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2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects Chat

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Mitch Keller (Photo by Brad Krause/Four Seam Images)

To see the Pirates top 10 prospects, click here. 

Dustin Dopirak: Hey everyone. Thanks for being on for the BA Pirates chat. Really appreciate all the questions, and I'll dive into this now.

J.P. (Springfield, IL): 

    Thanks for the chat, Dustin. What were scouts' opinions of Lolo Sanchez this past season, and what's his upside? Will he be in the 11-20 range of your top 30?


Dustin Dopirak: Sanchez is in that 11-20 range. This year was obviously a big transition season for him as his first year in a full season league, and the arms he saw were of a different caliber from anything he saw in the Gulf Coast League or in the Dominican. He was able to sit on fastballs in 2017, which was part of the reason he put up as good of numbers as he did, and he didn't handle the breaking stuff nearly as well. That being said, he continues to show patience with 41 walks and the strikeout rate is manageable. His speed isn't quite top of the scale, but as you can see by his 30 stolen bases, it's a weapon. The power will probably never be a real strength for him, but he can drive the ball on occasion and he was making much more solid contact as the season wore on. He obviously has a long way to go, but with speed, an good enough arm and good routes in the outfield, he can be a top of the order bat and he should absolutely be able to stick in center. He has to be able to hit to be an every day major-league starter in the long term, but the speed should at least be enough to carry him up the ladder.

Chad (Pittsburgh, OH): 

    Which OF are you more bullish on between Jared Oliva, Jack Herman and Connor Uselton, and why? Thanks


Dustin Dopirak: That's a terrific question. I think I ranked Uselton higher because I think there's more upside. Lots of athleticism and pop in the bat. He obviously hasn't had much chance to show it off thanks to the blown hamstring last season, but I think there's potential there if he gets back on track. But obviously, with that kind of start, you can't rule out the possibility that he'll fizzle out before he really gets rolling. I don't think Oliva has Uselton's upside, and Oliva is three years older and just coming out of high-A ball, but the Pirates love his makeup. He was a walk-on at Arizona and ended up starting on a College World Series team. He's a seventh-round pick and he didn't hit any home runs in his first year, but popped nine this year and stole 33 bags. The Pirates look at him as a captain type, and he's just not the sort of guy you bet against. it's possible Uselton puts it all together and ends up being an all-star, but it's possible he doesn't and he never makes it to Double-A. Oliva's ceiling might be as a fourth outfielder in the majors, but I feel much more certain that he reaches that ceiling than I do that Uselton does. As for Herman, that's a heck of a first year for a 30th-round pick. I'm going to withhold judgment on him, but he's really, really interesting.

Frank (Indianapolis, IN): 

    I know you don't get a vote when BA puts its' top 100 prospects list together, but how many of the Pirates' top guys do you believe are worthy of being on that list?


Dustin Dopirak: I'd say four at most. The upper-class infielders — Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer, Kevin Newman — all fall a little bit short for me even though I think they'll all be major-leaguers in the next two seasons. Mitch Keller for sure, even though I don't think he projects as an ace. KeBryan Hayes will probably be in it towards the bottom half, because he seems like a fairly sure bet to have a career a lot like his father's, and he might be better defensively. Travis Swaggerty and Oneil Cruz are the borderline guys. Cruz is such a fascinating prospect because there are a lot of holes in his game, but his upside with the power, the arm and the speed is tremendous. Swaggerty is a well-polished college outfielder with some pop, patience and athleticism but he didn't exactly dominate low-A ball in his first year and his numbers at South Alabama were very good but not quite as spectacular as you want from a top of the line prospect. Like you said, I don't get a vote, but I'd expect to see three in there, with only two sure things.

Eric (Dallas, TX): 

    Lots of position players, but only one pitcher. Which of the other pitchers in their system came closest to making your top 10 list, and would you consider this to be the system's biggest weakness?


