Experts mixed on Pirates farm system


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Ke'Bryan Hayes. -- DKPS

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Baseball America and FanGraphs made major updates to their farm system and prospect rankings this week. While the former does not think much of the Pirates' minor-league system, the latter is bullish about some of the franchise's youngest players.

Baseball America placed the Pirates at 23rd in their farm system rankings, with three players being named in their top 100 prospects. Right-handed pitcher Mitch Keller is the highest ranked prospect, reaching No. 52. Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes is close behind at number 56, and shortstop Oneil Cruz is directly behind him at number 57.

"The Pirates have a new general manager and a revamped approach," Baseball America writes. "It will be a while before everyone sees what that means for a system that has done a decent job at producing hitters but has struggled mightily to get its top pitchers to go from being prospects to successful big leaguers."

Keller and Hayes were ranked at No. 34 and 36 a year ago.

FanGraphs is more optimistic about the Pirates. While they have not released their full list of the team's best prospects, six Pirates farm hands are on their top 100.

For starters, they have Hayes at 30, Cruz at 32 and Keller at 34. Additionally, 2018 first-round draft pick Travis Swaggerty is placed at 61, right-hander Tahnaj Thomas at 78 and shortstop Liover Peguero at 98.

Peguero was acquired by Ben Cherington in the Starling Marte trade. Thomas was an auxiliary player in the 2018 deal that brought Erik Gonzalez from the Indians to Pittsburgh.

Baseball America has Peguero as the Pirates' fourth best prospect and Thomas their sixth. Both are very young -- Peguero is 19 and Thomas 20 -- with very high upsides, but both are in the lowest levels of the organization and have a very high risk of being busts. Even if they deliver on that promise, they are years away from the majors.

Swaggerty did not make the Baseball America Pirates top 10, let alone the overall top 100.

FanGraphs has not released their full farm system rankings yet, but the only other team with six top 100 prospects are the Rays.

Keller will lose his rookie status after he pitches two more innings in the majors. He and Hayes are in Bradenton for Pirates spring training.

Keller is expected to make the opening day rotation, but he is not taking anything for granted.

"I'm approaching it like I don't have a job right now," Keller told me this week. "I need to perform and win my spot. I need to earn it."

Hayes is expected to reach the majors at some point this season. This is his second spring training after tearing up the Grapefruit League a year ago.

“It’s just good to be here,” he told me.

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