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Strong farm system has Pirates' future looking bright

MLB Pipeline checks in from Spring Training camp, unveils Bucs' Top 20 Prospects

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirate City, the club's Minor League complex, is a four-mile drive from McKechnie Field, where the Major League club spends Spring Training. Despite the physical distance, the Pirates work hard to eliminate any separation between the two areas.

Director of player development Larry Broadway said the Major League coaching staff is always pleased with the extra players the club receives throughout Spring Training from the Minor League camp. He believes that the fact that the transition for young players from the Minor League clubhouse to the Major League one is so easy serves as a testament to the cohesiveness of the organization.

The Minor League side receives support from the Major League staff as well. On one morning last week, manager Clint Hurdle could be found in uniform at Pirate City, watching the Minor Leaguers taking infield practice and working on baserunning.

"It's one camp, it's one organization," Broadway said. "There's a definite connection and a feeling that there isn't a separation between the Minor Leagues and Major Leagues. We're all one unit trying to pull toward the same goal."

Just how closely the player development side and Major League staff are intertwined in Pittsburgh was clearly on display during the playoffs. In the decisive game of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, Hurdle gave the ball to right-hander Gerrit Cole, who was the top pick of the First-Year Player Draft just two years earlier. And watching it unfold from Pittsburgh was the entire player development staff, all of whom the Pirates had brought in to experience the playoffs together.

Broadway said Cole's success last season served to further connect all aspects of the organization.

"He wasn't in the Minor Leagues all that long, but a lot of guys had effort in the scouting side to bring him aboard and then on the player development side to get him ready for the big leagues the time that he was down here," Broadway said. "I think for any coach, when a guy that they've touched has made it to the big leagues and especially made an impact on a major league club, that's a good feeling. It helps bring you closer together. It can help connect you to the Major Leagues versus feeling like you're just a Minor Leaguer."

Cole is just the latest example of homegrown talent the Pirates have produced, and he is expected to be closely followed to Pittsburgh by several other well-regarded prospects, including outfielder Gregory Polanco and right-hander Jameson Taillon. Polanco and Taillon lead the latest version of's Top 20 Pirates Prospects list, which has been bolstered in the last year by several new players, including the Bucs' 2013 first-round picks, Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.

Broadway credits the Pirates' conviction in their player development process for allowing them to build and maintain the depth of their organization.

"It starts with a vision from the general manager, and then it's delivered by the scouting department and then our player development system," Broadway said. "The vision is carried through with the daily work and efforts to deliver what we want. The commitment to that process at all levels, to hold true and commit to it, our guys have done a good job of that."

Three questions with Josh Bell

Bell was the Pirates' second-round selection in 2011. What's been the biggest lesson you've learned in the Minor Leagues?

Bell: Just coming out to the field every day. I know you might hear that a lot, that it's an everyday sport. It's the "grind." But being able to get into a routine and coming out with your teammates and making sure that you leave it out on the field every day and you have no excuses leaving the park. That's just a big thing to try to have every day so at the end of the season you can look back and really be proud. Before you were drafted, there were a lot of reports that you were set on going to the University of Texas and weren't going to sign. Obviously, you did end up signing. Do you ever think about what it would have been like if you had gone to college?

Bell: I get some stories from some friends. I have a couple D-I athlete friends that let me know. Of course Erich Weiss got drafted [by the Bucs in 2013] and I knew him when I went up to UT for a summer. So I've gotten some stories about UT and how it was. It definitely would have been an awesome experience, but at the same time, I had so much fun last year with the West Virginia Power. We made a push for the playoffs and ended up making it and popping champagne for the first time in my life. It's one of those experiences that I'll never forget. Now that you've been in the Minor Leagues a few years, has professional baseball been what you expected it to be?

Bell: After a couple years, yeah. I knew it was going to be a very long season, but I didn't really expect the amount of growth that I've obtained in the last couple years. Just understanding my body, understanding my approach in the outfield. It definitely helps getting all these reps that I'm getting. I'm just excited to see what else I can learn and how else I can grow in the years to come.

Breakout candidate: Luis Heredia

Heredia received a lot of attention when Pittsburgh signed him as a 16-year old out of Mexico in 2010. But he stumbled somewhat last season as he made the jump to full-season ball.

Heredia came to Spring Training in better shape and enters the season ranked No. 10 on the Pirates' latest Top 20 Prospect list. He'll pitch most of the season as a 19-year old and will be one of the younger players in full-season ball at the start of the season. With his combination of age, upside and stuff, Heredia could soon pitch his way onto the Top 100 Prospects list.

Camp standout: Polanco

Polanco, ranked No. 13 on's Top 100 Prospects list, didn't catch anybody by surprise with his raw talent this spring. The Bucs' front office has long known about his incredible tools for the last few years. But that doesn't mean Polanco hasn't turned some heads with his performance.

Polanco has impressed players and coaches alike with his combination of power and speed. The gangly outfielder has played well in Grapefruit League action as well, going 6-for-20 with a home run in the first couple weeks of the season.

Polanco has made a meteoric rise through Pittsburgh's Minor League system and is expected to reach the Major Leagues sometime this season. Broadway said the Pirates always believed he had this kind of potential.

"He's always been a guy in our minds," Broadway said. "He's been a good athlete, he's been a good citizen and he works extremely hard. We've always been excited about him."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Bell, Luis Heredia, Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon