By: Noah Wright
The Pirates have a pretty good farm system right now, and speaking that the MLB team has hit a wall since the all-star break, I have to look for something positive to say about this team. But the future seems fairly bright. Some of their top prospects are making their way up through the system and by 2020, the Pirates could have a good team. So let's take a look at some of the Pirates top prospects.
Right now, according to MLB.com, the Pirates top infield prospect is third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes. Granted, Hayes is a great fielder. Maybe one of the best at the hot corner in the minors. He is the only third baseman among the top 10 3B prospects with 60 ratings on his fielding and arm. Hayes is also a great base runner, having stolen 27 bases in 2017, and a dozen in 2018. Currently, he has 10 stolen bases. But his bat needs a bit more work. Overall, he’s batting .258/.335/.416 in 329 PA’s. That has resulted in a 91 wRC+. But he has shown he can hit to all fields with his pull %, center %, and push % all in the 30’s.
While Hayes might be the top infield prospect for the Bucs according to MLB.com, I think the true top prospect infielder for the Pirates is Oneil Cruz. Last year, Cruz batted a strong .286/.343/.488 with 14 home runs, 11 stolen bases and 11 stolen bases, in 443 PA’s in Single-A. While Cruz has missed most of 2019 after a fractured foot, he came back and picked up where he left off. This year, in High-A, Cruz is batting .303/.336/.508 with 6 homers and 7 stolen bases in 128 PA’s. Cruz still needs to work on his plate discipline, but he has shown he is a capable batter at every level so far. His fielding has also been good, with MLB.com giving it a 50 with 70 arm. However, I see Cruz moving positions by the time he makes the majors. The Pirates have plenty of shortstops and third basemen they have under control through 2020. I could see him move to right field, since he has the decent bat, cannon arm, and solid speed/range. It will depend how he can handle the Clemente Wall.
Now one of the multiple reasons the Pirates might need to move Cruz to the outfield is because of the following player. That player is Cole Tucker. Tucker is your typical glove first shortstop, but his bat in AAA at least hasn’t been bad. Currently, he’s batting .270/.339/.460 with a 101 wRC+ in 223 PA’s. Fangraphs sees Tucker as a future 55 rated fielder, with a 70 arm. Plus, his speed is also an asset with a 28.7 feet/second sprint speed. That’s tied with Whit Merrifield and Cameron Maybin in the MLB.
While these are the highest level prospects the Bucs have, it's not their only notable ones. Here is 2 of some of the other solid infielders the Pirates have:
- Will Craig (1B/3B/RF): .247/.325/.455, 19 home runs, 94 wRC+
- Mason Martin (1B): .257/.361/.563, 26 home runs, 161 wRC+ (from Single-A, since 355/415 of his PA’s have come from there)
The team’s 2018 first round draft pick, Travis Swaggerty, is also MLB’s #62 prospect. He has done meh with the bat in High-A with a 108 wRC+, but he has above average speed, fielding, and arm strength. Another one of the more notable outfield pieces in the Bucs’ farm is Lolo Sanchez. Sanchez showed some good potential with the bat in Single-A (.829 OPS), but struggled in High-A ball. Regardless, Sanchez still is a terific defender and base runner. But if the Pirates trade a current MLB piece, it should be for at least one outfielder. The Pirates’ outfield org in the minors isn’t too strong. Neither Cal Mitchell, Jason Martin, Jared Olivia, Juan Pie, or Conner Uselton really are that impressive.
The most obvious and most notable pitching prospect is right hander Mitch Keller. Keller is having a good season in AAA, having a 3.10 ERA, 3.63 FIP, and 1.237 WHIP through 93 innings. That also includes a 10.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 (3.21 K/BB). Home runs aren’t an issue for Keller either, having given up just 7 long balls. When Keller was brought to the majors, his first inning was rough, but gave up just 1 home run in 12 innings, while striking out 15. Plus 6 of his 14 earned runs came in his first inning of his career. Another notable pitching prospect is Luis Escobar. Escobar has struggled in the MLB, but in the minors, Escobar was posting a sub-2 ERA between High-A and AAA.
A pitcher who would have been in the MLB if it weren’t for injuries is J.T. Brubaker. Brubaker in 2018 put up very impressive numbers between AA and AAA. In 154 plate appearances, Brubaker posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, and 2.99 FIP. All three of which were better than Mitch Keller’s 2018 numbers. Plus he was good at limiting home runs (.5 HR/9), and walks (2.6 BB/9). When 2019 started, Brubaker got off to a 21 inning run, allowing just 6 earned runs and 4 walks before landing on the injured list. Regardless, Brubaker could still be an impactful piece for the Pirates for years to come.
A few other notable arms the Pirates have in the minor league system are performing fairly well. While some need improvement, most are younger than 22. Before struggling in Double-A, Cody Bolton posted a sub-2 ERA and sub-1 WHIP in High-A. Max Kranick is having a solid year in Bradenton as of now. Santiago Florez is also posting some decent numbers in Bristol. While Braxton Ashcraft, Steve Jennings, and Tahnaj Thomas are struggling, the eldest of the trio is Jennings and Thomas who are in their 20’s, and Thomas turing 20 just last month. Both Travis MacGregor and Gage Hinze have missed all year due to injury, but both are still seen as to having a fair amount of potential.
The Pirates’ farm system isn’t half bad. While it could use a boost, it’s not a bad farm. At most, the Pirates should trade off some of their rental pieces to desperate teams, and add more depth to the farm. I don’t see them adding anything major to the farm right now, but by the end of the July Deadline, it might see a bit of a jump in depth and potential.