The Pirates are an organization in flux, currently walking the tightrope of attempting to compete in the present day while still keeping an eye on the future. The organization has developed a strong track record in scouting/player development in recent years, and true to form, we feel Pittsburgh’s farm system is a bit underrated. Many prospects on this list will reach the big leagues, though a lot of them are of the higher-floor, low-ceiling variety. That said, this system is not simply built on safe, high-floor prospects: part of the Pirates’ “win now, win later” strategy centers around foreseeable contributions from top prospects like (#1) Mitch Keller, (#2) Ke’Bryan Hayes, and (#3) Travis Swaggerty–three potentially impactful contributors that could crack the big league roster in the next few years.
–CHANCE FOR IMPACT
Pittsburgh’s system falls outside the game’s top 10, which makes their quantity of Top 125 prospects all the more impressive. The Pirates placed five players on our recent review of baseball’s top minor leaguers, with both (#1) Mitch Keller and (#2) Ke’Bryan Hayes ranking within the top 50. (#4) Oneil Cruz is risky but has massive upside—giving another potential impact player in addition to Keller and Hayes—and (#5) Cole Tucker is one of the safer shortstop prospects in the game. 2018 first-round pick (#4) Travis Swaggerty has the athleticism to stay in center field and could develop into an above-average hitter for the position.
None of these position players project for massive impact, but the Pirates have an enviable quantity of safe, upper-level hitters ready to be incorporated into the fold. (#7) Jason Martin, (#9) Kevin Kramer, and (#10) Kevin Newman have already made their Major League debuts. (#11) Jared Oliva and (#12) Will Craig likely aren’t far behind them.
Pittsburgh has not shied away from risk/reward prep arms early in the draft the last few years, and the result is a sizable contingent of interesting projection pitchers. We’re more bullish on (#14) Cody Bolton than other outlets; (#15) Braxton Ashcraft, Tahnaj Thomas (Pure Projection), Santiago Florez (Pure Projection), Travis MacGregor (Pure Projection), Max Kranick (Pure Projection), and Steven Jennings (Pure Projection) are other low-level pitching prospects in this group.
–DEPTH PAST THE TOP
The strongest point of this system is how many palatable big leaguers that it’s soon to graduate. Considering the quantity of prospects at the upper-levels, the top of this list stands to drop off a bit as its most talented players pass through to the Major League level. Though it’s worth remembering the team will have draft picks and international signings to pad those losses, there aren’t many FV 50+ prospects past the group currently at the top.
TOP 15 PREF LIST
CREAM OF THE CROP
(#1) Mitch Keller, RHP
A second-round pick from an Iowa high school in 2014, Keller has blossomed into one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. After finishing 2017 in Double-A, the Pirates—who are generally fairly conservative with pitching promotions—sent him back to the level to start last season. Keller cruised through 14 starts in the Eastern League before finishing 2018 with Triple-A Indianapolis. He arguably could have competed in the big leagues by year’s end, and it’s likely the righty surfaces in Pittsburgh at some point in 2019. Keller displays solid control and command of a mid-90s fastball that tops out in the 97-to-98 mph range. His signature curveball already grades as an above-average pitch, coming in with low-80s velocity and power two-plane break. His changeup was a point of weakness entering last season, and Keller has worked to improve the pitch to the point it’s at least average, if not a tick above at its best. Scouts love his no-nonsense mound presence and competitive streak, two attributes that should help him reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.
(#2) Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Hayes has steadily progressed since signing as the 32nd overall pick in 2015 from a Texas high school. Still very projectable on both sides of the ball, the 22-year-old has developed into one of the better corner infield prospects in the game. An athletic 6-foot-1, Hayes moves well for his size with the chance for above-average hit and power outputs. He shows an advanced feel for the zone, drawing a healthy amount of walks with the barrel-feel to avoid frequent strikeouts. Hayes has yet to fully translate his raw power to games—playing more to the gaps than true over-the-fence pop—but his BP displays leave reason to believe he will grow into more power in time. At the hot corner, Hayes’ mobility, soft hands, and playmaking grade as above-average. He has a strong arm that’s a good fit for the left side of the infield. The chance to finish a .275+ hitter with 16-20 home runs and quality defense gives Hayes the ceiling of an above-average player, with some chance to be even better than that if he unlocks another grade of power.
