Pittsburgh Pirates’ General Manager Ben Cherington has been on the job for almost two years now.
In that time, he has worked to overhaul the Pirates’ farm system. He’s traded Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Adam Frazier, Richard Rodriguez, and others to stock up a system. He’s gotten creative in drafts to bring in highly rated, highly skilled prep players for large bonuses.
The result is that our updated top 30 prospects features seven players in the top ten who were acquired by Cherington, along with over half of the entire list.
The Pirates’ farm system in total is on the rise, with a ton of depth beyond the top 30, and a good assortment of potential starters and impact guys at the top. Since the draft and trade deadline, we’ve been working to evaluate the farm system, putting together this updated list to reflect where the organization stands. John Dreker and Wilbur Miller both contributed to these rankings, and the discussions we had over some of the top prospects will probably be revisited in an upcoming article.
Below are the updated Pirates Prospects top 30 rankings. John Dreker contributed writeups where noted.
1. Henry Davis, C (21) – .308/.387/.808, 3 HR, 1 SB, 31 PA (Rk, A+) [Previous Rank: Not in System]
The Pirates took Davis with the first overall pick in the 2021 draft. He made a strong debut between the FCL and Greensboro, displaying his plus power. That debut was cut short by an oblique injury, which should end his season. Davis edges out Oneil Cruz and Quinn Priester as the top prospect in the system, and is key to the Pirates’ build as their catcher of the future. Davis could be that rare two-way catcher who provides impact offense and solid defense, making him a player to build a future winning team around.
2. Oneil Cruz, SS (22) – .290/.351/.523, 9 HR, 12 SB, 212 PA (AA) [Previous Rank: 3]
Cruz has the highest ceiling in the system, and an argument could be made for him to be the top prospect, especially if you think he can stick and be productive at shortstop. Even if that doesn’t happen, Cruz has the offensive potential to provide an impact anywhere on the field. We still project him as more likely to end up in the outfield in Pittsburgh, though he should get a chance at shortstop as long as possible, until a better long-term option comes along.
3. Quinn Priester, RHP (20) – 2.86 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 87:30 K/BB, 85.0 IP (A+) [Previous Rank: 2]
The 2019 first round pick got the push to High-A in his first full season, and hasn’t disappointed. The one drawback for most of the season has been a lack of strikeout numbers. Priester has the stuff for strikeouts, which he’s shown in a big way this month, with 33 strikeouts in 23 innings. He also has a much better strikeout total on the road this year. He’s shown the ability to teach himself and advance his game without coaching, while also being open and receptive to coaching changes. He’s got the potential for a plus fastball that can hit upper 90s, a plus curveball, an average changeup, and plus control. Priester reminds me of Jameson Taillon, meaning he seems like a guy who will always be improving his game, and who can overcome adversity, with the stuff to inevitably be a top MLB starter.
4. Nick Gonzales, 2B (22) – .298/.365/.544, 14 HR, 5 SB, 301 PA (A+) [Previous Rank: 4]
Over a third of Gonzales’ home runs have come in the last week-plus, including three in one game. After the Pirates drafted him in the first round in 2020, Gonzales received raves for his hit tool, grading as a future batting champion. He’s shown good power potential this year, with a few minor adjustments to his swing that have put him in better position for power. There’s still room for Gonzales to continue refining his swing, which could create a dangerous MLB hitter if he continues progressing in the way we’ve seen this season. Greensboro has been a favorable environment for power, which leaves some skepticism for the numbers Gonzales and this next guy…
5. Liover Peguero, SS (20) – .266/.324/.455, 14 HR, 19 SB, 359 PA (A+) [Previous Rank: 5]
Peguero is one of the most athletic players in the system, with a chance to be a power/speed starting shortstop. He’s been displaying the power already in High-A this year, and unlike a lot of players on the team, has managed power on the road. He’s been knocked for an overly-aggressive approach at the plate in the past, but has managed to limit strikeouts this year. Peguero is a bat-first middle infield prospect, but has the defensive tools to stick at shortstop long-term. He currently rates as the most likely guy to be the shortstop of the future in Pittsburgh, and has been focusing on his movement and defensive work this year in Greensboro.
