Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Top 50 Prospects

Quinn Priester, Gulf Coast League, July 8, 2019 - photo credit Bryan Green on Flickr

The Pittsburgh Pirates begin a new era in 2020 after the unceremonious end to the age of Huntington, Searage and Hurdle. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and the organization will carry over it’s penny-pinching ways in 2020 and beyond. Despite the lack of funds available to new GM Ben Cherington, I am optimistic that the fresh faces will be able to change the fates of several Pirates prospects for the better. Gone are the days of pitching to contact, chasing high floors in the first round, avoiding risky athletes with potentially high ceilings, and squandering the potential of seemingly every prospect we have only to see them blossom after they are shipped off to other more developmentally adroit organizations.

Notable graduations from last year’s list that were largely successful start and end with Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman. Reynolds continued his career long streak of never hitting under .300 at any level and gave the Pirates 3.2 WAR despite having to play out of position in a cavernous center field. Newman showed a solid, if unspectacular, level of production on both sides of the ball and never looked overmatched at the plate, posting a K% of just 11.7%. Newman gave the Pirate faithful something to dream on in 2020 by sending Steve Blass into retirement with this walk-off winner. If Cherington and Co. can simply graduate two players a year with a combined 5 WAR they might just be able to right the boat. Feel free to ask me questions about these prospects or really anything related to Pirates baseball @CavghtLooking. Now let us dive into the 2020 list!


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


Tier 1
1. Mitch Keller, RHP

Opening Day Age: 23
2019 Highest Level: MLB
2019 Statistical Highlight: 12.19 K/9 in 48 MLB innings
There has been a lot of chatter this offseason about Mitch Keller and his extremely unlucky 48 innings of MLB production. Throw out the 7.13 ERA, gasp at the .474 BABIP, and focus on the 12.19 K/9, the 3.19 FIP, and the absolutely devastating results Keller got out of his secondary arsenal. I am anticipating the new pitching philosophy in Pittsburgh to produce an even higher rate of sliders and curveballs from Keller, both of which have the chance to be ultra-elite offerings and should help the 95 mph 4-seamer play up. When Keller is allowed to pump the 4-seamer up in the zone and pair it with his secondary pitches the results are going to remind Pirate fans of someone the Yankees just paid $326 million. Keller will graduate from this list almost instantaneously in 2020 and I expect him to be an All-Star pitcher for the Pirates for several seasons to come.
ETA: Pirates Home Opener

Tier 2
2. Oneil Cruz, SS

Opening Day Age: 21
2019 Highest Level: AA – Altoona
2019 Statistical Highlight: 11% BB% at AA Altoona
Everyone calm down! I still love Ke’Bryan, but when we are thinking about fantasy production I am going to be assertive and give the edge to Cruz simply because his offensive ceiling is higher. With that said, 2019 was not the greatest of years for our 6’7″ galloping gazelle as he struggled to stay healthy, missing time with a foot fracture and other “lower-body” issues. The hit tool is the concern with Cruz as it will determine whether or not he can get to his light-tower power, so I am very encouraged by his .298/.356/.475 triple slash line last season. After an aggressive promotion to Altoona, Cruz lost a lot of his power (1 HR in 35 G), but he was able to double his walk rate in AA compared to A+. If he can find the happy medium between patience and aggression in 2020 we should see Cruz in Indianapolis before too long. Cruz’s defense was woeful again in 2019 and I would love to see the Pirates try him out at 1B and use his size to his advantage instead of running him into the outfield where he is more likely to sustain injuries. We aren’t in make-or-break territory yet with Cruz as he is just 21, but 2020 could easily see him rocket into Tier 1 status or, potentially, make me drop him down into Tier 3 if he can’t find his power in AA and curb the alarming strikeouts rates he exhibited in the AFL (21 K in 49 PA) and winter ball.
ETA: 2021

3. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Opening Day Age: 23
2019 Highest Level: AAA – Indianapolis
2019 Statistical Highlight: 10 HR/43 XBH/12 SB
It was a tale of two seasons for Hayes that was split by an injury. It took Ke’Bryan (80 grade name) a while to get going against AAA pitching but by the end of the season he had seemingly figured it out. Hayes was able to hit .327/.379/.452 in 28 games in August with 7 of his 10 home runs coming in July and August. 2019 was also the first season that Ke’Bryan was able to get into double digit home run totals, and he did it despite missing time and starting off poorly. You won’t get any fantasy points for Hayes’ stellar defense (3rd straight MiLB Gold Glove), but his slick fielding will likely get him to the MLB quicker than the average defender and keep him there even if he struggles after the call-up, both of which are important factors for fantasy production. Juiced ball caveats aside, the increase in power for Hayes is a great sign, let’s hope it continues.
ETA: 2020