(#3) Travis Swaggerty, OF
Swaggerty emerged as a top draft pick heading into his junior year with the Collegiate National Team. He added strength over the winter, coming out with more raw power and lift in his swing leading up to the draft. Paired with his center-diamond defensive profile and already plus athleticism, he moved near the top of the first round by the time June rolled around. The Pirates popped him with the 10th overall pick, and Swaggerty showed his power/speed toolset in a pro debut split between the New York-Penn League and South Atlantic League. A muscular, twitchy 5-foot-11, the 21-year-old has the requisite speed to stay in CF long-term. His plus arm is an asset defensively, and his plus wheels translate to the bases where Swaggerty projects to rack up a good number of steals. He’s a bit more raw at the plate than most top-of-the-draft college bats—still prone to aggressively chasing soft stuff at times—though Swaggerty shows signs of an approach that could improve his sense of the zone in time. His ceiling is an above-average defensive outfielder with at least an average hit tool and good power for the position.
(#4) Oneil Cruz, SS
The Pirates acquired Cruz from the Dodgers in a 2017 trade. The towering shortstop has established himself as one of baseball’s better prospects in the time since—and perhaps its most unique. Standing 6-foot-6 with long, rangy limbs, Cruz can play a fairly good shortstop despite being outsized for the position. He still might ultimately wind up at another spot on the field—third base or in the outfield, perhaps—but he’s athletic enough to stay at the 6 for now, where his cannon arm has no issue making deep throws. His loose, fluid stroke has plenty of leverage, giving Cruz double-plus raw power that puts it out to any part of the park in BP. He cut down on his strikeouts last year and showed a more contact-focused approach, and while that’s enthusing, the most likely outcome is a lower-average, high-power bat. It’s tough to place the 20-year-old on a specific development trajectory because there have been so few prospects like him in recent memory. Cruz has the ceiling of a dynamic star-level producer if everything lines up, though there are a ton of varying outcomes depending on how his hit tool develops and where he winds up defensively.
ON THE HORIZON
(#5) Cole Tucker, SS
Tucker has progressed steadily through the system since coming to the Pirates with the 24th overall pick in 2014. Though he’ll turn 23 in July, he’s still more physically projectable than most prospects this age and has room to add strength. He finished 2017 in Double-A, then spent all of last season there before heading to the Arizona Fall League. Tucker’s best attributes are his plus defense at shortstop, excellent athleticism, and noticeable high-energy makeup. A graceful defender in the middle of the field, he has a 60-grade glove and arm that will make an impact in the field at the big league level. A switch hitter, Tucker’s bat doesn’t look to be particularly dynamic at this point—though he could still grow into a bit more power—but he’s a good bet to hit enough to fit a regular profile at shortstop. He projects as a solid everyday player at a premium position, one that could crack the big leagues some point next year.
(#7) Jason Martin, OF
Martin was recently called up to the big leagues for his Major League debut. Pittsburgh acquired him in a package of players from the Astros prior to the 2018 season in exchange for Gerritt Cole. No one individual tool of Martin’s will blow you away, but he’s a high-instincts player who contributes in a variety of facets. His quick, compact left-handed stroke shows good feel for the barrel and can square hard liners both ways. He has a good sense of the zone and won’t expand much, though the lack of huge power means Martin has to choose when to open up on a ball with a bigger swing—something that leads to whiffs within the zone at times. He’s a solid-average defender in CF, though it’s more in the strength of routes and instincts than blow-away speed. The chance for an above-average hit tool on top of a well-rounded set of other 45/50-grade tools gives Martin some chance to be a low-end regular. He’ll be a solid role player and fourth outfielder if he winds up short of that.
