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TRACK RECORD: Keller’s velocity spiked about 10 mph between his junior and senior years of high school, and the mid-90s fastball he displayed at showcase events instantly made him a major prospect. A second-round pick, he was committed to North Carolina but was lured into pro ball by the Pirates’ $1 million bonus offer. He had instant success in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League but missed much of 2015 with forearm trouble. He returned in 2016 and struck out 131 batters and walked just 18 in 124.1 innings at low Class A. He made the high Class A Florida State League all-star team in 2017 before being promoted to Double-A Altoona in August of that year. He began 2018 with the Curve and was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis after allowing just four runs in five starts from May 31-June 25. He also drew the start for the U.S. in the Futures Game. Keller wasn’t as consistent at Triple-A, giving up eight runs in 2.2 innings in his first start and finishing the season with a 4.82 ERA.
SCOUTING REPORT: Keller’s fastball and curveball are the best in the Pirates’ system. He has put muscle on a rangy frame and sits 94-96 mph without a lot of exertion. When he rears back, he can reach 99 mph. He can locate to all four quadrants with late life, tilt and armside run. His plus curveball takes an 11-to-5 shape with hard downward bite. He’s been working on a changeup, and it doesn’t have the velocity differential that the Pirates were hoping for, but it does have enough sink to it that it works as an average groundball pitch. Part of Keller’s struggles in 2018 came because of mechanical problems on the backside of his delivery that led to his pitches coming out of his hand flat. He focused on eliminating those problems late in the season but still had the worst season of his career in terms of command. He walked a career-high 55 batters, and Triple-A batters hit .280 off him, evidence that he was missing too much in the middle of the plate.
THE FUTURE: Keller will begin the 2019 season in Indianapolis and have to prove he can consistently dominate before the Pirates consider calling him up to the majors. His longterm future is as a top-to-middle of the rotation arm, most likely as a No. 2 or 3 option, and the Pirates will likely want to see him make a big league start in September if not sooner.
TRACK RECORD: Hayes, the son of 14-year big league third baseman Charlie Hayes, has been arguably the most consistent position player in the Pirates’ system the last two seasons. After missing most of 2016 with a cracked rib, he was an all-star at high Class A Bradenton in 2017 and at Double-A Altoona in 2018.
SCOUTING REPORT: Hayes has excellent hands and a slow heartbeat at third base, which makes him one of the best gloves in the minors. He isn’t fazed by big swings or scorched grounders, and he has an excellent feel for how to read angles off the bat. He has a plus arm and makes steady, accurate throws with plenty of backspin carry across the diamond. Hayes has a short, compact swing with excellent plate discipline. Even through his home run figures are still modest—the seven he hit in 2018 were a career high—he’s getting more carry into the gaps. He finished with 45 extra-base hits in 2018, with 31 doubles nearly doubling his previous career high. He isn’t a blazer, but he did steal 27 bases in 2017 and 12 in 2018. The Pirates want him to add weight and strength, which could slow him down a tick.
THE FUTURE: Hayes will head to Triple-A Indianapolis and isn’t far from being Pittsburgh’s third baseman.
TRACK RECORD: When the Dodgers signed Cruz, he was already tall and strong. But he has grown another two inches since signing. The Pirates were thrilled to acquire him in the 2017 trade that sent reliever Tony Watson to the Dodgers. In 2018, Cruz showed he could harness his potential by hitting .286/.343/.488 at low Class A West Virginia.
SCOUTING REPORT: Cruz made massive improvements in his return to low Class A. He slashed his strikeout rate to 22.6 percent while getting to his power more regularly, largely because he showed a much better concept of what pitch he was looking for and cut down on chases out of the zone. His height and long levers mean he has a big strike zone, but Cruz has near top-of-the-scale raw power to go with excellent athleticism. He has a plus-plus arm and surprising speed. There has never been a 6-foot-6 major league shortstop, and Cruz likely won’t change that, but he showed improvement in his ability to chop his feet and get down to grounders. He projects as an above-average defender at third base or right field with 20 homer-20 steal potential.
THE FUTURE: Cruz is ready for high Class A Bradenton. He’s a risky prospect, but one with all-star potential.
TRACK RECORD: Swaggerty went undrafted after earning all-state honors at Denham Springs High in Louisiana. He initially went to South Alabama as a two-way player but focused on the outfield and put on muscle to add power to his athleticism. He hit 27 home runs and stole 48 bases at South Alabama. He got a little power-hungry as a junior as he struggled more at the plate, but the Pirates still believed in his bat, picking him 10th overall in 2018.
SCOUTING REPORT: Swaggerty is a well-rounded player with potentially no below-average tool if he can improve his hitting. At his best, he shows patience and a short, controlled swing with power thanks to buggy whip in his swing. His quest for power has gotten him into bad habits at times. Swaggerty should stay in center field as an above-average defender. He has plus speed to get to balls in the gap and the above-average arm strength to make throws from center even when he’s off balance.
THE FUTURE: The Pirates generally take their time moving players up the ladder, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Swaggerty head to low Class A Greensboro to start the 2019 season, but he shouldn’t finish there as an experienced college star.
TRACK RECORD: In Kramer’s first two years in the Pirates’ system, he developed a reputation as a reliable singles and doubles hitter. After hitting 29 doubles in 2016, he began focusing on hitting more fly balls in a 2017 season shortened by a fractured hand. That switch paid off at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2018 as he reached career highs in both home runs (15) and doubles (35). That earned him a September callup, where he registered five hits but also struck out 20 times in 37 at-bats.
