As soon as the clock strikes midnight on January 1, I always say two things. Of course, “Happy New Year!” Immediately thereafter, I shout that “It’s baseball season!!!” If you are reading this in January in the midst of a frustrating lockout, you are a likeminded soul. If you are a Pirate fan, I have good news. The Pirates have one of the top farm systems by any measure. Put it this way, if this site were called Prospects2100, I would not have had any trouble listing 70 prospects from this loaded system.
The Pirates have strong position and pitching prospects at all levels. In particular, High-A Greensboro and AA Altoona figure to be appointment viewing for prospect lovers and Pirates fans. It has been a tough stretch for Pirates fans. I am here to tell you that our fortunes are about to change and we will likely have many of the men on this list to thank for it. Enjoy the ride. As always, I welcome any feedback. Hit me up below in the Comments section, or on Twitter @Bucfish67.
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 a high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact.
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster.
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2021.
1. Oneil Cruz, SS, 23, MLB
Cruz is a unicorn. He stands 6’7” which makes him likely the tallest SS in MLB history. He has top of the scale power that he displayed in AA, AAA and finally in Pittsburgh in the final weekend of the 2021 season. Cruz slashed .310/.375/.594 combined in AA and AAA with 17 HR and 19 SB.
2. Nick Gonzales, 2B, 22, High-A
Gonzales missed time with an early season hand injury. When he returned to full health, he dominated High-A, slashing .302/.385/.565 while hitting 18 HR and stealing 7 bags. When the season ended, he took his act to the AFL and dominated some more, slashing an absurd .380/.483/.549. Gonzales is a natural hitter and a solid defender at 2B who will likely debut in Pittsburgh in 2023.
3. Henry Davis, C, 22, High-A
Davis was the 1st overall pick of the 2021 MLB draft and brings a strong hit tool and plus power to the Pirates. An oblique injury cut his first taste of pro ball short. Still, Davis impressed the Pirates with his leadership abilities. If he can improve his defense behind the plate, his bat could land him in Pittsburgh in 2023.
4. Quinn Priester, RHP, 21, High-A
Priester was the High-A Pitcher of the Year as a 20-year-old. He pitched to a 3.04 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning in a hitter friendly home park. Priester improved over the course of the season showing an aptitude for learning from his mistakes. He should lead a strong AA rotation in Altoona in 2022.
5. Liover Peguero, SS, 20, High-A
Peguero is a multi-talented player who is still making improvements to his game. He started at SS and led off for most of the season in High-A at 20 years old. Though there were some growing pains, he still slashed .270/.332/.444 with 14 HR and 28 SB. He will join Nick Gonzales to form a great double play combo in AA Altoona in 2022 and potentially in Pittsburgh at some point in 2023.
6. Roansy Contreras, RHP, 22, MLB
Contreras destroyed AA with a 2.65 ERA and a 12.5 K/9 before a mid-season arm injury derailed him. However, he came back and was promoted first to AAA Indianapolis and then to Pittsburgh pitching well at both stops. Contreras has a good chance to spend most of summer 2022 in the Pirates rotation at age 22.
7. Endy Rodriguez, C/1B/OF, 21, Low-A
Rodriguez was the Low-A Southeast MVP leading his Bradenton Marauders to the league championship. Endy’s defense behind the plate improved as the season went on. The switch-hitter slashed .294/.380/.512 with 15 HR in a pitcher-friendly league. He is a very exciting prospect who should enjoy the hitter-friendly confines of High A Greensboro in 2022.
8. Bubba Chandler, RHP/SS, 19, Rookie (FCL)
Chandler is a recent 2021 draftee who is so talented that some teams considered him a 1st round caliber switch-hitting SS, but the Pirates plan to develop him as a pitcher who already has the makings of a plus fastball and curveball. He should lead the rotation in Low-A Bradenton in 2022.
9. Anthony Solometo, LHP, 19, Rookie (FCL)
Solometo was drafted in the 2nd round in 2021 and is the top lefty in the system with a delivery that reminds some of Madison Bumgarner. He will likely join Bubba Chandler in Low-A Bradenton in 2022.
10. Miguel Yajure, RHP, 23, MLB
Yajure looked good in AAA pitching to a 3.40 ERA 8.5/9 K rate. He also made a few promising starts with the Pirates early in the season before missing time with a forearm injury. Yajure came back late in the season and was not as effective. Like Contreras, Yajure seems ready to compete for and potentially lock down a rotation spot in Pittsburgh in 2022.
11. Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP, 22, AAA
Mlodzinski spent the first half 2021 dominating High-A hitters before an injury interrupted his season. He was not as effective upon his return. However, he did earn a promotion to AAA in the final week of the season. Mlodzinski made up some lost innings in the AFL. He should join Quinn Priester at the top of the AA Altoona rotation in 2022.
12. Jared Jones, RHP, 20, Low-A
Jones is extremely athletic and features a plus fastball and slider combination striking out 14/9 in Low-A Bradenton. Jones is highly competitive which both helped and hurt him during the 2021 season. At his best, Low-A hitters had no answers for him. At his worst, he would lose command and focus. As he matures, I suspect his competitiveness will be harnessed and work to his benefit.
13. Travis Swaggerty, OF, 24, AAA
Swaggerty got an aggressive assignment to Indianapolis and got off to a good start until he injured his shoulder and was lost for most of the season. Swaggerty has pedigree (top 10 pick in 2018 MLB Draft) and power/speed tools. He has not had much game experience since 2019. However, if he has a good spring and a strong start in AAA, the Pirates could give him a shot at regular time in 2022.
14. Matthew Fraizer, OF, 23, AA
Fraizer enjoyed a breakout season in Greensboro with an OPS nearly 1.000, 20 HR and 14 SB. He earned a mid-season promotion to AA Altoona where he did not miss a beat slashing .288/.356/.492. Fraizer is a good defender in the OF who primarily played CF once he was promoted to AA. Fraizer should advance to AAA in 2022 with a late season promotion to Pittsburgh a real possibility.
15. Canaan Smith-Njigba, OF, 22, AAA
Smith-Njigba had a good season in Altoona slashing .274/.398/.406 with 6 HR and 13 SB, earning himself a late season promotion to AAA. From there, he was sent to the AFL and was outstanding in limited time slashing .298/.452/.456. The Pirates added him to the 40-man roster recently, demonstrating the team’s belief in him.
16. Hudson Head, OF, 20, Low-A
Head is a natural athlete who looks comfortable in either CF or RF. At the plate, he shows power and patience as evidenced by a 15.7% walk rate and 15 HR but has to cut down on 31.6% K rate. 2022 is big season for Head in High A because he faces strong competition on the Pirates organizational OF depth chart. He needs to add good weight and focus on better swing decisions.
17. Lonnie White Jr., OF, 18, Rookie (FCL)
White is a 2021 draftee who was signed away from a scholarship to play baseball and football (WR) at Penn State. He is a freak athlete with plus speed and power capable of playing CF. White played in the FCL and showed power hitting 2 HR in only 31 AB. Like most 18 year old’s entering professional baseball, he needs to cut down the Ks.
18. Maikol Escotto, SS, 19, Low-A
Escotto overcame an early season injury and put together a good year. Despite being one of the younger players in Low-A Southeast, Escotto more than held his own slashing .234/.354/.347 with 7 HR and 22 SB. He has to cut down the 30.4% K rate to take the next step in High-A Greensboro in 2022.
19. Rodolfo Castro, 2B/3B, 22, MLB
Before getting his call to The Show, Castro was having a breakout season in AA hitting in the heart of a strong Altoona lineup showing power, speed and positional versatility. When he returned to Altoona, he struggled. He was promoted to AAA for the final weeks of the season and found his stroke again, slashing .286/.342/.657. Castro should compete for the 2B and/or Utility IF spots in Pittsburgh in 2022.
20. Ji-hwan Bae, 2B/SS/OF, 22, AA
Bae started slowly in 2021 but really came on strong in the second half. He slashed .278/.359/.413 with 7 HR and 20 SB. Bae wasn’t done in 2021. He was sent to the AFL where he played 2B and CF and hit 2 HR and stole 8 bases. Bae should start 2022 in AAA with a possible late season promotion to Pittsburgh.
21. Michael Burrows, RHP, 22, High-A
Burrows has a strong fastball/curveball combination which served him well in High-A Greensboro in 2021. Although injuries limited him to only 49 innings in 2021, he still dominated High-A with a 12.2/9 K rate and 2.20 ERA. He added 15 more quality innings in the AFL against very strong competition.
22. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, 22, High-A
Thomas has great raw stuff including a double-plus fastball but has struggled with command leading to a lot of walks and too many home runs. Even though he struggled in 2021, he still struck out more than a batter per inning. The Pirates did not place him on the 40-man roster leaving him exposed to being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
23. Tucupita Marcano, 2B/OF/SS/3B, 22, MLB
Marcano was traded to the Pirates from the Padres as part of the Adam Frazier deal and brings defensive versatility, strong contact skills and a history of walking more than he strikes out. Marcano does not have much power which limits his upside. He will need a strong spring to stand out among the competition for MLB time in 2022.
