Pirates Prospects has learned that the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed 1B/OF Connor MacDonald to a minor league contract on Tuesday. MacDonald was released by the Houston Astros this past July. Before being released, he had reached Short-season A-ball after being signed as an international (Australia) free agent in 2014. He hit .252/.339/.387 in 150 total minor league games with the Astros.

MacDonald has an extensive track record in the Australian Baseball League, where he is currently playing. This is his sixth season of ABL play and he turns 22 years old in late February. His winter performance under Sydney manager Tony Harris, who is also a scout for the Pirates, helped MacDonald get back into pro ball. Through 29 games, he is hitting .282/.336/.591 with nine homers. MacDonald’s big weakness as a pro is strikeouts, averaging nearly one per three at-bats. Despite the big stats this winter, his strikeout rate has been even worse, with 45 in 110 at-bats.

On defense, most of his time has been spent at first base, though he has also played both corner outfield spots and taken a couple of turns at third base.

With the strikeout rate, it will be tough for MacDonald to make it to the upper levels. He will likely play in Bradenton this year, where his winter power outburst will be tested by the pitcher-friendly FSL. If not there, then he could be with West Virginia, though their roster seemed to be crowded at his spots. MacDonald has just 12 homers as a pro, but he’s at the age where power can go from developing to an actual tool, so it doesn’t hurt to see what he can do. He is listed at 6’5″, 200 pounds, but has probably filled out some over the years. Unlike many minor league signings that are for just one season, MacDonald would have three years before he reaches free agency.

You can follow his progress this winter as we cover the final two weeks of the ABL season starting Friday in our Winter Leagues article. Here’s a video of his winter power display.

UPDATE Thursday: MacDonald has been signed as a pitcher. He has pitched once in his six years of ball in Australia and four years of pro ball. That inning was two weeks ago and it was apparently impressive…for the ninth inning of a 14-1 game.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. I’m starting to think people signed up to this site for all the wrong reasons…one would think “Pirates PROSPECTS” would tip them off but many don’t read the bold “fine” print these days! Keep up the great work PP!

  2. Who cares! The first line of your story sounds like a breaking story on the Pirates. Pirates Prospects has learned….. MacDonald will never smell the majors. Who Cares! Other than that, i enjoy your articles John.

    • The reason we put “Pirates Prospects has learned” is simple. If we don’t, then other people who post the signing after us, don’t give credit. It’s standard for breaking news about signings/promotions/releases, and we don’t have a cutoff for it (meaning something too minor). It isn’t specific to this signing, just a good habit to have if we don’t want other people taking credit for signings. What most people may not consider with MacDonald is that he is a star player in Australia right now, so the story will be much bigger there than here.

      I put a fairly good description of the player they are getting, so there is no confusion about how good he is and his chances of making it.

      Not to pat my own back, but as of yesterday, the Pirates have signed 11 minor league free agents this off-season and I announced ten of them. The only one I missed was Richard Rodriguez, who the Pirates announced right after he signed that same day.

      The funny thing is that sometime soon, the Pirates will announced about 6-8 minor league signings and say they got Spring Training invites, yet everyone who reads Pirates Prospects will consider it old news.

      • I’m not going to throw mud at you John. Pirates fans are a bit irate right now and it’s understandable why. I don’t live in Pittsburgh but I’m guessing the talk radio lines will burn up today after the SI article.

        • I didn’t read it, but I could imagine what it said from the headlines. I think the McCutchen hate is trumping everything right now, so the article might be bad timing for SI

          • Actually the SI article is just one of many well written and researched national stories crucifying the ownership/management group. I believe Nutting and team miscalculated the effect of their moves….or maybe they just don’t care.

            I listened to a live interview with Huntington on 93.7 at 5pm yesterday that was nauseating. He kept up with an absurd statistical argument that all that mattered was that after the moves the club was in the about the same place. Defended the return for the two moves, dodged the financial savings.
            As usual talked down to the fans with his “we share your pain” BS.
            Stated that he had lengthy conversations with Josh Harrison
            yesterday about his comments. My conclusion is Harrison will be gone for minimal return because Nutting will order it done.

