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BA Grade: 60. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Curveball: 60. Slider: 60. Changeup: 45. Control: 60. Track Record: Keller is the latest pitching prospect to top the Pirates’ system, joining the likes of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow in the last decade. Keller has flashed the pure stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, though the Pirates haven’t gotten those results consistently from the previous group. Keller’s chances might be better. He will work with a new big league pitching coach, following the firing of Ray Searage, and likely a more updated organizational pitching philosophy, which has held Pirates pitching prospects back in recent years. Keller made his big league debut in 2019 and has already started to abandon the Pirates’ penchant for heavy fastball usage. He ran up a 7.13 ERA over 48 innings in his debut, but in the final two months he put more emphasis on his slider and curveball and saw an uptick in strikeouts. Scouting Report: Velocity has been Keller’s calling card since hitting 94 mph in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League out of high school. He has since increased that velocity to sit 94-96 with sink down in the zone and he has touched 99. He improved the control and command of his fastball after a mechanical adjustment in 2015 but has seen his control regress the last two seasons. His curveball has long looked like a plus pitch, with a sharp break out of a 12-to-6 arc that leads to strikeouts and ground balls. He added a slider last year, which is quickly looking like a plus offering with a 26.8-percent swinging-strike rate. It was his second most-used pitch in the majors and was used more than his curveball in all but three starts at the end of the season. The slider was developed because of issues with Keller’s changeup, which flashes average potential with fade, but has largely been inconsistent and ineffective. Keller has big stuff and throws strikes, but he often gets too much of the plate and struggles with sequencing. As a result, major leaguers hit .348/.394/546 against him in his debut. The Future: The Pirates plan for Keller to be a critical part of their rotation, whether their plan is to win now or rebuild. If his slider is as good as it appeared in his first season with the pitch, then a high strikeout rate should remain. If he can maintain the strikeout and walk rates and he can fine-tune his command to catch less of the plate, he should provide the Pirates with a mid- or front-of-the-rotation starter. He will open 2020 back in the majors, and a new pitching coach and organizational pitching philosophy should help put him over the top.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Hit: 60. Power: 50. Run: 50. Fielding: 70. Arm: 60. Track Record: Ke’Bryan’s father Charlie Hayes spent 14 years in the majors at third base, including one with the Pirates. Ke’Bryan has been one of the best defenders at the position in the minors since the Pirates drafted him 32nd overall in 2015. His offense has caught up in recent years, capped by him batting .270 with a career-high 10 home runs at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2019. Scouting Report: Hayes’ plus-plus defense is his obvious carrying tool. He has multi-Gold Glove potential at third base thanks to smooth hands, quick reaction times, good routes to the ball and a plus arm. He is athletic enough to play shortstop in a pinch as well. Hayes shows plus hitting ability with a smooth, quick swing, natural lift and a patient approach. He has improved his power the last two years after recovering from a cracked rib at the end of 2016, which led to significant weight loss in 2017. Hayes regained the weight and muscle, and added more in the process. He lost some speed, but he’s still an above-average runner who is smart on the bases and capable of stealing double-digit bags each year. The Future: Hayes has the foundation of an everyday third baseman with his hitting ability, defense and baserunning tools. His ceiling will depend on how much his power improves.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 50. Power: 70. Run: 60. Fielding: 50. Arm: 60. Track Record: The Dodgers originally signed Cruz for $950,000 in 2015. The Pirates were interested in Cruz at the time and ended up getting him two years later for Tony Watson at the trade deadline. He broke out with mesmerizing power displays at low Class A West Virginia in 2018 and overcame a right foot fracture to reach Double-A in 2019. Scouting Report: Cruz has a lot of solid tools to work with and the highest ceiling of anyone in the Pirates’ system, though he also is the hardest to project. At 6-foot-7, Cruz is unusually tall for shortstop, though he is a plus runner with surprising dexterity to play the position. Scouts are mixed on whether he will stick at shortstop, with the safer projection being right field with his plus arm strength. Cruz’s bat has fueled his rise and will be what determines his future. His hand strength and long levers give him massive raw power that some scouts grade an 80, though with his long limbs come natural holes in his swing that lead to strikeouts. His approach is inconsistent, as well. The Future: Cruz will likely return to Double-A to start the 2020 season. With the right strides as a hitter, he should be batting in the middle of the Pirates’ lineup by 2021.