Pittsburgh Pirates 2022 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat

Image credit: Henry Davis (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Following today’s release of our new Pirates Top 10, Mark Chiarelli answered your questions below. 

Frederick (Boston):

     Hi Mark, Thank you for your time today! I was wondering whether Matt Frazier was in consideration at all for the top 10? Also, what kind of major league player would you expect him to become?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Frederick. Thanks for the question! And thank you to everyone who is following along and subscribers to BA. We’ll start today’s chat with Matt Fraizer, one of Pittsburgh’s biggest breakout prospects of 2021. He was in consideration at the back of the top 10, but ultimately will likely settle into the 10-15 range once we expand to the 30. I think Fraizer has the upside of being a dependable everyday left fielder if everything goes right, and he could also probably play some CF in a pinch. This was a huge year for him — he made a series of mechanical + approach changes to better impact the ball out in front and lock in on pitches he can do damage. He’ll need to prove those changes can stick against upper-level pitching, but his first taste of Altoona showed a lot of the same positive indicators.

Sean (NY):

     Any chance Miguel Yajure claims a rotation spot?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Sean. We had a couple of Yajure questions, so I’ll try to tackle them both here. I do think he’ll be given an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot out of ST and factor into the mix at some point in 2022. There aren’t many rotation locks right now in Pittsburgh, evident by their decision to sign Jose Quintana yesterday to compete for innings as well. The injuries were a concern and he’ll need to prove he can be more durable in 2022. But his deep pitch mix + pitchability allows suggests to me he should still get starter consideration, even if it’s likely a back-of-the-rotation type look.

Alex (Pitt):

     Oneil Cruz’s career was in limbo last offseason. Now he seems to be on the cusp of being one of the truly elite prospects in all of baseball. What has he done in 2021 to solidify himself in the top 20 prospect in all of baseball conversation? Is there now conviction around the league that Cruz can be at least an average hitter while being able to tap into his light tower power at the highest level? What does a realistic triple slash line look like for him? Is .270/.340/.500 a realistic outcome? Is his ceiling a left handed Aaron Judge?

Mark Chiarelli: Hey Alex. I actually think answering the second part of your question helps explain why Cruz is one of the top 20 or so prospects in baseball. Cruz does a number of things well. Namely, he hits the ball extremely hard — his exit velos in Altoona were some of the best in Pittsburgh’s system at any level. He’s also a plus runner and a plus thrower as a 6-foot-7 shortstop. There just aren’t a lot of baseball players like him. So it’s tough to really compare him to anyone. There will always be some concern about the hit tool because he’s aggressive and there’s inherent swing-and-miss because he has long levers. But he’s managed his strikeout rate at each level. I suppose his ranking shows our confidence in his abilities.

Miles (MA):

     Adrian Florencio was the org’s Pitcher of the Year but was old for his level. Is he a legitimate late bloomer prospect?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Miles. Florencio certainly put himself on some radars. I don’t think he’s going to factor into Pittsburgh’s top 30, but his fastball-slider combination is encouraging. He needs a more potent third offering to stay on a starter track long-term, but I’d be intrigued with how he’d play out of the bullpen.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     So O’Neil at 6′ 7″ may not last at shortstop and move to another position – what is your opinion on what that other position might be?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Karl. It’s a great question! Ke’Bryan Hayes looks entrenched at third base, so we can cross that off. If you put him at first base, you feel like you’re wasting the arm and the speed. It seems like an outfield position — I had him at RF in our mock exercise — could make sense. But Pittsburgh is going to give him every chance to stick at SS.

Dwayne (Greensburg, PA):

     How close were Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler and Lonnie White to the top 10 this year?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Dwayne. All three were fairly close and should be in the teens in the book. Solometo was the closest of those three and we debated long and hard over him finding his way into the back of the top 10.

