By: Noah Wright
In the coming 3 or so years, the Bucs are going to face a “problem”. Whether or not that’s a good problem or not is up to you. However I do think it’s a good problem. The Bucs have tons of infield prospects. So much so that it could be hard for them to all find spots for regular playing time.
The first wave came today with Cole Tucker. The switch hitting shortstop blasted a 2-run shot off of Derek Holland today in the rain shortened game. He did it in just his 2nd MLB plate appearance. Tucker was also the team’s first overall pick in 2014, and is ranked as the team’s 5th best prospect. Tucker is mainly known for his fielding skill, and speed. Last year, he stole 35 bases, while receiving positive remarks for his fielding. Tucker will never be too much of a power guy. His highest home run total in the minors was 6. However, with Tucker’s speed, his bat can very much be a threat. He did have a .273 batting average, and .344 OBP. If he can get on base, he can easily score from first on a ball in the gap, or steal his way into scoring position. At just 22, soon to be 23 years old, Tucker is looking like a long term fit in the middle infield.
However, Tucker isn’t the only shortstop eligible prospect this team has to offer. Oneil Cruz, the prospect they acquired for Tony Watson, could be one of the Pirates’ best power hitters in the next few years. He is only 20 and ranked as the team’s #4 best prospect, so he has some time to work his way up through the minors. But after last year, he’s shown tons of potential. During 2018, Cruz blasted 14 home runs, and stole 11 bags in 103 games, and finished with a .286/.343/.488 line in 443 PA’s. Cruz’s defense, while not as good as Tucker’s, is still noteworthy. MLB.com still gives him a 50 rating, which is just around average. His 6’6 frame also gives him a cannon of an arm. MLB.com ranks it with a 70 rating. Cruz has also played some third base in the minors, but that could conflict with the next guy I want to bring up.
Ke’Bryan Hayes is one of the best third base prospects in the MILB. Hayes finished 2018 with a solid .293/.375/.444 line, while also stealing 12 bags. The third baseman is also one of the best fielders as per MLB.com. He is 1 of 2 top 10 3B prospects who have 60 overall ratings for his fielding, and arm. Hayes also has plus speed. Last season was the second season in a row he stole double digits bases. Similarly to Tucker, his batting average and OBP skill really do make him a threat at the plate, despite not being super powerful. Hayes could make his debut as soon as later this year. If any more injuries happen, he could be the next one to receive the call to the show.
2016 first round pick, Will Craig, could also cause some competition for playing time in the coming months. The slugger blasted 20 homers in ‘18, and finished the season with an overall line of .248/.321/.448. Craig is already 24, and in Triple-A. He’s gotten off to a hot start, already cranking 6 long balls, and walking 7 times in 61 PA’s. Craig is mainly a 1B, but has the fielding, and arm to be able to slide over to 3B if need be.
All of these players could cause kind of a jam within the next 3 years. Hayes is likely going to be the regular 3B of the future. Despite having Colin Moran locked down until 2022, the Pirates likely view him as a platoon/bench option, than a regular everyday option. Afterall, his clutch bat fits better on the bench. However, it’s the middle infield that problems will arise. The Pirates already have a solid 2B in Adam Frazier. Frazier is an extremely consistent batter, having given solid production at the plate every year he’s been in the majors. This year, he’s batting .274/.366/.403. Not too far off from his slashline from the past 2 seasons (.276/.343/.424). However, Frazier could be moved back into a super utility role if need be. That means that either Tucker or Cruz would have to move to second base. However Will Craig will be a bit of a problem. Josh Bell is likely the 1B of the Pirates for the foreseeable future. Bell has shown the power of a 1B in the past, and improved on his on base skill, and the ability to barrell up the ball more in 2018. It seems he’s putting it all together in 2019, as he has already blasted 3 home runs, and walked 8 times in 72 PA’s. While his glove is a bit of a question mark, he still should be viewed as the Pirates 1B for now. Bell pretty much blocks Will Craig, as does Ke’Bryan Hayes. Bell, though he did play a little corner OF in his debut season, and was originally drafted as an outfielder, doesn’t have the arm, or proper athletic skillset to be able to do more than be an emergency OF for the Bucs. While Will Craig does have decent fielding, and a good arm, he, like Bell, is too slow to play any OF spot. Plus, with Hayes manning the hot corner, there might not be room for Craig. However, injuries happen in baseball. Afterall, Tucker only made his debut in late April because Erik Gonzalez collided with Starling Marte, and was placed on the 60-day DL/IL. Bryan Reynolds only made his debut today for the same reason, except because Marte was placed on the 10-day DL/IL. Prospects don’t always develop as planned. Just look at Tyler Glasnow’s tenure in the Burgh as an example. By the time all these prospects are ready for regular big league action, the Pirates will have a plan for all of them to find for at least semi-regular playing action.