6. Bubba Chandler, SS/RHP (18) – .143/.294/.357, 1 HR, 0 SB, 17 PA (Rk) [Previous Rank: Not in System]
The Pirates gave Chandler a $3 million signing bonus in the 2021 draft to land the mid-first round talent with their third round pick. Chandler is a two-way player, and has been playing shortstop in the FCL in his brief pro debut. He profiles better as a pitcher, according to most draft reports. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates develop him on both sides of the ball going forward. The Pirates haven’t traditionally developed guys as two-way players, and didn’t take that approach with Jared Jones. However, they’ve announced Chandler as both a shortstop and right-handed pitcher, so he could be their first attempt.
7. Roansy Contreras, RHP (21) – 2.35 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 65:11 K/BB, 46.0 IP (AA) [Previous Rank: 28]
Contreras got off to a great start to the year, with lights out numbers in his first nine starts. This came after a jump from Low-A in 2019 to Double-A this year. His season has been shortened due to a forearm injury, though he could return by the end of the year. Contreras has the stuff and the numbers to be considered at a higher spot than this. The injury prevented him from additional playing time, which might have allowed for more certainty on what to expect from him moving forward. The stuff he showed when he was healthy and dominating was enough to push him into the top ten, where seven seems like the most conservative rank to give him when factoring in the sample size.
8. Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP (22) – 3.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 60:18 K/BB, 46.2 IP (A+) [Previous Rank: 10]
Mlodzinski was added to the system with the 31st overall pick in the 2020 draft. The college right-hander is off to a great start this year, putting up strong numbers in High-A, with a fastball that can reach upper-90s, and two breaking pitches that can be plus offerings. Mlodzinski is a potential big league starter, and could be in line to arrive in the majors in 2022 if his pitches remain as consistent as we’ve seen in 2021.
9. Anthony Solometo, LHP (18) – No Stats [Previous Rank: Not in System]
The Pirates drafted Solometo in the second round with the 37th overall pick, landing Baseball America’s 28th best prospect with a $2.8 million bonus. The lefty’s pitches can sit mid-90s and range higher, with a slider and a changeup. He has the potential for three plus pitches, with good command coming from a funky delivery that adds deception. The Pirates’ system is thin with left-handed starting options, and Solometo easily becomes the best of the group.
10. Travis Swaggerty, OF (23) – .220/.333/.439, 3 HR, 3 SB, 113 PA (AAA) [Previous Rank: 12]
Swaggerty had a chance to reach the majors this year, potentially locking down one of the open outfield spots for the long-term. That chance ended when he went down with a dislocated shoulder in May, ending his 2021 season. The 2018 first rounder has a center field profile on defense, adding power and speed on offense. He’ll return to Triple-A in 2022, and will get another chance to reach the majors and win one of those outfield spots.
11. Matt Fraizer, OF (23) – .313/.391/.572, 22 HR, 15 SB, 438 PA (A+, AA) [Previous Rank: NR]
Fraizer has been the biggest riser in the system, going from outside the top 50 in our pre-season rankings to just outside the top ten. We’re higher on Fraizer than other outlets, primarily due to the adjustments he made to his swing. Fraizer features a quick bat which allows him to wait longer on pitches, leading to a strong K/BB ratio. He also is capable of generating a lot of power from a shortened swing. He moved up to Double-A at the start of August, and could have a shot at the majors by the end of 2022 if he continues hitting like what he’s shown so far this year.
12. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP (22) – 4.45 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 59:35 K/BB, 56.2 IP (A+) [Previous Rank: 7]
Thomas has been fairly inconsistent this year, but the upside is still there due to his velocity as a starter. He has reached 101 MPH as a starter, while pairing the fastball with an above average slider. His changeup needs work, as it’s a clear third pitch. Control has been an issue for Thomas this year and in the past. He improved his walk rate tremendously in 2019 at Bristol, but he has regressed a bit this year, as he makes the jump over two levels to High-A ball. If the control doesn’t get back on track, then his upside becomes a power relief with a strong two-pitch mix. He should stick in the starting role for the foreseeable future. – JD
13. Michael Burrows, RHP (21) – 2.25 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 63:17 K/BB, 44.0 IP (A+) [Previous Rank: 19]
Burrows has put up big strikeout numbers this season, but he’s been limited due to an oblique strain that has had him out for six weeks. He was showing his potential upside in Morgantown in 2019, and he made enough progress that the Pirates skipped him to High-A this year after the off-year for the minors. Burrows is a strike-thrower, with velocity that gets into the mid-90s, to go along with a solid curve and changeup as his off-speed pitches. He has big league starter upside, but he needs to get in some more innings because he’s been limited in pro ball. – JD
14. Ji-Hwan Bae, SS (21) – .281/.354/.426, 6 HR, 17 SB, 297 PA (AA, Rk) [Previous Rank: 9]
Bae won a batting title in Greensboro (Low-A) in 2019, then skipped over Greensboro (High-A) when minor league baseball resumed in 2021. He spent 2020 at the Alternate Training Site, so it wasn’t a completely lost season. Bae was sideline for a time this year after a collision in early June. It came at a bad time, as he started the season off slow and was just getting on track. Since returning he has put up an .820 OPS in 42 games. Bae is a solid defender, who has spent time in the outfield this year to add versatility. His speed might be his best tool, which allows him to cover ground in center field and add value on the bases. He has shown power this year that didn’t show up in his first two seasons. The 22-year-old has big league starter upside, but his break might come in a utility role at first. – JD
15. Jared Jones, RHP (19) – 4.23 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 88:27 K/BB, 55.1 IP (A) [Previous Rank: 25]
The Pirates drafted Jones in the second round last year, and gave him a $2.2 million bonus. He was drafted as a two-way player, but has exclusively been a pitcher. He’s got a fastball that sits mid-90s, and can hit the upper 90s. His slider looks like a plus offering at times, though it’s not always consistent. Jones also throws a changeup, which is more of a work in progress. There have been some control problems, but there’s plenty to work with, and Jones just turned 20 years old, so he’s got plenty of time to develop.
16. Miguel Yajure, RHP (23) – 3.94 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 31:7 K/BB, 29.2 IP (AAA, A) [Previous Rank: 11]
MLB Stats: 3.86 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8:3 K/BB, 9.1 IP
Yajure was acquired as one of the bigger prospects in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees. His time this season has been limited to a forearm strain, but he’s managed two starts in the majors, along with five more in Triple-A. Yajure has a finesse approach, working off a five pitch mix. The results have been good, and Yajure figures to factor into future Pirates rotations, with back-to-middle of the rotation upside, and a chance to start for a future contender.
17. Rodolfo Castro, 2B (22) – .287/.340/.511, 12 HR, 6 SB, 247 PA (AA) [Previous Rank: 23]
MLB Stats: .198/.258/.395, 5 HR, 0 SB, 93 PA
One of the biggest surprises this year was the promotion of Castro to the majors. Castro last played in High-A before this season, but made some strides during the lost 2020 season with his power. His numbers in the majors weren’t enough to stick now, but he showed promise to return in the future and remain for the long-term. The biggest appeal for Castro is his power from the second base position. That spot is open for the long-term, and while Castro didn’t secure the job in his first shot, he’ll definitely get another opportunity.
