Facing the long-term task of providing a solid foundation for the revival of the franchise, the Pirates met that challenge for years by focusing on the acquisition and development of high-ceiling prospects. As a result, the club's farm system has consistently enjoyed rankings among the Major Leagues' Top 10, even while the parent club's struggles continued.
Today, the Bucs have turned over that new leaf, solidly contending in the National League Central. And, as confirmation of the organizational commitment to nurturing the farm system as the lifeline to continuing success, the prospect pool remains as respected as ever, with no drop-off despite the ongoing migration of homegrown talent to Pittsburgh.
Although the front office lately has purposefully imported veterans seen as important finishing pieces on a contender, there is an unmistakable link between the successes on the farm and at the big league level. The current 25-man roster includes 10 homegrown players, plus others who had been acquired early in their pro careers and essentially developed in the system.
As they head down the stretch, the Pirates figure to continue to depend on that system for support. Catcher Tony Sanchez (No. 12, up four places from preseason rankings), who recently made his brief Major League debut, right-handed reliever Vic Black (No. 17) and southpaw Andy Oliver (No. 19) -- all could play prominent roles this season.
Twenty percent of the Pirates' preseason Top 20 is now in the Majors -- a whopping statement of both the team's development system and, if you think about it, the accuracy of these rankings. While Black recently made the jump and thus has yet to make an impact, the three other pitchers have greatly influenced the Bucs' title run.
Lefty reliever Justin Wilson (No. 9) has been in Pittsburgh's bullpen all season, righty Bryan Morris (No. 13) joined in to stay at the end of May, and star pitching prospect Gerrit Cole (No. 1) merged into the rotation during the second week of June.
Through the first week of post-All-Star break play, those three had 15 wins among them. Impactful, indeed.
None. In the Pirates' case, the normal shakeup of the list flowed in a natural way: Newcomers to the midseason list simply replaced those who have advanced to the Majors. In other words, there was no dramatic regression among any of the Bucs' top prospects.
The Pirates' top picks in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft -- both first-rounders -- have broken in with spots in the top eight. Outfielder Austin Meadows (the overall No. 9 selection) zoomed to No. 4 in recognition of his strong professional bow, and catcher Reese McGuire (the No. 14 Draft pick) debuts on the list at No. 8. McGuire took a little longer to sign, so he got off to a late start but was batting over .400 in his first 15 games with the Gulf Coast League Pirates, splitting time behind the plate and at DH.
The only other new face, at No. 20, belongs to Jin-De Jhang, a 20-year-old catcher from Taiwan who is batting .306 at Class A Jamestown and has thrown out 52 percent (12 of 23) of runners attempting to steal.
pirates' top prospects
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Outfielder Gregory Polanco's mid-year jump from Class A to Double-A now ranks as only his second-most impressive move of the season: The 21-year-old Dominican rose from No. 65 to No. 15 in the Top 100, and the 50-place jump is the second biggest among the new Top 100 (excluding June draftees debuting on the list).
The still-maturing 6-foot-4, 170-pound left-handed swinger has found the Eastern League challenging, but he deserved the promotion to Altoona after hitting .312 in 57 games with Bradenton, where he was also successful on 24 of 28 stolen-base attempts.
While the rises of righty Jameson Taillon (No. 15 to No. 12 overall) and shortstop Alen Hanson (No. 54 to No. 44) were more modest, the real significance there was that none of the Pirates' prospects in play declined in the Top 100 rankings, certainly the overall trend you want to see from an organization working its way back to respectability.
Narrowing the focus to the team Top 20, a pair of pitchers hit skids due to injury and mound inconsistency: Righty Kyle McPherson, a prime preseason candidate for the Bucs' rotation before elbow woes surfaced, underwent recent Tommy John surgery and fell from No. 7 to No. 16; Oliver slipped from No. 12 to No. 19, despite a solid 3.97 ERA for 20 starts in Indianapolis.
Top 100 representation
As a bottom line, the Pirates' system maintained its industry standing, despite "losing" three of its preseason chips to the Majors, an outstanding sign of organizational depth. With newcomers Meadows and right-hander Luis Heredia joining the incumbents, the Bucs have a quintet in the Top 100.
Delve deeper, and their relative situation becomes even more impressive. The Pirates are one of two NL clubs with two prospects among the Top 15, but while both of the high-ranking Mets are right-handed pitchers, Taillon and Polanco lend diversity to the Bucs' elite.
Overall, in an inverted-value system wherein points are credited according to rank (No. 1 equals 100 points, No. 2 equals 99 and so on), the Pirates rank No. 6 with 276 prospect points. That is exactly the same rank (with 261 points) with which they started the season.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.