Under the watchful eye of Ben Cherrington, the Pirates have started to rebuild their farm system and more importantly, bring in new instruction and better analytics for proper development. Hopefully, with that innovation, the Pirates are looking up. Based on what I see in their system, there is enough talent to build a core that could compete in three to five years.
Ke’Bryan Hayes made his debut in the Major Leagues in 2020 and handled it well. He’s still prospect-eligible but he’ll be manning third base to begin the 2021 season and should quickly lose prospect eligibility. Nick Gonzales was the Pirates first-round pick last June and I like the pick. He’s not a big kid, but has some pop, speed and can hit. The top pitcher is Quinn Priester, who was the Pirates’ first-round pick in 2019. He’s a projectable right-hander with a nice current arsenal that has a chance to develop into a number three starter or perhaps more.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Ke’Bryan Hayes
- Biggest Mover: Nick Gonzales
- Emerging Prospect: Shalin Polanco
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: He got the call and didn’t disappoint
Ke’Bryan Hayes got the call on September 1st and in 24 games, slashed .376/.442/.682 with five home runs and two stolen bases. Sure, it came with a .450 BABIP but according to Statcast, his expected batting average was .300 – that will clearly play. He also hit the ball extremely hard ranking in the top quartile of barrels per plate appearance. We’ve longed liked Hayes and believe he gave Pirates fans and fantasy owner a glimpse of the future which is a potential all-star performer who could slash .280/.340/.475 with 25 plus home runs and a handful of stolen bases.
2. Nick Gonzales (2B)
- Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: Smallish second baseman who can hit with surprising pop
The Pirates drafted Nick Gonzales with the seventh overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. He had an outstanding start to the 2020 college season slashing .488/.610/1.155 in 16 games at New Mexico State. The Slug is not a misprint as he hit 12 home runs. Granted, Presley Askew Field is a hitter’s park and he hit five home runs in one game (which also isn’t a misprint). While he has nice pop, his power projects to 15 to 20ish at the highest level. When you combine that with the ability to make good contact with above-average speed, there’s a lot to like.
3. Oneil Cruz (SS)
Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: Unknown Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF (I think he moves off SS)
Tools Summary: 6-foot-6 with big raw power and some swing and miss. A tragic car accident in September adds a level of uncertainty to his future
Oneil Cruz was going through the final stages of his preparation for a promotion in 2021 to the Major Leagues. While at 6-foot-6, his wingspan points to some swing and miss, he has great bat speed with a chance to hit for double-plus future power. However, in September he was involved in a fatal accident when his car hit a motorcycle and killed three people. When it was first reported, alcohol was a contributing factor. However, subsequent reports have contradicted that initial report. At the time of this writing, he is currently out on bail and heading for Winter ball. Team officials believe he will be a full participant in Spring Training.
4. Travis Swaggerty (OF)
- Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
- Tools Summary: Double-plus speed with a little pop. He needs to reduce his strikeouts to reach his potential
For those worried about the Pirates’ ability to develop players, perhaps Travis Swaggerty provides hope. As mentioned last year, he improved as the year progressed as he tweaked his swing to get shorter to the ball. According to reports I received from the Alternate Site, this continued in 2020 and that Swaggerty looked “extremely good”. He’s a plus runner and should be able to play all three outfield positions. The upside is a 20-20 performer, particularly as he matures and adds strength.
5. Quinn Priester (RHP)
- Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Projectable right-hander with good present stuff and control
Quinn Priester has a promising arsenal with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a curveball that could develop into a plus offering. His change-up is not as developed as the other two pitches. Finally, at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, I would expect that the low 90s fastball will improve at least a grade to be sitting mid-90s in a couple of years. If it all comes together, the ceiling is a mid-rotation starter, if not more.
6. Liover Peguero (SS)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 MI
- Tools Summary: Intriguing player with good speed and emerging power who impressed in 2019.
Liover Peguero was acquired in the 2019 deadline deal that sent Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Peguero is athletic, is an above-average runner, and has great bat speed. The swing doesn’t have a ton of current loft but as he matures, he could develop at least average future power. I don’t see a potential 20-20 player, but a 15-15 player is not out of the question.
