The Pirates have the best record in baseball; are we living in an alternate universe? After more than two decades of heartache and depression, Bucs fans finally have something to cheer about. It looks as though this will be the first time since Barry Bonds was in Pittsburgh that the Pirates will have a winning record. What finally put the Pirates over the top? You guessed it, the farm system. Sure, the pitching has been impeccable, but check out all the homegrown talent the Bucs have accumulated on their roster: Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Bryan Morris, to name a few. Jeff Locke has been with the organization since 2010 despite being drafted by the Braves. After years of swings-and-misses in the draft, the Pirates have actually, legitimately, pieced something together here. And don't forget about Jameson Taillon waiting in the wings at Triple-A as well, along with Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson and Luis Heredia further down the line. It seems that once every 20 years, even the Pirates get it right.
On the heels of last week's column, here are five more statements about the minor leagues to ponder:
1. Clint Frazier may end up being the best player from the 2013 MLB Draft.
2. Catching prospects are almost always overvalued in rankings. So are New York Yankees prospects.
3. One of the reasons why the Blue Jays had no trouble parting with Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino last year is because Aaron Sanchez, Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman will more than adequately fill the void.
4. I still believe in Jake Marisnick's future stardom.
5. It looks like the Diamondbacks knew something about Trevor Bauer that the rest of the baseball public did not.
Next up? The Minor League Barometer. Let's read on together.
Corey Seager, SS, LAD - While his brother Kyle has turned into a solid ballplayer for the Seattle Mariners, Corey has more upside. At 6-foot-4, 215, he's already bigger than his older sibling, too. The 19-year-old is slashing .294/.360/.494 with seven home runs, 34 RBI and seven steals through 46 games for Low-A Great Lakes. He missed some time earlier this season due to a hamstring injury, but appears healthy and has been surging lately. Over his last 10 contests, Seager is hitting .333/.395/.641 with three home runs and 12 RBI. He'll have to monitor his strikeouts, but the power stroke should only get better as Seager continues to mature and ascend the higher levels. With decent speed as well, he has the chance to become an everyday infielder for the Dodgers in the not-so-distant future.
C.J. Edwards, P, TEX - Edwards has been nothing short of sensational since entering the minors in 2012. After a scintillating start to his career, the 6-2 righty has a 2.01 ERA and 98:29 K:BB ratio in 76 innings in 2013 at Low-A Hickory. Edwards has terrific peripheral numbers; opposing batters are hitting a paltry .183 against him, and he has induced a bevy of ground balls to the tune of a 1.55 GO:AO ratio. Despite lacking velocity on his fastball, Edwards has a three-pitch repertoire of fastball-curveball-changeup that he uses extremely effectively. At 21, Edwards is a tad old for this level, but should be watched closely as he has not found much resistance thus far in his brief professional career.
Jace Peterson, SS, SD - A first-round selection in 2010, Peterson's best assets are his speed and plate discipline. He has compiled almost as many walks as strikeouts since entering the minors. He also swiped 51 bags at Low-A last season. However, Peterson's batting average has come around in 2013; after hitting a career-high .286 in 2012, Peterson is hitting .306 at High-A. Although he will likely never hit for much power, Peterson does also have a career-high five dingers already this season. He has been scorching recently, too, slashing .385/.435/.641 with two home runs, six RBI and five steals over his last 10 games. With 26 steals as well from a middle infield position, Peterson has improved each year and certainly appears to be on the right trajectory for the Padres.
Danny Winkler, P, COL - Winkler's 2013 season has been special, but even more so due to the fact that it has occurred in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League. The 23-year-old righty has a 2.02 ERA and 113:25 K;BB ratio through 98 innings for High-A Modesto. Opposing batters are hitting a horrific .147 against him. Winkler has fanned at least eight batters in seven of his last 10 starts; he has been using his heavy sinker/slider combo to his advantage. How he handles the higher levels will go a long way in determining his future role, as Winkler is already 23. However, it would be a mistake to discount his incredible success this season due to his age, as more highly-touted hurlers have struggled in the California League.
Sonny Gray, P, OAK - Gray can really be considered almost a fifth Upgrade this week, as he's having a standout 2013 campaign at Triple-A. The 23-year-old righty has a 3.02 ERA and 98:32 K:BB ratio through 95 innings. His strikeouts are way up from 2012, which is the most encouraging sign for Gray. Last season, he fanned just 99 batters in 152 innings, mostly at Double-A. Gray continues to induce a plethora of ground balls, though, to the tune of a 1.56 GO;AO ratio this season. If we're nitpicking, he's been a little wild lately and has also been slightly hittable. As a result, Gray has allowed four earned runs in each of his last two starts for the River Cats. However, the overall product remains sound, and Gray has pitched at least six innings in each of his last 10 starts. With a mid-90s heater with movement, an above-average curveball and emerging changeup, Gray could be next in line for the A's rotation.
