shame at all in Walker’s Pirate tenure.  If only his back issues did not flare up, he may still be here on an extended contract.

STEVE PEARCE

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2008 #89)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 5.7
  • Average WAR For Tier — 4.5

Pearce has carved out a respectable career, just not with the Pirates.  He was a ballyhooed prospect at 1B, but he has become an odd hybrid of 1B/2B/OF in recent years with the Orioles and Rays.  He recently signed a 2 year/$12.5M deal with the Blue Jays, so he’ll continue to pull a sizeable paycheck for the foreseeable future.  Some players just click later in their careers, which is what happened in 2014 for the then-31 year old Pearce in Baltimore, resulting in a 4.9 WAR season.

PEDRO ALVAREZ

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2009 #12, 2010 #8)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 7.2
  • Average WAR For Tier — 15.3

Alvarez was Neal Huntington’s first pick as the Pirates’ GM in the 2008 draft.  As the #2 overall pick (that should have gone #1 to the Rays, if they weren’t cheap and picked Tim Beckham), much was expected of the slugging 3B from Vanderbilt.  Those expectations were not met during his time here in Pittsburgh.  His body always foretold a potential move to 1B, but it was his mental hangups with throwing that forced it earlier than expected.  He was non-tendered prior to the 2016 season and spent last year in Baltimore.

His throwing strength is fantastic and when he was ‘on’, his throws were like laser beams to 1B.  But it got to the point that the Pirates should have handed out crash helmets to the patrons sitting behind first base.  He’s obviously not the quickest of foot, but it seems as if he could utilize his arm as a RF.  Alvarez is pretty much a DH now and as of this writing has yet to secure a contract of any kind for the 2017 season.

JOSE TABATA

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2009 #75)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 2.0, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 4.5

Tabata was touted as a ‘mini-Manny’ during his time as a Yankee farmhand, but he never really developed any ability to put backspin on a ball to drive balls with authority into the gaps or over the fence.  Huntington picked him up as a falling-star prospect in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte deal that brought back Tabata/Jeff Karstens/Daniel McCutchen/Ross Ohlendorf.

It was hoped that he would tap into his stocky frame and become a cornerstone RF for the Pirates.  The Pirates thought enough of him to gamble on his future by giving him an extremely team-friendly contract extension.  Even though that extension didn’t work out for the Pirates, the overall amount of money they were out was so minimal in the grand scheme of things.  Sure, they had to trade for Mike Morse to rid themselves of Tabata’s contract and bad attitude, but it wasn’t that much money.  It was more about the person, not the deal.

TONY SANCHEZ

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2010 #79, 2011 #46)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 0.1, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 8.1

When Tony Sanchez was drafted 4th overall in 2009, many screamed that the Pirates were being cheap by overdrafting Sanchez about 20 spots higher than he was expected to go.  At the time, I was hoping they would draft Zack Wheeler if they wanted a signable player, but his career has obviously been stalled by injuries, too.

Sanchez was said to have Gold Glove-caliber defense and a so-so bat at the time of his draft.  If the Pirates would have received a solid defensive catcher that was cost-controlled for six-plus seasons, I would have been fine with that.  To me, any offense from a catcher is a bonus.  But a funny thing happened — Sanchez turned into a catcher with a decent’ish bat that couldn’t play defense well enough to stick at the position.  His offense, while OK for a catcher, doesn’t play well enough at any position.  As a result, Sanchez is consigned to the minors and bouncing around different organizations at this point of his career.

JAMESON TAILLON

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2011 #11, 2012 #15, 2013 #19, 2014 #22, 2015 #29)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 1.7, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 6.4

Taillon became a fixture on the BA Top 100 lists since he was drafted #2 overall in 2010, but that’s what happens when you’re a 6′-5″ flamethrower from high school.  It was not until 2016 that he dropped off the list entirely, as a result of not pitching for two years due to Tommy John and hernia surgeries.

While it is obviously very early in his Major League tenure, it’s pretty clear that he’s here to stay and should occupy the #2/#3 starter role for years to come.  He appears to be able to justify his lofty rankings all those years.  With an added jumpstep in his development, he could achieve the elusive status of ‘ACE’ that he was labeled as during the 2010 Draft.

GERRIT COLE

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2012 #12, 2013 #7)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 12.7, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 14.6

We’re halfway through Cole’s expected tenure with the team and it’s still not crystal clear what type of pitcher he is.  I believe Cole is an ace, as evidenced by his outstanding 2015 season that saw him finish 4th in the NL Cy Young voting behind the unreal troika of Kershaw-Greinke-Arrieta.  But then you see his injury-plagued 2016 when he looked like he was a back-of-the-rotation pitcher when he was actually on the mound.

