Shortly after the 2019-20 international signing period began, the Pittsburgh Pirates added an exciting shortstop prospect from Taiwan named Tsung-Che Cheng.
When Cheng was signed, I was told he was exciting at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. His speed was described as elite, with the tools and athleticism to stick at shortstop in pro ball, to go along with being a line drive hitter who already made consistent contact, along with some signs of power, despite being just 5’8″, 155 pounds at the time. He wasn’t a seven-figure signing, but at $380,000 his bonus could have been described as a potential steal.
Due to the lost season in 2020, we had to wait to get our first glimpse of Cheng. He was at Spring Training this year and slated for the Florida Complex League. Shortly before that season began in late June, one opposing scout called him the best looking prospect for either of the two Pirates teams in the FCL. Unfortunately for Cheng, his official pro debut was slightly delayed due to getting beaned with a pitch. At the time, he was putting up big numbers in Extended Spring Training.
Cheng debuted ten days into the FCL season and hit right from the start, homering in his first at-bat, as part of back-to-back two-hit games to start his pro career. He went 0-for-16 in his next four games, then put up a 1.029 OPS over the final 32 games of the season, with 27 walks and 11 strikeouts in 129 plate appearances. His .941 OPS for the season was third in the league among all qualified hitters.
He showed some power in the FCL according to Statcast numbers I received:
Pirates infield prospect Tsung-Che Cheng homered and singled today. Statcast had the HR at 101 MPH, the single at 98 MPH. He has an .829 OPS in 22 games this year. League avg in the FCL is .725 this year
— John Dreker (@JohnDreker) August 14, 2021
Cheng was sent to the Colombian winter league this off-season to make up for some missed at-bats, and the experience has turned out to be great for him, helping boost his prospect stock to where it should have been before his winter. The league in Colombia is a nice mix of players from all levels of play — some with MLB experience, along with plenty of players who have reached Double-A and Triple-A.
Cheng handled the step up in competition this winter like he belonged at that level of play. He batted lead-off and played shortstop for the team that not only won the league title, but are now competing in the Caribbean Series against the best of other winter leagues. The Pirates split his time evenly in the FCL between starts at shortstop, third base and second base. This winter he has been playing shortstop the entire time.
Cheng hit .296/.383/.415 in 33 games, which included the playoffs. It’s interesting to note that the level of play, which is probably close to High-A during the regular season in Colombia, gets stronger as the season goes along. In the playoffs, teams could add to their roster from the other clubs that didn’t make the playoffs. However, once you get to the Caribbean Series, you’re talking about a huge step up in competition from that level of play in Colombia.
The team for Colombia has five players with big league experience. The Dominican team has 19 current/former MLB players, and the few guys who haven’t played in the majors are Triple-A veterans. Colombia beat the Venezuelan team in the opener, a club which has 12 MLB players. Every pitcher in the Caribbean Series is older than Cheng, and the average age of pitchers in the series is nine years older.
Through Sunday’s action in the Caribbean Series, he is 2-for-11 with two RBIs and two walks. Colombia played the Dominican late last night, then Puerto Rico tonight. Depending on how that game goes, they could compete in the playoffs over the next two days.
Cheng is basically going to go right into action at Pirate City after the Caribbean Series wraps up. Minor league players will report later this month, so he will have a few weeks off. My guess is that he ends up with Bradenton to begin the 2022 season, where he will be one of the top prospects to watch on that team.
Here are some highlights from this winter season:
Here’s some speed and a nice drive to the gap
— akasen (@ak4sen) December 18, 2021
Here’s some defense from the playoffs in Colombia
Pirates’ prospect Tsung-Che Cheng channeling his inner Jack Wilson! Superb defensive work up the middle here.
🎥: Chengs’ IG pic.twitter.com/D6vtxcga1r
— Cody Potanko (The Murphanko Experience) (@Murphanko) January 23, 2022
Here’s video from the Caribbean Series
— Edward Peña | Baseball For Today (@BaseballFor2day) January 29, 2022
Cody Potanko has more on Cheng in this week’s Prospect Notes: