In about two weeks, Gregory Polanco could be playing in the majors. The month of June is usually when we start to see a lot of promotions throughout the minor league system, and sometimes the promotions are a chain reaction. Once Polanco moves up, that opens a spot in Indianapolis for an outfielder from Altoona. The newly vacated spot in Altoona opens a spot for someone to move up from Bradenton. And so on.
Usually you will see the chain reaction type promotions with pitchers. You’re not usually going to have a group of position players all in line for a promotion at the same time, and all playing the same position.
Last year, the promotions started around the second week of June. Here were the dates for each of the major promotions:
June 7th: Andrew Lambo to Indianapolis
June 10th: Nick Kingham to Altoona
June 11th: Gerrit Cole to Pittsburgh
June 13th: Gregory Polanco to Altoona
June 15: Stolmy Pimentel to Indianapolis
June 17th: Eliecer Navarro to Altoona, Stetson Allie/Joely Rodriguez/Orlando Castro to Bradenton, Luis Heredia to West Virginia
In the span of about ten days, we saw ten players promoted to various levels. This doesn’t include minor promotions, such as brief recalls to the majors, or organizational players being added to the bottom of the system.
This year, Polanco will definitely be part of the wave of promotions, and he might even start things off. So who else deserves a promotion in the minor league system in the next few weeks?
Aside from Polanco, Chris Dickerson looks like he deserves a promotion to the majors. Polanco will take the starting right field spot, which means Dickerson would be limited to a bench role. I don’t really see the Pirates cutting both Travis Snider and Jose Tabata, which is what would be needed to bring up Polanco and Dickerson. If an injury occurs to an outfielder, after Polanco gets promoted, then Dickerson makes the most sense as an injury replacement.
The choice here is easy. Mel Rojas has been good at the plate this year, with a .301/.372/.435 line in 186 at-bats. This is his second season in Altoona, so his numbers will start to come with the disclaimer about repeating a level. Rojas is a very toolsy player, and a solid defender in center field. He’s always had some projection in his bat, but he’s been raw, and hasn’t carried his hitting skills over to the game. That looks to be changing in the last two years, which I wrote about on Monday. Once Polanco gets promoted, the Pirates should give the open outfield spot in Indianapolis to Rojas.
As for pitchers, there are guys with good numbers who I don’t think will be promoted yet. A.J. Morris is more of an organizational filler than a prospect, so I’d expect him to remain in Altoona. Adrian Sampson will need more than 55 innings at the level. I could see Nick Kingham getting moved up, especially if he continues what he’s been doing over his last two starts, where he has just three walks in 14 innings. The walks have been an issue for Kingham this year, which is unusual for his game. If he doesn’t move up in June, I could see the Pirates challenging him with a promotion by the end of July.
Josh Bell is an interesting case. He’s dominating right-handers, with an .876 OPS. He’s struggling against lefties, with a .673 OPS, although he’s been doing better with that lately. Overall he has an .812 OPS, and an .855 OPS in the month of May. I could see him moving up at some point this year. He definitely has the numbers to make that happen sooner, rather than later. The timing of the promotion really depends on how much the Pirates want him to focus on his hitting from the right side, and whether they think he can do this in Altoona.
On the pitching side, I could see Orlando Castro being promoted. He has a 2.91 ERA in 55.2 innings, with a 41:7 K/BB ratio. This is similar to what he was doing last year in West Virginia, before getting promoted to Bradenton in the middle of June. If Kingham moves up to Indianapolis, then Castro would be my bet to replace him. This would be a good move, as it provides a real test for whether Castro is a prospect. He comes with the disclaimer of being a lefty with great control and strong secondary stuff, which usually plays up in A-ball, and doesn’t do so well in the upper levels.
I don’t see Tyler Glasnow moving up this early, mostly because he missed the first few weeks of the season, and has been working through some issues with his control in Bradenton. With 20 walks in 27 innings, he doesn’t look like he has the numbers to make the jump in the next few weeks.
Usually the guys who get promoted from West Virginia are college age guys. So don’t expect Reese McGuire to move up, as the Pirates will want him playing with the same team for a full season. On the pitching side, there are a few candidates who could move up. Shane Carle doesn’t have a lot of upside, but he’s a college pitcher who is posting good numbers in West Virginia, and could join the Bradenton rotation in the second half. Buddy Borden has much more upside, and is dominating West Virginia. He does have some control problems, and I could see the Pirates leaving him in West Virginia to try and fix those issues.
On the offensive side, Erich Weiss is having a great season, with an .823 OPS. He was drafted as a third baseman, and given an above slot bonus for his bat in last year’s draft. Weiss was moved to second base when Wyatt Mathisen was moved to third, but the bat has lived up to expectations. He has a .320/.417/.406 line in 175 at-bats, and has easily been the best hitter in West Virginia this season. He’s also a college hitter, so he’s not going to show much by continuing to dominate in low-A.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.