Top 35 Prospects: Pittsburgh Pirates

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

Pirates Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Ke’Bryan Hayes 21.8 AA 3B 2020 55
2 Mitch Keller 22.6 AAA RHP 2019 55
3 Travis Swaggerty 21.3 A CF 2021 50
4 Oneil Cruz 20.1 A CF 2021 50
5 Cole Tucker 22.4 AA SS 2020 50
6 Kevin Kramer 25.1 MLB 2B 2019 45
7 Luis Escobar 22.5 AA RHP 2021 45
8 Calvin Mitchell 19.7 A LF 2021 45
9 Bryan Reynolds 23.8 AA CF 2020 45
10 Pablo Reyes 25.2 MLB 3B 2019 40+
11 Jared Oliva 23.0 A+ CF 2021 40+
12 Tahnaj Thomas 19.4 R RHP 2023 40+
13 Kevin Newman 25.3 MLB SS 2019 40
14 Braxton Ashcraft 19.1 R RHP 2022 40
15 Stephen Alemais 23.6 AA SS 2020 40
16 Will Craig 24.0 AA 1B 2019 40
17 Travis MacGregor 21.1 A RHP 2021 40
18 Lolo Sanchez 19.6 A CF 2021 40
19 Juan Pie 17.6 R RF 2024 40
20 Steven Jennings 20.0 R RHP 2021 40
21 Ji-Hwan Bae 19.3 R SS 2022 40
22 J.T. Brubaker 25.0 AAA RHP 2019 40
23 Braeden Ogle 21.3 A LHP 2022 40
24 Jason Martin 23.2 AAA RF 2019 40
25 Max Kranick 21.3 A RHP 2022 40
26 Conner Uselton 20.5 R RF 2022 40
27 Nick Burdi 25.8 MLB RHP 2019 40
28 Geoff Hartlieb 25.0 AA RHP 2020 40
29 Clay Holmes 25.7 MLB RHP 2019 40
30 Blake Weiman 23.0 AA LHP 2020 35+
31 Cody Bolton 20.4 A RHP 2021 35+
32 Rodolfo Castro 19.5 A 2B 2022 35+
33 Yordi Rosario 19.9 R RHP 2023 35+
34 Grant Koch 21.8 A- C 2022 35+
35 Jesus Liranzo 23.7 AAA RHP 2019 35+
36 Osvaldo Gavilan 17.1 R CF 2024 35+

55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Concordia Lutheran HS (TX) (PIT)
Age 21.8 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 45/50 30/45 60/55 55/70 60/60

The son of 13-year big leaguer Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan has a rare blend of skills that includes premium defense, plus speed, and an offensive profile structured much like his father’s.

The younger Hayes was identified as a potential early-round pick pretty early in high school and eventually climbed to the back of the first round after a strong senior spring. He was drafted 32nd overall and signed for $1.8 million rather than head to Tennesse, where he and Nick Senzel would have played together for a year. Hayes has moved through the minors quickly and had a strong 2018 season at Double-A Altoona — .293/.375/.444 with an 11% BB%, 16.5% K%, 31 2Bs, 12 SB — in what would have been his draft year. He’s one of the best defensive third basemen in the minors and has progressed to become an above-average hitter, as well. A flat-planed swing and conservative hitting footwork are stifling the in-game power production. For Hayes, that’s fine. He does everything else.

It’s possible the Pirates will try to coax more power of out him by tweaking either his footwork or by moving his hands, the latter of which feels riskier. Even without further offensive evolution, Hayes projects as an all-fields, league-average offensive threat with plus-plus defense.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2014 from Xavier HS (IA) (PIT)
Age 22.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 40/50 50/60 93-97 / 100

We think the slight uptick in Keller’s walk rate last year could just have been caused by an increased focus on changeup usage. His swinging strike rate took a dip when he reached Double-A despite having two clearly plus pitches: an upper-90s sinker and a curveball. It’s possible the two didn’t pair well together and that a better changeup, or a third pitch, will be needed in order to miss bats. Keller’s changeup did improve throughout 2018, but he walked more guys; we think that aspect of his profile will bounce back once development isn’t coloring his pitch usage.

Keller avoided the DL all year after dealing with various injuries during each of the last three seasons. He projects as an above-average big leaguer starter who misses an average number of bats.

50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from South Alabama (PIT)
Age 21.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 60/60 30/50 65/65 45/55 60/60

Swaggerty was a new name to most scouts last summer when he starred as the sparkplug for collegiate Team USA, playing center field and batting atop the lineup along with White Sox 2018 first round 2B Nick Madrigal. Swaggerty showed bat control and gap power, and was a fringe first rounder for many off that first, extended look on Team USA, but he came out this spring looking like a different player. He had become more physical and changed his swing to incorporate his added strength, lifting the ball and evolving from a gap-to-gap speed player into a potential monster with plus raw power, arm strength and speed.