SCOUTING REPORT: Kramer allowed his swing to get bigger with a little more of an uppercut so he could take advantage of added muscle and power. He has accepted more strikeouts and sacrificed what was an above-average hit tool to have average power potential. It’s a concession that should pay off for a bat-first second baseman. Defensively, Kramer has good hands but fringy range at second base. His fringe-average arm also limited him in stints at shortstop and third base.
FUTURE: The Pirates would like to keep Kramer in Indianapolis for more seasoning when the season starts. He’s on the 40-man roster and should see plenty of big league time in 2019.
TRACK RECORD: The Pirates coaxed Tucker out of a commitment to Arizona by taking him in the first round in 2014. Labrum surgery ended his 2015 season and cost him time in 2016. In 2017 he suffered a thumb injury and a hand fracture but had his best pro season, stealing 47 bases and slugging .408 combined at high Class A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. He struggled early in 2018 but a solid July got him back on track. He finished with 33 extra-base hits and 35 stolen bases, then played well in the Arizona Fall League.
SCOUTING REPORT: Tucker has a wiry frame with long levers, and with that much body to control, he can get out of sync at times. He was off balance in the batter’s box for most of 2018 and didn’t seem to even out until the end of the season. Still, he has some gap-to-gap power, and his plus speed with long strides makes him a constant threat to steal bases. Defensively, he’s a fluid athlete with above-average range and an above-average arm, making him a prototype shortstop.
THE FUTURE: Tucker will begin 2019 at Triple-A Indianapolis. He should compete with Kevin Newman to be the Pirates’ everyday shortstop in 2020 or shortly thereafter.
TRACK RECORD: Newman twice won the Cape Cod League batting title and hit .370 as a junior at Arizona. He has maintained that hit-first, zero-power reputation as a professional. He has slumped whenever he has tried to produce more power, but he stayed inside himself at Triple-A Indianapolis at 2018, hitting .302 with a career-high 30 doubles. That led to his first big league callup, though he hit .209 in 31 games in the majors.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Pirates and Newman have accepted that he isn’t going to be a power hitter, and it hasn’t worked to try to turn him into one. He has excellent plate coverage and a level, compact swing, so he hits line-drive singles without a lot of lift. The hope is that he can do that well enough at the major league level to hit at the top of the order. Defensively, he’s sure-handed with improving if not spectacular range, and he’s becoming more fluid as an athlete. He projects as an above-average defender with an average arm.
THE FUTURE: Newman’s time to be the Pirates’ everyday shortstop has come. How he performs in 2019 will decide whether he can maintain the spot when Cole Tucker is ready to make the leap.
TRACK RECORD: Mitchell fell into the Pirates’ lap in the 2017 draft thanks to a rough start to his senior high school season that dropped him just enough to make him a second-round pick. After a modest debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Mitchell showed off his power at low Class A West Virginia in 2018.
SCOUTING REPORT: Mitchell has an advanced and polished hitting approach for a young hitter. Scouts are very confident that he will be a plus hitter. He has a smooth, quick swing, and he can sit back and get the barrel on outside pitches to drive them out the opposite way. His approach is advanced for a 19-year-old, and he has a good feel for the strike zone and what pitches he wants to hit. His speed, however, is below-average, and his defensive abilities are far behind his offensive abilities. He profiles as a corner outfielder whose fringy arm strength makes him most likely a left fielder. The Pirates consider him a vocal leader of the 2017 draft class, and he will be carrying the banner for it heading into his second full professional season.
THE FUTURE: Mitchell will have to hit to rise, but has the tools to do so. He will open 2019 at high Class A Bradenton.
TRACK RECORD: Reynolds has a long-standing track record as a singles and doubles hitter. He posted a career .329 average at Vanderbilt, hit .346 in the Cape Cod League, and he has yet to hit under .300 at any pro stop. The Pirates acquired him in the Andrew McCutchen trade before the 2018 season. Even after breaking his hamate bone in April, he hit .342 in August to finish at .302 for the year.
SCOUTING REPORT: Reynolds swing is compact and level, and he has a good feel for the zone, but he doesn’t have a lot of lift in his swing and frequently puts the ball on the ground. He has good speed and he can hit to all fields from both sides of the plate, but his extra-base hit numbers are low. He finished 2018 with 28, including just seven home runs. Reynolds helps himself out with a solid defensive profile. He has above-average speed and makes decisive reads in the outfield. He runs efficient routes and has a strong and accurate enough arm to play any outfield position. He is solid enough to play center field as a fill-in but his range would be stretched if asked to play there every day.
THE FUTURE: Reynolds will likely begin 2019 at Triple-A Indianapolis. His lack of home run power might consign him to a fourth outfielder role.
TRACK RECORD: Martin had a track record of hitting in five seasons in the Astros’ system, but he was both unprotected and undrafted in the Rule 5 draft after the 2017 season. The Pirates acquired him as part of the trade that sent Gerrit Cole to Houston. Martin had one of the most impressive first halves of any position player in the system, hitting .325/.392/.522 with nine home runs at Double-A Altoona. He struggled after a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, however, finishing with more strikeouts (52) than hits (45).
SCOUTING REPORT: Martin has whip in his swing and average power he generates from his lower half, but he also has a significant leg kick, which can leave him vulnerable against breaking balls. His hands work well at the plate, which gives him a chance to be a .270-.280 hitter. He’s an above-average runner who has posted double-digit stolen bases in every season of his career. He has enough to have the range to play center field on occasion and be an above-average left fielder. His arm is his one below-average tool.
THE FUTURE: Martin was added to the 40-man roster in November. He should be battling Reynolds for a backup outfield role in Pittsburgh before long.
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