(#8) Bryan Reynolds, OF
The Giants made Reynolds the 59th overall pick in 2016 from Vanderbilt, sending him to Pittsburgh as a prospect piece in the Andrew McCutchen trade. Reynolds battled a hamate injury to start 2018, though he played well upon returning to the lineup in Double-A. A switch-hitter, Reynolds fares much better from the left side—giving him favorable matchups more often than not. He’s a large, physical 6-foot-3, but there isn’t overwhelming raw power and his in-game swing-path works more level to the ball. He’s playable in CF but not truly plus there, though that makes him an above-average corner outfielder. Reynolds is more likely a tweener fourth outfielder, but he does a number of things that should carve out some future big league role.
(#9) Kevin Kramer, 2B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2018 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 200 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 5m
Kramer was the Pirates’ second-rounder in 2015 from UCLA. An offensive-minded second baseman, he began to add lift to his swing around 2017 in an attempt to gain more power. Kramer reached the big leagues briefly last season, struggling in a brief 21-game debut. He’ll need to produce at the plate, as he profiles best at the keystone and doesn’t have the defensive versatility to fall back on a utility role if he doesn’t hit his way into a lineup. Kramer’s upper-miniors track record suggests he has a chance to rebound, profiling long-term as a role player or low-end regular.
(#10) Kevin Newman, SS/2B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2018 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 7m
Newman’s outstanding contact ability has been his calling card as a pro, and he posted another season of high-average, low-strikeout production last year in Triple-A. He also got roughly 100 plate appearances in the big leagues, struggling badly and looking overmatched after making the jump to the highest level. Newman has 30-grade power, a slappy singles hitter who has never tallied more than five home runs in any given season. Defensively, he has bounced between SS and 2B. Newman is reliable and instinctive at the 6, but the lack of truly plus range or arm likely moves him off the position—especially with (#5) Cole Tucker waiting in the wings at short. Newman’s best-case ceiling is a hit-first, low-end regular at 2B, but he’s more likely a well-rounded role player.
(#12) Will Craig, 1B
A two-way player at Wake Forest, the Pirates took Craig as a hitter in the first round of 2016 and moved him to 1B. A right-handed bat that’s bound to a corner, all of Craig’s value will come from his ability to produce at the plate. He changed his swing and contact profile last year, looking to drive the ball with loft power and getting to more in-game pop. His 20 homers in Double-A were easily a career high, and Craig’s prospect stock took a slight turn upward as a result. There’s still a long road for him to be a day-in, day-out regular as a 1B-only, but the newfound game power could be enough to carve out some sort of role.
(#13) Nick Burdi, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2018 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 225 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 2m
Burdi’s power stuff allowed him to star as Louisville’s closer, drafted by the Twins in 2014’s second round. He has battled injuries since and was a Rule 5 pick prior to last year, though he ultimately made his Major League debut in 2018. Burdi still must remain on the active roster for a certain number of days to fulfill his Rule 5 status, so he broke camp with the big league club to begin 2019. His fastball sits in the upper-90s with a power slider that plays as a bat-missing pitch when he’s able to get ahead in counts consistently. Despite all the setbacks, the stuff is still here to fit into a high-leverage ‘pen role if Burdi’s control and outing-to-outing consistency hold steady.
Luis Escobar, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 205 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 10m
Soon to be 23, Escobar has worked as a starter to date but projects best in the ‘pen. There’s effort in his delivery and he has consistently struggled to limit walks. The fastball touches 95-96 mph as a starter and could foreseeably unlock a few extra ticks in short-stints. His hard curve flashes at least average, thrown more than a mid-80s changeup he sprinkles in for another look. Escobar was added to the 40-Man Roster after the 2017 season, so there’s a clearer pathway for him to get to the big leagues in the next two years. He could move quickly if he takes to a bullpen role, with enough raw stuff to potentially fit a setup profile down the road.
J.T. Brubaker, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 185 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 4m
Brubaker was the Pirates’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018, a breakout season in which he reached Triple-A for the first time. A sixth-round pick in 2015 from the University of Akron, he has steadily climbed through the system and should debut in the big leagues at some point this year. Brubaker throws a lot of strikes with an above-average fastball, routinely touching 95-96 mph with solid in-zone command. It’s a fairly straight heater, however, generating less swinging strikes than you’d expect given his location and velocity. He has good feel for two distinct breaking balls—a hard, short slider in the high-80s and a true curve at 80-81 mph—but below-average feel for a changeup makes him vulnerable against left-handed bats back through the lineup. Brubaker would profile as a #4 starter with a better change, but at 25-years-old, he’s close to being a finished product. Added to the 40-Man Roster in November, there’s a spot for him as a #5/swingman type, and he’s a very nice depth piece to have in Triple-A to start the season.