Dustin Dopirak: I think I'm supposed to stay vague on this question because they want you to buy the book, but you'll see Luis Escobar, Steven Jennings, Braxton Ashcraft, Cody Bolton and some others in the top 30. Is it the system's biggest weakness? That's such a good question, but that's in large part because I don't think that's even answerable at the moment. Other than Keller, there's no one in the system who you can right now say for sure is absolutely going to be a member of the starting rotation. However, there are a bunch of at least useful arms in Indianapolis, even if they don't have high upsides, and there are some high-upside pitchers at the lower levels, with Jennings, Ashcraft and Bolton among them. Obviously, the Pirates are big on high school right-handers with length and those take a while to develop, so we're still a long way from finding out what a lot of those guys are capable of. If the Pirates hadn't traded away Baz and Hearn, obviously, we're having a much different discussion here. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I really don't know if pitching is a strength or a weakness in the system right now, and it could absolutely turn out to be either.

Ben (NYC): 

    Had he not been dealt to TB, about where would Baz have ranked on your list?


Dustin Dopirak: Either No. 2 or No. 3. Maybe Hayes would have passed him, but I'm not totally sure. Obviously, he has a big time arm with movement and a number of useful pitches. The strikeout rate with Bristol was terrific. I was absolutely stunned to see he was the player to be named later in that deal. It really seemed like Neal Huntington asked himself "What would I usually do in this situation" and then did the exact opposite. Baz is the sort of prospect Huntington has never even thought about moving for the entirety of his career. Not to say the Pirates won't get a good return on the deal with Archer, but that's a huge throw in with Meadows and Glasnow.

Zac (NYC): 

    What are the chances Will Craig could get to where Peter Alonso did in 2018? How close was Craig to making the top 10?


Dustin Dopirak: Yeah, I don't know about that. If you're just going by stats, obviously, Alonso has been on a pretty steady trajectory. He's hit for average and power the whole way up. Craig hasn't been nearly that consistent, and his power went up when he went all in on launch angle and the rest of his numbers fell. If getting to where Alonso did just means getting to Triple-A, then Craig will probably be there, but I don't know if you'll see him viewed in the organization the same way Alonso is.

John (NJ): 

    Dustin, appreciate the chat. How close was Mason Martin to the top 10? Granted he's limited at first, but I saw him play with Bristol this past summer and the potential for power is enormous. Do you echo my sentiment?


Dustin Dopirak: I mostly do. He does have a ton of power and he's shown it, but he needs to come a long way in terms of approach. The Pirates think he's key-holing too much — only looking for the perfect pitch and watching a lot of other good ones go. Obviously, strikeouts are less of a liability these days, and teams are perfectly willing to take 100 Ks if it means 30 homers. But Martin's strikeout figures are just wildly high for where he's at. Eighty-seven Ks in 59 games in the Appy League is a lot. And like you said, he's limited defensively. They'll stick it out with him for the power, but there are more liabilities to his game than just the defense.

Dwayne (Greensburg, PA): 

    What can you tell me about the player we acquired for Ivan Nova, Yordi Rosario?


Dustin Dopirak: Hey, good to hear from Westmoreland County. Not a whole lot that you don't know. Was just watching him some on YouTube on a video FanGraphs put together of one of his outings in the Dominican. He's 6-2, 185, so he's skinny with some long limbs. Just eyeing it up, I'd guess he's hitting low to mid 90s with the fastball - good but not overpowering. Seems to get a good bit of movement on it. Got some sharp downward action on a breaking ball. I think I saw a changeup in there. It's hard to project from Dominican League numbers, but he struck out 39 batters and walked four there this year. Not that there's a lot of hitters in that league taking walks, but all the same, he's well over a strkeout per inning. He's 19, so it's going to be a while before you see a real return from that trade, but there's something to work with there.

Dwayne (Greensburg, PA): 

    What is the ceiling for Will Craig? Did his good numbers this past season and Arizona Fall League enhance his outlook?