4. Quinn Priester, RHP
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Low-A – West Virginia
2019 Statistical Highlight: 3.19 ERA – 10.1 K/9
Quinn Priester was taken with the 18th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft and the early returns on him are fantastic. He breezed through seven starts in the GCL with high strikeout numbers and low walk rates. Priester throws his fastball 91-94 mph already and has an above average curveball that rated as one of the best in the class. To add a bit of lore, you may have heard that he has never had a pitching coach. He got himself all the way to the first round without a pitching coach while playing in a cold-weather state, WHAT?!? I would have been terrified for Quinn’s future with the old front office, but with the new guard I am beyond excited for them to dig in and develop such an exciting and seemingly polished 19-year-old. So far his arsenal has generated ground balls, suppressed home runs, and produced good strikeout numbers. His innings will likely be limited this season, but the sky is the only thing that can hold Priester back and I think he has SP2 potential right now and could easily develop into an SP1. Take us to church, Quinn.
ETA: 2023

Tier 3 
5. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – Bristol
2019 Statistical Highlight: 10.99 K/9 – 2.61 BB/9
Thomas earned the organization’s Breakout Prospect Of The Year award in 2019 by dominating the Appy league with his 95-101 heater, wipeout slider, and a changeup that is threatening to become and above average pitch with lots of late life. Reports are that he can maintain his fastball velocity late in games. All this with a 6’4″ frame and improved control? Let’s go!
ETA: 2022

6. Cody Bolton, RHP
Opening Day Age: 21
2019 Highest Level: AA – Altoona
2019 Statistical Highlight: 1.61 ERA – 0.85 WHIP – 10.07 K/9 in 12 starts at Bradenton
Bolton outclassed his opponents in the FSL despite being 1.9 years below the average age for the league. His fastball can get up to 97 mph and he is developing multiple versions of his slider by playing around with the velocity of the pitch. Bolton struggled a bit in his promotion to AA, but I am not really worried about those results given the early dominance in the FSL. He should start 2020 in Altoona and could push himself to AAA by the end of the season.
ETA: 2022

7. Travis Swaggerty, OF
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 23 SB – 10.9 BB%
The overall stats for Swaggerty in 2019 don’t jump off the page, but he improved his walks, cut his k-rate, and hit .318 over his final 52 games. I am still in on Swaggerty and a power surge in 2020 could really give his overall prospect stock some serious helium.
ETA: 2022

8. Alexander Mojica, 3B
Opening Day Age: 17
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: .351/.468/.580/1.048 – 17% BB%
Signed for $350K in the 2018 J2 period, Mojica wasted no time proving his worth as he absolutely torched the DSL as a 16-year-old. This is an aggressive ranking, but I like the swing, and when it comes to finding late round gems in your dynasty drafts I tend to chase production like this from teenagers. Mojica will be 17 on opening day and, as you can see in the video, there is room for more projection out of his current 6’1″ 195 lbs. frame, especially in his upper body. Alexander’s advanced approach, power, and overall dominant performance at such a young age can not be ignored even if they came in the DSL.
ETA: 2024

9. Ji-Hwan Bae, SS/2B
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: A – Greensboro
2019 Statistical Highlight: .323 AVG – .403 OBP – 31 SB
From high ceilings to high floors, Bae is a contact-oriented player who draws walks and logs consistently good at-bats. He led the Sally league in average, knocked 30XBH in 86 games, stole 31 bags and played above average defense. He is an even better defender at 2B than SS and the Pirates are going to need someone competent at that position sooner rather than later. Ji-Hwan has not hit a stateside home run yet, but I think the contact skills and speed have him in Altoona by the end of 2020.
ETA: 2022

10. Mason Martin, OF
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 35 HR
DINGERS. Martin hits the ball really, really hard when he connects. His 2019 estimated fly ball distance was over 300 feet at both levels and he tallied up 72 XBH and 68 walks in 131 games. I am bullish on Martin. Double-A pitchers will test his patience and his weaker hit tool, but the power is very real and Altoona is a hitters park. We could see 40 home runs in 2020.
ETA: 2022

11. Jared Oliva, OF
Opening Day Age: 24
2019 Highest Level: AA – Altoona
2019 Statistical Highlight: .312/.413/.473 in the AZFL
Oliva has been a consistent performer over the past two seasons and has stolen more than 30 bags in each of 2018 and 2019. His fantasy value is going to come from the ability to hit for a decent average and steal bases because there just isn’t much power here and at 24 years old I don’t see that changing. Jared’s performance in the Arizona Fall League was excellent and if he can build on that in AAA he might end up in the MLB at some point in 2020 due to his ability to handle center field defensively.
ETA: 2020

12. Liover Peguero, SS *added following 1.27.20 trade to Pittsburgh
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Low A – Hillsboro (ARI)
2019 Statistical Highlight: .364/.410/.559 at Rookie ball Missoula
Part one of a pair of prospects brought over in the Starling Marte trade, Peguero is a slick-fielding shortstop that brings a full arsenal of tools to the table. His turn in the hitter-friendly Pioneer league was an absolute slugfest, but given the hitting environments in that league and the .448 BABIP underlying his output it is prudent to temper our expectations for the 2020 campaign. If Peguero can fill out a little more he should be able to add some power to his contact-oriented approach and potentially produce ~15 home runs at peak. There is still a ways to go for his development, but the floor right now appears to be a contact hitter who steals bases and can handle the SS position at the MLB level. That is an excellent floor. If the power starts to show up this season, Peguero is going to shoot up these rankings and begin to carve out his position as the future at shortstop in Pittsburgh.

13. Calvin Mitchell, OF
Opening Day Age: 21
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 15 HR
Mitchell’s overall production dropped significantly in 2019 and almost had me bump him down into Tier 4. However, he was playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League and his home run total was 5th best in the league. On top of that, the four players ahead of him on the HR leaderboard all had lower batting averages. It will be interesting to see where the Pirates start him out in 2020 as I don’t think he is ready for AA given the spike in his K% in 2019.
ETA: 2023

14. Brennan Malone, RHP *added following 1.27.20 trade to Pittsburgh
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Low A – Hillsboro (ARI)
2019 Statistical Highlight: 8 K in 8 IP
Part two of the package sent back to the Pirates in the Starling Marte trade, Malone is all projection at the moment. His quiet and repeatable delivery produces mid 90s heat with good movement. The slider and curveball both look as if they can be plus pitches. If Malone can improve upon his changeup in the next few years the Pirates could have a trio of dynamite pitchers (Priester, Malone, Thomas) all due to graduate around the same time. Drafted 33rd overall in 2019 out of the IMG Academy, I fully expect Malone to eat up the competition in 2020. Stay healthy, Brennan, the Pirates need this trade to hit.


Tier 4

15. Noe Toribio, RHP
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: A – Greensboro
2019 Statistical Highlight: 1.04 WHIP
The Pirates challenged Toribio in 2019 with a starting placement at West Virginia and a subsequent promotion to Greensboro after a very good showing in Low-A. I tend to give young pitchers who exhibit decent strikeout numbers with good control a boost and Toribio had a BB/9 under three at both levels with a tremendous GB% (~60%). His velocity is average, sitting around 92mph, but there is a little more projection left in him at 6’2″ 195 lbs. and a move to Bradenton could really help his stock.
ETA: 2022

16. Lolo Sanchez, OF
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: .301/.377/.451 in 61 games at A-Greensboro
Lolo did everything right in his time in Greensboro during 2019 and he was still young for the level. His production completely tanked when he was promoted to Bradenton, but I think we can blame that on his .233 BABIP and be very optimistic for his chances to do some damage back at High-A to start 2020. Sanchez must be better on the basepaths (33SB/15CS) to maximize his value and his speed, but overall I am still very confident about Sanchez eventually reaching his ceiling.
ETA: 2023

