Pittsburgh Pirates 2021 Top 50 Prospects

Graphic design by John Stewart, @jonance on Twitter

The Pirates had a woeful time in 2020 once the season got going. If you want to read me wax poetic about that you can check out my end of year review. While the MLB product will remain a little shaky in 2021, the Pittsburgh farm is starting to develop into one of the better systems in the entire league. Despite graduating Tier 1 prospect Mitch Keller, the organization gained a lot of talent in 2020 via an excellent debut draft by GM Ben Cherington and Co. The new front office backed up that great summer haul with an inventive and aggressive Rule 5 Draft. Combine both of those influxes of talent with the players received in the Starling Marte trade and you have the makings of a deep and tooled-up farm ready to supply the Three Rivers with some excitement – and some baseballs – in the very near future. Oh yeah, the Pirates also have the number one pick in the 2021 draft. The present may be bleak, but the future hasn’t been this bright since Andrew McCutchen debuted in 2009.


However, the question of how to handle a lost minor league season when compiling 2021 prospect lists is a troubling one. For some players, there simply will not be any new information analyze. For others, positive reports from alternate training sites will be nearly all we have to go on. For me, the biggest losers of the lost season will be the boom-or-bust type prospects who have the tools, but lacked polish and refinement. The best way to turn tools into consistent production is to play actual baseball games while being supported by great coaching. Unfortunately, a lot of players lost access to both last year, forcing them to do everything they could to remain in game shape during isolation. Only time will tell how much impact the lost season will have on developing players, so in this list I will attempt to avoid irresponsible guesswork and focus more energy on the fresh crop of talent acquired in the last twelve months. To that end, Will Craig was left off this list as he has been DFA’d by the big club and is unlikely to be a major league contributor. Hoist the mainsail and trim the sheets, let’s kick off Top 50 month at Prospects1500 with a parrot and a jug of rum!

Prospects1500 Tiers:
Tier 1:
 Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players who are worth keeping an eye on, but likely to never make a team’s 40-man roster

WRITER’S NOTE: When you click on a player’s name in this article it will take you directly to the Baseball Reference page for that player. This will allow you the quickest way to access their stats from college, the minors and more. 

Tier 1:

1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Age: 23
Highest Level: MLB
My goodness, what a debut Hayes had in 2020. After a battle with COVID before the season got going, Hayes burst on to the scene like a caged-animal let loose on a meatpacking plant. I must say, I was not expecting the bat to arrive in the way that it did. The power surge that Hayes finished the 2019 season with carried over something fierce into the 2020 major league season. In what was admittedly a small sample size, Hayes was an arsonist at the dish, clobbering five homers, seven doubles and two triples in just 24 games. The average exit velocity was an astounding 92.8 with a max of 110.4 mph and helped create an absurd 1.7 fWAR in his paltry 95 plate appearances. All that said, temper expectations on Hayes for 2021. I think he can be a 20/20 player with 40+ doubles and a slash line of around .280/.360/.480, but don’t look at his debut and think that Hayes has all of a sudden blossomed into a huge power source. What I will be looking for in 2021 is to see whether or not Hayes can bring his K% down and his BB% up without sacrificing too much of the hard contact he made in 2020. Pirates fans can breath a little easier this offseason, because Hayes has most certainly arrived and there is more talent on the way.

2. Nick Gonzales, 2B
Age: 21
Highest Level: NCAA
The 2020 MLB Draft was an absolute master class by Cherington and Co. Gonzales was one of the best bats available and is primed to produce regrets for the six teams that passed on him. He has crushed every level of available competition since before his MVP season in the 2019 Cape Cod League. With his diminutive 5’10” 190 lbs frame, Gonzales has been proving people wrong for as long as he has been playing baseball. Do not sleep on this kid. Second base is one of the weakest positions in fantasy baseball and the Pirates have a big hole in the middle of their infield right now. Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier and Cole Tucker are not long term options at 2B. Gonzales is the type of polished power bat that should have no issue dominating the competition in the minor leagues and arriving in the majors earlier than most of his fellow draftees. For my money, he has exactly the hitting profile you look for in a power bat. He commands the strike zone (89 walks and only 79 strikeouts in 128 college games), hits for both contact and power, and is able to garner more extra-base hits and chip in a few steals with above average wheels and a high baseball IQ.