Pablo Reyes, UTIL
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Low ETA: 2018 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 5’8” / 175 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 6m
Reyes was a relative unknown within the system before breaking out last year and contributing memorably in an 18-game big league cameo. His ceiling is limited, likely without the offensive impact to handle a regular dose of plate appearances, but the speed and defensive versatility make him a useful bench piece. In his brief Major League career, Reyes has already played all three outfield spots, second base, and third base.
Clay Holmes, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2018 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 225 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 0m
It has been a slow and steady climb for Holmes, the Pirates’ ninth-rounder from an Alabama high school in 2011. Used exclusively as a starter until last year, he made his big league debut in 2018 and pitched in both a rotation and bullpen role for the Pirates. Holmes’ persistent control problems make it more likely he’s a reliever in the long run, though his durable 6-foot-5 frame and experience starting games could help him pitch multiple innings from the ‘pen. His mid-90s turbo sinker has 60-grade life, something that has helped him rack up huge ground ball numbers as a pro. Both Holmes’ curveball and cutter show promise—especially aired out in short stints—but he’ll need to land them for more consistent strikes for either offering to be more than a chase pitch. He has the power stuff to pitch leverage innings but will need to find more consistency to be more than a middle reliever or hard-throwing longman.
Stephen Alemais, SS/2B
Alemais was a third-rounder from Tulane University in 2016, mostly on the strength of his defense and overall polish. The glove-first rap is still the gist on him, as his ability to play a solid shortstop or second base gives a high-floor and should get him to the big leagues. He hit for a fair average in the Eastern League last year but doesn’t project much with the bat, a 40-grade hitter with 30-grade game power that likely won’t hit enough to be a regular. Alemais has the skill set of a useful bench piece.
Geoff Hartlieb, RHP
A big, hard-throwing righty, the 25-year-old Hartlieb doesn’t have much projection remaining but shows enough power stuff right now to crack the big leagues fairly soon. Pittsburgh sent him to Fall League for some extra reps, though they haven’t had to use a 40-Man spot on him yet as a 2016 draftee. Hartlieb’s fastball touches 99 mph at best, consistently coming in above 95 mph with above-average run action. A below-average athlete with effort in the delivery, he lacks the control/command to pitch in high-leverage situations. An upper-80s slider plays like an average pitch, giving Hartlieb two offerings that give the potential to fill a middle relief role.
(#6) Calvin Mitchell, OF
Mitchell’s sweet left-handed swing and potential plus hit tool put him on the periphery of the first round entering his senior spring of high school. He pressed a bit leading up to the draft and tried to tap into more power, which paired with a clear future LF profile, dropped him to the middle of 2017’s second round. Mitchell rebounded last year in Low-A, looking much more like the hitter he was on the summer showcase circuit. He’s fairly filled out at a boxy 6-foot and 209 pounds, so it’s unlikely tons more power is on the come. There isn’t much margin for error, but Mitchell’s ceiling is a regular in LF with on-base skills and decent power production. His bat-to-ball skills should get him to the big leagues in some capacity even if he falls short of that.
(#11) Jared Oliva, OF
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2021 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 203 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 4m
Pittsburgh’s seventh-rounder in 2017 from the University of Arizona, Oliva looks like a great value pick after a strong first full season. He skipped over Low-A entirely, heading straight to the Florida State League and posting solid numbers in the pitcher-friendly circuit. A lean, athletic 6-foot-2, Oliva looks the part in CF and has speed that plays on both sides of the ball. He swiped 33 bags last year, projecting as a base stealing threat who can stay at a center-diamond position. Where Oliva truly surprised last year was with his bat, as his nine home runs in High-A were as many as he hit in three full PAC-12 seasons. There’s some reason to be skeptical of how his offense will translate to higher levels, as most of his contact was on the ground and to the pullside. Even if there’s some regression at the plate, he has showed enough aptitude to hit enough for at least a fourth outfielder role.
