First Pitch: A Look at the Prospects for All Four Full-Season Affiliates of the Pirates

Wilbur Miller just wrapped up an eight-part series looking at the pitchers and hitters for the 2020 full-season minor league teams. The series was titled “If There Was a Minor League Season” for the obvious reason that we don’t know if there will be a minor league season. Setting that doubt aside, the players will still be in the system whenever play does resume, so I wanted to give my rankings of the eight groups of prospects from most interesting on down. I’ve linked the articles under the name for each group so you can keep this as a bookmark to find all eight in one spot.

I’m ranking these based on Wilbur’s guesses at the lineups, with none of my own input, so they will be in line with the links you click.

Greensboro Pitchers: This isn’t even a close race for the top spot. Greensboro would win easily without considering any of their relievers. They could have five of the top seven pitching prospects in the system in their rotation, with two other possibilities who are top prospects. Wilbur doesn’t have Quinn Priester or Brennan Malone beginning the season in Greensboro, but they would likely go there right away if a shortened season eventually happens. Even the potential Opening Day rotation (under his assumption of holding those two back) included Michael Burrows, Braxton Ashcraft, Tahnaj Thomas, Santiago Florez and JC Flowers. That’s a great group without two of the best pitching prospects in the system included.

Altoona Hitters: With Oneil Cruz and Travis Swaggerty, this team has two of the top hitting prospects in the system. With those two alone, there would be enough interest to check out their games. Wilbur also has them with Cal Mitchell, Chris Sharpe, Mason Martin, Robbie Glendinning and Rodolfo Castro. All players with some upside. We found out shortly afterwards that Castro was likely headed back to Bradenton, but he would have been one of the first possible promotions, so you could still count him as an Altoona bat, just not for Opening Day. This team overall isn’t much different than the next one…

Greensboro Hitters: I will say that Wilbur may have been a little aggressive by putting so many high school outfielders on this team, but that being said, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them all there at some point during the year. It’s definitely harder for us now because we don’t know how the front office will handle promotions and level placements for young players. Going by his lineup, this is a solid team with Sammy Siani, Deion Walker and Jasiah Dixon in the outfield, along with third round pick Matt Fraizer, who the Pirates are very high on. Francisco Acuna had a big season at Bristol last year, then a bigger winter league season in Colombia. Add in Liover Peguero, who they got in the Starling Marte trade, and Eli Wilson, who could be the best catching prospect in the system, and there are plenty of reasons to like this lineup.

Indianapolis Hitters: This group includes some non-prospects, such as Cole Tucker, who lost him prospect status last year with his extended stay in the majors. That being said, it has the top position player in the system with Ke’Bryan Hayes, to go along with four other top 30 prospects, Will Craig, Kevin Kramer, Jared Oliva and Jason Martin. When you break down where the top 30 prospects in the system begin each season, you normally don’t see five in the same lineup. That’s just common sense when you have six possible starting spots (Majors, four full-season teams and Extended Spring Training), not to mention half of those top 30 prospects are probably pitchers, plus some players are usually injured.

Bradenton Pitching: This could be a very underrated group because there are no top of the system prospects here, but it’s loaded with top 50 prospects and interesting arms. Young Noe Toribio could be a real sleeper here, plus you have Osvaldo Bido as a potential big league starter. Colin Selby showed some impressive stuff last year. Travis MacGregor was showing huge upside before his TJ surgery. Grant Ford pitched well after being drafted in the fifth round, and then you have Steven Jennings, who has shown some potential, but has failed to show any of the projected velocity scouts saw when he was drafted. The bullpen is intriguing as well, led by Yerry De Los Santos, who looked like he had potential to be fast-tracked this season.

Altoona Pitching: There are some holes here, but they have Cody Bolton is the rotation and Nick Mears in the bullpen, giving them two top 20 prospects. They should also have Max Kranick and Aaron Shortridge in the rotation, as well as Braeden Ogle and Shea Murray in the bullpen, giving them a group of six top 50 prospects

Bradenton Hitters: This is not a strong group, but there are some players of interest. Ji-Hwan Bae leads the way, followed by second round pick Jared Triolo, outfielder Jack Herman and a group of players with some question marks, but still possible upside.

Indianapolis Pitching: This group is just bad as far as prospects. Wilbur had Chad Kuhl and Edgar Santana here, which probably won’t happen if a short season happens, since the Pirates wouldn’t need to limit them, plus short season talks also included expanded rosters. JT Brubaker leads the way here, and there aren’t many top 50 arms after him.


I’ve never heard of this band before, partly because they were well before my time, but the song sounds vaguely familiar.




By John Dreker

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one major trade to note.

On this date in 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded shortstop Frank Taveras to the New York Mets for shortstop Tim Foli and minor league pitcher Greg Field. Foli was 28 years old and coming off a season in which he hit .257 with 27 RBIs in 113 games for the Mets. As a 21-year-old in Triple-A in 1978, Field went 6-6, 4.94 in 21 starts. He was a fourth round draft pick of the Twins in the 1975 draft. Taveras was originally signed by the Pirates in 1968 and had played parts of eight seasons in the majors with the team. The 29-year-old hit .278 for the Pirates in 1978, stealing 46 bases, but he was also caught a league leading 25 times. In 1977 he stole 70 bases to lead the NL.

After the trade, Taveras played three seasons with the Mets, hitting .263 in 378 games, with 184 runs scored and 90 stolen bases. Due to the timing of the trade, Taveras was able to play 164 games in 1979, a total that has been topped once (Maury Wills 1962) and tied just four times in MLB history. Foli also played three seasons with his new team, getting into a total of 346 games for the Pirates. He hit .291 and drove in 65 runs during the Pirates World Series winning season in 1979. Foli led all NL shortstops in fielding percentage in 1980. He also played for the Pirates in 1985, coming over with Steve Kemp from the Yankees for Dale Berra and Jay Buhner. Field never made the majors, retiring in 1984 after ten seasons in the minors.

Zach Duke, pitcher for the 2005-10 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 20th round of the 2001 amateur draft. Duke had a 15-6, 1.46 record in 26 starts, split between A+/AA during the 2004 season. In 2005, he made 16 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, going 12-3, 2.92 in 108 innings. The Pirates called him up that July and watched him go 8-2, 1.81 in 14 starts. Duke couldn’t replicate his strong start during his sophomore season. He went 10-15, 4.47 in 34 starts and led the NL in hits allowed. His 2007 season was even worse and he was slowed by an injury. Duke went 3-8, 5.53 in 107.1 innings that season. The 2008 season was another rough one as he went 5-14, 4.82 in 31 starts. In 2009, Duke got off to a good start earning an All-Star berth. After the AS break however, he went 3-8, 5.17 and ended up leading the NL in losses. He returned for one final season in 2010, posting a career high 5.72 ERA, before the Pirates dealt him in the off-season to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Duke has pitched for eight teams since leaving the Pirates, but he is still in the majors. He has a 69-91, 4.31 record in 169 starts and 401 relief appearances.

Joe Beimel, pitcher for the 2001-03 and 2011 Pirates. He was an 18th round draft pick of the Pirates in 1998. Beimel was a starter during the three seasons he spent in the minors prior to his Major League debut. For the 2001 Pirates he made 15 starts and 27 relief appearances, going 7-11, 5.23 in 115.1 innings. In 2002, he made eight more starts and 45 relief appearances. After that season, he pitched 581 more games without making a single start. Beimel made 69 appearances during the 2003 season, posting a 5.05 ERA. He was released during the following Spring Training and he signed with the Twins. He also pitched for the Devil Rays, Dodgers, Nationals and Rockies, before resigning with the Pirates on January 28, 2011. For Pittsburgh that season, Beimel went 1-1, 5.33 in 35 games, pitching a total of 25.1 innings. The Pirates released him at the end of August, ending his season. He signed with the Rangers in spring of 2012, but was released prior to the start of the season and went two years without playing in the majors. He returned with the 2014-15 Seattle Mariners to finish out his career. Beimel put up a 29-34, 4.06 record in 676 games during his 13-season career.

Dennys Reyes, pitcher for the 2003 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1993, pitching 25 games for them before being traded to the Reds in July of 1998. He played for Cincinnati until the end of 2001, then was traded to the Rockies. Colorado dealt him at the 2002 trade deadline to the Rangers. Reyes became a free agent that off-season after going 4-4, 5.33 in 58 games. He signed with the Pirates on February 7, 2003. The big lefty allowed just one earned run for the Pirates through the end of April before things went south quickly. In four May outings, totaling three innings, Dennys allowed 11 runs, earning his way out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Diamondbacks a month later and pitched just as poorly for them during a brief September trial. Reyes pitched for five different teams after leaving the Pirates, and was released by another (Baltimore Orioles) without playing a game for them. In 2006 for the Twins, Reyes had a career year, going 5-0, 0.89 in 66 appearances. He had a career record of 35-35, 4.21 in 673 games.

R.J. Reynolds, outfielder for the 1985-90 Pirates. He was drafted by the Dodgers in the second round of the 1980 January draft. Reynolds hit .259 in 170 games for the Dodgers, spread out over the 1983-85 seasons. In August of 1985, the Pirates acquired him as the player to be named later, in the deal that sent Bill Madlock to Los Angeles. Reynolds played 31 games for the Pirates that September, hitting .308 with 17 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. In 1986, he played all three outfield positions, getting the majority of his time in left field. He hit .269 with 30 doubles, 48 RBIs and 63 runs scored in 118 games that year. The 1987 Pirates were just under .500 as a team, but when Reynolds started, they had a 44-35 record. He played a career high 130 games in 1988, although 62 of those games he came off the bench. He spent most of his time in right field that year, hitting .248 with 51 RBIs in 323 at-bats. Reynolds hit .270 in 125 games in 1989, then followed it up with a .288 average during the 1990 season. He was never much of a power hitter, topping out at nine homers in 1986, but in 1990 he failed to hit one homer all year. After being released by the Pirates following the 1990 season, Reynolds played three seasons in Japan, one season in Mexico and he also managed one season in the minors. For the Pirates, he was a .269 hitter, with 234 RBIs in 616 games.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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