Notes: Farm system jumps to 4th; Davis hurt

August 25th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- In fewer than two seasons, the Pirates have made tremendous leaps in their farm system, and those gains were reflected in MLB Pipeline’s 2021 midseason farm system rankings released on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh landed at No. 4 out of 30 MLB clubs, trailing only the Orioles, the Mariners and the Marlins. The Bucs jumped 11 spots forward from No. 15 in the 2020 preseason rankings; they are one of only six clubs to make a leap of 10 spots or more in that span.

What has keyed such a huge shift in the national recognition of the Pirates’ system? One boon was a Draft that included No. 1 overall pick -- who is ranked the No. 23 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline -- among a group of five members of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Draft prospects.

At the head of that was general manager Ben Cherington, who has brought in 19 of the Pirates’ Top 30 prospects in his first two seasons with the organization. Most of them have been netted in trades that sent Major Leaguers like Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell and more to other teams for hauls.

But there’s also been internal growth this season under director of coaching and player development John Baker, who joined the Pirates in November 2020. It was a challenge to get a handle on a new Minor League system after coming over from the Cubs’ Major League team, but after a couple of months with games, he and his team began to make strong plans to attack player weaknesses and fuel growth.

“We felt like, when we had 200 at-bats and like half a season of play,” Baker said, “that we were in a good spot to pull some insight out now and say, ‘OK, this is what we realize Mason Martin really needs to work on, this is what Liover Peguero needs to focus on, this is what Quinn Priester needs to focus on,’ up and down the chain everywhere.”

On top of individual goal-setting and achievements, the Pirates have also sought to have their teams at the lower levels compete to win. That sounds simple, but sometimes, a player’s at-bats or innings are prioritized over the success of the team. It’s a trade-off, but Baker and the Pirates’ coordinator team have empowered their coaches to make the right decisions on the field.

“We believe that we’re shooting towards a future World Series-winning team, and for us to do that, we know it’s going to be with some of our younger players,” Baker said, “and we want them to come through the system going out and competing to win the ballgame every day.”

Prospect injury news

• Eight games in, Davis’ first pro regular season could already be over.

The 2021 No. 1 overall pick was placed on the seven-day injured list by the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers on Tuesday with a right oblique strain. Director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said that generally for position players, oblique injuries can take up to 28 days to heal, but the Pirates are ready to rule out his return to the field until he undergoes imaging beyond the initial tests in Asheville, N.C., on Wednesday.

“Right now, that's why we're learning more about the MRI,” Tomczyk said. “That will help us get a true, definitive prognosis, but what we know now is he sustained a right oblique and he's on the seven-day IL, so at least he won't be active for seven. At this stage, we anticipate it being a bit longer.”

It was a hot start to the season for Davis, who hit two doubles, a triple and three homers in eight games across the Florida Complex League and the High-A Grasshoppers. Given his advanced game as a college product, it’s not out of the question that the 21-year-old catcher could be in consideration for the Arizona Fall League.

• Right-hander , the Pirates’ No. 6 prospect, will not return to the mound this week, but the Pirates hope that game action will be in the plans shortly.

Tomczyk said Contreras, who has not pitched in a game since June 30 due to right forearm/elbow soreness, has been throwing, and he’s scheduled to toss live bullpen sessions around the turn of the week and into the early days of September. Contreras had a 2.56 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 46 innings with the Double-A Curve.

“All indications are that we're working and building back up towards game competition to finish the season,” Tomczyk said.