JC (Philadelphia):

     It could be argued that the Pirates had the best surface level draft of 2021 through savy use of signing bonuses to ink high upside players in Bubba, Lonnie, and Bishop (even Solometo). A little surprising (to me) to not see any on the top 10. Does this speak to the depth of the Pirates system or am I more bullish on this trio than BA? Where do these guys aim to slot in?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi JC. Solometo was awfully close to the Top 10. It does speak to the depth of the system. I think Pittsburgh’s system as deep as any in baseball. You have every right to be bullish on them, and all three of them should be in the early to mid teens.

Ronald (New Jersey):

     interesting that BA did not mention Anthony Solometo. Where do you feel he fits?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Ronald. He fits right outside the Top 10. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Solometo. It’s a legit fastball-slider combination and he repeats his deceptive delivery really well considering the degree of difficulty. He’s relatively advanced for his age despite being a northeast prep arm.

John (NJ):

     How close to the top 10 was Alexander Mojica or Shalin Polanco? Thanks!

Mark Chiarelli: Hi John. Mojica and Polanco were not close to making the Top 10, and neither are locks to make Pittsburgh’s top 30. Part of that is a function of how deep Pittsburgh’s system is. Mojica does hit the ball quite hard, but his body is a huge concern for evaluators who mostly have him ticketed for first base long-term, putting even more stress on the bat to perform. I’m not reading too much into Polanco’s numbers in his debut. He’s simply a long ways away.

Lloyd (Lakewood):

     What are evaluators saying about Nick Garcia?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Lloyd. Garcia still has some intriguing pitch characteristics, although his fastball velocity was down a tick. His development may simply take some time because he’s a conversion arm affected by the shutdown in 2020.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Slugger Mason Martin was the 16th best Pirate prospect in last years Handbook, and seems to have had a successful season in 2021 so he must have just missed being in the Pirate’s top 10 this year – correct? Is the Handbook really coming out in March? It used to be late January – hurry up on preparing it please, as I can’t wait until March for it to arrive in my mailbox!

Mark Chiarelli: Thanks, Karl. Unfortunately the shipping delays are out of our control, it’s something our book printer (and a lot of others in the space) are dealing with. As for Martin, he was not seriously in consideration for the Top 10. His raw juice is mesmerizing. But he also struck out 34% of the time at Double-A. Martin has always been young for his level and the Pirates think he’ll continue to chip away at those strikeout rates. But he still looks like a three-outcome type who will either play first base or DH if the NL implements it. His power is good enough to make it work, but that’s a risky profile.

David W (Atlanta, GA):

     Where do you see Matt Gorski fitting into the future plans of the Pirates?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi David. Gorski is another one with considerable power tied to considerable swing-and-miss concerns. He’s going to need to put the ball in play more as he works his way up the ladder.

Ryan (Detroit):

     How far was Hudson Head from the top 10?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Ryan. Head wasn’t particularly close. He showed above-average power for his age in Low-A this year, but it came with a lot of swing-and-miss and some scouts I spoke with are skeptical Head’s swing will work against better pitching.

Murray (Carlsbad, CA):

     I see y’all still have Keller as part of the rotation in 2025. Is this because you actually think he’ll deserve a sport or because there’s nothing else in the Pirates pitching pipeline that seems like a possiblity?

Mark Chiarelli: So the 2025 projections are an exercise in spelling out what’s in the pipeline for each system. I think most people understand that, and I find them to be fun. With that said, it’s an admittedly tepid vote of confidence that Keller will harness some of the ability that once made him one of the game’s better pitching prospects. Pittsburgh is not short on pitchers in the pipeline, though.

Dan (Baltimore):

     Is Hoy Park prospect eligible? Where would he fall on your list and what is a realistic outcome for him for 2023?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Dan. Hoy Park is prospect eligible. His batted ball data this year at Triple-A is encouraging. There are a lot of utility types who should get an opportunity in the near-future to win a role in Pittsburgh — Michael Chavis, Rodolfo Castro, Diego Castillo, Tucupita Marcano — and Park probably factors into that mix as an under-the-radar candidate.

david (Texas):

     Good afternoon.You guys do such a good job with the scouting reports.My question is about Brennan Malone.Is he still with the club?

