By: Noah Wright
In the Pirates current situation, the future could be the way to go. Afterall, they have a good minor league farm system, and that means that the near future could be bright for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I want to look at this within a 3 year standpoint, so by 2021, what will the team look like?
Starting behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli is on the last year of his deal. However, the veteran back-stop has seemed to really enjoy his tenure in Pittsburgh. By the end of 2019, he’ll be 33 years old. Eventually, Elias Diaz will likely take over behind the plate. But I could see the Pirates signing Cervelli to a cheap 1 year deal worth around $5-8 million to keep Cervelli around as the veteran clubhouse leader. While Diaz absolutely has the potential to be a great leader, I always think you need that veteran catcher who platoons or backs up your young guys, just like David Ross and the Cubs a few years back.
The future at first base for the Pirates is likely set with Josh Bell. Sure Bell is coming off of a down year, but he’s still young, and showed some improvement in barrelling up the ball, and improvement in plate discipline. With his improvements in hard hit rate, and walk rate, Bell could be a dangerous threat in the Pirates line-up if he can bounce back to hit around 25-ish home runs in 2019. A good comparison could be 2013-2015 Kyle Seager but with better discipline. But there is one other potential option at first. That’s 2016 first round pick Will Craig. Craig started to show a good amount of power last season, having 20 home runs and a .200 ISO. Though I don’t see Craig being some sort of super star, a reasonable comparison could be 2017 Ryon Healy. A guy who will hit around 25 home runs, and have an average around .270, but not too impressive of an OBP.
The Pirates’ future at second is locked down until 2023 with Adam Frazier. The utility man has had a nice career so far, and even started to show a bit of a power tool at the end of last season. Even if he can’t maintain the .524 slugging % he had between August and September, Frazier can still be relied upon to provide a .280 average, .350 OBP, along with decent fielding at second base. However, there’s another potential option at 2B who’s currently a 3B the Pirates might turn to I’ll talk about later.
The future shortstop is still up for debate. The Pirates have many many options that they can go to right now, and will have plenty of options in the future. At the moment, the Bucs have Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, and Erik Gonzalez. 2 of the 3 are top prospects in the Pirates system (Newman and Kramer). However none of those 3 performed well in the short time they were in the majors last season. By 2020 (or even by the end of 2019), 2014 first round selection Cole Tucker, should be fully developed. Tucker is a slick fielding shortstop with speed to burn. However, he still needs to work on his hit tool. While he’ll never be a 20 home run candidate, Tucker could develop a better hit tool than what he has now. Maybe a .280/.340/.400 hitter in the future. But Tucker kind of blocks another top 100 prospect, Oneil Cruz. Cruz brings both a bat for average, 20 home run potential, and 12 SBS potential over at short. However, Cruz has struggled some with the glove in the minors. So in the near future, we could see Cruz get some work at both 3B and 2B.
Colin Moran looks to have 3B locked down for some time, even with Cruz on the upcoming horizon. Last season, Moran produced a solid .277/.340/.407 line with 11 home runs, and 103 wRC+ in 465 PA’s. It’s possible we see an uptick in power this coming 2019 season (nothing major, maybe like 15-18 home runs). Though he does have his struggles defensively third base, Moran still looks like the current 3B for quite some time for the Bucs. But where does this leave top 100 prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes? Last season, Hayes batted a strong .293/.375/.444 with a 129 wRC+ in 508 PA’s (all in AA Altoona). Hayes’ speed is also one of his more valuable assets, with Fangraphs giving it a 60. This makes him more versatile, so maybe he could see some time at second base and maybe even the outfield. Afterall, his speed is just as good as his defense (55 field tool, 60 arm tool). If the Bucs do decide to make Hayes a 2B, he could find everyday at bats in the MLB, as Frazier could move back into a super-U role.
The Pirates probably have one of the more highly touted OF prospects with 2018 first round draft pick, Travis Swaggerty. While he did struggle in mid A ball, Swaggerty has 5 tool potential. He’s been given above average ratings for his arm, fielding, running ability, and hit tool, while given decent ratings for his power. At 21 years old, Swaggerty is projected to make his impact by 2021, but if he rises through the minors next season, we might even see him sooner than his projected ETA. The Bucs also have some other interesting OF prospects with Bryan Reynolds, and Jason Martin. Both of whom could be impactful this upcoming season. On the MLB roster, the team has both Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco under control past 2020 (Polanco 2023, Marte 2021). LF Corey Dickerson is a free agent after the 2019 season and the team could go down multiple paths. One, they could rely on Martin and Reynolds to fill that 3rd spot in the outfield until Swaggerty is ready or two, they could resign Dickerson to like a 1 year deal as a holdover for Swaggerty.
The pitching is where the Pirates will really shine. They have so many young and upcoming pitchers both on the MLB roster, and in the farm system. Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams are 2 young and promising right handers that will lead the rotation. Behind them, Joe Musgrove (who is still fairly youthful) and Chris Archer will fill out the #3 and #4 spots. While the 5th spot is still up for grabs, it looks like the Bucs will use a holdover strategy until their prized #19 overall out of 100 right handed prospect Mitch Keller is ready. Keller is an extremely promising right hander the Bucs drafted in 2014. Though Keller struggled in his time at AAA this year, he did perform very well at AA. Given a near full season of decent results in Indianapolis, Keller could greatly improve his stock, and give the Pirates a lot more hope. While the Bucs’ only really highly touted pitching prospect is Keller, they still have some other decent looking options with Braxton Ashcraft, Clay Holmes, Gage Hinsz, Travis MacGregor, Brandon Waddell, and Domingo Robles.
By 2021, I project the line up, rotation, bullpen, and bench to look like this:
1.) Ke’Bryan Hayes (2B)
2.) Starling Marte (LF)
3.) Travis Swaggerty (CF)
4.) Josh Bell (1B)
5.) Gregory Polanco (RF)
6.) Colin Moran (3B)
7.) Cole Tucker/Oneil Cruz (SS)
8.) Elias Diaz (C)
1.) Jameson Taillon
2.) Mitch Keller
3.) Trevor Williams
4.) Joe Musgrove
5.) Chris Archer
Closer: Felipe Vasquez
Set-up men: Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana
Mid-relief: Chad Kuhl
Long relief: Steven Brault, Clay Holmes
- Pablo Reyes (super-U)
- Adam Frazier (super-U)
- Will Craig (1B)
- Francisco Cervelli (C)
- Cole Tucker/Oneil Cruz (SS/3B/2B)