17. Sammy Siani, OF
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – GCL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 15.9% BB%
The younger brother of Reds prospect Michael Siani, Sammy was taken 37th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft and was sent to the GCL to start his pro career with the hope that he can make a bit more contact than his brother. There is no power yet, but his debut wasn’t awful and the 15.9% walk rate is great, especially considering that Sammy should be able to steal bases given his speed. Siani should start the season in Low-A and have to slug his way into Greensboro, all of which is very possible if he can stop striking out at such a high rate.
ETA: 2024

18. Jack Herman, OF
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: A – Greensboro
2019 Statistical Highlight: 13 HR
Herman hit his way into relevance out of the 30th round of the 2018 draft by posting great numbers in the GCL despite a lack of power. Well that power showed up in a big way in the friendly confines of First National Bank Field, but unfortunately it came with a few red flags, namely a spike in strikeouts to the tune of 29.3%. That said, Herman maintained a solid walk rate of 9.3% and will likely take his game to the FSL in 2019 which will provide us all with a serious litmus test for his future value. If he can perform well in Bradenton I will allow myself to get very optimistic about his potential.
ETA: 2023

19. Michael Burrows, RHP
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: Low-A – West Virginia
2019 Statistical Highlight: 3.54 FIP – 8.86 K/9
The Black Bears got some very solid production out of Burrows in 2019 and given his history as a cold weather high school arm I will have an extra eye on Burrows in 2020. Other than one start where he walked four and was lit up for six runs, Burrows never allowed 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 the Pirates may just have an 11th round steal on their hands.
ETA: 2022

20. JT Brubaker, RHP
Opening Day Age: 26
2019 Highest Level: AAA – Indianapolis
2019 Statistical Highlight: 2.57 ERA – 1.71 BB/9
Brubaker was held back by multiple injury scares in 2019 that led to his eventual shutdown. There are some interesting aspects to his game in the form of a heater that touched 99mph this season and pretty excellent control. If he can stay healthy he could easily be an SP4 or SP5.
ETA: 2020

21. Braxton Ashcraft, RHP
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: Low-A – West Virginia
2019 Statistical Highlight: 4.33 FIP
With a 6’5″ 200 lbs. frame Ashcraft is all projection at the moment. There is still a lot to like here with a fastball that can touch 95mph and room to add on bulk which could potentially add a couple ticks to the heater. The slider improved last season and Ashcraft was able to maintain his velocity deeper into games. Lots of time left to develop this 2018 2nd rounder so let’s see what the new front office has in store.
ETA: 2023

22. Will Craig, 1B
Opening Day Age: 25
2019 Highest Level: AAA – Indianapolis
2019 Statistical Highlight: 23 HR
The reason I want Oneil Cruz to try his hand at 1B is because Craig just doesn’t look like the answer. The former first round pick failed to get the juiced ball memo in 2019 and hit a disappointing .249/.326/.435 at AAA. Hopes were high when Craig had 15 home runs through his first 49 games – that power surge is really the only reason he makes the top 20 – but unfortunately for all of us Pirate fans that production completely vanished after May and never came back. Another season like 2019 and we are going to be able to close the book on Craig’s future value.
ETA: 2020

23. Juan Pie, OF
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Low-A – West Virginia
2019 Statistical Highlight: 13 BB in 38 games in the GCL
The Pirates brought Pie stateside in 2019 and his season ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag. He maintained a good walk rate at 9.4% and didn’t see a spike in strikeouts. Still lots to like about the Pirates top international signing from 2017 and with some added muscle (6’0″ 176lbs) we could see a dramatic improvement in the power department this season or in 2021.
ETA: 2024

24. Jasiah Dixon, OF
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – GCL
2019 Statistical Highlight: .329/.417/.425 with 8 SB in 22 games
Drafted 694 overall in 2019 the initial look on Dixon is awesome. It was only 22 games in the GCL, but Dixon had an 11.9% walk rate to go against just a 13.1% K% and that is just the kind of plate discipline profile I am looking for out of a speedy leadoff man. I’m not expecting any power, but if he can continue to get on base and swipe bags he could be a serious 2019 draft steal for the Buccos. Let’s see what he does against more advanced competition in 2020.
ETA: 2024

25. Shendrik Apostel, 1B
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 19.6% BB% – .421 OBP
The younger brother of former Pirate prospect Sherten Apostel, Shendrik is a gigantic human being. Listed at 6’5″ 245 lbs., Shendrik will only ever be able to play at 1B, but man this kid knows how to work the strike zone. Shendrik cut his K% from 29.1% to 16.8% in his second turn in the DSL and was able to pop five dingers in only 27 games. Conditioning will be key going forward, but if the OBP and power skills continue when he comes stateside Shendrik will be a be riser on this list.
ETA: 2024

26. Kevin Kramer, 2B/3B/OF
Opening Day Age: 26
2019 Highest Level: MLB
2019 Statistical Highlight: 10 HR in AAA
Not much needs to be said about Kramer. He has been abysmal in his MLB stints and was pretty bad in AAA in 2019 as well. Looks like he will be a utility man for the Pirates until he eventually gets released. He is ranked here because he is likely to play a role for the Major League club in 2020 before graduating off of this list.
ETA: 2020

27. Rodolfo Castro, 2B
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 19 HR
Castro is a power hitting middle infielder with poor plate discipline. He had a .516 SLG in 61 games for Greensboro, but the wheels fell off after a promotion to Bradenton and his OBP dipped to .288 despite a late season surge of production. If he can’t draw more walks the hit tool will keep him from getting to the power and another season in the pitcher friendly Florida State League might spell disaster for Castro in 2020.
ETA: 2025

28. Nick Mears, RHP
Opening Day Age: 23
2019 Highest Level: AA – Altoona
2019 Statistical Highlight: 13.3 K/9
Mears came out of nowhere in 2018 as an undrafted free agent signing and has done nothing but strike guys out since his debut. He pitched in 8 games in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 and didn’t allow a run. The heater has touched 100mph in games and the walk rate is acceptable given the strikeout totals. With a curveball that can legitimately be used as an out pitch, Mears could very easily be closing games for the Pirates to end the season this year.
ETA: 2020

29. Yerry De Los Santos, RHP
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: A – Greensboro
2019 Statistical Highlight: 1.44 ERA – 0.88 WHIP – 13.14 K/9 – 2.16 BB/9 – 13 SV
Yerry absolutely dominated the Sally league as the closer for the Grasshoppers in 2019. His mid-to-high 90s fastball was paired with a slider to great success and he handled the closer role exceptionally well, tallying up 13 saves. De Los Santos has already had TJ and the Pirates need bullpen arms in a bad way, so it isn’t out of the question to think that more dominance could lead to a quick ascent in 2020 with a possible shot to crack the big leagues when rosters expand to 28 players in September.
ETA: 2021

30. Colin Selby, RHP
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: A – Greensboro
2019 Statistical Highlight: 2.97 ERA – 1.11 WHIP
Selby has a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and has shown decent command of both a slider and a changeup. If everything goes right for Colin he could end up as a solid SP3/SP4 that can eat innings and produce a K/9 in the 8s with limited walks. He should head to Bradenton in 2020 with the goal of pitching at least 100 innings while maintaining his control and K%.
ETA: 2023

31. Matt Gorski, OF
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: Low-A – West Virginia
2019 Statistical Highlight: 11 SB
Selected 57th overall in 2019, Gorski largely fell flat in the New York Penn League last season, managing just a .223 average. There are significant questions about the hit tool and Gorski’s Cape Cod League stats from 2018 do nothing to dispel those concerns or give me hope for his development. Matt is a good athlete and has some power and speed potential, but I think the swing and miss issues are going to be a problem going forward.
ETA: 2023

32. James Marvel, RHP
Opening Day Age: 26
2019 Highest Level: MLB
2019 Statistical Highlight: 2.67 ERA in AAA
At best Marvel is a SP5 on a team with a weak rotation. He did a good job of limiting runs in AA and AAA last season but was rocked in four big league starts. A move to the bullpen seems inevitable as the Pirates will want to get as much value out of this 36th rounder as possible and a move to the pen could add a few ticks to his low 90s fastball.
ETA: 2020

33. Nick Burdi, RHP
Opening Day Age: 27
2019 Highest Level: MLB
2019 Statistical Highlight: 17.65 K/9
Things were starting to look up for the former Rule 5 pick and TJ survivor at the beginning of the 2019 season. Unfortunately for Nick, he threw a pitch that forced him clutch his arm and eventually had to go under the knife to relieve the excruciating nerve pain. When healthy he can throw serious heat and if his arm is good to go to start the season he will likely have a spot in the Pirate pen.
ETA: 2020