            • I believe Huntington wants to be successful on the ball field. But he’s complicit in a management plan of success that is constrained by some artificial financial constraints. In other words, the context they’ve all agreed to makes it even tougher for them to succeed. It’s like an athlete who is trying his best to win a sprint but agrees to be the only runner to run in mud. His comments can’t be understood w/o his voluntary participation in that artificial financial constraint. He talks as if that constraint isn’t real or relevant. But fans, knowledgeable ones, know its there and until he speaks from that honest standpoint, there will continue to be this dissonance. Of course, he won’t because to do so would defeat the purpose of the primary goal of that artificial constraint — that being to take the easy money offered by baseball’s current financial system and be profitable w/in that context. The big teams offer “welfare” to low market teams to mollify them and prevent them from actually competing. The Pirates just have chosen to take “the bait”. Maybe the Pirates get lucky occasionally but they haven’t proven good enough at drafting/developing/finding talent to give themselves a chance better than dumb luck.

          • John, what do you mean by “bad timing for SI?”

            The article is an interesting piece on the biggest story in baseball this week, maybe the biggest story of the whole hot stove season.

            • Bad timing in that the McCutchen news is the biggest Pirates story for many people, so it could get lost, plus there is a lot out there right now on the subject. Sort of like the Rivero extension news. I think SI would have done better to space it out further from the McCutchen news, just my opinion. If it’s that good, then it shouldn’t be time-sensitive to get it out there with everything else, it would stand well on its own and for them, it would stand out more.

    • The other option is fielding fewer affiliates. Until that happens, they will need to sign minor league free agents to reach roster requirements

      • Or, actually become a full and active participant in the international signing period each and every year…if they did, they wouldn’t have such a depth problem in the system….

  3. Now these are the types of deals we need. I have said all along is give this ownership time and they will give the fan base some to cheer about.

    • They are completely oblivious – during the week you trade your best pitcher and best player, maybe dumpster diving should be avoided. A 22 year old who made it no further than Short-Season and struck out once for every 3 AB? And then strikes out 45 times in 110 AB in the Australian Winter League.

      • The problem is that some people lump those trades and this free agent signing in the same category. They have nothing to do with each other. MacDonald is playing for one of their scouts, so he is seeing this kid every day and being that Harris has scouted the ABL for longer than MacDonald has been playing there, he knows him very well and has probably noticed improvements.

        The reality though, is that the highest level he is going to in April is Bradenton and there’s a chance he could be cut before he makes it into a game. This move has zero to do with the Major League club and everything to do with signing someone who might see things click and get to the majors years from now. He’s younger than some of their 2017 draft picks still, except there is no bonus money involved here. Literally, no downside to seeing what he could do.

      • It’s really a shame we have this group of people leading this team. I cannot believe people defend trading Cutch. I believe they should of let his contract play out.

  4. Seems that the Pirates only sign players released from other clubs and trade for almost nothing in return their star players when they are near the end of their contracts. It is getting tough to be a fan of this franchise which I have been for 57 years.

    • When you trade star players after a bad year or during their decline, you feel it in the return. Trust me, thats all we were getting

    • “Nothing in return..?”

      Why we got back….and, whatshisname, plus the skinny kid and the pitcher with the two year bout of wildness, the power hitter who only strokes doubles, and possible TJ guy, and some other dude.

      Ha, nothing you say!!

      Not to mention all of that financial flexibility headed for BN’s three daughters doweries.

  5. Alternately, I initially misread this as we had signed Connor McDavid, and while I wouldn’t mind see McJesus in Black and Gold, I had another sport in mind.

    • Exactly, there is no downside to signing a player to a minor league contract, yet some people act like it’s something only the Pirates do. Apparently, 29 other teams don’t mind leaving their minor league teams short-handed so they don’t feel the embarrassment of signing players to put on rosters.

      The Pirates could cut any one of the 11 minor league free agents they signed during Spring Training. Not every signing makes it into games, yet teams still sign players every year. The reactions to minor league signings by people are quite ridiculous, but that happened even during the playoff run the Pirates just went through, so in some people’s minds, there is no good time ever to sign a minor league player.

  6. Well, that signing lessens the sting of the Cole and Cutch giveaways/salary dumps. I feel much better now….

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