Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat

Image credit: Quinn Priester (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)



Ken (Lakewood CA):

     Thanks for the chat. Thinking Hayes may be the Pirate 3B as early as sometime in 2020? Are we realistically looking at a very good glove that hits 10 to 15 HR a year with a .270 to .280 average? Or are the Pirates optimistic his hitting stats can be better than that? Perhaps a better real life player than fantasy?

Tim Williams: Thanks for joining me, and thanks to Baseball America for the opportunity to put this year’s list together! I could see Hayes arriving in 2020. I think your assessment is realistic. Hayes will lead the way with his defensive skills. He’s got the reactions, range, glove work, and arm strength to be a Gold Glove defender at the position in the majors. He also has a compact, smooth swing that projects for an average in the .270-.280 range or higher. The big variable will be the power. I think it’s safe to project 10-15 homers. Hayes also has a lot of room to add muscle to his frame, without losing a lot of defensive value at third. That could jump him up to a 20 home run hitter, which combined with the defense and the hitting, makes him a key figure to follow for the Pirates’ future chances at contending.

Tommy (New York):

     What is Mojica’s upside?

Tim Williams: Alexander Mojica had an impressive season at age 16 in the DSL, hitting for a .351/.468/.580 line with eight homers and a .230 ISO. Those numbers at that age at any level will be eye-opening. They also make Mojica one of my most anticipated guys to watch as he jumps to the US next year. My concern with projecting him right now is the uncertainty with his position. He’s at third base now, and can handle the position so far. He does have a thicker frame, which could move him to first base as he grows and fills out. That puts more emphasis on his bat. He’s going to either need to show that the bat can provide enough value for first base, or he’s going to need to show that he can stick at a more valuable position over the long-term before his upside becomes clear. Right now I just love the offense and the reports we’ve received on his hitting tools.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Of the pitchers moving up to Greensboro from the short season teams – who are your favorites?

Tim Williams: I love that potential Greensboro rotation next year. The best and most realistic prospect group you could have there would include Tahnaj Thomas, Quinn Priester, Braxton Ashcraft, Michael Burrows, and Santiago Florez. I have all five as top 20 prospects in the system. To answer your question of who I’m most looking forward to, let’s just say I might be making the hour drive to Greensboro a LOT next year to see Thomas and Priester. It’s rare to see two guys with the makings of top of the rotation stuff at the same level.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Greensboro outfielder Fabricio Macias seems to have had a pretty good bat in 2019 – is he a prospect or an organization guy in your eyes?

Tim Williams: He’s more a prospect than an organizational guy, but ultimately a fringe-prospect. I’ve got his likely upside right now at 30, but there’s chance to improve to 35-40 if the bat continues to show positive signs. His defensive skills are strong in center, and drive a lot of his value and future upside right now. I’m a bit skeptical of his 2019 offense, just because he’s already played in leagues with players more advanced than who he’d face in Low-A. I want to see what he can do at higher levels.

Zac (NYC):

     Is there room for Cruz to advance his hit tool? And if he does, do you think he could become a play-anywhere, top of the order type like DJ LeMahieu (another uncommonly tall infielder)?

Tim Williams: I projected Cruz for right field in 2023. I am not ruling out him sticking in the infield, either at shortstop or third base. I don’t think he’s going to be a defender who provides positive value at either of those spots. He definitely has the offensive potential to play anywhere. I thought it was interesting that we got a Gregory Polanco comp for Cruz. It’s not what you want to hear, based on what Polanco has done so far. It does make sense. They’re both highly athletic guys with tons of tools, but some obvious concerns, specifically with their swing length. I think Cruz will hit for power easier than Polanco has done. He does need to find a way to shorten his swing to improve the average and strikeouts, all without losing some of that power. I also see him as more of a middle of the order bat.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Two high draft choices (2nd and 3rd round) Gorski and Fraizer seemed to flounder at short season last year. What do you expect from them this coming season and beyond?

Tim Williams: I wasn’t high on Gorski because his profile is not one the Pirates have had success with in the past. He’s got plus raw power, but some serious swing and miss issues to his game. The Pirates didn’t have success with similar guys in the past. Casey Hughston is the biggest example who comes to mind. Plus raw power/too many strikeouts is a common profile and hard to develop. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates have better results with this type of hitter under Ben Cherington. Fraizer is the opposite end of the spectrum, with plus speed, and gap power upside. The Pirates didn’t have good results with mid-round college hitters in general, so once again, we’ll see how they do under BC.

Norm C (Connecticut):

     Jack Herman seems to be making himself relevant in the lower minors. Did he make the book this year?


Warren (New London):

     Jack Herman hit 13 home runs in 265 AB, but 9 of them were in his very friendly home park. How much power does he project to have, and what’s the rest of his game like? Will he be in the 30?

Tim Williams: Spoiler alert: He’s in the 30. I have the same concerns as you about his power distribution. Nine homers and a .563 slugging at home versus four and .374 on the road. But he was also doing that at age 19 when power isn’t the most consistent tool. He has enough speed to play center, and enough arm strength to play right field if he moves to a corner. He added some muscle last offseason to improve his power production, but he also doubled his strikeout rate in the process. He could make it as a fourth outfielder who can play all three spots and hit for power off the bench. He’s got plenty of time to improve that upside going forward, but will need to address the concerns above with his power and strikeouts.

Warren (New London):

     Mason Martin had a big year after a disappointing 2018. Is he close to the top 10? While Swaggerty and Siani are a lot more athletic, it seems to me that he has a case to be ahead of them.

Tim Williams: I really like the raw power from Martin. He also has a great eye. My concern is that he’s gotten too selective in the past, letting some hittable pitches go early in counts to try and crush a pitch later. He worked this year to get more aggressive early in the counts. I’d like to see how that plays out in higher levels, where his eye will really be tested, and there will be fewer pitches to crush. I wouldn’t make an argument for Martin over either of those guys yet, but he has the ability to put himself ahead of both of those guys by this time next year.

Chris (Pittsburgh):

     Does Yerry de los santos rank in top 30

Tim Williams: Not yet, but he’s a great story to follow. Signed in 2014, made his debut in the DSL in 2015, then pitched 27 innings over the next three seasons due to Tommy John and setbacks. He’s now sitting 95, reaching upper 90s, and pairing the fastball with a slider that led to a 38% strikeout rate in Low-A this year. He’s a future reliever, and a guy who could move quickly through the system next year.

Sean (Pittsburgh):

     Does Juan Pie rank in top 30


John (PA):

     Where does Juan Pie start the season next year

Tim Williams: I could see Pie starting off in extended Spring Training and moving up to one of the short-season teams by the summer. Right now he’s a line drive hitter with average speed and a fringe-average arm. He seems more likely as a left fielder in the future. He hit .231/.314/.347 in the GCL this year, with much better results against lefties than right-handers (Pie is a lefty). He’s a lower level project right now who needs to see his power develop.

Dan (SoCal):

     Was Jared Oliva close to the list? He looked great in the AFL.


Ke’Bryan Mays Hayes (Queens):

     Jared Oliva had a nice year and has got some interesting tools – when and how do you see him contributing at the Major League level, if it all?

Tim Williams: I thought the most apt comp we got for Oliva was Rocco Baldelli. That’s perfect for how I see him. He’s a guy who can be a good fourth outfielder, can play all three outfield positions, and might even be able to put up a year or two with a WAR around 2.0, making him a good second division starter in those years.

Greg (Rainy Cincinnati):

     What are your and your sources opinions about the pirates ability to identify and develop amateur talent as an organization, both historically and going forward, and in comparison to similar market size NL central rivals ? Thanks!

Tim Williams: Historically they have done well to identify talent and to develop them into top prospects. They’ve had some clear issues with turning top prospects into top players in the majors. That’s why Pirates fans cringe every time they hear about Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and others who are reaching their upsides elsewhere. The new group needs to identify guys like Cole and Meadows in the first round like the old guys. They need to identify fifth round prep sleepers like Glasnow. They need to develop them all to where they’re top prospects in the league. But this time they need to make sure the next Cole, Glasnow, Meadows, or anyone else sees their impact MLB production in Pittsburgh.

WTM (Silver Spring, MD):

     So if you’re Cherington looking at this right now, what are you thinking?

Tim Williams: This chat? Or this system? If I’m Cherington, I like the upside of the system, but want to add to the depth, as it really falls off in several areas. I’d also want to update the pitching and hitting philosophies throughout the system to modernize them for what we’re seeing in today’s MLB. And I’d pour all of my efforts into developing that Greensboro rotation. If I’m Cherington looking at this chat, I’d be thinking about how I’m not looking forward to answering all of the development-related questions I have for him over the next year.

