The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of prospects in big league camp this year. There are 44 prospect-eligible players on the Spring Training roster, with the bulk of those being non-roster invitees.
The amount of prospects makes sense for a team that has shown no urgency to win in 2022, and has one of the lowest payrolls in the game. The Pirates are clearly in a rebuild, and waiting on their prospects to arrive to spark their next run as contenders.
Fortunately, the prospects aren’t that far away. Out of those 44 prospect-eligible players in camp, almost all of them could reasonably be expected to arrive in the majors by the end of 2023. That’s a massive wave of players set to join Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Mitch Keller in Pittsburgh.
To get an idea of the breakdown of that talent, here’s a look at those prospects sorted by their MLB upsides and their MLB ETAs.
These are the guys the Pirates are building around. If the Pirates are contending in the future, it will most likely be partially built around these guys. The good news is that almost all of them should be here by the middle of 2023, giving the Pirates a good, long-term group to work with.
Roansy Contreras – The Pirates gave Contreras a start in the majors at the end of 2021, and he impressed with three shutout innings. He will almost certainly be in the MLB rotation at some point this season, and the hope is that he will be one of the few pitchers who can lead the top of the rotation — along with Quinn Priester and the hopefully newly revived Mitch Keller.
Oneil Cruz – There’s so much upside with Cruz from the bat alone, and if he can play a premium position well, it will only add to his value. The Pirates will probably give some middle infield opportunities to Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker, but expect Cruz to be in the majors for good at some point in 2022, with a chance to be an impact bat for a future contender.
Matt Fraizer – You’ll see that the Pirates have a lot of outfield starting options set to arrive this year. I’m elevating Fraizer above the rest, as I like what he did with his swing last year, his raw power ability, and his contact skills. Fraizer could be a special hitter, capable of being more than an average starter in the majors. I could see him holding down an outfield spot in Pittsburgh by the end of the year.
2023 and Beyond
Henry Davis – How fast will the Pirates move Henry Davis? I’d expect him to start the season in High-A Greensboro, though I could see him getting an aggressive push to Double-A. I don’t expect him in the majors this year, as he needs to work on game calling and getting in-game experience. I could see 2023 as a realistic option for the Pirates’ catcher of the future to take over.
Nick Gonzales – Gonzales will likely start in Altoona this year, getting a chance to show his 2021 numbers in Greensboro were legit, and that he is still the top candidate for the second base job in Pittsburgh. I could see him arriving in the majors by the end of the season, similar to what happened with Cruz in 2021. However, I don’t expect him to arrive for good until 2023. Then again, the Pirates could surprise with an aggressive promotion if he’s tearing up Altoona by mid-season and none of the MLB options below are doing well.
Liover Peguero – Similar to Gonzales, I could see a path for Peguero to the majors this year. I don’t see a long-term path until 2023. The Pirates have a lot of options to work through ahead of Peguero and Gonzales, meaning they don’t need to rush the development of either player, and can have them getting time in a more neutral offensive environment in Altoona and the Eastern League. There’s also the question of where each player would play if Oneil Cruz is at shortstop. These would be good problems to have, as it would mean everything worked out as planned. That’s extremely rare.
Quinn Priester – Priester was the top prospect in a loaded Greensboro rotation last year, and should lead that same group again this year in Altoona. He could make the majors at the end of this season, similar to Roansy Contreras in 2021. It’s most likely that he won’t be in the majors full time until 2022. The Pirates will be banking on Priester and Contreras leading the pitching from the farm system.
Endy Rodriguez – This will be an interesting situation. Rodriguez might be the furthest away from this group, and has the most dynamic range of outcomes. He’s a catcher who falls behind Henry Davis on the depth charts. He’s capable of playing first base, even if he would probably hit for more contact than power at the position. He’s capable of playing second base, and other places on the field. Rodriguez is such a talented hitter and an athletic defender that the Pirates could see him put up above-average results as a super utility player who can fill in at catcher.
The Pirates will get some help at key positions from these prospects, who have the upside as starters, good paths to the role, and organizational pushes that have them on track with good performance.
The Pirates are going to get some outfield help in 2022. I have Fraizer elevated in the group above, but expect Canaan Smith-Njigba, Jack Suwinski, and Travis Swaggerty to get opportunities as well. I could see these three getting first chances, as they’re all on the 40-man roster. Swaggerty has yet to play this spring, which is concerning. Swaggerty is the top center field option to replace Bryan Reynolds, though Matt Fraizer could challenge them if he improves his defensive work. CSN and Suwinski are both corner outfield options who could step in next to Reynolds. All three of these outfield prospects could be average starters, with a chance to develop into more. I could see any of these guys argued into a spot alongside Fraizer above.
2023 and Beyond
The Pirates will be getting 2022 outfield help from their strong depth that was in Altoona in 2021. The strong rotation in Greensboro last year will fuel a boost to the 2023 Pittsburgh rotation. Leading the way this spring are Michael Burrows and Carmen Mlodzinski. I’d expect both to start off in Altoona, and like Roansy Contreras, we could see both getting a shot in the majors by the end of the year. I actually think that’s more likely with Mlodzinski, who got up to Triple-A for a look at the end of 2021, and who is the more polished pitcher. A 2023 rotation could include some mix of Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Quinn Priester, Mlodzinski, Burrows, and other options emerging from the group below.
On the Fringe
The guys in this group are your Grade-45 players. They’re better than bench players, but not quite good enough to bank on as future starting options. That said, there absolutely will be starters emerging from this group. It’s just nearly impossible to say today which players will emerge as starters.