18. Tucupita Marcano, SS (21) – .244/.347/.378, 7 HR, 6 SB, 317 PA (AAA, AAA) [Previous Rank: Not in System]
MLB Stats: .182/.280/.205, 0 HR, 0 SB, 50 PA
Marcano was one of three prospects who came back from San Diego in the Adam Frazier trade at the deadline. He spent a brief amount of time in the majors this year with San Diego, with poor numbers. Th 21-year-old hasn’t been hitting since joining the Pirates in Triple-A. He’s played all over the field, gtting time at second, third, short, and the corner outfield positions. Most of his time has come at second base, which is his best path to the majors. Marcano will need to hit in order to replace Frazier at second base. His versatility should give him a chance to play in the majors as a super utility player otherwise.
19. Endy Rodriguez, C (21) – .283/.375/.472, 10 HR, 2 SB, 357 PA (A) [Previous Rank: 30]
Rodriguez was brought in as one of five prospects from the pre-season Joe Musgrove trade. He’s an athletic catcher with the skills to stick behind the plate, and the offensive potential to be a starter. He was the top catching prospect before the Henry Davis pick, and is now the top alternative option if the Pirates need a future starting catcher. Rodriguez is athletic enough that he could move to another position if he’s eventually blocked by Davis behind the plate.
20. Lonnie White Jr., OF (18) – .333/.333/.556, 0 HR, 0 SB, 9 PA (Rk) [Previous Rank: Not in System]
White Jr. was signed away from a commitment to Penn State, where he was set to be a two-way player. He was rated the 32nd best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, and the Pirates signed him to a $1.5 million deal as the 64th overall pick. White profiles as a center fielder with plus power potential, and an above-average arm. He has already made his debut in the FCL, and should be a candidate for full-season A-ball next year.
21. Cody Bolton, RHP (23) – No Stats [Previous Rank: 6]
Bolton went down in May with right knee surgery, and will miss the remainder of the season. In his last season in 2019, Bolton made it up to Altoona, where he struggled after putting up strong numbers in A-ball. He’s got a fastball that can hit upper 90s, and a slider that generates a lot of swing and miss. He’ll be in his age 24 season in 2022, and still has the upside to be an MLB starter, though the injury and the pandemic year cost him some valuable time.
22. Hoy Park, SS (25) – .290/.441/.491, 11 HR, 12 SB, 293 PA (AA, AAA, AAA) [Previous Rank: Not in System]
MLB Stats: .197/.246/.311, 1 HR, 0 SB, 66 PA
Park was acquired in a trade with the Yankees for right-handed reliever Clay Holmes. He spent some time in the majors with the Pirates, getting work at both middle infield spots and all three outfield spots. Park profiles as a super utility player on a good team. The Pirates have holes at both middle infield spots and both corner outfield spots, which could open a path for him to start in one position if his offense translates over to the big leagues.
23. Max Kranick, RHP (23) – 4.81 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 51:14 K/BB, 58.0 IP (AAA, AA) [Previous Rank: 27]
MLB Stats: 7.20 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 18:8 K/BB, 20.0 IP
Kranick got a surprising call to the majors this year, with very few starts in the minors above A-ball. The overall results haven’t been good, but the advanced metrics show that he hasn’t been as bad as the overall numbers. He’s got a 4.16 FIP and favorable K/BB ratios. Kranick profiles as a guy who could be a back-end starter in the majors, and he doesn’t appear to be far off that role.
24. Cal Mitchell, OF (22) – .287/.338/.451, 12 HR, 6 SB, 368 PA (AA) [Previous Rank: 20]
Mitchell has shown a slight increase in his power in his jump to Double-A, while improving his average with a reduced strikeout rate. Mitchell’s bat drives his value, and he’s got some of the best raw power in the system. He can handle a corner outfield spot, and there are two of those spots open in Pittsburgh long-term. Mitchell has shown the skills so far to reach the majors as a bench outfielder, and is one of the top candidates in the upper levels to emerge for one of those starting spots.