Greg (Cincy):

     So where do the pirates go from here ? Rebuilding?

Tim Williams: That would be my pick. They’re not contenders as it stands right now for 2020, and they’re not close. They only have key players like Marte under control for a few more seasons. And they’ve got a good group of prospects developing in the lower levels. All signs point to their best chance of winning being in the future, with very little chance in the next two years.

Timmy (Work):

     Please speculate on the prospect return for trading Taillon.

Tim Williams: He’s going to need to return from his second Tommy John surgery and show what kind of value he’s got before he can be moved. No sense trading him before he returns.

Murray (Carlsbad, CA):

     I’m excited about the new front office. We keep hearing about major leaguers like Marte and Bell being dealt, but can you see Cherington dealing from the farm to bring in different prospects that maybe he’s had his eye on while in Toronto? If so, who might be most likely to go?

Tim Williams: Prospect for prospect trades are rare. I could see him turning to the Blue Jays system for some guys. I don’t know who he’d target. I do know that the weakest spot in the system is catcher, and he needs to find a way to get a long-term option from some team.

JL (Charlotte):

     How long are we going to ride with Stallings as a catcher?

Tim Williams: I think they should go with him splitting time in 2020, along with an upside guy in hopes of finding the next Russell Martin or Francisco Cervelli. Stallings is good managing pitchers, and the Pirates have some young pitchers to work with who can benefit from throwing to him in the next year or two. I don’t see them as contenders during this time, so I’d at least give him a year to split as a starter, and keep him as a backup after that.

Mike C. (Lynchburg, Va.):

     Thanks for the chat! How much is a concern is Keller’s rough big league start last year?

Tim Williams: I’m less concerned after two developments. Number one is that he started throwing his fastball less, and the secondary stuff more. I think he’s got the makings of two plus breaking pitches. His new slider already looked like a weapon in his first year using it, and I aggressively graded it as the best slider in the system based on the limited results. I think he’s going to benefit most from an updated pitching philosophy. I loved what Ray Searage did in Pittsburgh, but it was clear the last few years that he and the Pirates had fallen behind. In four years the situation went from watching to see who the next reclamation project would be for Searage, to seeing who would be the next pitcher to benefit from leaving Pittsburgh for a more advanced organization. I think Keller will see a big boost with a new philosophy built in. That’s coming from someone who has been asking him about his strategy to reduce extreme fastball usage since Keller was in High-A.

Bryan (Illinois):

     Can we get a quick blurb on Cal Mitchell, Steven Jennings, and Gage Hinsz?

Tim Williams: Mitchell is my favorite of the three. I see plus raw power and a good hit tool, but he’s raw. Jennings hasn’t shown much velocity and has been disappointing so far for a high pick. Part of that is due to a broken rib that led to a lot of weight loss. That happened prior to 2018, and his velocity hasn’t developed since. Hinsz has seen the worst luck the last few years. He’s had shoulder issues, open heart surgery that cost him 2018, and a forearm strain that cost him 2019. He was sitting mid-90s before he went down, while tying to develop his curve into a consistent out pitch. It’s hard to say where he’s at now, all things considered. I will say that I don’t think there’s a player who I’m pulling for more to reach the majors after everything he’s been through.

Andrew (Atlanta, GA):

     Are there any unprotected Rule 5 Pirates Prospects that you could see being taken in the upcoming Rule 5 draft?

Tim Williams: I don’t really see any strong chances. They added Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce, who I thought were fringe guys to be added to the 40-man, and risks to be selected if they weren’t added.

Sam (Pittsburgh):

     Given the Pirates farm today – could you project a starting lineup of all prospects in, say, 2023-24? Who do you think has realistic shots of being impact players in MLB?

Tim Williams: I could project an all-prospects group, but it wouldn’t be very good. The impact guys I see, who could arrive by 2023-24, include Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, and you might even see Tahnaj Thomas and Quinn Priester joining that group in those years. That’s a good group for Cherington to improve upon.

Buried in Snow (Duluth):

     Lolo Sanchez got dominated in High-A; any thoughts on his 2020 outlook?

Tim Williams: Sanchez is a guy who I really like. A lot of tools, but way too inconsistent. He could have 50 tools or better across the board. He’s tried to hit for power too much in the past, taking away from the stronger parts of his game. I think he’d be fine as a speedy, leadoff hitting, defensive center fielder without much power. The focus on improving the power seems to be derailing the rest of his game.

Stephen (Pittsburgh):

     As you prepared this list, with whom were you most surprised? Positive or negative. You follow the team closely but I am sure as you took a step back to get the big picture, someone stood out. “Wow, I did not realize this guy is blossoming into someone sneaky good” type observation

Tim Williams: Throughout the season, Tahnaj Thomas was the guy who made the biggest rise on my list. We were high on him heading into the season at Pirates Prospects, but the reports we got throughout the year were enough for me to feel comfortable ranking him ahead of a first round prep pitcher like Quinn Priester. For a deeper sleeper, I really liked what Nick Mears has done this year. I think he’s got a shot to be a future late inning reliever in the majors.

John (CT):

     What are your thoughts on the catching prospects of the Pirates now that Diaz is gone. I know they will get a free agent, but futures for Jason Delay, Deon Stafford, Grant Koch, Zac Susi and Kyle Wilkie.

Tim Williams: The best guys from that group profile as defensive backups if they reach the majors. I didn’t go that deep for my rankings here, but we have Delay, Stafford, and Arden Pabst as 30 upsides, making them more number three catchers out of Triple-A. The Pirates desperately need starting catching prospects throughout their system.

Buried in Snow (Duluth):

     Where would Cole Tucker have fit in? Thoughts on his future outlook?

Tim Williams: I’d probably have him in that group with Thomas, Priester, and Bae. I’m still high on him and think he’s the shortstop of the future. Better defense and power potential than Kevin Newman, and he’s got a good hit tool, with a line drive stroke and good plate patience. As I’ve said, the Pirates didn’t do a good job transitioning top prospects over to the majors. I saw Tucker with average to above-average starting shortstop potential in the past. I want to see if the new group can get him there.

Jacob (Wilmington):

     Thoughts on Jasiah Dixon? 2020 starting assignment: short season ball or Greensboro?

Tim Williams: I love the speed and the chance to stick in center field. The offense, in a small sample size, was also nice to see. The old group would have probably pushed him to Greensboro. We’ll see if the new group does the same. It might all depend on how he looks throughout Spring Training.

Jim (Louisville, KY):

     Travis Swaggerty is coming off a very average year in A+. Has that tempered your expectations from him and what is that you are going to look for most out of him in 2020?

Tim Williams: I haven’t been high on Swaggerty. He hasn’t lived up to his pre-draft reports. The power isn’t there, and there’s are some swing and miss concerns that haven’t fully shown up in the stats in A-ball. Right now I see him with average starter upside.

Buried in Snow (Duluth):

     Any commentary on Kevin Kramer and Pablo Reyes?

Tim Williams: I see Reyes as a utility player, probably less likely than Josh Harrison or Adam Frazier to transition to being a starter. I’ve been high on Kramer, but he took a step back this year. He’s got above-average power for a middle infielder, and good contact skills. He’s yet to consistently translate that to games, his numbers declined in a year when the ball was juiced in Triple-A, and the Pirates didn’t call him up at the end of the year. I’m not writing him off, but he’s got to work his way back into the picture at this point.

Paul Ivice (Jensen Beach, FL):

     What do you project the Pirates will get from Blake Cederlind in 2020?

Tim Williams: In 2020 alone? A Triple-A reliever who can hit triple digits, with control issues and the need to improve his out pitch. If he does well enough on those last two things, he could arrive by the end of 2020.

Matt (Pittsburgh):

     Do you see Will Craig getting any MLB action this season?

Tim Williams: I could see that happening if Josh Bell gets injured, or for any other reason Bell might not be available. Craig needs the Pirates to trade Bell, or the NL to add the DH in order for him to start in Pittsburgh in the next year or two. I’d go Bell as the DH in that scenario.

Mike (Altoona):

     Could you rank Bell, Will Craig and Mason Martin on 20-80 scale on 1B defense? Thanks

Tim Williams: Bell 25, Martin 35, Craig 50.

Buried in Snow (Duluth):

     Who’s the best hope for a future .300/.400/.500 line in the system? Not seeing many well-balanced offensive profiles here – any hope on the horizon?

Tim Williams: Josh Bell, if we’re including current MLB players. Oneil Cruz, if we’re not.

Possum (Connecticut):

     Tim, What’s your gut feeling on how the management changes and the de-emphasis on pitch-to-contact will impact the development of the pitchers in the Top 10?