Mark Chiarelli: Thanks, David. Brennan Malone is indeed still in the organization. 2021 was a tough year for Malone, who I was high on as a draft prospect. Strike-throwing was an issue for him and he also dealt with an injury early in the year. Pittsburgh ultimately sent him back to Florida to rework his delivery at Pirate City. The Pirates were encouraged by some of the results late in the season and this fall in bullpens — his velo has bounced back after dropping as he worked out his mechanical adjustments — but he has some work to do to rebuild his stock next year.

Tim (Proctorville, Ohio):

     Cristofer Melendez walks are high, but shows impressive stuff. Is he closer material or more of a set-up man?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Tim. It’s probably more low to mid-leverage relief, and like you said, that hinges on throwing more strikes.

Nicholas F (Florida):

     Hi two questions first one update on Shalin Polanco they spent a lot on him? Seemed to struggle this year is he considered a prospect still? 2nd question even though the system has improved a lot it seems to be soft on starters would you agree?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Nicholas. I’ve touched on Polanco a bit already. He is definitely still on the prospect radar. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. The Pirates have five arms in their Top 10 alone, and that’s not even counting farm away types like Solometo and Bubba Chandler, or those closer in proximity like a Max Kranick or Miguel Yajure. You could make a case there’s a lot of risk involved with the Pirates’ top arms, but pitchers are risky in every organization. I actually think Pittsburgh has done a nice job adding a lot of pitchers with intriguing characteristics, knowing that attrition is probably inevitable.

Mike (Altoona):

     Jared Oliva had a great 2019, tore up the 2019 AFL and supposedly was doing well at alt site in 2020. He ruptured his oblique this spring training and didn’t do well in 2021. Do Pirates still think of him a future piece?

Mark Chiarelli: It’s unfortunate that Oliva couldn’t compete for big league reps in 2021, because there’s certainly opportunity there. I think the skills are still there for a fourth outfield type.

Jim Leyland (retirement):

     You note that Roansy Contreras has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter, but then list him as the projected #1. Was that out of deference to a potentially thin rotation? Or a disconnect on the scouting report?

Mark Chiarelli: Thanks, Jim. Contreras is the top-ranked arm in Pittsburgh’s system right now and there isn’t a top-of-the-rotation type in Pittsburgh right now, so he gets the spot by default. I love watching him pitch and BA’s Geoff Pontes wrote today about why his underlying data is so intriguing: https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/10-mlb-pitching-prospects-with-intriguing-analytical-profiles/

James (North East, MD):

     How would you compare the Pirate’s Top 10 to other teams, like the Rays or the Orioles?

Mark Chiarelli: I love this question. Pittsburgh already ranked fourth in our midseason farm system rankings, so we feel pretty highly about their system. I don’t think anyone is touching the Mariners’ collection of top-end talent (Rodriguez, Marte, Kirby) and the Orioles have two of baseball’s best prospects at their positions (Rutschman + Grayson Rodriguez). So perhaps they’re a notch below at the top of the scale. But I’ve argued Pittsburgh’s system is as deep as anyone in baseball, and the sheer depth of talent became even more apparent to me going through this process. There are guys who won’t make Pittsburgh’s 30 that would probably factor into a list in a lot of other organizations.

Dwayne (Greensburg, PA):

     What would you say is the biggest need position wise in the Pirates system? They seem to have addressed catcher and some LHP, but I think they could still use some more. I’m also concerned about the corner infield depth.

Mark Chiarelli: They certainly addressed catcher over the last year. You can never have enough pitching, and you’re right, they do not have a ton of LHP options. But their isn’t an obvious deficiency or area of weakness when I look at it.

Jim Leyland (retirement):

     Swag sighting! Travis Swaggerty slated to be the CF in your future lineup exercise. Is he in the 11-15 range currently? What’s his ceiling?

