Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
STATE OF THE SYSTEM
A minor league system that ranked first back in 2014 has steadily fallen and ranked 23rd heading into 2020. That’s the natural order of things as players graduate from prospect status, but it also means that it will be a while before the system bears much fruit from the new regime led by general manager Ben Cherington.
(Editor's Note: The rankings for Carmen Mlodzinski and Quinn Priester were previously flipped. They have since been corrected.)
1. Nick Gonzales, SS
In a matter of three years, Gonzales went from a walk-on at New Mexico State to the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. His bat-to-ball skills are special and there is hope he can be the type of hitter who competes for batting titles and hits 15-20 homers. There are differing opinions on whether he can stick at shortstop long term, but the bat will provide value regardless.
2. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
The defensive upside for Hayes has always been high at third base, and his tools are such that he could also stand in at shortstop if called upon. He hit a career-high 10 home runs at Triple-A in 2019, and the continued growth of his power will be key moving forward.
3. Oneil Cruz, SS
Cruz is as tantalizing a prospect as the Pirates have thanks to prodigious raw power, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound frame, plus speed and plus arm strength that will serve him well either at shortstop or in right field. Patching up the holes in his swing and improving his approach will have a lot to do with where his ceiling is capped.
4. Liover Peguero, SS
A premium athlete acquired from the D-backs as part of the Starling Marte trade, Peguero has an aggressive approach, makes hard contact and has at least average power. The growth he showed defensively at shortstop last season raises his chances of sticking at the position considerably.
5. Cody Bolton, RHP
After getting shut down at the end of 2018 due to forearm soreness, Bolton came back healthy and had a successful 2019 season, dominating the Florida State League before moving up to Double-A Altoona and pitching on an innings limit. A power repertoire headlined by an upper-90s four-seam fastball could make him a fit as a reliever. For now, he’ll continue to pursue starting.
6. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
A product of the new baseball hotbed of the Bahamas, Thomas has seen his velocity increase sharply in recent years, going from the low-to-mid 90s at the time he was traded from Cleveland to Pittsburgh in 2018 to the mid-to-high 90s in 2019, even touching as high as 101 mph. He’s another arm who would fit well in a bullpen role, but will continue to develop as a starter.
7. Quinn Priester, RHP
After enjoying a successful pro debut in 2019, leaning on a four-pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball he can run into the upper 90s and a curveball that projects as a plus pitch, Priester was a candidate to move relatively quickly through the system. The canceled minor league season, however, complicates those plans.
8. Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP
Because of injuries in 2019 and the cancellation of the 2020 college season, the hard-throwing South Carolina righthander never really showed his best self on campus, but a huge summer in the Cape Cod League after his sophomore season that catapulted him up draft boards. With a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, a slider and cutter that have flashed plus and a physical frame, Mlodzinski is further advanced than you’d expect for a pitcher who threw fewer than 100 total innings in college.
9. Brennan Malone, RHP
Malone is one of the more exciting pitching prospects in the organization because he combines present stuff with projection. As he continues through the minors, he projects to have four average or better pitches, including a fastball that can touch the high 90s and a slider that suggests it could be a plus offering. As a 2019 draftee, he still has plenty of time to develop.
10. Ji-Hwan Bae, SS/2B
Bae is as classic of a leadoff-type hitter as they come. He’s gifted with elite speed and the bat control to be a potentially plus hitter. As a trade-off, he has virtually no power, though his speed could help him turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Bae was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in 2019 and served a 30-game suspension during the season.
11. Jared Jones, RHP
12. Sammy Siani, OF
13. Travis Swaggerty, OF
14. Braxton Ashcraft, RHP
15. Nick Garcia, RHP
16. Michael Burrows, RHP
17. Calvin Mitchell, OF
18. Mason Martin, 1B
19. Alexander Mojica, 3B
20. Travis MacGregor, RHP
21. J.T. Brubaker, RHP
22. Nick Mears, RHP
23. Jared Oliva, OF
24. Kevin Kramer, 2B
25. Santiago Florez, RHP
26. Max Kranick, RHP
27. Will Craig, 1B
28. Nick Burdi, RHP
29. Osvaldo Bido, RHP
30. Blake Cederlind, RHP
There are some really exciting position player prospects on the doorstep, led by 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, SS Oneil Cruz and 3B Alexander Mojica a bit further away. One or both of those players should provide impact in the majors sooner rather than later. After RHP Mitch Keller graduated in his first start of 2020, SS Nick Gonzales is the team’s new No. 1 prospect. He figures to move quickly through the system.
Save for recent graduate RHP Mitch Keller, there aren’t many pitchers ready to compete for spots in the big league rotation any time soon. There are promising recent acquisitions, like Mlodzinski (draft) and Malone (trade), and there are relief prospects a bit further along, like Brubaker and Mears, but starters at the upper levels are few and far between. Bolton, who reached Double-A in 2019, could be the outlier.
PLAYER POOL TIDBITS
The Pirates went the conservative route in terms of bringing top prospects into the player pool. SS Nick Gonzales, 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, SS Oneil Cruz, RHP Cody Bolton and SS/2B Ji-Hwan Bae are in the 60-man pool.
2B Kevin Kramer had hip surgery in May and won’t take part in any team activity in 2020. RHP Nick Burdi will be trying to return healthy from thoracic outlet surgery, which is one of the more difficult recovery processes for players. RHP Travis MacGregor is facing two full seasons away from the mound. He missed all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery and will now be out all of 2020 due to the cancellation of the minor league season.