Tier 2

3. Oneil Cruz, SS
Age: 22
Highest Level: AA
I ranked Cruz above Hayes last winter due to the massive power potential and the fact that Hayes had yet to really show me a level of production that would make him a fantasy stud. Well, looks like I was wrong on that one. Cruz still has the potential to be the Aaron Judge of the infield, but the car accident he got into after the season that left three people dead in the Dominican Republic casts some serious doubt on his 2021 prospects. The investigation to determine whether or not Cruz was intoxicated at the time of the crash is still ongoing, so all we can do is wait for more information. Until then, Cruz is getting some reps in LIDOM (Dominican Winter League) in an attempt to stay game ready for the 2021 season. If he is acquitted, Cruz should start the season in AAA or the alternate site and make his MLB debut in 2021. Luckily for the Pirates, even if Cruz is found guilty, there is another shortstop prospect lurking below decks that can answer the call.

4. Quinn Priester, RHP
Age: 20
Highest Level: A-
One of the top prep arms from the 2019 draft, Priester was added to the 60-man roster and the alternate site after Hayes was called up to the majors. His velocity was up to 98 mph and reports from Altoona were glowing. If we get a minor league season, it will be very telling to see where the new front office puts him to start the year. Adding that type of velocity to an already advanced arsenal could turn Priester into a potential SP1, but as with any prep arm, a fair amount of risk is still present. Keep a close eye on him in 2021 and try to acquire him before the helium gets out of control.

5. Liover Peguero, SS
Age: 20
Highest Level: A-
Acquired as a part of the Starling Marte trade last offseason, Peguero is a promising all-around prospect. A hit over power bat, Peguero will likely find his way to the major leagues in the next three seasons on the strength of his contact ability and defense. He has shown good walk rates so far with the ability to steal some bags, and if the Pirates move Cruz to the outfield, Peguero’s defense will be needed between Hayes and Gonzales. Across two levels in 2019, he it .326/.382/.485 with 21 extra base hit and 11 steals. The swing is nice and compact and at 6’1″ 160 lbs he should be able to add a bit of good weight to his frame without sacrificing much quickness.

Tier 3

6. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: Rookie
Thomas is still one of the most exciting arms in the system, it is just hard to say if he will make it as a reliever or a starter. The Pirates system is starting to fill up with power arms, so the competition for a rotation spot may be difficult for Thomas to break through. With his elite velocity (topping out at 101), the organization may find that the best role for him is as a high leverage reliever.

7. Brennan Malone, RHP
Age: 20
Highest Level: A-
The other piece acquired in the Marte trade, Malone is a power arm that throws in the mid-90s with a slider and curveball that both grade out as at least above average right now. The new front office appears to be stacking as many power arms as possible, a strategy I can fully get behind. In theory, pitching prospects should have had the ability to continue to work on their pitches and mechanics during the lockdown, but only a minor league season in 2021 will tell us who put in the work and who didn’t. Here’s hoping Malone was able to continue his development in isolation.

8. Alexander Mojica, 1B/3B
Age: 18
Highest Level: DSL
Mojica is a power bat that absolutely dominated the DSL in 2019. Losing the minor league season in 2020 adds some question marks to his development, but I am still incredibly high on his bat and his ability to both command the strike zone and hit balls out of the ballpark. Assuming some semblance of normalcy in 2021, Mojica should make his way stateside and give the prospect world a much clearer picture of his potential.

9. Travis Swaggerty, OF
Age: 23
Highest Level: A+
Swaggerty impressed at the alternate site with some home runs and stellar defense. I have him ranked ahead of Oliva because I think that Swaggerty will be able to reach his power potential more than Oliva, has a keener eye at the plate, and can also steal 10-20 bags at the major league level.

10. Jared Oliva, OF
Age: 25
Highest Level: MLB
Oliva received a six-game shot of espresso at the end of 2020 and boy did he struggle. It would be imprudent to take away any meaningful conclusions from 16 plate appearances, but he did hit .188 and strike out six times. Oliva will likely play a role for the Pirates this year, as he can play above average centerfield defense, but I still don’t think the bat will be anything special in terms of fantasy production. Oliva’s main fantasy value will come from his ability to get on base and steal bases, but the slugging percentage is likely to hover around .400.

11. Mason Martin, 1B
Age: 21
Highest Level: A+
Martin possesses immense power. If he is able to consistently get to it in games by sticking to his approach I could see a season or two where he threatens to hit 40 home runs. Reports from the alternate site were glowing and in an interview with rumbunter.com he was adamant that “this is not a lost season…” Only thing keeping him out of the top 10 is a questionable hit tool.