Tim Williams: It’s going to be an interesting look, because we’ll see how it plays out across a lot of levels. Keller in the majors, Bolton in the upper minors, Thomas and Priester in the lower levels. The strength of this organization is pitching, and it will only help to modernize the pitching approach. I think that should be the biggest priority, considering the makeup of the system.

Coach (New England):

     Nice to see them cleaning house and making changes. My son is in organization and I hear of the concerns first hand. Have they hired a new director on the minor league system, and if so what are your thoughts of him.

Tim Williams: They just hired Steve Sanders from the Blue Jays to be the new assistant GM. He oversaw a lot of big improvements to the farm system in Toronto, and it sounds like he’ll be playing a big role here.

Joel Martin (Hamilton, Ontario):

     What did you make of the Pirates AFL selections? Oliva was obviously a star. Beau Sulser has put together two solid seasons in the minors. Do you think he has the stuff to be in Pittsburgh in the next year or so?

Tim Williams: I think he could make it as a depth option, but his upside is limited to middle relief at best until he becomes more than a finesse pitcher. Oliva’s performance was encouraging. Nick Mears was another encouraging guy with his performance carrying over strong from the end of the regular season.

Jake hurts (FL):

     So many good middle infielders in the system. Where do you see tucker starting the year possibly MLB? And once he’s up where does Newman go? Also Cruz makes to many errors at short but his bat is amazing and you hVe bae coming up behind them also what you have on Alemais feel like he’s always hurt. Let’s say if he were to produce better power numbers and bat in his .280 like he did with altoona are we looking at someone that can take a job? In the upper levels? Where does he start the year? Coming off an injury.?

Tim Williams: My projection for the future is Tucker at short, Newman at second, and Cruz in the outfield. Alemais has the best defense of the group, but I question if he’ll hit enough to be more than a September callup at best.

Oneil Cruz (The Unicorn!):

     Thanks for chatting with us today. My collection of tools might be one of the most exciting in all of minor league baseball. After proving I could more than hold my own in AA to end the 2019 season, are scouts more convinced that I can make my long levers work? Do you see me as a potential massive breakout prospect that could rocket all the way into the top 10 prospects in all of baseball if I continue to put everything together offensively and defensively in 2020?

Tim Williams: So many Oneil Cruz questions.

Alex (Pitt):

     Oneil Cruz has been lauded for his 80 raw power but has had trouble getting to it consistently in games due to his large frame and long swing. He showed the ability to tap into that power more in HiA in 2019. What does he have to do to continue to evolve into one of the truly elite prospects in baseball in 2020?

Tim Williams: You guys are excited about him. And it’s easy to see why.

Matt (PA):

     Everyone knows about Oneil Cruz’s incredible raw power for someone that is built more like an NBA SF. However, what % of scouts are believers in his bat and that he can consistently tap into that power as he matures. It was quite encouraging to see him sine in HiA and hold his own after being promoted to AA as a still raw 20 year old. Do you think he’s on the cusp of putting everything together and exploding in 2020?

Tim Williams: I saved all of these questions for the end, because I am also excited by Oneil Cruz’s upside, but also have some concerns.

Oneil Cruz Fan (Pitt):

     Oneil Cruz showed he could make his long levers work in his first taste of full season ball in 2018. He continued to build on that in 2019 and climbed all the way to AA. I’m cautiously optimistic he’s on the brink of putting everything together and becoming an uber prospect in 2020. Am I crazy?

Tim Williams: So we’ll wrap this up with a final answer on Cruz. He’s the toughest guy to evaluate and project in my 11 seasons covering the Pirates. He’s got the best raw power in the system. He’s the most athletic player in the system. He might have a shot at playing the infield, but that’s a luxury. It won’t be a problem for his bat to play in right field. The issue with Cruz is that he’s such a high beta prospect. He could be a star, or he could wash out in the upper levels due to issues with a longer swing. Honestly, I comfortably project him as a future MLB player. The tools are just too good for him to totally bust. The question I have is: How good can he be? I think this is another Gregory Polanco situation, where if Cruz disappoints in the majors, it’s because he’s an average starter at best, and not an impact player like everyone hopes. But I love his chances at being an impact guy. I see Pedro Alvarez power and Gregory Polanco’s athleticism (without the awkward looking plays that happen too often), plus the downsides that come with Polanco’s long levers. If he can improve that last aspect, the first two will take him far. Thanks so much for the chat everyone!

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