Swaggerty didn’t put up the gaudy numbers you’d expect for a guy with top level tools in a mid-major conference who had also hit with wood on the Cape, and it was because his new swing would get out of whack. His weight transfer was too aggressive at times, causing him to lose balance and be in a poor position to hit offspeed stuff. Swaggerty’s developmental issue is dialing in his swing mechanics and approach to something that takes best advantage of his explosive tools, which could be a multi-year process.

4. Oneil Cruz, CF
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (LAD)
Age 20.1 Height 6′ 7″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 70/80 30/60 60/45 40/45 80/80

A peerless physical freak, Cruz is a 6-foot-7 shortstop with elite raw arm strength and power projection. He body-comps more closely to someone like Harold Carmichael or Brandon Ingram than he does anyone in his own sport, and there are several vastly different ideas as to how his body and game will develop as he fills out. Despite his ectomorphic build, lever length and physical immaturity, Cruz has performed and has handled aggressive assignments pretty well. The Dodgers sent him to Low-A Great Lakes when he was 18, where he ran into 20 extra-base hits in 90 games before being traded to Pittsburgh at the deadline for Tony Watson. He hit .286/.343/.488 in 2018 while repeating Low-A.

There’s real risk Cruz maxes out as a 40 bat, but as long as he’s getting to most of that power, he’ll likely profile just about anywhere on the defensive spectrum. So, where exactly on the defensive spectrum will that be? Shortstops this big don’t exist, but there’s some sentiment in the industry that Cruz will be able to stay there, especially as we enter the era of the lead-footed shortstop. Others consider Cruz’s speed viable in center field long term. Those who think he’ll thicken significantly have him projected to either right field or third base, and others think his size would make for a wonderful target at first. One source thinks Cruz should just be pitching, due to his arm strength and athleticism. Clearly this is one of the more bizarre prospects in baseball with countless possible career outcomes. Most of them are very positive or highly entertaining; several of them end in stardom.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from Mountain Pointe HS (AZ) (PIT)
Age 22.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr S / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/50 45/50 30/40 55/50 50/55 70/70

Tucker was the Arizona Fall League’s most elegant defender. Rangy and smooth, sure-handed and graceful, he has room to add a few pounds as he ages while still remaining above-average at short. A torn labrum in 2015 cast doubt on Tucker’s ability to stay there if his arm strength weren’t to return but, though it took quite a while, it is not only back but has improved, and he now has a 70 arm.

With such an excellent defensive foundation in place, it’s very likely that Tucker becomes an everyday player. What happens with his bat will determine how much of an impact he makes, and that forecast is blurry. Right now, Tucker has surprising contact skills for someone as lanky as he is and he’s adept at identifying balls and strikes. His size and current swing both have significant room for growth. Tucker’s bat path enters the hitting zone in such a way that it causes him to pound the ball into the ground. If that gets tweaked, and he also adds strength into his mid-20s, he might suddenly start hitting for power. This is a rare, high-variance prospect who also has a high floor. If the power comes, Tucker will be an All Star; if it doesn’t he’ll just be a solid everyday player.

45 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2015 from UCLA (PIT)
Age 25.1 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 45/45 40/45 40/40 40/45 50/50

Kramer couldn’t catch up to good velo during his short big league stay, but it appeared to be an issue of timing rather than talent. He hit .297 at UCLA and is a .293 hitter as a pro. A swing change after the 2016 season altered his style of hitting pretty drastically, and Kramer has taken on a more proactive approach since making those mechanical alterations (his hands were loading lower, for one), and he’s also hitting for more power. Kramer is a below-average athlete and infield defender. The ceiling for players like this looks like Neil Walker.

7. Luis Escobar, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Colombia (PIT)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/55 50/60 30/40 92-95 / 97

Escobar exists at the right time in baseball history because his deficiencies are more acceptable now than they ever have been before. He has three potential plus pitches, but struggles to repeat his max-effort delivery in a way that enables any modicum of consistent strike-throwing. He’ll almost certainly need to move to the bullpen, but that three-pitch mix profiles in a multi-inning or high-leverage role.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Rancho Bernardo HS (CA) (PIT)
Age 19.7 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/55 50/55 20/45 40/40 40/50 40/40

Mitchell’s lack of defensive ability played a huge role in pushing him down into the middle of the second round of the 2017 draft. He projects defensively to left field or perhaps even to first base, which leaves no margin for error for his bat. So far, Mitchell has hit. As a 19-year-old at Low-A, Mitchell slashed .280/.344/.427. He has really quick, loose hands in the box and he can move the barrel all over the place. His bat head drags through the hitting zone a bit, which can make it tough for him to pull pitches he should be crushing, but it also leads to some very pretty opposite field doubles.