Pitchers – Cody Bolton, Kyle Nicolas, Blake Cederlind, Max Kranick, Miguel Yajure
I think all five of these guys could be starters in the majors, although we might not see them as much in 2022 if they all go that route. The Pirates could get a good mix of relievers from this group, or they could get some nice depth options for the rotation. They have some better starting candidates listed above, along with other similar 45-grade pitchers who could be starters like this group. One interesting aspect will be seeing how quickly and how selectively the Pirates under Ben Cherington start to make the transition from the rotation to the bullpen for these guys.
Second Base – Ji-Hwan Bae, Diego Castillo, Rodolfo Castro, Tucupita Mercano, Hoy Park
Nick Gonzales is the top candidate for the long-term job in Pittsburgh, but all of these guys will run through the gauntlet first. I’d expect Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker to also get middle infield time. Hoy Park will most likely get super utility work, and Ji-Hwan Bae has been working into a similar role. Diego Castillo, Rodolfo Castro, and Tucupita Marcano can all play other infield spots. Like the pitchers above, the Pirates could either press for an average starter from this group, or they could cycle through all of them to strengthen the bench and depth up the middle.
Corner Spots – Mason Martin, Cal Mitchell
Both of these guys could benefit from the addition of the designated hitter. The Pirates clearly have Mitchell lower on their depth chart than some of the outfielders above. Martin has a clear path to a first base job in Pittsburgh. Either player just needs to hit to his ability. The interesting thing is how these two are so opposite, leading to the same result. Martin has a ton of power, it shows up in games, but is accompanied by horrible plate patience. Mitchell has great plate patience and contact skills, but doesn’t see the full extent of his power showing up in games. They’re both bat-first hitters who will need all aspects of the bat to show up to improve their chances of starting in the majors.
2023 and Beyond
Adrian Florencio – The good is that Florencio was the Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2021, after a dominant season in the Bradenton rotation. He’s got a huge frame and the stuff to remain a starter. The downside is he’s in his age 23 season, heading to High-A. Florencio might need to switch to a faster track to have any impact as a starter. He could arrive sooner as a reliever, though that might waste his 6′ 6″ frame.
Enmanuel Mejia – Between the A-ball teams last year, Mejia had a 0.42 ERA in 42.2 innings of work, with 53 strikeouts and 27 walks. The control is a problem, but he’s got a mid-90s fastball with a good curveball, making him a potential impact reliever to watch.
Luis Oviedo – I really liked what I saw out of Oviedo last year as a Rule 5 guy. The results are to be expected, since he was rushed to the majors. The stuff could be shaped as a starter with work in the minors this year. He could see a quicker return to the majors if he focuses only on relief work.
Tahnaj Thomas – I’m a fan of Thomas as a starting option, although he had some issues with his control in the Greensboro rotation in 2021. He should move up to Altoona this year, where he will get a chance to work on those issues again in the rotation. You could probably justify putting Thomas in the same group as Burrows and Mlodzinski in the previous section of prospects, as he could be a 50-grade starter or reliever with his fastball/slider combo. The control is the big thing holding him back on either side.
Jared Triolo – The Pirates have a Gold Glove winning third baseman to back up Ke’Bryan Hayes, and they’re also getting Triolo work at other positions. He’s a big player with power potential and good pure hitting ability. Triolo will go to Altoona this year, and could find himself in the majors by the end of the year, but likely will get more work showing off his bat in the upper levels. He’s a sleeper candidate to emerge as an average MLB starter or better, and he’s adding a few high-value positions where his bat could fit nicely.
This section is filled with guys who will likely be 40-grade MLB players at best, and who could all help out of Triple-A this season as depth options. Unlike previous sections, there won’t be a 2023 and beyond section here, since the Pirates aren’t really giving time to guys with a 40 ceiling and an ETA beyond 2022. Nor, should they really.
Pitchers – Cam Alldred, Yerry De Los Santos, Nick Mears, Adonis Medina, Aaron Fletcher, Eric Hanhold, Blake Weiman, Beau Sulser, Hunter Stratton
This group will probably include several other waiver claims and fringe players by the end of camp, all hoping to provide relief depth throughout the year. Alldred, Weiman, and Fletcher give depth from the left side, and might have an easier path to the majors than the others. De Los Santos and Mears are both hard throwers with big breaking stuff and questions about their control. Sulser has shown decent stuff as a starter in Triple-A, but might have better results as a reliever. Stratton gets good results in the upper levels, and should get a shot this year in the majors as a depth option. Medina and Hanhold are products of the waiver wire churn.
Catchers – Carter Bins, Taylor Davis, Jamie Ritchie
One of these guys will need to make the Opening Day roster to back up Roberto Perez. There’s a chance that Michael Perez is that backup, with all three of these guys serving as depth. Bins would be the highlight here, and the one guy who might have a path to being a starter. He’s a defense-first catcher, but has been doing some work with his bat this offseason.
Position Players – Hunter Owen, Bligh Madris, Jared Oliva
Owen and Madris are each guys who could benefit from the designated hitter. Ultimately, they profile as bench guys, with Madris providing outfield depth, and Owen providing infield depth at first, second, and third. Owen has a lot of raw power, which carries his value, and Madris is a solid hitter with some pop in his bat. Meanwhile, Oliva is a solid defender at all three outfield spots, and has the capability to be a contact hitter and get on base with some power. The Pirates certainly have a lot of infielders and outfielders to choose from this year, but most are moving up from Altoona. The best opportunity for this trio will be early in the season.