12. JT Brubaker, RHP
Age: 26
Highest Level: MLB
Brubaker was my 20th ranked prospect last season and he jumps all the way up to 12 this year on the strength of his good showing at the major league level. The ceiling on him is still a SP4 for the moment, but he has proven that he belongs in the Pirates rotation for 2021. Brubaker had a 23.4 K% in the majors last year which helped him produce a solid 4.03 FIP. Hopefully he is past all of his injuries and can give the Pirates 150+ innings next season.

13. Cody Bolton, RHP
Age: 22
Highest Level: AA
Bolton was a standout at the alternate site in 2020 and I was hoping that we might get a chance to see him in Pittsburgh at the end of the end of the season. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but if we get a minor league season this year Bolton could find his way to the majors by the end of the year. He was ranked 6th for me last year, and the drop to 12 is more of a statement on the players ahead of him than it is for Bolton.

14. Ji-Hwan Bae, 2B/SS
Age: 21
Highest Level: A
With the additions of Gonzales and Peguero in the last 12 months, the future for Bae became a tad bit murky. He has an excellent hit tool, knows how to take a walk, and can fly around the bases when he is given the chance. As of now the power is a zero and when I look into my crystal ball I have a hard time seeing Bae breaking through the future infield of Hayes, Cruz, Peguero, and Gonzales. That said, perhaps his speed could allow him to transition to the outfield in the future. Chances are he ends up as a utility infielder and a decent bat off the bench.

15. Calvin Mitchell, OF
Age: 21
Highest Level: A+
Mitchell had a good year in the FSL in 2019 where he showcased some of his power in the pitcher-friendly league. He should start the season with AA Altoona and the 2021 season should act as a great litmus test for his future potential and ability to make it to the majors. Mitchell lacks polish, so the lost season in 2020 may hinder him more than others.

16. Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: NCAA
Mlondzinksi was the Pirates competitive balance pick in 2020, going 31st overall mostly on the strength of his incredible Cape Cod league season in 2019. First things first, his name is pronounced “ma-Jinsk-ee.” Good luck with that. Secondly, the season he put up in the Cape Cod League in 2019 was incredible. In six starts he turned in 40 strikeouts against just 4 walks. His ERA was a solid 2.45, but his WHIP of 0.64 is just out of this world. Mlodzinski will likely take more seasoning that your average college pitcher simply because he only started pitching in the last five years, but he has several promising pitches and has the mid-90s velocity required to be successful in today’s game.

17. Sammy Siani, OF
Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie
Siani is a burner who can play excellent defense in the outfield. The concerns are with the hit-tool right now, but he was one of the youngest players in the 2019 class and comes from a good baseball family (his brother Mike is with the Reds). The 15.9% walk rate he showed in his debut is promising, but I am anxious to see where the Pirates place him in 2021 and if he can hit enough to get to tap into his power/speed potential.

18. Rodolfo Castro, 2B
Age: 21
Highest Level: A+
Castro has some serious pop for a middle infielder. In just 61 games in 2019, Castro hit 14 home runs. The hit tool needs some work and he is susceptible to the strikeout, but the Pirates brought him to the alternate site in 2020 and he impressed a lot of people with his power and approach. I worry about Castro’s ability to get to his game power as he advances through the higher minors and faces much better pitching.

19. Lolo Sanchez, OF
Age: 21
Highest Level: A+
Sanchez had a very successful 61 games at A-ball in 2019 before struggling in his promotion to High-A. He doesn’t whiff much (59K in 458 plate appearances in 2019), but he also doesn’t impact the ball much and his estimated fly ball distance has hovered around 275 feet for most of his career. The wheels are there, but he isn’t a very efficient base stealer. More and more he is looking like a solid bench outfielder/pinch runner.

20. Jared Jones, RHP
Age: 19
Highest Level: High School
We can add Jones to the growing number of power arms that the Pirates are collecting. A prep pitcher from California, Jones already has a fastball that touches 96 mph and there is room to add good weight to his frame (6’2″ 176 lbs). Jones was taken in the 2nd round in 2020 and comes with all the caveats inherent in drafting prep pitchers. A two-way player in high school, he had exit velos with the bat that rated in the 99th percentile for the class. Jones’ future is on the mound, so he will need to continue to develop his slider and changeup in order to stay in the rotation plans long term. Reports are that he doesn’t just rear back and throw, but actually has a good feel for pitching. Jones oozes athleticism, which portends well for his future.