Because Mitchell’s frame is fairly squat, it’s unlikely that he grows into huge raw power. As such he’ll probably have to develop a special hit tool to profile at the defensive positions he’s capable of playing. He’s off to a strong start in that regard.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Vanderbilt (SFG)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr S / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 50/50 45/50 50/50 45/50 40/40

Reynolds got hot late in the year (he had a .400 OBP in July and August) and ended 2018 with a .302/.381/.438 line at Double-A Altoona. The leg kick he had while with San Francisco is now gone, and the strength of Reynolds’ hands and his ability to move the bat head around the zone have led to sufficiently hard contact without it.

Much of Reynolds’ profile depends upon his ability to stay in center field and the general consensus is that he’s a 45 or 50 defender out there. We keep waiting for Reynolds’ BABIP to regress (it hasn’t), and we expect his unusually high walk rate from 2018 to do eventually so as well (though, he was very selective in the Fall League), but ulimately he projects to be an average offensive player who is fine in center field, which would make him an everyday player of some kind. He turn 24 in January.

40+ FV Prospects

10. Pablo Reyes, 3B
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2011 from Dominican Republic (PIT)
Age 25.2 Height 5′ 8″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 50/50 45/50 50/50 50/50 50/50

Reyes was Cistulli’s guy on last year’s list when he profiled as a contact-oriented, multi-positional bench player with no power. At some point in 2018, his hands became more active and his swing took on more movement, becoming whippy and more explosive, and the quality of Reyes’ contact was able to improve without costing him much in the way of contact. It culminated in an eye-opening September cup of coffee — an apt phrase for Reyes, who plays like he is extremely caffeinated — during which Reyes slashed .293/.349/.483. September numbers can be noisy because the talent pool has been diluted by roster expansion, but we’re cautiously optimistic that Reyes has become a different hitter. Namely, a gap-to-gap hitter capable of really punishing pitchers who try to beat him with heat on the inner half.

Defensively, he’s perfectly fine at third base and in the outfield corners, and fringey at second base; we’d rather not have him play shortstop. Jordan Luplow’s departure should enable Reyes to see big league reps. We think he’s a valuable bench option and has a chance to be more than that.

11. Jared Oliva, CF
Drafted: 7th Round, 2017 from Arizona (PIT)
Age 23.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 187 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/45 55/55 40/45 60/60 45/50 50/50

Oliva went undrafted as an eligible sophomore at Arizona because he was too raw and inexperienced due to a total lack of reps while in high school. He emerged as a speed/raw power flier as a junior, but slid to the Pirates in the 7th round and signed for slot. His performance in 2018, his first full pro season, exceeded all expectations; in his college career (172 games) Oliva produced 9 homers and a .773 OPS while in 2018 at High-A he hit (108 games) 9 homers with a .778 OPS, despite skipping Low-A.

Oliva’s feel for contact is still somewhat clumsy and he remains a power-over-hit offensive performer at the plate, but he’s an athlete in the classic center field mold, like Drew Stubbs and Cameron Maybin, and is very likely to play there for a while. He’s now on a trajectory to start 2019 in Double-A and possibly hit his way to the big leagues just two years after sliding in the draft due to the lack of a statistical track record.

12. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Bahamas (CLE)
Age 19.4 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 50/60 40/50 45/55 92-95 / 96

Newly acquired from Cleveland as part of the Erik Gonzalez/Jordan Luplow trade, Thomas immediately becomes the most athletic, projectable pitcher in this system. A converted shortstop, he has very little on-mound experience and yet his stuff, feel for location, and breaking ball release are already pretty advanced. His fastball and curveball project to plus pretty easily, and his arm speed/action are promising as far as changeup projection is concerned. His delivery resembles that of Triston McKenzie and it creates a tough-to-squaure, flat angle up in the zone that should allow Thomas to miss bats with his fastball.

He projects as a league-average starter for now, but there’s also massive ceiling here because of the athleticism, and the fact that Thomas is so new to pitching that he may just be scratching the surface.