7. Sammy Siani (OF)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Good speed with some power. Already showing some plate discipline
The Pirates used their 2019 supplemental first-round pick to select Sammy Siani, younger brother of Cincinnati Reds Mike Siani. Sammy is not as tooled up as his older brother but might ultimately be the better hitter. He does have good bat speed and as he fills out, should develop some power. If you add it all up, he could be a .260/.350/.420 hitter with 10 to 12 home runs and 15 plus stolen bases.
8. Brennan Malone (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Tall, projectable right-hander with promising current stuff.
Brennan Malone was part of the deal with the D-Backs that landed them Starling Marte during the 2019 trade deadline. He was drafted out of the IMG Academy where he flashed a big-time fastball and promising secondary pitches. The arsenal was mature enough for him to have started the season in the Midwest League and assuming he has a good instructional camp, that will be the plan for 2021. If it all comes together, the upside is a mid-rotation starter with plenty of strikeouts.
9. Jared Oliva (SS)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
- Tools Summary: Classic fourth outfielder with double-plus speed
Jared Oiva’s carrying tool is the double-plus speed that has led to 84 stolen bases in 284 games in the minor leagues. He makes decent contact but just doesn’t drive the ball much and therefore he profiles as a fourth outfielder in the Major Leagues. That said, playing in Pittsburgh there is an opportunity for him to get full-time at-bats that could ultimately lead to value for fantasy managers. However, long-term, I see him as a light-hitting outfielder that will get 250 at-bats annually.
10. Cal Mitchell (OF)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF with risk
- Tools Summary: Solid power potential with some speed. Currently struggling to control the strike zone
Cal Mitchell had a nice year in 2019 and I was hoping for solid growth in 2020, particularly on his ability to control the strike zone. Unfortunately, that was not to be, and I do worry about the loss of at-bats in players like Mitchell. Hopefully, he’ll get a chance during the Fall Instructional League to get repetition to continue the development process. He has solid power potential with average speed, so there is the base for a nice fantasy player.
11. Carmen Mlodzinski (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Solid arsenal but delivery could push him to the bullpen
Carmen Mlodzinski was the Pirates supplemental first-round pick last June. His stuff is a tick above average with a fastball that will scrape the mid-90’s with average to above-average secondary pitches. His delivery has effort, and he can be prone to over-throwing. This could push him to the bullpen but for now, he will be developed as a starter.
12. Ji-Hwan Bae (SS)
- Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Utility Player
- Tools Summary: Light hitting shortstop with double-plus speed
Ji-Hwan Bae was originally signed by the Braves, but his contract was voided when the Braves were penalized for international player acquisition irregularities in 2017. He’s now played two seasons of professional ball with similar results. He’s a solid defender, makes solid contact with top-shelf speed. The ceiling is likely a utility player in the big leagues but as an injury fill-in, he could rack up stolen bases in a hurry for a fantasy owner.
13. Mason Martin (1B)
- Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
- Tools Summary: Double plus power but with significant swing and miss. Still young
Martin Martin’s carrying tool is double-plus power but as is many times the case, it comes with some swing and miss. The power, while significant, is more born out of brute strength than elite bat speed. If he can improve his approach and make enough contact, he could develop into a solid first base prospect. However, if the approach doesn’t improve, the ceiling might be more AJ Reed.
14. Shalin Polanco (OF)
- Highest Level: Int’l player expected to sign ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Athletic with tons of tools
Shalin Polanco was one of the more sought-after players in the upcoming J2 class and is expected to sign with Pirates on January 15. He’s tooled up with excellent bat speed that should eventually translate into in-game power in the future. The question will be how much he’ll hit. Time will tell.
15. Cristopher Cruz (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Too soon to say
- Tools Summary: Projectable right-hander with solid present stuff which is expected to tick up as he matures
When you acquire a 16-year-old pitcher, you’re signing a raw talent with hopefully some physical projection that with training and maturity, could turn into something. Cristopher Cruz was that kind of talent when the Pirates signed him to an $850,000 signing bonus in July of 2019. He has an athletic body with clean mechanics that should allow him to put on good weight to develop a plus fastball. He’s also showing the ability to spin a curveball with an idea of throwing strikes.
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