34. Jason Martin, OF
Opening Day Age: 24
2019 Highest Level: MLB
2019 Statistical Highlight: None
Martin is your prototypical 4th outfielder or AAAA player. Undersized at 5’9″, Martin will likely find time with the big club in 2020 as a bench bat or as an injury replacement. Martin doesn’t excel at any one thing but he does enough to be serviceable as a bench bat.
ETA: 2020


Tier 5

35. Jauri Custodio, OF
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 15 XBH and 15 SB in 53 games
Custodio performed very well in the DSL last season, posting a triple slash of .324/.358/.448 with a minuscule strikeout rate of just 7.6%. A failed physical voided his 2018 J2 contract with the Rockies and the Pirates inked him early in 2019. He is a little undersized at the moment (5’10” 162 lbs.), but I love teenagers who can hit and he has an outside chance to start stateside this season.
ETA: 2024

36. Rodolfo Nolasco, OF
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 21 XBH in 54 games
Another DSL performer for the Pirates in 2019, Nolasco is bigger than Custodio and showed better power potential last season with slightly worse plate discipline. I gave the edge to Custodio due to the extra speed he has provided so far, but both of these kids are players to keep an eye on in 2020 given the early production, DSL caveats notwithstanding.
ETA: 2025

37. Osvaldo Bido, RHP
Opening Day Age: 24
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 3.32 ERA – 1.10 WHIP
Bido signed late in his baseball career, already able to legally drink in the USA when he put ink to paper, yet the results so far have been relatively encouraging. He showed the ability to handle innings last year, throwing 135.2 innings over 25 starts, but despite a fastball that can touch 97 mph he just isn’t missing enough bats to be considered fantasy relevant at the moment. However, with his much improved control he could be a decent SP4 for the Pirates someday soon.
ETA: 2021

38. Deion Walker, OF
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – GCL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 9 XBH in 22 games
I’ve watched more video on Walker than is warranted, but there is something about this kid that I just really like. Maybe it’s that he can recognize breaking pitches, wait on them, and then rock them over the fence. Maybe it’s his aggressive style on the basepaths. What can I say? The swing looks clean with a good amount of loft and I am excited to see where the 1054th player selected in the 2019 draft is placed in 2020.
ETA: 2025

39. Juan Jerez, 2B
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 7 HR
Listed at 6’0″ 160lbs., Jerez put up very good power numbers in 60 DSL games in 2019 with an ISO of .197 and a SLG of .469. There is projection left in his body and he can already hit the ball fairly hard (25 XBH). If he can cut down on his swing and miss tendencies he could be a riser in the Pirates system.
ETA: 2025

40. Travis MacGregor, RHP
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: DNP
2019 Statistical Highlight: DNP
MacGregor could easily be higher on this list given the strength of this 2018 campaign (3.24 ERA with a 10.46 K/9), but I am always going to be conservative when a pitcher changes his mechanics, find success, and is immediately hit with TJ surgery. If MacGregor comes back strong in 2020 he could shoot up into the top 20.
ETA: 2022

41. Aaron Shackelford, 3B
Opening Day Age: 23
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – Bristol
2019 Statistical Highlight: 8 HR
My guess is that Shackelford was drafted in the 15th round out of The Master’s College program on the strength of his senior season where he quietly hit 36 HR, stole 11 bases without getting caught, had an average of .415, and an OPS of 1.615. Those numbers are pure madness. He showed off the power and patience for Bristol in his debut with 28 XBH and 20 BB in 53 games. Potential riser if he can continue to sock dingers and hit above .250 in 2020.
ETA: 2023

42. Cameron Junker, RHP
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: Low-A – West Virginia
2019 Statistical Highlight: 14.46 K/9 – 1.29 ERA – 0.85 WHIP
A player who could have been drafted on name alone, Junker’s record as a starter for Notre Dame in his college career was not an inspiring statline. Despite that, the Pirates saw something they liked and took him in the 10th round last season, converted him to a reliever, and immediately began to reap the rewards of solid scouting. Junker is a giant (6’5″ 220 lbs.) and with this kind of early success I want to see the new front office be aggressive with him to see just how dominant he can be out of the bullpen.
ETA: 2021