40 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Arizona (PIT)
Age 25.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
55/55 40/40 20/30 60/60 40/45 50/50

Newman’s contact profile is very similar to that of Jose Iglesias. Both have excellent barrel control and find ways to put tough pitches in play, and both generate so little power that they struggle to hit for high averages despite all of that contact. Newman is a value-neutral defensive shortstop, though, which gives him a fine chance of playing some kind of second-division role, but also means several players in this system are breathing down his neck. Now big league ready, Newman projects as a light-hitting, 1 to 1.5 WAR shortstop.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Robinson HS (TX) (PIT)
Age 19.1 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/55 50/55 40/45 45/55 88-93 / 95

A two-sport star in high school, Ashcraft kind of got lost amid the many talented prep arms in the 2018 class, but he was in the second tier, wire-to-wire, for the clubs that emphasize athleticism and projection. He pitches in the low 90’s with an average-ish fastball, a slider that flashes above-average, and a repeatable delivery that can produce above-average command. This is a prototypical high school projection arm: size, arm strength, some spin, and premium athleticism. Pittsburgh has now take a multi-sport athlete with each of their last two second round picks. Elevating Ashcraft above other prep arms in the system is his more consistent velocity, health and physical and technicaly projection.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Tulane (PIT)
Age 23.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 30/30 20/20 60/60 60/70 60/60

Alemais is one of the most acrobatic and athletic defensive players in the minors and began seeing most of his reps at second base, not because he’s an incapable shortstop, but because he was teammates with Cole Tucker. Alemais’ glove is so good that we consider him likely to play some kind of big league role, despite being unlikely to hit. His hands lack life; to Alemais’ credit, he’s done his best to find a way to hit the ball harder by taking high-effort swings, and he hasn’t lost any contact ability in the process. This is an intense, hard-working athlete with some physical shortcomings that will likely limit his role, but he has elite defensive skill and is tough to strike out, which means he has a watered down version of Andrelton Simmons’ skillset.

16. Will Craig, 1B
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Wake Forest (PIT)
Age 24.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 55/55 45/55 30/30 40/40 60/60

At some point, Craig made a subtle swing change that yielded a drastically different batted ball profile in 2018. He had already added a leg kick earlier in his pro career after raking at Wake Forest without one, but he altered how his hands set up, which more effectively changed his angle of attack. His ground ball rate dropped from 46% to 30% and he slugged 53 extra-base hits last year. The increased lift also caused Craig’s peripherals to shift slightly (the BB% down, the K% up) and his OBP tanked, but we like Craig’s chances of hitting for enough power to profile at first base more now than we did a year ago. His profile is almost exactly like that of Astros 3B/1B J.D. Davis who, like Craig, also pitched in college.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from East Lake HS (FL) (PIT)
Age 21.1 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 45/50 50/55 40/50 91-94 / 97

One of two East Lake high school pitchers who were drafted in 2016 (the Mets’ Christian James is the other), things were starting to come together for MacGregor before he blew out and needed Tommy John in September. His strong start to the season was first derailed by a deltoid issue that forced him to the DL in mid-May. He missed five weeks, then returned to Low-A West Virginia and pitched well until late-August when he was again shut down. He’ll likely miss all of 2019 due to the timing of his surgery.

MacGregor’s velocity spiked late during his high school career and the Pirates jumped on him earlier in the draft than he was expected to go. He was only sitting 90-91 and topping out at 94 at the time. Before the elbow went, he was 90-94, touching 97, and locating a quality breaking ball. He has mid-rotation upside if his stuff comes back after surgery.

18. Lolo Sanchez, CF
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (PIT)
Age 19.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 150 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/50 30/45 20/45 60/60 45/55 55/55

2017 Lolo Sanchez was a speedster with advanced bat-to-ball ability and defensive instincts. 2018 Lolo Sanchez was a mechanical mess whose strikeout rate doubled. Sanchez’s hands began loading even lower than they had before, way down near the bottom of his abdomen, presumably to introduce more lift to his swing. Indeed, Sanchez’s ground ball percent dropped nine percentage points, but the changes compromised the quality of his contact in other ways, and made it hard for him to connect with pitches in some parts of the zone at all. His hands were stiff and loading late; they didn’t seem as quick and twitchy as they had the previous year. These issues were exacerbated by Sanchez’s already pull-heavy approach.

Take solace in the fact that he is only 19 and doesn’t turn 20 until April, and that his assignment to full season ball in 2018 was very aggressive. He also remains fast and quite good in center field. He looked much more like a fourth outfielder in 2018 than a table-setting center fielder, but there’s lots of time to bounce back.

19. Juan Pie, RF
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (PIT)
Age 17.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/50 45/60 30/55 55/50 40/50 55/60

Until the late pickup of Ji-Hwan Bae, Pie was the top international signing for the Pirates, with a $500,000 bonus in the 2017 international signing period, the club’s first after the dismissal of international director Rene Gayo. Pie was seen as a tools gamble, with classic everyday right field upside but crudeness typical for his age and build.