21. Jack Herman, OF
Age: 21
Highest Level: A
Drafted in the 30th round of the 2018 Draft, Herman is a feel good story of the late rounds of the draft. After a great debut in 2018, Herman added some serious power to his profile in 2019, as well as some concerning strikeout numbers. Ideally he keeps the power and cuts down the strikeouts, but chances are the high levels of the minors will be a challenge for him.

22. Nick Garcia, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: NCAA
Garcia is one of the most interesting selections the Pirates made in the 2020 draft. A former hitter, Garcia comes from Division III and turned into a pitcher when his coaches at Chapman teased out a mid 90s fastball and stuck him in the closer role. The results were incredible. As a closer, Garcia turned in a 9-0 record, 12 saves and 82 strikeouts in just 56 innings. In his second year, he learned a few breaking balls, a cutter and a changeup and was converted into a starter. Garcia was fantastic in the role and showed that there could be a lot more here once he is exposed to major league coaching and analytics. If it wasn’t for the bulk of his numbers coming against weaker talent, Garcia would be much higher on this list. If he is successful in his professional debut and can show that his pitches can induce swings and misses in the minor leagues, his ranking will skyrocket.

23. Wil Crowe, RHP
Age: 25
Highest Level: MLB
Acquired in the Josh Bell trade, Crowe is a low-velocity innings-eater type of pitcher without much upside in his profile. He did manage to make it to the major leagues last season, but was promptly lit up by nearly every batter he faced. In 8.1 innings he gave up five home runs and walked eight batters. Crowe’s fastball sits in the low 90s and he has never turned in elite strikeout numbers at any minor league level. Perhaps the Pirates saw something in his elite spin rates and 4-pitch mix that they can work with, but chances are he ends up either as an SP5 or a decent reliever.

Tier 4

24. Eddy Yean, RHP
Age: 19
Highest Level: A-
The second piece of the Bell deal, Yean offers more to dream on than Crowe, but he has a long way to go before we can start to think of him as a major leaguer, hence the lower ranking. At this point it is hard to say if Yean will eventually end up a reliever or a starter. If he continues to develop his slider and curveball to go along with his mid-90s fastball, remaining a starter is not out of the question. As with all teenage pitchers, there is a massive amount of risk with the 19-year old Yean. Hopefully the new front office can develop him properly and make the most out of shipping Josh Bell to the beltway.

25. Michael Burrows, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: A-
Burrows did allow more than three earned runs in a start for all of 2019. He also struck out seven batters on three separate occasions. If he can add a notch or two to his low 90s fastball he could easily end up a back end starter.

26. Braxton Ashcraft, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: A-
With a mid-90s fastball and a decent slider, Ashcraft should be able to make it to the majors as a reliever if he can’t stick as a starter.

27. Luis Oviedo, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: A
Acquired via a post Rule 5 Draft trade with the Mets this offseason, Oviedo has struggled with injuries throughout his career. The upper 90s velocity is there, but Oviedo has massive control issues and his only pathway to the majors appears to be the bullpen.

28. Jasiah Dixon, OF
Age: 19
Highest Level: Rookie
Dixon showed great plate discipline numbers in his first stint after the 2019 draft. If he can continue to control the zone and steals bases he may end up the steal of the 2019 Draft.

29. Shendrik Apostel, 1B
Age: 20
Highest Level: DSL
Apostel is a massive human being. Checking in a 6’5″ 245 lbs, Apostel had a good second turn in the DSL and should be able to get stateside in 2021.

30. Jose Soriano, RHP
Age: 22
Highest Level: A
Soriano was the 1st overall pick in the 2020 Rule 5 draft and was one of the better pitching prospects for the Angels (which isn’t saying much). He is another power arm addition to the Pirates farm and could find his way to the majors in the bullpen this season so that the Pirates can hang on to him longer term. So far Soriano has shown the ability to miss bats and walk batters. The bullpen is likely the best use of his mid-to-upper 90s fastball.

31. Nick Mears, RHP
Age: 24
Highest Level: MLB
Mears has a triple digit heater, but was unable to control it last season in four major league games. Mears had as many walks as he did strikeouts (seven) in 2020, but the sample size is too small and the Pirates should run him out there more often in 2021 to see what they can make of his heater.

32. Matt Gorski, OF
Age: 23
Highest Level: A-
Gorski has hit tool concerns and struggled in both his professional debut and a tour in the Cape Cod League. I tend to be wary of power/speed profiles that struggle to make contact with the baseball.