Dustin Dopirak: I'd say he's definitely in a better spot this year than he was a year ago. When you take a kid with that kind of body, you certainly want more than six home runs in a season out of him in High-A ball, so 20 home runs in Double-A and some pop in the AFL certainly sounds a lot more like it. He'll obviously be in Triple-A this year. That being said, I think they want more blending of the hit tool and the power. He hit for average and power at Wake Forest, and I think the Pirates want to see both before they make him a fixture on the 25-man roster. Obviously, the Pirates have someone they like at first in Josh Bell (despite his disappointing sophomore year) and Bell still has the tools to be the face of the franchise. Craig's full time at first base now, and even though he's solid defensively, he has to show a ton more before he unseats Bell, and he still has to show a lot to even get to the bigs and put himself in a position where he's more of a priority for at-bats than Jose Osuna. Again, Craig is in a much better position than he was a year ago, but he has to keep producing and he either needs to start showing next-level power or hit for more average.

Zac (NYC): 

    Who are some of the less heralded guys in this system to watch for a breakout in 2019?


Dustin Dopirak: As has been pointed out here, Jack Herman is a really interesting guy to watch after he pounded Gulf Coast League pitching as a 30th round pick. I think Santiago Flores is a really interesting arm, he's just extremely young. I think Pablo Reyes, who will probably get more major-league time, is extremely interesting. Scooter Hightower is a guy I keep looking at every once in a while. He's older at 25 and still in Double-A, but he's 6-6 and he's been putting up really good numbers the past two years and moving up. Some of those are assuredly just being more mature for the league, but he keeps getting guys out. There are some others, but I think those are some interesting guys.

Adam (Wisconsin): 

    Kevin Kramer: what is the realistic result for him? Does he end up as a starter or is he going to be a utility bench player? What sort of stat line do you think is a realistic outcome for him?


Dustin Dopirak: I'm very interested to see, obviously. His numbers in Indy last year were obviously terrific, but that strikeout figure in September is ghastly. I do think there's a chance that he uses that experience and adapts to major league pitching and becomes an every day second baseman and puts up the sort of numbers you used to see from Neil Walker — somewhere between .270-285, 10-20 homers, 80 RBIs, OPS a little south of .800. but obviously, he has to prove he can hit major-league pitching so he can actually translate it. I do think he's going to have to work really hard to beat out Adam Frazier, because as my man Chris Mack points out, all that dude does is get on base. But I think he'll be on the roster soon if not in April and he will have a chance to be the second baseman at some point.

Ben (CA): 

    Thanks for chatting. I’m fascinated by Pablo Reyes, he’s gotten almost no attention during his minor league career. Do you think his 2018 numbers represent a new norm or just small sample size success? Thanks.


Dustin Dopirak: What I think makes Reyes interesting is that his 2018 numbers aren't a lot worse than his 2017 numbers or his 2015 numbers (he missed some time in 2016.) He's actually been pretty consistent with each move up, It's just been a slow grind for him, and guys who are hitting .260 with 10 homers as 24 year olds in AAA don't get a ton of publicity so no one was really talking about him because he was steady but unspectacular. But I think for an organization that has employed Josh Harrison for as long as the Pirates have, Reyes still has a lot of potential. I don't know if he'll be able to hit like Harrison did in his best years, but it appeared based on his September that he can hit just as well in the bigs as he did in Triple-A and show just enough pop to make an impact off the bench. For a National League team, he can be a really important resource. Again, Harrison's career is probably his ceiling, and I don't know that he ever pulls off an all-star campaign like he did, but I think he can make an actual major-league impact and do it soon.

Warren (New London): 

    Will Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman make enough of an impact to induce the Pirates to have a Puffy Uniform Shirt Night?


Dustin Dopirak: 1) This an awesome question. 2) I at least expect to see more promotional connections with the dudes who actually dress like pirates in the left field rotunda. And of course, lots of references to that Seinfeld episode on the big screen. I don't think either Newman or Kramer are starters in the opening day lineup, but I expect Newman to start the year in the majors and Kramer to get up there at some point.