He quickly shed much of that crudeness in a loud pro debut this summer in the DSL. Pie showed a little bit of everything, and we think the upside is that of a 5 hit, 6 power, 5 run/defense type everyday right fielder, but it’s still early to be projecting a 5 bat with any certainty given that Pie hasn’t played stateside yet. That said, there are prospects in the Top 100–and who went in the 1st round in 2018–that have this kind of upside, and Pie could be alongside them if he can repeat this kind of performance for the next few years.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from DeKalb HS (TN) (PIT)
Age 20.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/55 50/55 40/45 30/50 40/50 88-92 / 94

Jennings was a dual-threat QB at DeKalb and was actually the MVP of his high school’s classification as an underclassman. He blew out his ACL on the football field the following fall, and yet he was back on the mound the following spring and pitched well enough for the Pirates to offer him $1.9 million as a second rounder (he was committed to Ole Miss).

Jennings can really spin it but his velocity has waxed and waned as a pro, hovering anywhere between the upper-80s and low-80s. Each of his two breaking balls has premium raw spin, but Jennings release of them, especially the slider, hasn’t become consistent enough yet for them to play like plus pitches. At age 20, Jennings is still an uncooked, developmental project, but his athletic ability and talent for spinning the ball mean he could really break out if things click mechanically.

21. Ji-Hwan Bae, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from South Korea (PIT)
Age 19.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/55 35/45 20/40 65/65 40/50 50/55

Bae originally agreed to terms with the Braves, but that contract was never approved as the deal was voided as part of the sanctions for Atlanta’s international indiscretions. Bae hit the market anew and signed for $1.25 million with the Pirates. Last month, Bae was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend in Korea in an incident that occurred on New Year’s Eve 2017; it’s unknown whether or not MLB will suspend him now that the case has concluded.

Scouts in the Pacific rim likened Bae’s skills to those of Hak-Ju Lee, as Lee was also a speedy, contact-oriented shortstop at this age. Bae posts 60 and sometimes 70- grade run times from home to first and has advanced contact skills, with a swing familiar to many in Japan’s NPB. There isn’t much strength or power to his offensive game. An interesting aspect of Bae’s development will be his transition from largely turf infields in Korea to grass and dirt in America. His arm appears to be below-average at times due to a quick-flip throwing motion. It was fine for first basemen in Korea to field balls on a clean hop of the turf, but it’s not ideal for pro ball here in the States. Most scouts think there’s the ability to stick at short, it just isn’t always evident to scouts without this context.

22. J.T. Brubaker, RHP
Drafted: 6th Round, 2015 from Akron (PIT)
Age 25.0 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/50 55/55 40/45 40/45 92-95 / 97

Brubaker was the Pirates’ 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year after posting a 2.81 ERA over 28 Double and Triple-A starts. He has been remarkably durable as a pro, only requiring a single DL stint in 2017, and even that was only due to a blister. He added a curveball that wasn’t there (at least, wasn’t used in Eric’s Fall League looks) in 2017 and it became his best secondary pitch. It’s a good 12-6 curveball in the low-80s and Brubaker complements it with a hard slider in the 88-90 mph range.

Brubaker’s fastball doesn’t have bat-missing life or ride, but he knows how to attack hitters with his two breaking balls and should fit in the back of a rotation or in a relief role.

23. Braeden Ogle, LHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2016 from Jensen Beach HS (FL) (PIT)
Age 21.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 50/55 40/50 30/45 91-94 / 95

Of the similarly-aged pitching prospects on this list, Ogle actually has the best present stuff. He’ll bump 96 from the left side and his mid-80s slider is already above-average. But Ogle has had trouble staying healthy. He had knee surgery in 2017, was shut down with shoulder inflammation in April of 2018, and didn’t pitch for the rest of the year. If a move to the bullpen occurs to try to keep Ogle healthy, we think he could move quickly as a two-pitch lefty reliever.

24. Jason Martin, RF
Drafted: 8th Round, 2013 from Orange Lutheran HS (CA) (HOU)
Age 23.2 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 50/50 40/45 50/50 45/50 50/50

Since a 2016 swing change increased the angle in his swing, Martin has performed at every level until reaching Triple-A in 2018. He’s a tweener defensive outfielder with a collection of average tools, and he profiles in a bench/platoon role. He’ll likely debut next year.

25. Max Kranick, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Valley View HS (PA) (PIT)
Age 21.3 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
45/50 50/55 40/50 91-93 / 96

Kranick was an athletic projection arm from the Northeast who signed for $300,000 as an 11th rounder in 2016. He barely pitched in 2017 due to a shoulder issue. He was back on an affiliated mound in May and, though his repertoire is very limited, his stuff is now better than it was in high school. He mixes in a four and two-seamer in the 91-93 range but will touch 96, and he’ll show you an above-average slider. Pro scouts have him projected as a two-pitch reliever because that’s really all they’ve seen from him, and Kranick is already 21, but let’s see what else materializes as he gets more reps.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Southmoore HS (OK) (PIT)
Age 20.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 55/70 20/55 50/40 40/50 60/60

Uselton had a rough first season in pro ball as a 20-year-old in the Appy League. His bat was raw coming out of high school, especially for a hitter who was old for his class, but he was a second round pick because he already had big power and was likely to grow into more. He remains an archetypical right field prospect. There’s power, a huge frame, and arm strength. He’d be a sophomore-eligible college player in 2019 had he gone to Oklahoma State and the Pirates typically send newly drafted collegians to the New York-Penn League. That means Uselton will likely begin 2019 in extended spring training and, since he’ll essentially be repeating that level until June, he needs to start hitting while he’s there.