His ranking was lofty and it could be argued that he’s already delivered on it with his to-date performance.  Cole being a true #1, or approximating something close to it, will determine if the Pirates can get back to the playoffs in 2017 or not.  He’ll most likely be dealt after the 2018 season, so that the Pirates can recoup some value with his one remaining year of team control for the 2019 season.

JOSH BELL

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2012 #60, 2015 #64, 2016 #38, 2017 #35)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — (-0.4), still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 8.1

Much like Taillon, we’re at the nascent part of Bell’s career.  Bell does things well, like make contact and get on base, and does other things not so well, like play defense and not look awkward while throwing.  I think he’s a future DH, but unlike Alvarez he’ll provide enough offense and not give away outs via strikeouts to justify his place in the Majors.

I would have traded him as part of a Jose Quintana deal, as I’m not sold on him defensively and you have to give up assets to get assets in return, but it will be interesting to see his development progress this year as the main 1B.

STARLING MARTE

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2012 #73)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 17.7, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 4.9

Marte was off the radar for Baseball America due to his being an overaged Latin signing for a low bonus, so when he rapidly ascended through the Pirates’ minor leagues it only resulted in one solitary appearance on their rankings.  If he would have been eligible to appear on the Top 100 in 2013, it would have been in a much higher tier.  He was clearly a prospect trending up.

He’s obviously far out-produced what is typically expected for players in the #51-100 range and is a key building block for the Pirates.  His very friendly contract runs through 2021 and it appears as if he’ll be patrolling CF for the foreseeable future.

GREGORY POLANCO

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2013 #51, 2014 #10)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 5.1, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 15.3

Polanco has already established himself as a competent piece in the Majors.  However, he seems as if he’s on the precipice of a huge breakthrough this year.  His 6′-4″ frame has been augmented with more muscle this offseason.  With his position switch to the ‘2nd CF of PNC’, i.e. LF, Polanco should put his power-speed profile to full use in 2017.

His equally team-friendly contract is the longest running contract on the Pirates, as it goes to 2023, indicating the Pirates hope to keep him as a cornerstone for a long time.

TYLER GLASNOW

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2014 #46, 2015 #16, 2016 #14, 2017 #23)
  • WAR During 0-6 Years Of Team Control — 0.1, still accruing
  • Average WAR For Tier — 8.3

I was a huge Glasnow supporter leading into the 2016 season.  However, after seeing his debut in the Majors, a whole host of yellowish-reddish flags started to show up for me.  His lack of a third pitch is a problem.  Supposedly, he’s now comfortable with the changeup, but we’ll see.  He is interminably slow to the plate, which allows runners to run roughshod all over him.  And, of course, his high walk rate.

He’s been in the elevated pitching tiers for a while now.  Even with his sketchy debut, it didn’t affect his ranking all that much heading into 2017 — he’s still in that #11-25 tier.  He shouldn’t have a problem hitting the average WAR for the tier, but it’s now a legit question as to whether his long-term role is as a starter or setup/closer.

CURRENT MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS

So how can we take the lessons from above and apply them to the players who are still in the minors?  When, and who, should Huntington make a deal to include minor league talent into a trade?

STETSON ALLIE

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2011 #79)
  • Average WAR For Tier — 3.5

Allie was drafted on the velocity of his fastball and the chance for his slider to be devastating.  Then he developed a case of SteveBlass-itis and couldn’t find the plate.  After a conversion to 1B/OF, it was only a matter of time before the Pirates cut bait on that experiment and flushed his $2M signing bonus down the drain.

Allie may make the Majors one day, but it won’t be with the Pirates.  He’s currently in the Dodgers’ organization and is slated for AAA if he makes it out of Spring Training.

Allie never gave Huntington a chance to even include him in a deal.  Once his pitching woes forced him to man 1B, all his trade value was lost.

LUIS HEREDIA

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2013 #78)
  • Average WAR For Tier — 3.5

Ah yes, the fourth ace that was predetermined for the Pirates’ future pitching staff, along with Cole, Taillon, and Allie.  The Pirates splurged big-time on the 16-year old Mexican, giving him a $2.6M signing bonus (75% went to his Mexican team).

After the 2013 offseason, the Pirates told Heredia to rest his arm.  He apparently took that to mean ‘don’t work out and eat a ton of burritos’, as he came to camp overweight and his stuff regressed terribly.  He’s continued to battle his conditioning. He’s now primarily a reliever and doesn’t have a lot of great long-term prospects to even make the Majors, let alone contribute enough to justify his one-time ranking.

ALEN HANSON

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2013 #61, 2014 #76)
  • Average WAR For Tier — 4.5

Hanson got a couple of cups of coffee in the Majors last year.  He’s out of options this spring, which means he either makes the Pirates on Opening Day or they risk losing him on waivers, if they try and send him to AAA.