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: High Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Slider: 55. Changeup: 50. Control: 55. Track Record: The Pirates signed Bolton for $300,000 in the sixth round in 2017, and he has since emerged as one of their top pitching prospects thanks to rapid improvements with his velocity and control. He was shut down with forearm soreness at the end of 2018 and received a platelet-rich plasma injection. He stayed healthy in 2019 and reached Double-A Altoona while pitching with an innings limit. Scouting Report: Bolton sits 93-96 mph and touches 97 with sink on his four-seam fastball. He has worked with his two-seam fastball more in the last year and keeps it down in the zone in the low 90s. Bolton added an above-average, hard cutter in 2019 to pair with his two-seamer and has worked on his average changeup to make it an effective complement to his four-seam fastball. Both secondary pitches need improvement to ensure he can remain in the rotation. He could also benefit from a slower pitch in the low 80s, because everything now is thrown hard. Bolton has had issues with serving up homers, but his command should improve along with his secondary pitches. The Future: Bolton could move quickly through the system as a power reliever, but his starter upside will keep him in the rotation for now. He should return to Altoona to start 2020.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: Extreme. Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Curveball: 55. Changeup: 45. Control: 50. Track Record: Thomas had trained as a shortstop in the Bahamas before moving to the mound when he turned pro with the Indians. The Pirates traded Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff to Cleveland after the 2018 season in a deal that was centered around shortstop Erik Gonzalez, but Thomas looks like the biggest talent in the trade. He had a minor shoulder injury in spring training, but after making slight mechanical changes to clean up his delivery, he began throwing harder with better control and finished eighth in the Rookie-level Appalachian League with 59 strikeouts. Scouting Report: Thomas saw his fastball go from sitting 92-95 mph at the time of the trade to 95-99 by the end of the 2019. He reached as high as 101 mph. Thomas also worked to improve his control, throwing more strikes with the improved velocity and showing average strike-throwing potential overall. His slider started to look like a potential above-average, swing-and-miss pitch, though there is still room for improvement. His fringe-average changeup lags behind and will need to improve. The Future: Thomas’ velocity and slider upside give him a path to be a dominant reliever in the majors, but the 20-year-old has plenty of upside in the rotation and should remain in that role going forward. He will head to low Class A Greensboro in 2020 to make his full-season debut in 2020.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: Extreme Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Curveball: 60. Changeup: 50. Control: 55. Track Record: Priester was one of the top prep pitchers in the 2019 draft and passed up a commitment to Texas Christian after the Pirates drafted him 18th overall and signed him for $3.4 million. He didn’t have a pitching coach as an amateur, with a lot of his development self-taught from watching other pitchers on YouTube. He took it upon himself to add strength to his lower half prior to 2019, resulting in added velocity. Scouting Report: In addition to his high aptitude for the game, Priester has the stuff to be a high-end starter. His four-seam fastball can get up to 97 mph with a smooth delivery from a three-quarters arm slot. He has more command of his four-seamer but more movement on his low-90s two-seamer. Priester’s curveball is his best offering at the moment and a future plus pitch. He can both land it for strikes and generate swings and misses thanks to good shape and deception. His changeup is a work in progress, but he has a grip he likes and is gradually getting a better feel for it. His smooth delivery portends future above-average control. The Future: Priester is advanced enough that he could move up to low Class A Greensboro in 2020. His physicality, stuff and aptitude give him a chance to move quicker than a typical high school pitcher.