27. Nick Burdi, RHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2014 from Louisville (MIN)
Age 25.8 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 40/40 94-96 / 98

A 2017 Rule 5 selection by the Phillies, Burdi was immediately flipped to Pittsburgh for international bonus space and spent much of 2018 recovering from Tommy John. He started a rehab assignment in mid-July and made his major league debut in September, his stuff mostly back to pre-TJ form. He topped out at 98 and broke off plenty of nasty sliders, but his command and the quality of break on the slider were inconsistent, which is typical of those returning from TJ. Burdi’s delivery is odd. His swivels about an axis created by a stiff front leg. It makes it hard for him to get over his front side and is difficult to repeat. This, combined with his injury history, mean he’s perceived as a risk for chronic health issues.

If he can stay healthy, he could pitch at the back of a bullpen. Rule 5 roster requirements state that a drafted player needs to be on his new team’s big league roster for 90 days for his new club to keep him, which means Burdi needs to stay with the Pirates through April and May or else be offered back to the Twins.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Lindenwood Univ (PIT)
Age 25.0 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/55 30/40 40/45 94-98 / 100

After graduating high school, Hartlieb played basketball at Division II Quincy University for a season, then transferred to Lindenwood, where he re-introduced himself to baseball. He began throwing harder than he did as a prep prospect. The Pirates picked him late in the 2016 draft and Hartlieb’s velocity has continued to climb as he has moved fairly quickly through the system, reaching Double-A and the Arizona Fall League in his second full season. He now sits 94-98 and has touched 100 mph. He can alter the shape of his fastball to either ride or sink, and he will flash an above-average slider on occasion. He also has a well-below average changeup. With this size and small school, multi-sport athletic background, it’s possible Hartlieb has some remaining development despite his age. He projects as a middle relief option.

29. Clay Holmes, RHP
Drafted: 9th Round, 2011 from Slocomb HS (AL) (PIT)
Age 25.7 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/55 45/45 45/45 40/40 93-96 / 99

Holmes threw 26 wild innings in the majors last year. He has a heavy sinker in the mid-to-upper 90s but lacks a dominant secondary offering that might carry him to a more significant role. There’s a chance his curveball turns into that, but overhand curves like Holmes’ don’t typically pair well with sinkers. Repertoire depth and an ability to generate ground balls should enable Holmes to pitch in relief or as a fifth starter.

35+ FV Prospects

30. Blake Weiman, LHP
Drafted: 8th Round, 2017 from Kansas (PIT)
Age 23.0 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 208 Bat / Thr R / L FV 35+

Low-slot pitchers like Weiman have a more accentuated platoon disadvantage because opposite-handed hitters see the ball earlier and better out of their hand. Pitchers can mitigate this in a variety of ways, whether by creating a tough angle in on the hands of righties or having their stuff be just so good it doesn’t matter or by having surgical breaking ball command. Weiman is the last of these. He dots his slider wherever he wants and uses it in any count, which enables his fringey fastball to sneak up on hitters who can’t just sit on it because of the slider. We typically just 35 FV lefty specialists, which is what, on the surface, Weiman appears to be, but he might be crafty enough to get righties out, too.

31. Cody Bolton, RHP
Drafted: 6th Round, 2017 from Tracy HS (CA) (PIT)
Age 20.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Bolton had a strong start to his 2018 season before he was shut down in July with a shoulder issue. He didn’t pitch for the rest of the summer. Healthy Bolton touches 95 and will show you an above-average slider and average changeup. He sat 86-90 as a rising high school senior but has since altered the timing of his arm swing for the better, and the resulting velo is fairly new. Because his delivery is somewhat grotesque and Bolton has now had a shoulder problem, there’s apprehension about his health. He was breaking out, then just broke, so now we’re in wait-and-see mode regarding his stuff.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (PIT)
Age 19.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr S / R FV 35+

After a very strong 2017, Castro began 2018 as an 18-year-old in full-season ball. He didn’t perform well on paper, but still has an exciting combination of defensive ability and power projection. Built like a freshman combo guard, Castro’s has a good chance to add strength as he ages without compromising his ability to play second base. His hitting hands are explosive but still pretty uncoordinated, especially from the left side of the plate. That will need to be smoothed out as Castro develops, but he has some feel for lifting the ball and he’s able to drop the bat head to get to pitches down and in. Likely a long-term developmental project, Castro has a shot to hit for some power and play up the middle.

