Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 Top 30 MLB Prospects Midseason Update
UPDATE: The Pirates Top 30 now includes moves made through the July 31 trade deadline.
The Pirates entered the season expecting their pitching to lead the way. Their entire rotation has been ravaged with injuries, however, and most of the starters have struggled even when healthy. The offense, meanwhile, has stepped up thanks to the emergence of Josh Bell and strong rookie seasons from Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds.
The injury issues have provided ample opportunities for prospects in Triple-A, and the Pirates still have their top three prospects at the level. In the lower levels, there’s a skew toward high-upside players, trending stronger on the pitching side, with a few players such as Cody Bolton and Max Kranick seeing big improvements this year.
The Pirates don’t look like strong contenders right now, so their deadline focus should be on the future, whether that’s retooling for 2020 and adding to these younger, upper-level guys, or rebuilding for the future and further stocking the lower levels with upside.
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Hayes is one of the best defensive third basemen in all of the minors, and lately his offense is catching up to the defense. He has a .971 OPS and shown solid power production in a small sample since coming off the injured list at the end of June.
2. Mitch Keller, RHP
The Pirates have turned to Keller a few times to help with their injury issues, but he’s struggled in the majors in those starts with a 10.50 ERA in 12 innings. His fastball has been his strength in the past, but it has been hit hard in the majors so far.
3. Oneil Cruz, SS
Cruz is one of the most dynamic prospects in the Pirates’ system with some of the best raw power in the organization. He was injured early in the year, but he has been on fire since returning in late June with a 1.077 OPS in high Class A.
4. Cole Tucker, SS
Tucker got a shot in Pittsburgh this year, but he struggled after a hot start. He’s since returned to Triple-A, posting a .753 OPS. He’s better defensively than Kevin Newman, and has more offensive potential, but he’s yet to consistently translate the tools to the stat line.
5. Cody Bolton, RHP
Bolton has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the lower levels of the Pirates’ system, posting a 1.61 ERA through 12 starts in high Class A with a 28.9% strikeout rate thanks to a new cutter and increased velocity and control with his fastball.
6. Quinn Priester, RHP
One of the top prep pitchers in the 2019 draft, Priester is off to a great start with the Pirates, giving up just two runs with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 11.1 innings. He’s shown a good two-seam fastball, which has paired well with his curveball.
7. Travis Swaggerty, CF
Swaggerty has a high floor, and he should at least make the majors in a bench role due to his strong defense in center field and his speed. His offensive skills haven’t shown up on the field, mostly due to some swing-and-miss issues.
8. Kevin Kramer, 2B
Kramer has received a few brief callups to the majors this year, but he has only recorded one plate appearance. He has the potential to be a league-average second baseman, but he might have some competition in the middle infield from Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker.
9. Sammy Siani, CF
The Pirates gave Siani $2.15 M, which is their second-largest bonus ever given to a player taken after the first round. He possesses strong defensive skills in center field, and the Pirates like his offensive potential, seeing future power potential as he fills out.
10. Luis Escobar, RHP
Escobar has had control issues in the past due to a head tuck in his delivery that throws his motion toward the first base side and pushes his throws off line to the plate. He’s made some mechanical adjustments to reduce this movement this season, and with better control he could be a late-inning reliever in the majors, where he’s currently getting a look in the bullpen.
11. Will Craig, 1B
12. Max Kranick, RHP
13. Lolo Sanchez, OF
14. Calvin Mitchell, OF
15. Travis MacGregor, RHP
16. Braxton Ashcraft, RHP
17. Osvaldo Bido, RHP
18. Michael Burrows, RHP
19. Jack Herman, OF
20. Jason Martin, OF
21. Dario Agrazal, RHP
22. JT Brubaker, RHP
23. Nick Burdi, RHP
24. Blake Cederlind, RHP
25. Ji-Hwan Bae, SS
26. Matt Gorski, OF
27. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
28. Braeden Ogle, LHP
29. Mason Martin, 1B
30. Cody Ponce, RHP
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RHP Cody Bolton has seen a velocity increase, sitting 93-96 mph and touching 97 mph with good control and movement. He’s switched to a cutter this year, which has resulted in more strikeouts. He was promoted to Double-A at the end of June.
1B Will Craig is hitting for power for the second year in a row, this time doing it at the Triple-A level. The Pirates aren’t in need of a first baseman with Josh Bell in the majors, and Craig isn’t good defensively at other positions, which means he’ll be blocked in Pittsburgh unless the NL adopts the DH.
RHP Dario Agrazal has dealt with injuries since the end of the 2017 season, which derailed his progress. He got back on track this year, pitching well in Triple-A and earning a promotion to the MLB rotation as an injury replacement, where he’s made three strong starts so far.
RHP Blake Cederlind has seen a big velocity increase out of the bullpen, hitting 102 mph this year in Altoona and posting a 0.90 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 12 walks in 30 innings at the Double-A level.
OF Jack Herman was a 30th-round prep outfielder in the 2018 draft, but he has emerged as a sleeper candidate due to a power increase during extended spring training. That led to an aggressive promotion to low Class A at the age of 19, where he currently has an .831 OPS.
LHP Braeden Ogle moved to the bullpen this year, where he’s seen some good results. However, he has continued to be plagued by injuries and is currently out after being promoted to Bradenton.
OF Calvin Mitchell has shown some good power potential, but he has a tendency to pull the ball too much, which opponents have recognized. This has led to a lot of extreme shifts to cover the right side of the field, resulting in Mitchell’s average to dip.
OF Travis Swaggerty has yet to show the offense that made him a first-round pick last year, with poor power, a low average, and too much swing-and-miss leading to those two trends.
RHP JT Brubaker entered the season as a top depth option for the Pittsburgh rotation, but he was shut down in April with a forearm strain. His recent rehab assignment was also shut down for four to six weeks of rest due to elbow inflammation.
RHP Travis MacGregor is out for the season with Tommy John surgery following a breakout campaign last year with low Class A West Virginia. Prior to the injury, he was hitting the mid-90s with a fastball that featured more control and more swing-and-miss than in previous years.
SS Oneil Cruz missed significant time with a broken bone in his foot but has now returned to action.
SS Kevin Newman has emerged as the starting shortstop in Pittsburgh thanks in part to a power increase that is fueling an .838 OPS. He shouldn’t have to worry about competition from Cole Tucker as long as he continues this offense and league-average defense.
OF Bryan Reynolds was the main piece in the 2018 Andrew McCutchen trade. He’s emerged as a rookie of the year candidate, hitting .336 with a .933 OPS while locking down a starting job in Pittsburgh’s outfield.
RHP Clay Holmes has had a rough transition to the major league bullpen. He’s started to adjust his approach in the last month, incorporating his sinker and slider more often, and moving away from his four-seam fastball, which has been his worst performing pitch this year.