BA Grade: 50. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 60. Power: 30. Run: 80. Fielding: 55. Arm: 45. Track Record: The Braves originally agreed to sign Bae for $300,000 late in 2017, but Major League Baseball rejected the deal as part of the punishment handed out in the Braves’ international signing scandal. The Pirates signed him four months later for $1.25 million. Bae was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in South Korea and served a 30-game suspension during the 2019 season. He returned to low Class A Greensboro in May and won the South Atlantic League batting title with a .323 average. Scouting Report: Bae is a speedy contact hitter who projects to hit at either the top or bottom of a lineup. He is a slap hitter with power to the gaps, and his 80-grade speed helps him generate extra bases. Bae has yet to homer in 121 career games and doesn’t project to ever have much home run power, but he hits enough doubles and triples to post respectable slugging percentages. Bae has the athleticism and range to be an above-average defender at shortstop, though a fringe-average, inaccurate arm raises questions about his ability to stick there. Scouts have raised the obvious makeup concerns after his legal issues. The Future: Bae profiles as a future top-of-the-order hitter with speed and on-base ability. His development as a shortstop will be key to watch in 2020.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: Extreme Tool Grades: Hit: 55. Power: 50. Run: 60. Fielding: 55. Arm: 40. Track Record: Siani followed his older brother Mike as a top draft prospect out of Philadelphia’s Penn Charter School. The Reds drafted Mike Siani in the fourth round in 2018, and the Pirates made Sammy the 37th overall pick one year later. He signed for $2.15 million to forgo a Duke commitment. Scouting Report: Siani is a solid all-around player who does nearly everything well. He has an easy swing from the left side with extra-base power that could improve to average home run power in the future. He manages the strike zone and has a knack for getting on base. Siani has some swing-and-miss to his game right now, but he has the tools to hit .270 or better down the road. Siani has plus speed and could stick in center field, but his below-average arm is an issue. The Pirates moved him around to all three outfield spots in his debut to see where he fits best. The Future: Siani’s career could go a number of different ways with his power and defensive development. Whether he becomes a top-of-the-order center fielder or a power-hitting left fielder, the Pirates believe there is enough of a foundation for him to become an everyday regular.
BA Grade: 50. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 50. Power: 50. Run: 60. Fielding: 55. Arm: 55. Track Record: Swaggerty emerged as a top draft prospect in 2018 after showing promising a power-speed combo at South Alabama, but some scouts had concerns after he hit just .296 playing against mid-major competition. The Pirates drafted Swaggerty 10th overall and signed him for $4.4 million. He showed bits of power and speed at high Class A Bradenton in his first full season, but he underwhelmed with his contact skills. Scouting Report: Swaggerty flashes average or better tools across the board, but he too often falls into the trap of selling out for power and swings and misses too often. Swaggerty’s power is only average, and he is at his best when he tones it down and focuses on making contact. Swaggerty hit just .219 with a 25-percent strikeout rate through June, but he recovered to bat .328 with an 18-percent strikeout rate the rest of the season, showing the bat-to-ball skills the Pirates believe is present when he takes the right approach. Swaggerty is an above-average defensive center fielder with an above-average arm and should stick at the position. He also is a plus runner capable of stealing 20-plus bases a year. The Future: Swaggerty hasn’t lived up to his draft slot, with his contact issues holding him back. He will try to carry his second-half improvement into 2020 with Double-A Altoona.
BA Grade: 50. Risk: Very High Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Slider: 50. Changeup: 50. Control: 50. Track Record: The Pirates signed Ashcraft for $1.825 million in 2018 to break his commitment to Baylor. It was the third-highest bonus in franchise history for a player drafted after the first round. The young righty struggled to a 5.77 ERA with short-season West Virginia in 2019, but he handled himself well in a college-heavy league. Scouting Report: Ashcraft is a tall, projectable righthander with loads of athleticism. He was a star wide receiver in high school and touched 95 mph on the mound his senior year. His velocity dipped into the upper 80s after he signed, but he jumped back into the low-to-mid-90s at West Virginia. He has the loose, projectable frame to project to grow into even more velocity. Ashcraft’s upper-70s slider is a slurvy offering that has a long way to go, but he shows feel to spin and could make it an average offering as he adds power and shape. He has feel for an average, low-80s changeup. Like many tall pitchers, the 6-foot-5 Ashcraft has struggled with his control at times. His athleticism provides optimism he will grow into average control. The Future: Ashcraft offers a lot to dream on, but his growth will take time. Low Class A Greensboro is next in 2020.
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