Warren (New London): 

    Mason Martin looked like a 17th round steal a year ago, but he wasn't ready for the South Atlantic League and wasn't great in the Appalachian League either. Is his stock down, and if so how much?


Dustin Dopirak: It is down a bit, but not a ton. I think the Pirates were aware they had a lot of power in Martin, but they also knew he was raw in terms of hitting approach and not at all polished defensively. So I don't necessarily look at him and see a huge disappointment. He's still a steal for a 17th rounder with that kind of power and potential, but he's still going to have to go through some growing pains in the lower levels in the system before he gets moved forward. His approach and understanding of the zone have a long way to go.

Warren (New London): 

    Was Jack Herman close to the top 10? Do you think he'll be able to handle the South Atlantic League next year?


Dustin Dopirak: Not quite, but obviously, .340 in the GCL is something that opens your eyes. There's a significant leap when it comes to the pitching quality in the SAL, so there's going to be some adjustment to be made, but if he can hang with the breaking stuff he sees there, then his trajectory really starts to change. Will be watching that closely.

Murray (Carlsbad, CA): 

    It seems like the Bucs were high on Newman and Kramer and have kind of given up lately even though they've seen very little major league time. Is there a specific red flag they saw that you know of which would cause them to put different people at shortstop/second base after such a short window to watch these guys?


Dustin Dopirak: I don't know that they've given up on each, but neither one of them looked ready to be an every-day starter when they were called up in September. With Newman, if there's a red flag it's just that he doesn't have a whole heck of a lot of power. He's hit everywhere he's been, but he's basically a singles and occasional doubles hitter, he doesn't have crazy speed, and he's a solid but not spectacular shortstop. The Pirates can live with him playing there and defensively he's good enough to make all of the plays, but Nick Ahmed, Freddy Galvis and even an on-the-mend Troy Tulowitzki would be significant upgrades. For Kramer, 20 strikeouts in 37 major league at-bats is a lot. There's some power there and that bad start isn't enough to suggest he'll never be able to hit major-league pitching, but Frazier has proven he can hit right now, so Kramer has to do a lot to unseat him. Again, I don't think either one of them has had his window completely closed, but neither one of them have been good enough to preclude the Pirates from looking at better options.

Oneil Cruz (Top 10 in 2020?): 

    Thanks for chatting with us today Dustin. Do scouts agree that I have one of the highest ceilings in the minors (although it comes with a potential very low floor as well)? If everything continues to click and I show the same production in HiA this year, am I primed to significantly move up the top 100 into true elite prospect territory?


Dustin Dopirak: Absolutely, Oneil. Your power isn't far from the top of the scale, your arm is pretty tremendous and you run well. If you can hit consistently and learn to make routine plays, you might have a future in this game.

Alex (Bay Area): 

    Oneil Cruz was one of the biggest breakout stars in 2018. He showed he can make his 6'6" frame work and tapped into more power while cutting down this K% significantly. What do scouts now think about his FV tools? Would 50 hit / 60 power / 60 speed be realistic? I would think the hit tool is still the shakiest but if he can even become an average hitter the rest of the offensive tools are elite.


Dustin Dopirak: I would say those tool figures are realistic, and the arm isn't far off either. Defense is still an issue. He's got really good range outside of his body, but he actually struggles to break his body down and make the plays where he doesn't have to move that far. As far as the hit tool, the improvements were obviously significant, but it helped that he got to spend two full seasons at the same level. He will presumably be at high-A Bradenton this year, and have to make an adjustment to the pitching there, which will say a lot about how much he's really improved his approach.

Matt (Pitt): 

    Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. What were scouts take on Oneil Cruz after his big 2018 season? He's seen as a poor SS due to his height and long levers, but projected as a plus defender at both 3rd and RF which are still both premium positions. Would a position switch make him a true 4 tool guy? if he can further develop his hit tool to even average that is a monster prospect no?