43. Max Kranick, RHP
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 109 IP
Another Pirate arm that can do a decent job of limiting runs (3.79 ERA), but who doesn’t garner much excitement from a fantasy perspective. Kranick has good control and has increased his workload every year, I’m just not seeing much more than an SP4/SP5 here barring the development of secondary pitches that can be used to miss bats.
ETA: 2022

44. Valentin Linarez, RHP
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 2.28 ERA – 2.28 BB/9 – 8.95 K/9
Standing tall at 6’5″ 226 lbs., Linarez has the body of a power pitcher and has the mid 90s heat to back up the imposing frame. Valentin broke out in the DSL last season and showed a solid three pitch mix (FB/CH/CB) with good control. We will definitely see this kid stateside in 2020 and he has the chance to rise dramatically on this list given the build, control, and strikeout potential.
ETA: 2024

45. Sergio Umana, RHP
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 2.39 ERA – 1.13 BB/9 – 1.11 WHIP
Umana was signed out of Nicaragua in 2018 and I am hoping that a little more bulk in the right places can push his fastball into the low 90s because this kind of command at age 19 is exciting. Without added velocity I doubt he can make it in the higher levels, but with just a couple more ticks on the radar gun Umana could be a Nicaraguan Kyle Hendricks.
ETA: 2025

46. Santiago Florez, RHP
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – Bristol
2019 Statistical Highlight: 3.46 ERA
Another big (6’5″ 222 lbs.) projectable arm in the low minors for the Buccos. Mid 90s heat that has occasionally crept into the high 90s has not produced the K% that one might expect from a pitcher this size throwing that kind of gas in the low minors, but the production in his first three years has been solid. If the new slider and improving changeup can be paired with better control we could see a breakout.
ETA: 2024

47. Listher Sosa, RHP
Opening Day Age: 18
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 2.72 ERA – 1.03 WHIP
Sosa is another DSL breakout player with a solid frame (6’4″ 208 lbs.) who showed good control and decent strikeouts. The inclusion of all of these DSL players speaks to both their production and the dearth of exciting options in the lower decks of Pirates minor league system.
ETA: 2025

48. Blake Weiman, LHP
Opening Day Age: 24
2019 Highest Level: AAA – Indianapolis
2019 Statistical Highlight: 11.17 K/9 – 1.86 ERA at AA
Weiman possesses excellent control and was able to dominate AA last season as a reliever. The results were not as solid after he was promoted to Indianapolis, but his future may lie as a lefty specialist, assuming the three-batter minimum rule change doesn’t stick.
ETA: 2020

49. Blake Cederlind, RHP
Opening Day Age: 24
2019 Highest Level: AAA – Indianapolis
2019 Statistical Highlight: 1.77 ERA in 31 games at AA
If you have thrown a baseball 102 mph then you sort of have to make the list. Cederlind has had lots of trouble controlling his elite heat, and there is no secondary worth speaking of at the moment, but he could turn into a useful bullpen arm down the road.
ETA: 2022

50. Jase Bowen, OF
Opening Day Age: 19
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – GCL
2019 Statistical Highlight: 9.5% BB%
An athlete that was a two-sport player in high school, Bowen was not good in his debut, hitting just .223. However, he is still very young, has good speed (4 triples and 5 SB in 36 games), and could easily find some power now that he is focused entirely on baseball.
ETA: 2025

51. Randy Romero, OF
Opening Day Age: 20
2019 Highest Level: Rookie – DSL
2019 Statistical Highlight: .376/.418/.495 – 36 SB
Romero is a tiny little outfielder who was too old for the DSL with a hitting line that was supported by a high BABIP, but his production merits inclusion on this list for the time being. He stole 36 bags and was only caught one time and his strikeout rate was just 6.1%.
ETA: 2026

52. Aaron Shortridge, RHP
Opening Day Age: 22
2019 Highest Level: High-A – Bradenton
2019 Statistical Highlight: 3.25 ERA
Shortridge is a pitcher with great control and the ability to eat up a lot of innings. His arsenal is more about placement than creating swings and misses. With 24 starts at Bradenton in the rear view mirror we will likely see him in Altoona and if he can handle that hitting environment he could end up a SP5.
ETA: 2022




5 Comments

  1. This guy sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. Excellent write-up sir, you appear to be both a gentleman and a scholar. Looking forward to more!

    • The downturn in production last year with a K% spiked led to me not including him this time around. Will be interesting to see what he does this year and where the pirates send him out of spring training.

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