25. Po-Yu Chen, RHP (19) – 1.88 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 30:2 K/BB, 28.2 IP (Rk, A) [Previous Rank: 29]
The Pirates made multiple trades to get more international bonus space to sign Chen and make him their top signing of the 2019-2020 international class. So far the decision to go all in on him looks like a strong one. The 19-year-old Chen was said to be an advanced pitcher already when he signed and we saw signs of that early, as he went 28 straight innings before issuing his first walk. He dominated the FCL with his command of four pitches, including a fastball that gets up to 94 MPH, a slider, curve and changeup. Chen is very athletic, with a solid 6′ 2″ frame and a background as a two-way player in Taiwan before recently committing to pitching. – JD
26. Tsung-Che Cheng, SS (19) – .278/.398/.464, 4 HR, 9 SB, 119 PA (Rk) [Previous Rank: NR]
When Cheng signed with the Pirates for $380,000, he was said to be a player to watch, with great athleticism and the ability to excel at all facets of the game — on defense, hitting and on the bases, where his plus speed might be his best tool. We heard from a scout that he was the best position player prospect for either of the two FCL Pirates teams this year. Cheng should be able to stick at shortstop in the future, with the glove, quickness and arm to play the position. His size at 5′ 8″, 160 might be the only thing that holds him back from power being a real tool, but he already drives the ball well and has four homers in a pitcher-friendly environment. He has patience at the plate and a strong understanding of the strike zone. He’s a real sleeper prospect in the system, who might lose that sleeper tag soon. – JD
27. Shalin Polanco, OF (17) – .167/.272/.278, 2 HR, 5 SB, 103 PA (FRk) [Previous Rank: 13]
Polanco is off to a very slow start in his pro career at 17 years old, but there are plenty of reasons why the Pirates used up nearly 40% of their 2020-21 international bonus pool on him back in January. His main tool is his lefty bat, but he’s a potential five-tool center fielder with huge upside. Polanco has the frame to add strength to a swing that already produced solid contact with above average bat speed. His speed helps him on the bases and in center field, where he covers a lot of ground and shows off a strong arm. He gets praise for his hard work as well, so those skills should begin to payoff in results sooner than later. It’s much too early in his career to look at stats when the tools are so exciting across the board. – JD
28. Eddy Yean, RHP (20) – 5.19 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 62:35 K/BB, 59.0 IP (A) [Previous Rank: 17]
Yean was the second prospect acquired in the Josh Bell trade that officially launched The Build. From that trade, Wil Crowe has already seen the majors and graduated from prospect status. Yean has more upside than Crowe, with stuff that has hit upper 90s, and good swing and miss potential. His control in Low-A Bradenton has struggled this year, and he’s made a few extended outings in relief to take breaks from the rotation. He is still highly graded on his stuff and future ceiling, which is the potential to be an average MLB starter or better.
29. Hudson Head, OF (20) – .207/.362/.373, 12 HR, 3 SB, 370 PA (A) [Previous Rank: 14]
Head was one of the top prospects who came back in the Joe Musgrove trade with the Padres. He’s got a tall, lean frame with a lot of power potential. He’s already hit 12 home runs with a .166 ISO at the time of this writing. His swing can get a bit long, and is prone to swing and miss, with a strikeout in a third of his plate appearances. Defensively, he’s got the skills to stick in center field, and an above-average arm that would make him an option in right field. He’s one of the most athletic players in the system, but would benefit from shortening his swing and reducing the strikeout numbers.
30. Luis Oviedo, RHP (22) – 8.00 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 11:6 K/BB, 9.0 IP (AAA) [Previous Rank: 42]
MLB Stats: 9.82 ERA, 2.07 WHIP, 28:24 K/BB, 25.2 IP
Oviedo was a Rule 5 pick, and has spent all year in the majors, making a few starts in the process. His control has been poor, but the stuff is there for future success. His fastball has averaged 94.4 MPH in the big leagues. He pairs that with a slider and curveball, while also throwing a changeup. The curve has a .347 OPS against, while the slider has a .546 OPS against. If Oviedo can go down to the minors next year and fix his fastball command, he could return to the majors in the future as a legit starter.