Dustin Dopirak: He's certainly an extremely interesting prospect, but as you've pointed out, a lot of the tools are still raw. The Pirates want to see if they can make him a shortstop. They think the potential is there. They basically want to see him prove he can't do it before they move him off. The range and the arm are there. Again, it's the routine play that he struggles with. That actually makes him a better fit for short than third, because at short he has more time to react and open up to get after balls to his left and his right, where at third he usually wouldn't have the chance to use that range. Putting him in right could obviously be a long-term solution, but that requires the development of an entirely new skill set. I think they also believe that the time at short will make him better at everything else, that if he gets good at routine plays at short, he'll be more functional at third and be able to make an easier transition to right. The bottom line is the first thing he needs to do is get the routine plays down, and he is making progress in that regard.

Michael Nelson (@21Goober): 

    How likely is it we will see Keller after the Super 2 Deadline this season?


Dustin Dopirak: I'd say it's likely you'll see him after the Super 2 deadline, but not immediately after. And what I mean by that is, this isn't a Kris Bryant situation where they'll only be keeping Keller in Triple-A because they want to push back his arbitration date. Keller is going to start in Triple-A because the Pirates want to see more from him in Triple A than they did in 2018. They were not thrilled with some things they saw in his 2018 season. He had some mechanical issues which he corrected, but he had some days when he just flat out got beat up. He finished his time in Indy with a 4.82 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Those aren't the sort of numbers that get you rushed to the big leagues. If Keller proves he can dominate in Indy, he'll get called up, but he wouldn't be on the major-league roster when the season starts even if the Pirates weren't concerned about arbitration.

Zane (@LibertyZane): 

    Despite being a first round draft pick and having power the big league club desperately needs, Will Craig seems to be an over looked, middle of the road prospect. How do you see his career progression panning out? Is his future with the Bucs?


Dustin Dopirak: It's certainly possible that it won't be, but a lot of that depends on Josh Bell. Obviously, Craig came to the Pirates as a third baseman and he hasn't stayed there. Considering KeBryan Hayes appears to be the long-term answer there, there doesn't seem to be a reason to move him back across the diamond. Craig has obviously shown some power, but so far, he's been hitting for power or average, not power and average. That's not enough to make him the future at first base with Bell over there. Bell obviously has to get some things right himself after some sophomore slumping, but Bell is a sharp guy and he'll probably adjust. If Bell is on one side of the diamond and Hayes is on the other, that means Craig is probably a bench hitter when he comes up and might have to move in order to become something more. Outfield certainly doesn't seem to be in his future, and in the National League he doesn't have another option.

Alex (SF): 

    Yes/No, Oneil Cruz is a top 25 prospect come 2020. Cutting his K% down to 22% was an immense accomplishment as he further develops his pitch recognition and approach. Are scouts starting to bump him to a 50 hit guy? Would a future line of .250 / 25 HR / 25 SB while playing plus defense at 3rd/RF be a realistic projection?


Dustin Dopirak: Cruz's upside is extremely high, but he's obviously still risky with the errors and the strikeouts. Putting him top 25 by next year is a bold bet. I'll just say that. It could happen, but it's bold. Those numbers aren't crazy at all, and scouts are more impressed by his hit tool as he starts to come along. Basically, he has an approach now, which is not something they could say in the past. I will say that for the future evaluation of the hit tool, how he performs at high-A will show a lot. Again, remember, he spent two full years in low-A. He was a younger player in that league, so there's still something to be said for what he accomplished, but he had time to get used to that level of pitching and that certainly made a difference. Now he has to adjust again. We'll see how that goes. I'd say your numbers are absolutely possible, but there's still a lot of development that has to come before he's putting those numbers together in Pittsburgh.

Bryan (Illinois): 

    Is Gage Hinsz' hot start in the Puerto Rican league a small sample size or is he coming into his own after surgery and a late start to organized baseball?