(#14) Cody Bolton, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4 SP/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 185 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 9m
Video #1 | Video #2 | Report
The Pirates’ sixth-rounder in 2017 from a Northern California high school, Bolton was amid a breakout first full pro season in Low-A when a forearm strain shut him down. Fully healthy to begin 2019, he’s starting in the Florida State League as a 20-year-old. Bolton has a large, muscular 6-foot-3 frame that looks the part of a workhorse. He repeats a clean delivery, allowing advanced control and flashes of in-zone command. The fastball tops out at 96 mph and sits in the 92-to-94 mph range early in starts with heavy life. His best off-speed is a true slider in the mid-80s, an advanced pitch that baffled similarly young competition in A-Ball last year. Bolton’s changeup made strides as 2018 went along, a potential playable third complement to round out his arsenal. We’re bullish on Bolton and think there’s some breakout potential here. He has the ingredients of a mid-rotation starter, though there’s some risk considering his age, proximity, and the lingering injury history.
(#15) Braxton Ashcraft, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 195 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 5m
Ashcraft fits Pittsburgh’s draft focus, a projectable, athletic righty from the high school ranks. The 51st overall pick in 2018, he signed with the Pirates for an over-slot $1.825 million amateur bonus. At 6-foot-5 and roughly 200 pounds, there’s plenty of room to add strength and velocity as he keeps growing. The fastball sits in the low-90s and touches 94-95 mph at best, backed by an advanced mid-80s slider that can finish a big league pitch. Ashcraft is less refined with a changeup, though his athleticism and clean delivery give reason to project the pitch forward with pro reps. He has the raw tools of a mid-rotation starter and will likely head to short-season ball after beginning 2019 in Extended Spring Training.
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 9m
Primarily an infielder growing up in the Bahamas, Thomas converted to the mound right before signing with the Indians for $200K in 2016. He has flashed interest in tools the last two summers in the AZL but hasn’t had much statistical success. Pittsburgh received him after the season in the trade that sent young big leaguers Jordan Luplow and Max Moroffto Cleveland. A tall, sinewy 6-foot-4, Thomas’ frame oozes projection and his arm works extremely loose. The fastball already works in the 92-to-96 mph range, generated easily and without much effort. His fluid arm-stroke allows good natural feel to spin the ball, with both the heater and curve showing above-average upside. His changeup, control, and command are very raw—as is Thomas’ overall pitchability—so while there’s plenty of ceiling, he’s in the “lotto ticket” category for now. Thomas could be one of the biggest risers in this system if he starts adding polish over the next 1-2 years.
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS/2B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 8m
Bae originally had a deal with Atlanta, though the Braves lost the right to sign him as part of their punishment for international violations. Pittsburgh got a deal done for $1.2 million, sending the 19-year-old shortstop to the GCL for his pro debut. He held his own there, slashing .271/.362/.349 with 10 steals, the rare teenage hitter with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Instincts and fundamentals are Bae’s best attributes, as he’s sound mechanically on both sides of the ball and projects to make a lot of contact. There isn’t any power now—and there probably won’t ever be much—but the bat-to-ball skill and ability to draw walks could make him a playable on-base producer. Considering his plus speed and center-diamond defensive profile, the sum-of-parts give Bae the ceiling of a role player or low-end regular. He makes routine plays at shortstop but can show a fringy arm at times, something that will play a hand in whether he stays at the position or moves over to second base. He’ll get his first crack at full-season ball in 2019.
Santiago Florez, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 222 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 18y, 10m
Signed for $150K from Columbia in 2016, the 6-foot-5 Florez has added weight and velocity quickly since turning pro. His fastball has jumped 3-4 mph even in the last calendar year, now topping out at 96 mph. There’s feel to spin a breaking ball, as his curve shows rotation and depth with more power to the pitch coming with strength gains. Like many teenagers, Florez’ changeup is still a work in progress. His delivery has some things to iron out, but the basic operation looks like that of a future rotation piece. He’ll only be 19 in May, likely to stay back in Extended Spring Training before moving up later in the summer. Florez is an interesting lottery ticket with starter traits.