24. Mason Martin, 1B, 22, AAA
Martin is a classic three true outcome hitter, mashing 25 HR between AA and AAA along with an ugly 171 Ks. Despite the lack of power in Pittsburgh, the Pirates still made the decision to leave him unprotected and exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Assuming he is not selected, he could force his way to Pittsburgh in 2022 if he can cut down on the Ks.
25. Eddy Yean, RHP, 20, Low-A
Yean was inconsistent in his first season in the Pirates system. There were games where everything was working and he was basically unhittable. Then there were days he lost command of his plus fastball and slider. He was left off the 40-man roster and exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. If he is not selected, Yean has a chance to improve his command and take a step forward in High-A in 2022.
26. Alexander Mojica, 3B/1B, 19, Low-A
Mojica held his own in the Low A Southeast as an 18-year-old. His numbers do not jump off the page. But he has natural hitting ability and light tower power. Mojica could benefit from improving his conditioning especially if he hopes to stay at 3B. He has good hands and a strong arm. He needs to improve his range.
27. Diego Castillo, 2B/SS/3B, 24, AAA
28. Jack Suwinski, OF, 23, AA
29. Sammy Siani, OF, 21, Low-A
30. Hoy Park, 2B/SS/3B/OF, 25, MLB
31. Calvin Mitchell, OF, 22, AAA
32. Abrahan Gutierrez, C, 22, Low-A
33. Brennan Malone, RHP, 21, Low-A
34. Rodolfo Nolasco, OF, 20, Rookie (FCL)
35. Tsung-Che Cheng, SS/2B/3B, 20, Rookie (FCL)
36. Po-Yu Chen, RHP, 20, Low-A
37. Blake Sabol, OF/C, 23, High-A
38. Omar Cruz, LHP, 22, AA
39. Jared Triolo, 3B/SS, 23, High-A
40. Luis Ortiz, RHP, 22, Low-A
41. Jared Oliva, OF, 26, MLB
Tier 4 is a mixture of talented youngsters who performed well in the lower levels and older players on the cusp of making the Show. Suwinski was traded to the Pirates at the 2021 trade deadline and performed well enough to get added to the 40-man roster ahead of several other OF….. Mitchell had a solid but not spectacular season in AA Altoona, slashing .280/.330/.429 with 12 HR and 6 SB. He did earn a late season promotion to AAA but, unlike Suwinski, was not added to the 40-man roster….. Nolasco is a young OF with promising hit and power tools who slashed .284/.409/.552 with 8 HR in the FCL….. Cheng dominated the FCL in all facets playing strong MI defense and slashing .311/.449/.492 with 4 HR and 16 SB in only 38 games. Nolasco and Cheng are expected to lead Low-A Bradenton in 2022. Both are players to watch….. Chen dominated the FCL giving up zero home runs or walks in his 26 innings, earning him a promotion to Low-A where he helped Bradenton win a league championship….. Oliva has been a fixture on Pirates prospect rankings for years. 2022 is likely his last chance to establish himself as a big leaguer with the Pirates.
42. Jack Herman, OF, 22, High-A
43. Cody Bolton, RHP, 23, AA
44. Santiago Florez, RHP, 21, High-A
45. Nick Garcia, RHP, 22, Low-A
46. Lolo Sanchez, OF, 22, High-A
47. Juan Jerez, 2B/3B, 20, Rookie (FCL)
48. Shalin Polanco, OF, 17, Rookie (DSL)
49. Braylon Bishop, OF, 18, Rookie (FCL)
50. Dariel Lopez, SS/3B, 19, Low A
Tier 5 contains upper-level pitching depth and another top performer from the FCL. Bolton missed the 2021 season with injuries. If he returns to full health in 2022, he could be in the mix for a bullpen role in 2022, same with the group of pitchers in the “just missed” list….. Sanchez slashed .264/372/.453 with 17 HR and 30 SB in his second shot at High A in 2021. He will climb back up this list with a similar showing in AA Altoona in 2022….. Jerez is an offensive-minded 2B who slashed .296/.394/.500 with 6 HR and 10 SB in the FCL. Jerez will likely join Cheng in Bradenton to form a lethal double-play combination.
Max Kranick, RHP, 24, MLB
Blake Cederlind, RHP, 25, MLB
Nick Mears, RHP, 25, MLB
Carter Bins, C, 23, AA
Ricky DeVito, RHP, 23, High-A
Esmerlyn Valdez, OF, 17, DSL
Jase Bowen, 2B/3B/OF, 21, Low A
Oliver Mateo, RHP, 24, Low-A