Dustin Dopirak: Well, to some extent it's all of the above. We're still just talking about a fewstarts in winter league, but the Pirates were pleased with what they were seeing from Hinsz before winter league. He's always had good velocity, and it sounds like the ball's been coming out of his hand well. He has to make a lot more strides to really learn how to pitch, but he's always had tools to work with, and this was evidence that he was able to somehow put together a pretty good comeback after open-heart surgery. It's definitely a big and important step for him, but it's not the same as putting together a whole season at high-A Bradenton or Double-A Altoona. Definitely a legitimate step in the right direction, though.

Michel (Montreal): 

    Hello sir, Any sleeper in the system ? One that you could see making a big jump in the rankings in 2019


Dustin Dopirak: There are a lot of them actually. Bunch of good looking arms at the lower levels of the system — Steven Jennings, Braxton Ashcraft, Cody Bolton, Santiago Flores, Braeden Ogle, Max Kranick — who could make leaps once they get some real work. I'm also really interested in the numbers I saw from Jonah Davis from California, who had an impressive year in rookie league.

Cal (Indianapolis): 

    J.T. Brubaker had a strong 2018 season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. As a result, the Pirates added him to the 40-man roster this offseason. Do you see Brubaker getting the call to Pittsburgh ahead of Keller, even though the latter is one of the more intriguing young right-handers in the game?


Dustin Dopirak: I do, actually. Good call on that one. Like I said earlier, I do think the Pirates want to see significant improvements from Keller before they're ready to bring them up, because I think he's the sort of starter they want to bring up to say. I don't think he's a future ace, but he's definitely a No. 2 or No. 3 starter who could really fit in well with Taillon, Williams, Musgrove and Kuhl (once he's healthy). But the Pirates like to see established dominance at the Triple-A level before they're ready to bring up a rotation guy, because they plan to keep him there. I don't think Brubaker has as high of a ceiling, but he's proven he can get outs in Triple-A, so I do think he's ahead of Keller on the list of guys who will get spot start or long relief opportunities. If someone has some elbow inflammation and needs to take two weeks off in June, Brubaker is the guy who gets called up, not Keller.

Andy (PA): 

    Will the Pirates continue to play Oneil Cruz at SS until he full proves he has to move off? If he will ultimately have to move from SS anyway, wouldn't it make more sense to have him adjust to a new position now, especially when he is projected to be a plus defender at 3rd or RF?


Dustin Dopirak: The Pirates tend to leave guys in more difficult positions until it's proven they have to go, and I see how that makes sense here. I think they consider shortstop a real possibility for Cruz, in part because he is so raw and they know they have some time to develop him anyway, so they might as well shoot for the stars. It's not like they could put him in right field and he'd be ready for the big leagues. They like the arm and they like the range. Again, right field is going to require a big adjustment, so that's going to take some work when they decide it's time to move him, but shortstop is as good of a place as any to get fundamentally sound in terms of just fielding the baseball. Right now, he would have the same problems at third base as he would at shortstop, and he wouldn't have the same opportunities to make the range plays that he can at short.

Mark (Dallas): 

    Where do you see Tahnaj Thomas landing? 11-20 range? And how do you view him going forward? Wondering if we found a diamond in the rough so to speak


Dustin Dopirak: I don't have him that high right now, but there's certainly some diamond in the rough potential there. He has a long way to go, but he's obviously a big dude with a lot of length and seems like he's throwing with some good velocity. Good strikeout figures even though he's had some control issues. Will be interesting to see how he turns out.

Dwayne (Greensburg, PA): 

    Who do you think is the best Major League comp for Travis Swaggerty?


Dustin Dopirak: I saw Brett Gardner and that one seems pretty fair to me. Good power but not spectacular. Good arm, good defense. Hit tool is pretty good, but the strikeouts are pretty high. He might out perform that, but I can also see it.

Dustin Dopirak: Hey, thanks so much everybody. Lots of great questions today. Enjoyed chatting with you all.

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