Lolo Sanchez, OF
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 168 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 11m
Sanchez was a trendy breakout name coming off an extremely promising 2017 stateside debut in the GCL. The Pirates aggressively assigned him to Low-A to begin last year, where the 19-year-old was overwhelmed offensively. His speed, defensive ability, and contact skills still showed through, so while he didn’t continue his push towards Top 125 trajectory in 2018, there’s reason to stay patient. Sanchez’ max ceiling is still a regular in CF, though after coming back to earth a bit against better competition, he could more realistically wind up a solid role player/speedy fourth outfielder type.
Travis MacGregor, RHP
The Pirates have not shied away from prep arms near the top of their last few drafts, MacGregor being one of those. The team’s second-rounder in 2016 from a Florida high school, he started putting the pieces together last year in the South Atlantic League before going down with an elbow injury at the end of the year, ultimately requiring Tommy John surgery. MacGregor will likely miss all of 2019 recovering from the injury. He showed a 91-to-94 mph fastball last year, reportedly touching 96 mph at times, with a slider and changeup that both showed average flashes. He has intriguing starter ingredients but is far from a sure thing. We’ll have a better read on who he is as a prospect once he’s back on a mound going into 2020.
Max Kranick, RHP
Kranick spurned a UVA commitment to sign with the Pirates for an over-slot $300K bonus in 2016’s 11th round. He barely pitched in 2017 because of a shoulder issue, so Pittsburgh managed his workload very carefully last season. After starting the year in Extended Spring Training, he was moved to Low-A in May and pitched well there down the stretch. Kranick’s fastball works in the low-90s, though he was tired by the time instructs rolled around and was sitting 89-to-91 mph. Both his slider and changeup show potential to develop into average pitches, with a clean delivery that looks the part of a future starter. One of many wait-and-see projection arms in the lower parts of this system, Kranick has the ingredients of a #5 starter with an uptick in stuff. He’s still young enough to foresee some room to grow, as the 21-year-old righty would be eligible for the draft as a college junior right now had he not signed out of high school.
Steven Jennings, RHP
Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2017 from a Tennessee high school, Jennings spent the last two years in short-season ball. After starting in Extended Spring Training to begin 2018, he made 13 starts in the Appy League and showed a polished mix of 45-to-50-grade pitches. Jennings’ fastball sits around 90-91 mph and touches 93 mph at best. It’s a fairly straight pitch without great movement, though he fills the zone with his heater and shows signs of future command. He has good feel for his changeup and curve, keeping both around the plate and projecting to work with a deep enough arsenal to remain in the rotation. Jennings made strides with a slider last year, a potential fourth pitch he could develop into a workable wrinkle. The raw ingredients of a #5 starter are here with projection, though he’ll need to get stronger and see an uptick in stuff to reach that ceiling.
Rodolfo Castro, 2B
Castro’s .672 OPS in the South Atlantic League last year wouldn’t catch anyone’s eye, but scouts that saw him came away impressed with the infielder’s raw tools. A strong, athletic 6-foot and 200 pounds, the switch-hitter has the tools to do damage at the plate. He whistles the barrel through the zone from both sides, though it’s a wild, uncontrolled swing that whiffs too much to hit for average right now. An athletic defender at the keystone, he might move to 3B if he gets any larger, but projects at second base for now. Castro will turn 20 in May, a longshot prospect with interesting upside as an offensive-minded infielder. He’ll get a second crack at the South Atlantic League in 2019.
Mason Martin, 1B
A 17th round pick in 2017 from the Washington prep ranks, Martin’s pro career got off to a big start that summer in the GCL. He was named the circuit’s MVP, slashing a ridiculous .307/.457/.630 just after graduating high school. Pittsburgh assigned him aggressively to Low-A, though Martin struggled there before being moved down to the Appalachian League when short-season ball opened up. A lefty swinger, Martin is a 1B-only defender whose value is completely tied to his stick. There’s above-average raw power and signs of an approach, though he’ll have to cut down on the strikeouts and put together better at-bats against advanced lefties. The prospect community got very high on Martin after his GCL, then overly turned off after his struggles last year. We have always been somewhere in between, pegging Martin as an intriguing power prospect who admittedly faces plenty of hurdles to fitting a regular big league profile. Still just 19 until the middle of this season, he’ll head back to the South Atlantic League for his second crack at full-season ball.