33. Yordi Rosario, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (CHW)
Age 19.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Rosario was acquired for Ivan Nova during the 2019 Winter Meetings and added to this list after its initial publication. He’s an advanced strike-thrower with a fastball in the 88-93 range and an average curveball, both of which could improve as Rosario grows into his body. Realistically he profiles as a future #4/5 starter.

34. Grant Koch, C
Drafted: 5th Round, 2018 from Arkansas (PIT)
Age 21.8 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

The Pirates have taken a bat-first catcher with power in the fifth round each of the last two years. And much like Deon Stafford the year before, Koch was in the third round mix entering the spring but had a down junior year and slid a few rounds. A bounce back and defensive improvements are necessary parts of Koch’s future, but we like him as a fifth round, buy low flier.

35. Jesus Liranzo, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2011 from Dominican Republic (ATL)
Age 23.7 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Now 23, Liranzo was scuttled around various orgs in 2018 (BAL, then LAD, then PIT). He has one of the fastest arms in pro baseball. He sits 97 and touches 102 mph, but has no idea where it’s going. We think altering his stride length and direction might solve some of his issues but he also might just be a guy who never repeats his delivery. He could be a dynamite bullpen arm or nothing at all.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican Republic (PIT)
Age 17.1 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+

Gavilan was the Pirates’ top July 2 signee from 2018 at $700,000. He’s an average runner (he ran a 7.1 60-yard-dash in workouts) with good instincts in center field; he’ll stay there if he speeds up as he matures as an athlete. His current swing is somewhat long but again, Gavilan has advanced feel to hit, enough to compensate for his mechanical maladies right now. He has a better chance of either hitting, staying in center field, or both, than the outfielders in the Others of Note section on this list.

Other Prospects of Note
Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.
Teenage Outfielders
Daniel Rivero, CF
Angel Basabe, RF
Sergio Campana, LF
Jack Herman, RF

Rivero has advanced contact skills and stands this group’s best chance of staying in center. Basabe signed for $450,000 in 2017 and had a solid first year in pro ball. His tools all hover around average right now and he only has modest physical projection, but he has one of the prettier left-handed swings from his signing class and has natural feel for lifting the ball. Once his lower half gets more involved in his swing, he could start hitting for big in-game power. Campana was a $500,000 signee in 2018. He has a strong, Derek Dietrich-ish frame, average offensive tools, and might need to move to left due to arm strength. A 30th round high schooler from New Jersey who signed for $50,000, Herman hit .340/.435/.489 in the GCL, and had nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He’s just 6-foot tall but has a broad-shouldered frame with some room for more mass and there’s already some pop here. His arm is plus.

Power-hitters with Rough Defensive Profiles
Mason Martin, 1B
Jonah Davis, LF
Edison Lantigua, RF

A 17th rounder in 2017, Martin’s incredible foray into pro ball — .307/.457/.630 — forced re-evaluation. He has powerful, explosive hands and big raw power, but also has a maxed-out, 6-foot frame, only profiles at first base, and posted a 33% strikeout rate in 2018. He doesn’t turn 20 until next June and has a chance to be a three-true-outcome first baseman but there’s no margin for error on the bat because he’s at the bottom of the defensive spectrum. Davis has easy plus raw power from the left side but is a LF/DH-only defender and he struck out a ton in college. Lantigua has a well-rounded, vanilla toolset and has performed up through the NYPL.

Bat-first Catchers
Deon Stafford, C
Samuel Inoa, C

Stafford has big, strength-driven power but hasn’t improved enough behind the plate. He does have plus makeup and is a good athlete for his size, so perhaps that defensive will still come. Inoa is a strong, early-career performer with a strong hit tool, but he might not catch.

New Middle Infielders
Connor Kaiser, SS
Luis Tejada, SS
Juan Jerez, 2B
Orlando Chivilli, SS
Alexander Mojica, 3B

Kaiser (3rd round in 2018 from Vanderbilt) has similarities to Pirates 2008 3rd rounder Jordy Mercer as a bigger college shortstop without big offensive impact; Kaiser was scorching hot in the college postseason but needs to dial in his swing and approach. Tejada ($500,000) is built like Jeter Downs, and has above-average hands and some pull-side pop. He has the best combination of physicality and defensive ability of this group. It’s possible Jerez ($380,000) grows into enough arm strength to play the left side of the infield, but for now he has a 40 arm and fits better at second base. He’s currently very small but has a square, long-limbed frame (like a scaled-down Jed Lowrie) that has room for plenty of mass, and he can already swing it fairly well for a 135-pound kid. Chivilli ($350,000) is similar but has less room on the frame. Mojica ($350,000) is a thicker, 3B-only prospect with present pop.