Mark Chiarelli: You’re on the money as far as his range for the Handbook. His ceiling is that of a lower-end everyday CF. He has the defensive skills to play there for a long time and likely would’ve been one of the better defensive outfielders in the upper levels this year if he had stayed healthy. It’s a matter of whether he’ll make enough contact.

Justin (Tucson, AZ):

     What is the probability of Pitt using Davis in a Daulton Varsho type of role where Davis splits time between C and RF to max out his bat and arm?

Mark Chiarelli: Davis is a pretty good athlete, but this isn’t something I’ve heard discussed for him. The Pirates were pleasantly surprised with Davis’ defense in a limited sample before an oblique injury ended his season. I think they’ll give him every chance to stick behind the plate. The catcher in their system with the potential to play some other positions might actually be Endy Rodriguez.

David Hughes (Arlington, VA):

     At what level will Canaan Smith-Njigba start 2022? What is his likely position and likely ceiling? Any guess as to an ETA?

Mark Chiarelli: I’d anticipate he starts the year in Triple-A. He’s an interesting hitter…I don’t think it’s out of the question he reaches Pittsburgh by the end of 2022. His long-term home defensively is likely LF.

Kyle Weatherly (Timmonsville, South Carolina):

     Granted Nick Gonzales played in a hitter friendly environment this minor league season, but after he continued to kill it in the AFL should we expect to see a large jump for him in the prospect rankings when they are updated in January?

Mark Chiarelli: I’m not involved as much as others on staff re: The Top 100 construction. He was No. 64 at the end of 2021. My gut instinct is somewhere in the 40-50 range feels right for him, but we’re still a ways away from those conversations. Gonzales was an interesting guy to dig into. Most people I spoke with are absolutely convinced he will hit. Greensboro does help with power numbers — especially to right-center, which is where his power is tailored — but there’s a reasonably high degree of confidence Gonzales will keep hitting as he ascends the system.

Mike (Lynchburg, VA):

     Thanks for the chat! How good do you see Roansy Contreras being in the big leagues and should Pirates fans be excited? Is he considered injury-prone at this point?

Mark Chiarelli: Hi Mike. Yes, Pirates fans should be excited. Between his updated scouting report today and what Geoff wrote (https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/10-mlb-pitching-prospects-with-intriguing-analytical-profiles/) there should be plenty for the Roansy Contreras fans out there. His fastball is a ton of fun and he can really spin both of his breaking balls. He doesn’t always command them at the same time — some nights it’s the slider, others it’s the curveball — but when he syncs everything up, it’s aggressive and a lot of fun to watch. I’m not sure I’d call him injury-prone, but there is certainly some concern about how he’ll hold up over a full season. That said, Contreras was pretty diligent about making improvements to his body + adding strength during baseball’s shutdown. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Renee (Austin):

     Chandler, Solometo, and White were among BA’s top draft prospects this year. Were any of the 3 in consideration for the top 10? Where do these 3 fall in the top 30 for BA and does it speak to the depth of this system that none of the 3 rank among the top 10?

Mark Chiarelli: I’m using this final question to tie up a couple of threads threads throughout today’s chat. The Pirates added a *ton* of good players over the last year. So a player moving down this list — take Mason Martin or Nick Garcia for example — speaks less to any material change in their profile and more to the sheer amount of talent now in the system. With Chandler, Solometo and White, all three were in the mix at the back of the Top 10, with Solometo much closer than the other two, Solometo drew rave reviews for his competitiveness. He’s a breakout candidate for me next year and could work his way into the Top 10 quite quickly. With Chandler, it’s obscene athleticism but not a lot of actual pitching experience. Neither White or Chandler have focused on baseball full-time until this year. So it may take a little longer in both of their cases. But all three ranked among the best 30 or so draft prospects in the 2021 class, and there’s plenty to be excited about for all three. Thanks to everyone who follows along and supports Baseball America. Our digital subscribers are the backbone of everything we do. It’s a joy to chat with you all and talk some baseball. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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