Our Pirates Winter Report highlights one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, then give brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week we feature infielder Tsung-Che Cheng, who spent this off-season in Puerto Rico.
Tsung-Che Cheng had a successful winter in Colombia last year. He put up a .296/.389/.408 slash line during the regular winter season, then did well in the playoffs, before helping his team to a shocking victory in the Caribbean Series.
The Colombian winter league was perfect for him, because the competition level is about the same as Single-A ball, setting him up for his 2022 season with the Bradenton Marauders.
Cheng had a successful 2022 campaign in Bradenton. He batted .270/.376/.418 in 104 games this past season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. His .795 OPS was 108 points above league average. He led the league in runs and triples, while finishing top ten in numerous other categories.
That performance didn’t carry over the winter ball this year, but there was a big difference in the talent level between last year and this year.
This year, Cheng went to Puerto Rico. It worked out that there was an opening in the infield of the Gigantes de Carolina after Nick Gonzales dropped out, following a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. The Pirates have a working agreement with that team, so Cheng stepped into his spot.
Puerto Rico was not as strong as usual this year, but the league was filled with players who have upper level experience, including numerous players with big league time. When he was in Colombia, Cheng was playing in a league with the average age of 25 years old, while he was 20 years old at the time. As a 21-year-old in Puerto Rico, he was in a league where the average pitcher was 27.6 years old.
If it was just age, that difference wouldn’t be a big deal. Puerto Rico had 15 pitchers in a six-team league with big league experience. Colombia had six total in 2021 — three were his teammates, while the other three pitched 13.1 innings combined over the winter.
All of that is necessary to look at before you see Cheng’s stats, because they were not impressive. Cheng finished the regular season with a .182/.270/.242 slash line in 74 plate appearances over 19 games. He went 3-for-16 with two walks in the first round of the playoff series. His team made the finals, where he went 0-for-3 with a walk in game one, then played two innings on defense in game two, before his season ended.
Cheng left his team during the finals to join his World Baseball Classic team. He was scheduled to leave, and the team had other infielders in place for him to depart. If you thought the league in Puerto Rico was a challenge for him, wait until he starts playing in the WBC against some of the best players in the world.
That match-up against older players makes for some great experience, according to Pirates Director of Coaching and Player Development John Baker.
“He is constantly challenging himself playing tough competition during the winter, and with Z (Cheng’s nickname) playing shortstop, his teams win,” Baker said. “He’s played in meaningful postseason competition at a really young age, and it shows in his composure on the field.”
Cheng isn’t just a bat-first prospect. He does everything on the field, adding value with his plus speed and solid defense. Baker has seen that value as Cheng continues to develop.
“Really impressed by Z’s knowledge of the game and his application of that knowledge,” Baker said. “He’s a complete player, who can beat you at the plate, on the bases, and on defense.”
Cheng appears headed to High-A Greensboro for the 2023 season, where you will likely see his name at the top of the lineup on a daily basis. This winter experience, as well as his time in the WBC, should help him transition well to the new level, as he faces more experienced pitchers.
Around the World
Two Pirates in Puerto Rico helped their team to a league title. They will soon play in the Caribbean Series.
Josh Palacios went 6-for-20, with a double, homer and three walks in six playoff games during the first round. He went 9-for-28, with seven runs scored in the seven games during the finals.
Chavez Young went 6-for-21 with a double, homer and four walks in six playoff games during the first round. He went 3-for-25 with three RBIs in the series.
Here are the final stats from Australia, which wrapped up play last Saturday. Their Sunday finale was wiped away by rain.
Sammy Siani hit .291/.353/.546 in 39 games. He finished 11th in the league in OPS. He tied for fifth with eight homers.
Jase Bowen batted .268/.329/.417 in 35 games. His OPS finished ten points above league average.
Ernny Ordonez hit .295/.338/.388 in 39 games. His OPS finished ten points below league average.
Dylan Shockley hit .220/.331/.358 in 36 games.
Jesus Castillo put up a .142/.230/.168 slash line in 34 games. He committed one error in 138 chances at shortstop.
Solomon Maguire batted .238/.282/.313 in 26 games.
We are going to have more reports from Australia in the next two weeks.
Francisco Acuna will continue playing in the Caribbean Series, as his team won the league championship. He went 2-for-17 with a homer and two walks in five playoff games during the first round. He went 4-for-19 with a double, two RBIs and a walk in the finals.