Late-bloomer Pitching Candidates

Elvis Escobar, LHP
Oliver Mateo, RHP
Angel German, RHP
Jose Maldonado, RHP
Lizardy Dicent, RHP

Escobar is a converted outfielder who has only been pitching for a few months. He’s been up to 95 mph from the left side and shown great changeup feel right away. His breaking ball is fringy but plays up a bit against lefties because he hides the ball well. Mateo and German throw in the upper-90s but each is quite wild. Maldonado is a strong-bodied 19-year-old who sits 91-95 and has average secondaries. Dicent sits 91-93, touches 96, and has an average slider.

Recently Acquired Projection Arms
Dante Mendoza, RHP
Wilkin Ramos, RHP

19-year-old Dante Mendoza was a 12th round high school draftee in 2017 who spent 2018 in the AZL, with Cleveland. Pittsburgh acquired him in the Erik Gonzalez/Jordan Luplow deal. At 6-foot-5, Mendoza joins a system full of huge-framed pitching prospects. He has been up to 93 but sits 87-90 with the fastball and has an advanced changeup and breaking ball. There’s a strong possibility that Mendoza’s stuff ticks up as his body matures and he turns into a good big league pitcher of some kind, realistically in the back of a rotation. Ramos has less present stuff — he was 87-90 and touching 92 in the fall, which is actually down a bit from the previous fall — but more physical projection as he’s an ultra-wiry 6-foot-5. He has some feel for a slow, loopy curveball and began using a slider/cutter in the upper-70s last year. He turned 18 on Halloween 2018 and is a long-term developmental project.

System Overview

After the Chris Archer trade, the Pirates appear as if they’re ready to compete for the next few seasons, so getting pieces from the farm system who will play for the league minimum will help create an increased margin for error in the team’s payroll. Pittsburgh has mostly spent in the middle bonus tier (under $1 million) of the international market and has gotten solid early results on their most recent signings. In the draft, they have a type with respect to pitchers, leaning heavily toward big players with projectable velocity (extension is a big part of that) and breaking ball spin rate. They’re a little harder to pin down when it comes to hitters, and their approach to the international market and amateur pitching is where a progressive leaning is particularly evident.

There are a number of hitters, especially at the top of this list, who, as noted in their reports, are in the midst of a swing change. That introduces some variance to the profiles of prospects whose stat lines wouldn’t seem to suggest it, which is a good thing. Variance is typically read as risk when it comes to prospects, and so more of it is bad. That’s often true, but variance can also mean a wide range of outcomes, with Cole Tucker a classic example of a high floor prospect who also has a high ceiling if it all breaks right.

We hoped you liked reading Top 35 Prospects: Pittsburgh Pirates by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel!

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sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

These writeups are consistently spectacular. The depth of coverage (how far down in the system you guys go) is just unparalleled…it’s part of what puts you over the top in a world of really good prospect analyses.

My immediate thoughts after reading this: To me, it doesn’t sound like the 40s in Pitt’s system are quite as interesting as the ones in the Cards’ system. I really thought there were a ton of 40s in the Cards’ system that had potential to be real contributors, and here it’s a bunch of guys with huge tools and terrifying bust rates. The guys I really love here are Tucker and Pie–I actually totally agree with Tucker’s writeup, but I’d think that writeup puts him more at about a 55. I think he might be the best player in the system.

Of the guys with great tools, Cruz and Pie intrigue me the most. Cruz strikes out a little bit more than you’d like and he’s always going to strike out a little bit, but he was also a 20 year old in A-ball. He’s got holes in his swing like Judge did (and not Judge’s insane raw power) when he was a prospect but physically looks more like Darryl Strawberry and might be able to play the infield and also might turn into a hulking behemoth and get Trumbo-esque raw power. Meanwhile, Pie’s got tools and production, which is kind of rare. Yeah, he’s never played in the US, but Pie’s tools all by themselves are probably 40-grade (compare them to the 40 and 40+ guys in the last J2 class, who by definition have also not played in pro ball in the US). I love him. I’m a little less excited by Swaggerty, who looks an awful lot like Corey Ray to me–those sorts of prospects give me heart attacks.

I also wonder why guys like Will Craig don’t get a little bit more of a look at pitcher. Everyone seems to want the Brendan McKays and Shohei Ohtanis to be two-way threats, but I actually think the real possibilities are hitters like Mitch Moreland…guys who can serve as part of a platoon at first and as a maybe-decent reliever. Especially valuable in the NL, where you could be a pinch-hitter and then pitch an inning. Though maybe he wasn’t as good a pitcher as advertised. AJ Reed is another guy who–if he doesn’t take the next step–could be a guy like that.