Today I was watching some TV on my DVR since this was the first weekend I have been in my apartment in over a month and I was talking to @ErinLeaver about how we were pretty stupid to even think the 2011 Pirates were good and how we were probably fooled in 2012 thinking the team was better than it really was. It got me thinking of how far the Pirates have came since Neal Huntington took over back in 2007.
Now, Huntington has been far from a great GM in his time with the Pirates. He has made some horrific signings and hasn't always drafted well but the fact of the matter is when you look back to 2007 and see what the farm system was stocked with it almost makes you want to throw up. Go ahead, take a look:
This was what Huntington came into when he was hired in September of 2007. Yikes. Daniel Moskos was number five and Brian Bixler was on the list. Outside of Andrew McCutchen and maybe Neil Walker this list looks better than that night you tried to chug a gallon of milk in under an hour.
Granted there were some other players that were in the system that turned out to be better than guys on the Baseball America top ten but I am not sure you could get the greatest GM in the world to come in and make the Pirates a competitive team in three or four years with that dumpster fire that they were walking into.
Again, this isn't me saying that Huntington has done the best job or that he deserves to keep his job no matter what because that is not the case. I was actually indifferent on the current front office coming back this year when it was a semi hot button topic over the offseason. Fact of the matter is now the Pirates have a bonafide top ten (maybe top five and one scout said they were the best and it wasn't close) system in baseball and that involves some great work by everyone in the system.
There are a lot of things that go into making system good. It is everything from making good trades (getting Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton from Atlanta for Nate McLouth) to drafting well (the depth of the system now), to making good free agent acquisitions (this hasn't been a strong suit of the regime until recently).
It has been a slow process for all of these things but the fact of the matter is that it takes a while to go from nothing to a competitive baseball team. Baseball is complicated because for a lot of small market teams you need to draft well and that is going to be the backbone of your team. The problem with this is that it takes a long time. Gerrit Cole was the first round pick in 2011 and we are just seeing the fruits of that labor here in the middle of 2013. That is only two years but that is the exception and not how things generally go. You might not see a prospect for four years and even at that point you don't know what you have. It takes the skill of the player, good fortune that they stay healthy, a good development team, and some more good luck that they turn out. Most don't and that is why you need to have so much depth in the minor league system.
The depth is key. A lot of publications aren't even putting Stetson Allie in the Pirates top ten right now because they don't have anyone they can drop below him. Go back up and look at that 2007 list and imagine where Allie would rank. Top ten? Yes. Top five? Probably. Top three? Maybe. That is the evolution of this club.
In 2011 the Pirates had holes and they didn't have anywhere to go to fix them. In 2013 the Pirates have fixes where they don't have to look outside the organization to fix it. They have trotted out unlimited starting pitchers. They have gone 11 or 12 deep and they are still throwing out guys like Brandon Cumpton who are giving them quality starts. Do you think you could do that in 2010 or 2011 or even 2012? No, you couldn't Could Moskos have come in last year and do what Locke has done this year or what Justin Wilson has done? Was there a guy in the system like Cole? Or Jamison Taillon? Or Tyler Glasnow? Was there hitters like Alen Hanson or Gregory Polanco. Sure there was McCutchen but you had to follow him up with guys like Bixler.
Part of the problem I saw in earlier years were that the Pirates never completely blew it up. Before Huntington took over it was alway a partial rebuild where they kept guys that they probably shouldn't have to try and make that one magical push. It was a great idea in theory but the Pirates needed to be blown up the entire way. When you blow up a team it takes time to go from nothing to go to a team with a chance to contend. While Pirates fans have been frustrated with the 20 losing seasons I think you have to realize that you can't lump all these 20 seasons on any one person or ownership. These 20 years is a huge failure that has a lot of moving parts but I think we are starting to see the fruits of the labor for the first time. As I said baseball is a tough sport to turn a team around and while it has taken a while for this management club I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
I know I get label as an apologist and someone who probably loves the prospects too much and sticks up for the Pirates all the time but this was more of a reflection piece and not a post to try and justify while any one person or front office is good/bad/whatever. The Pirates are playing some good baseball with unlikely pieces from within and after thinking about it a little today it was pretty shocking that the Pirates could win games with what they had ten or so years ago. I would go to games and watch Jimmy Anderson and Shane Youman make starts. For real. It was that bad. It isn't to that point anymore. That is a good thing.
It is a good time to be a Pirates fan. Back in 2007 when Huntington I thought that this year was the first time Pirates had a chance to even get to .500 was this year. They are surprising us all and looking at 2007 and now looking at 2013 it is pretty impressive to see how far the Pirates have come. The whole system from the major league team all the way to the bottom has improved and while there have been a lot of bumps in the road it has all been part of the bigger goal of building this team to a contender that can be more than just a one year wonder like 1997 was. We still have no idea where this year and future years are going to end up but I can say with conviction that I have a much better feeling about it now than I did in any year before this one.
(Also, bit thanks to @ErinLeaver for starting the conversation to push me to write this)