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.
The drop-off in PR was substantial. Will be very interesting to see what he does at the WBC. However, will he even be a starter? Will he get ABs? Taiwan is ranked #2 in the WBSC rankings for past two years……who knew? I mean that’s a very good team, only Japan ranked higher. Other rankings: S. Korea (3), Mexico (4), U.S. (5), Venezuela (6), DR (7), Netherlands (8), Cuba (9), Australia (10).
I really like this guy. Always seems to have a plan at the plate and he adds value on defense and on the bases. Only concern is there may not be much projection.
I don’t completely buy the lack of projection stuff
His batted ball data is very similar to that from Endy and Jase Bowen
It’s already close to MLB average
Anthony has the data and may have shown it earlier
He’s probably 2 inches shorter than Nick G at most
Cheng’s batted ball data
I try to hold back any expectations on batted ball data from players in Single-A, it’s nice to see some like Bowen and Nolasco put up some great metrics but know most are still growing into their power at this point.
This doesn’t seem too bad, but watching him hit maybe I expected a little more as far as the EV and Barrel rate. The LA does play into the gap power if he starts hitting the ball harder.
Of course, seeing this and then knowing his size, you have to at least wonder how much more power he can truly develop.
Regardless, he showed some of the best plate discipline in the entire system in my opinion.
What was his max EV?
Max EV was 107.8. He had 17 batted balls top 100 mph. 60 were ‘hard hit’ at 95 mph or higher (21%).
Some interesting comps
That would place his 80th percentile EV just a little above 95.0 mph
That’s slightly worse than Arraez (97) and Betts (99)
I’m not necessarily saying I do buy it. I’ve seen him a lot and he has good gap power at worst. That’s the scouting report on him. The scouting report on Suwinski was that he’s slow and strictly a DH, so . . . .
I think part of the issue with his batted ball data are that the “bunts” are treated like every other batted ball
Bunts aren’t segregated? Jeebus . . . .
Some of the batted balls are labeled as ‘Bunt groundouts’. He was credited with one sacrifice bunt last year in Bradenton and the tracking listed it as one. The bunt groundouts I’m assuming we’re bunt for hits attempts?
This thread from last year had the dates of some of his other bunts
The raw data doesn’t have them separated
If you’re using 50th and 90th percentiles it makes less of a difference
By projection, do you mean ability to hit HR’s? If so, the new rules to bring base running back into the game will mitigate this issue to a degree.
A fun exercise would be to factor in stolen bases, and caught stealing, into a players statistical value better.
Player A – hits a lead of triple to open the season. Slash line is 1.000/1.000/3.000.
Player B- walks then steals 2nd & 3rd base before next hitter finishes his AB. Slash line is .000/1.000/.000.
Yet both players are standing on 3rd with nobody out.
Maybe WRC+ or another of the myriad of stats accounts for this already? Who knows?
Not necessarily HRs, but enough ability to drive the ball to keep Ps honest.
Endy is now a top prospect without concerns about his ability to keep P’s honest
He hit 25 HRs. Probably not a great idea to throw him FBs down the middle all day.
If you’re interested in Pirates Prospects and Tsung-CheCheng isn’t in your Top 30 prospects; you’re wrong!!
I’ve always really liked good defensive speedsters that make good contact and can steel bases. Moreno was one of my favorites on the 79 team. Really hoping that part of the game becomes big again.
Bradenton offense was stagnant last season when Cheng was injured. I remember the pitching being very good for acouple weeks but the offense not scoring any runs. Once Cheng came back, the offense immediately got going again.
He’s a catalyst at the top of the order and hits for enough power. And yes, good defensively as well!!
Z it is
Is his nickname Z because the Ts in his name is pronounced like a Z?
It’s a nickname that gets lost in translation. The Chinese translation of his name is Zheng Zong-Zhe. The English translation is Tsung-Che Cheng
You pitch to him, it’s a triple. You walk him, with his speed it’s a triple. He’s our triple threat!
I guess you could call him ZZZ, but that’s not quite the right message.
It does if his nickname is Sandman? Metallica song Enter Sandman as his walk up music. Does the rock the baby celebration dance after every base hit and stolen base.
Ok, I’ll see my way out now.