Cesar Puello, OF, NYM - Puello is having a breakout season for the Mets. In 62 games at Double-A, the 22-year-old is batting .336/.401/.612 with 15 home runs, 55 RBI and 18 steals. His 2013 campaign lies in stark contrast to his 2012 season, in which he was injured and managed to hit a mere .260 with four home runs. So why is Puello not an Upgrade? His name has been mentioned in the Biogenesis reports, and it remains to be seen when/if MLB will be handing down suspensions. Unfortunately, in the current times that we live in, one has to at least have in the back of their mind a question about the legitimacy of his statistics. Take a wait-and-see approach with Puello. Hopefully his breakout is for real.
Orlando Castro, P, PIT - A smallish lefty out of Honduras, Castro was not mentioned with the other more highly-touted Pirates prospects above. However, his 2013 season still warrants mentioning. Castro showed superior stuff in 74.2 innings for Low-A West Virginia, posting a standout 63:6 K:BB ratio over that span. Castro parlayed that control into a 1.93 ERA. He was promoted to High-A Bradenton and scuffled a bit in two starts, but his stellar command of the strike zone should play at the higher levels. However, due to his stature, he could be a candidate for the bullpen down the road. In fact, Castro largely pitched in relief the last two seasons. Still, his ceiling is Tommy Milone, which the Pirates would likely take.
Jorge Alfaro, C, TEX - The 20-year-old Alfaro is on the disabled list after breaking a bone in his left hand. This is the third time in the last two seasons that Alfaro has made a trip to the shelf. The backstop has shown decent pop in 2013, blasting 11 home runs in 72 games for Low-A Hickory. He did strike out 74 times over that span, though, while drawing just 15 walks. However, the surprisingly athletic Alfaro has swiped nine bags this season. Alfaro remains one of the better catching prospects in the game, and has held his own with a line of .263/.334/.458. Still, be mindful of the injuries and lack of plate discipline as he ascends to the higher levels.
Dylan Bundy, P, BAL - Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery last week and will miss the next 12-18 months for the O's. It's been a rough season for the 20-year-old righty, who went from being arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball to perhaps not being ready for the big club until 2015. He remains an elite prospect, and will still be just 22 when the 2015 season begins. However, his short-term impact is clearly gone, which is certainly a disappointment since he dominated the minors in 2012 and even pitched in the big leagues at the end of last year.
Roman Quinn, SS, PHI - Quinn suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist and will miss the next 4-6 weeks. A speedster drafted in the second round out of high school in 2011, Quinn wasn't exactly lighting it up at the time of his injury either. He was slashing .238/.323/.346 with five home runs, 21 RBI and 32 steals in 67 games at Low-A Lakewood. Quinn had fanned 64 times over that a span, a number which must improve upon his return if he is to continue as a possible future leadoff hitter for the Phils. Quinn's future is still bright, but it's safe to say that 2013 hasn't gone exactly as planned.
Kyle Zimmer, P, KC - One of the more highly-regarded arms heading into 2013, Zimmer has been knocked around a bit at High-A Wilmington. The 21-year-old righty has a 5.40 ERA this season for the Blue Rocks. He still has some excellent peripheral numbers, though, which should help in not causing too much of a panic. Zimmer has compiled an 83:30 K:BB ratio through 71.2 innings, while yielding ground balls at a rate of 1.58 GO:AO. In sum, Zimmer has just been slightly off on his location at times, which has led to some big innings against him. For example, he's allowed at least four runs in the last four starts in which he's surrendered a home run. Keeping the ball down is the answer for Zimmer; once he gives up the long ball, he loses his composure, too. Zimmer hasn't looked quite as MLB-ready as the Royals thought he'd be when they selected him No. 5 overall in 2012, but he's still an elite prospect. It just may take some more seasoning and consistency.
Nick Tropeano, P, HOU - The wheels seem to have fallen off for the 22-year-old Tropeano, who was blown up in his last two starts at Double-A Corpus Christi and subsequently placed on the disabled list. Tropeano is not a hard thrower, but features a stellar change-up with good downward movement when right. However, he was leaving the ball up of late, having allowed six home runs in his last nine starts before the injury. Opposing batters were hitting over .315 against him over that span. Tropeano's overall statistics still aren't terrible, as he has a 4.40 ERA and 67:22 K:BB ratio in 73.2 innings. However, he had been on pace for a promotion to Triple-A before this recent rough stretch. He also doesn't possess the upside of some other Houston pitching prospects (Jarred Cosart, Lance McCullers Jr). Tropeano will be back, but these struggles certainly will stunt his development.