Jose Maldonado, RHP
Maldonado signed in 2017 and pitched last summer in the DSL. The Pirates brought him stateside for instructs, where the 20-year-old righty showed interesting stuff. His fastball tops out at 96 mph and works in the 92-to-95 mph range, backed by a hard breaking ball at 80-to-84 mph. His changeup flashed occasional late action but was crude overall. Maldonado is an interesting sleeper pocket follow in the lower parts of the system.
Juan Pie, OF
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 18y, 0m
Signed for $500K in 2017, Pie had a strong pro debut in the DSL last summer. He’s a lottery ticket type of prospect, though the frame, athleticism, and projectable toolset is intriguing. A wiry, 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Pie has room to add strength across his upper-half. Club officials expect him to wind up on a corner long-term, though they’re enthused Pie has the chance for enough offense to profile there.
Angel Basabe, OF
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 153 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 18y, 3m
Basabe signed for a $450K amatuer bonus, spending his pro debut in the DSL last summer.An extra-lean 6-footer, there’s plenty of room to fill out his athletic frame. He has the speed and build to remain at a center-diamond position even with strength gains. Basabe has a pretty left-handed swing, one that projects to drive the ball with strength gains down the road.
Deon Stafford, C
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Bench Catcher
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 211 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 0m
Stafford was the Pirates’ fifth-rounder in 2017 from St. Joseph’s University. He’s a developing catch/throw guy whose best attributes are his athleticism and raw power. He slashed .253/.316/.433 last year in the South Atlantic League, named an all-star at mid-season by the Low-A circuit. Stafford can be noisy in his pre-pitch setup receiving the ball, but his mobility and flexible lower-half allow some defensive projection behind the plate. He’s a bad-ball hitter who crushes mistake fastballs but lacks much barrel control. There’s ample room to fall short—and the most realistic outcome is a future upper-level depth option—but the raw ingredients are here for a backup option if he turns a corner on either side of the ball.
Braeden Ogle, LHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 8m
Ogle was part of the run on prep pitching the Pirates have made in recent drafts. A fourth-rounder from a Florida high school, he shows interesting tools from the left side but has struggled to stay on the mound. Ogle had knee surgery in 2017 and was shut down early in 2018 with a shoulder problem. His fastball touches 96 mph and works in the 91-to-94 mph range, backed by a slider with occasional depth. Ogle’s changeup is a work in progress, and he’ll need reps in general to make up for lost time. He’s healthy and back in Low-A to begin 2019.
Blake Cederlind, RHP
Cederlind’s pure velocity blew hitters away in Low-A last year, but he didn’t have the same success upon moving up to the Florida State League. His already-fringy control cratered, and he racked up an ugly 7.59 ERA across 17 relief outings for Bradenton as a result. He might not ever throw enough strikes or command his fastball well enough to find a consistent big league role, but Cederlind’s frame and stuff merit a writeup. A twitchy, long-limbed 6-foot-3, his fastball touches 98 mph and sits 94-to-97 mph from the bullpen. He throws a mid-80s slider and 85-to-87 mph split, both of which have their moments but lack consistency from an effortful delivery.
Conner Uselton, OF
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 185 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 10m
Uselton and (#6) Calvin Mitchell were the top position players in the Pirates’ 2017 draft class, both from high school. While Mitchell’s prospect stock has gone one way since signing, Uselton’s has unfortunately trended the other direction to date. He seriously injured his hamstring in the GCL right after signing and never found his footing in 2018, struggling to a .225/.280/.250 line in the Appalachian League last summer. Uselton’s body has thickened up and he’s lost a considerable amount of the twitch and batspeed that made him an intriguing tools-heavy prospect in high school. He still has the prototype frame, raw power, and arm-strength required for a RF profile, but will drop off the radar altogether if he can’t turn a corner soon.