33. Yerry De Los Santos, RHP
Age: 23
Highest Level: A
Santos is another flame-throwing relief option hiding in the lower minors for the Pirates. He was great as a closer in A-ball in 2019, and with an aggressive placement to begin the year he could find his way to the big leagues if the success continues.

34. Colin Selby, RHP
Age: 23
Highest Level: A
Selby shows some promise with his mid-90s fastball and slider/changeup combo. If everything breaks right he could end up a decent innings-eater type of starter.

35. Blake Cederlind, RHP
Age: 24
Highest Level: MLB
Cederlind took his triple-digit fastball to the majors in 2020 and the small sample turned in some decent results. He has always struggled to control his arsenal, so I don’t want to get to carried away with his potential in 2021. That said, Cederlind is one of the biggest risers on this list, going from #49 to #36.

36. Sergio Campana, OF
Age: 18
Highest Level: DSL
Reports were positive from instructs league for Campana. After being given a $500,000 bonus in the 2018-19 offseason, the Pirates are hoping to turn him into a complete hitter who can also steal bases.

37. Rodolfo Nolasco, OF
Age: 19
Highest Level: DSL
Another player with positive reports from the instructs league. Nolasco was reported to be making tons of hard contact after the MLB season. Keep a close eye on him and Campana to start the year, they could both be big risers on this list come midseason top 50s.

Tier 5

38. Jauri Custodio, OF
Age: 19
Highest Level: DSL
Custodio put up great numbers in his first tour in the DSL, showing off some impressive contact numbers and speed. Hopefully he comes stateside in 2021 as it doesn’t look like he has anything left to prove in the DSL.

39. Osvaldo Bido, RHP
Age: 25
Highest Level: A+
Big velocity and an ability to handle a solid workload won’t be enough to make Bido a viable fantasy option if he can’t miss more bats.

40. Deion Walker, OF
Age: 19
Highest Level: Rookie
Showed the makings of a patient plate approach and the ability to fly around the bases. It’s hard for players taken after pick 1000 to make it to the majors, but I like what I have seen from Walker so far.

41. Juan Jerez, 2B
Age: 19
Highest Level: DSL
A DSL lotto ticket type of prospect, Jerez put up some decent numbers in 2019 and I was anxious to see where he the Pirates were going to send him in 2020. These are the type of prospects I worry about with a lost year, then again, they never really stop playing baseball in the Dominican, do they?

42. Max Kranick, RHP
Age: 23
Highest Level: A+
Kranick apparently got his velocity all the way up to 98 mph at the alternate site this year. That kind of velocity could be a game changer for Kranick’s future.

43. Cameron Junker, RHP
Age: 23
Highest Level: A-
The life of a starter was a bust for Junker at Notre Dame, but when the Pirates put him in the bullpen the returns were amazing. Junker could easily be a decent bullpen arm in the near future.

44. Santiago Florez, RHP
Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie
The 6’5, 222 lb Columbian, Florez spent 2018 in the Gulf Coast League and 2019 in the Appy League (Bristol). There’s a lot of upside here. His fastball is consistently in the mid 90s, and his changeup is improving.

45. Valentin Linarez, RHP
Age: 20
Highest Level: DSL
Linarez has the body of a power pitcher, a three-pitch mix, and was great in his second year in the DSL where he limited walks and didn’t allow of home run.

46. Randy Romero, 2B
Age: 21
Highest Level: DSL
A stout little hitter with quick wheels, Romero is now 21 and it will be telling to see where the Pirates place him in 2021. An aggressive promotion for the contact oriented burner will likely beget a make or break moment.

47. Listher Sosa, RHP
Age: 19
Highest Level: DSL
Another DSL breakout player with a solid frame (6’4″ 208 lbs.) who showed good control and decent strikeouts.

48. Aaron Shackelford, OF
Age: 24
Highest Level: Rookie
Shackelford put up insane numbers against weaker competition in college. His 2019 was solid, but one has to wonder if he will falter once he gets beyond rookie ball.

49. Shea Spitzbarth, RHP
Age: 26
Highest Level: AAA
Nabbed in the AAA portion of the Rule 5 Draft, Spitzbarth is a soft-tossing reliever who has shown the ability to miss bats despite lower velocity numbers.

50. Noe Toribio, RHP
Age: 21
Highest Level: A
Toribio posted good strikeout totals and solid control numbers in 2019. The velocity isn’t special (92 mph fastball), but he has shown the ability to control the zone.




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