Hanson showed an interesting speed/power combo for a 2B at one time, but the upper minors have not been kind to him.  He’s really nothing special at this point and is good indicator of how players in the #51-100 range are eminently tradeable, especially once they start to trend downward as Hanson did.

REESE MCGUIRE/HAROLD RAMIREZ

  • Top 100 Rankings — McGuire (2014 #81, 2015 #97)/Ramirez (2016 #95)
  • Average WAR For Tier — 4.5 for both

I’m going to group these two together for semi-obvious reasons.  During last year’s trade deadline deal that sent Francisco Liriano to the Blue Jays for Drew Hutchison, the Pirates included these two into the deal.  People went nuts and screamed salary dump, thinking that the Pirates including two pieces of gold so the Blue Jays would take Liriano and his $13.7M salary off their hands.  In actuality, the Pirates gave the Jays two pieces of pyrite, as both McGuire and Ramirez were trending downward.

Yes, Ramirez was on the Top 100 in spring 2016 (barely at #95), but by the time the June midseason rankings came out, he was off, so technically Huntington still hasn’t traded a Top 100 prospect.  Either way, Ramirez reminds me a lot of Tabata — he’s been hurt a lot and doesn’t seem to have enough speed or power to warrant a starting spot.  If he makes it, it will be as a 4th OF.

McGuire can’t hit.  There.  That’s it.  He may be gifted defensively, but he can’t get his OPS into the 700’s in AA.  He may be like Austin Hedges of the Padres, who finally had a monster year at the plate last year (albeit in hitter-friendly PCL), but Hedges still has to prove it himself in the Majors.

It’s telling that neither McGuire nor Ramirez could make it into a very pedestrian Blue Jays Top 10 this past fall, as ranked by Baseball America.  Don’t cry for them, Argentina.  They won’t be missed.  This was the right use of prospects.

AUSTIN MEADOWS

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2014 #49, 2015 #41, 2016 #22, 2017 #6)
  • Average WAR For Tier — 15.3

Meadows is the presumed heir apparent to McCutchen in RF after McCutchen is traded, either in July if the Pirates are out of the playoff chase or this winter heading into the 2018 season.  Meadows has an exemplary pedigree, as evidenced by his 1st round draft pick status and his ever-improving rankings.  The tier that he’s in says he should at least be an above-average contributor.

I still would have been fine with including him in a potential deal for Quintana, because as I previously said you need to give up assets to get assets back.  On the White Sox, he would be a young star in the outfield.  On the Pirates, he may be the 3rd best outfielder at times.

NICK KINGHAM

  • Top 100 Rankings — (2014 #64)
  • Average WAR For Tier — 3.7

I’ve long been a Nick Kingham supporter.  Prior to his injury, he seemed to be a #3-level pitcher-in-waiting.  However, he has had Tommy John and has been slowly working his way back.  At this point, he’s probably a #3/4 type.  He got injured shortly after his ranking, so Huntington never really had a chance to include him in a substantial deal without having to greatly depreciate his value due to the injury.

MITCH KELLER/KEVIN NEWMAN

  • Top 100 Rankings — Keller (2017 #22)/Newman (2017 #55)
  • Average WAR For Tier — Keller 8.3, Newman 4.9

Both of these guys have appeared on the Top 100 list for the first time this year.  As a result, they’re just one data point that is tough to say whether they’re ascending or descending.  Keller’s stock is certainly ascending, as some outlets have him ranked over Glasnow and are calling him a #2-level pitcher.  Newman is rising, too, just not at the same meteoric rate.  I’m less sanguine on Newman’s long-term future than with Keller, as I’m not a fan of Newman’s high-contact/no power approach for long-term success.

I would include both of these guys in a deal for the right player, without hesitation, and I’m sure Huntington was asked quite a bit about both of them.

***

A small-revenue team like the Pirates has to cultivate their own stars from the minors.  I understand that concept quite well.  But while Huntington has done a good job keeping the prime cuts of beef from the farm, he could do a little bit better to move the lesser stew cuts before their market expires.

About Kevin Creagh (259 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

3 Comments on Tracking Pirates’ Top 100 Prospects Under Neal Huntington

  1. I will not belabor the point on whether Huntington or Littlefield gets credit for players like McCutchen and Walker. I would say however, if you are going to be citing when they were named to a top prospect list, it should be when Huntington was the GM. Walker 9 and McCutchen) were both named top prospects in 2008 while Littlefield was GM. While Huntington was GM for 7 games in late Sept, and early October, they were named top prospects that year while he was not GM.

    It would be akin to Huntington getting fired this Sept, and getting credit for Glasnow and Meadows.

    • Kevin Creagh // March 13, 2017 at 7:53 AM // Reply

      Huntington was named GM in September 2007. The list starts with T100 prospects in 2008, his first full season as GM. You’re off by a year.

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