Williams: What Kind of Prospect Trade Depth Do the Pirates Have?

The trade deadline is less than a week away, and after their recent winning streak, it looks like the Pirates are going to be buyers. They’re in an interesting situation, with a relatively young team that is mostly under control for several years, and prospects in the upper levels ready to step in right away for the veterans who are on expiring contracts or only under control for another year or two.

This situation is interesting because it’s not really a team where you go all-in and make a huge move for a rental, but it is a team where you could make a move to add to the current group and future groups.

The question is, who do the Pirates have available to trade? To get an idea, I looked at each position in the minors, focusing mainly on the full-season squads, since traded prospects rarely come from the short-season clubs. There were a few mentions of short-season guys, but the idea here is to see where the Pirates have depth, and how any trades could impact them in the future, while trying to figure out what kind of value the prospects traded could have.

Catcher

I doubt the Pirates would deal Francisco Cervelli during the season, even if he was healthy. They don’t really have any catching options in the minors who can provide any trade value. The emergence of Elias Diaz this year could allow for a trade of Cervelli during the offseason, although the Pirates don’t really have anyone to trade right now from behind the plate.

First Base

Will Craig has seen a boost in his power this year, and with Josh Bell in the majors and under team control through the 2022 season, the Pirates could afford to part with Craig. I’m not sure how much trade value he would have, as his power is improved but still not elite, and has come with a drop in his average and walks. He would be more of a secondary piece at best in a bigger trade, but probably grades out as a Grade C hitting prospect at this point, since he’s limited to first base only.

Beyond Craig, the only first base option with trade value would be Mason Martin, if teams wanted to take a flier on his power, although he would be a lower level lottery ticket, and wouldn’t have much trade value.

Second Base

The second baseman of the future right now looks to be Kevin Kramer, although I don’t think the Pirates will bring him up during the season without an injury to Josh Harrison. They could make the switch after the season and trade Harrison. Or they could keep Harrison for next year and trade Kramer if a deal comes up.

I think that would be a mistake, as I don’t think Kramer’s trade value would be that high, and I think he would have more value in the future if given a shot to show what he can do in the majors as a starter. The Pirates have other second base options with smaller trade value, such as Max Moroff or Rodolfo Castro if a team wanted a lower level lottery ticket.

These would be more complementary pieces in a trade. The value from the middle infield would come from the shortstop position.

Shortstop

The Pirates will need a replacement for Jordy Mercer after the season, as he’s an upcoming free agent. They’ve got Kevin Newman in Triple-A, Cole Tucker in Double-A, defensive option Stephen Alemais also in Double-A, and Adrian Valerio in Bradenton.

Newman is the best bet to take over for Mercer right away, but if the Pirates decided to trade him they could bring back Mercer for another year, or add a cheaper defensive shortstop to bridge the gap to Tucker. I think that Tucker has the most upside of the group, which means the Pirates could either use him for a bigger trade, or deal Newman and put all of their eggs in one basket. Alemais and Valerio have most of their value on the defensive side, so they would only be complementary pieces in a deal, and wouldn’t fetch much individually.

Newman and Tucker would be the best opportunities from this list so far of dealing a guy who is better than a Grade C prospect. They’ll get some company in the next few sections.

Third Base

The Pirates have Colin Moran in the majors, and he’s under team control for five more seasons, although he hasn’t shown enough yet to say that he should be the third baseman of the future. He’s their guy right now though, and it wouldn’t make sense to trade him or David Freese right now if the team is trying to contend, as they’re not going to find a better replacement option.

In the future, Ke’Bryan Hayes could be a better option at third base. He’s a better defender by far, ranking as one of the best in the minors at third base. His offense has picked up the last two years, adding some power to his game, while hitting for average and getting on base. Hayes could be the third baseman of the future in Pittsburgh as early as the middle of next season, if needed. However, if the Pirates believe they’ll get better performance from Moran in the future, they could make Hayes available. He would have the highest trade value on this list so far, ranking as a top 100 prospect by some outlets.

The Pirates could also get some trade value from Oneil Cruz, who is technically playing shortstop this year, but profiles better at third base. Cruz is also emerging as a top 100 prospect, and showing off some impressive hitting skills at the age of 19 in low-A. Cruz might actually be one of the better trading pieces for the Pirates, since an acquiring team could dream on his upside, and since the Pirates have other options ahead of him at the positions he plays (with no certainty that he can stick in the infield).

Outfield

Perhaps the best trade piece the Pirates have would be Austin Meadows. They have Starling Marte under control through 2021, Gregory Polanco under control through 2023, and Corey Dickerson through 2019. If they traded Meadows, they would either need to extend Dickerson, or switch to Jason Martin after the 2019 season. There’s also Bryan Reynolds as an option in Altoona, although neither guy provides the same upside that Meadows could provide.

The Pirates do have better outfield prospects in the lower levels, led by Calvin Mitchell in West Virginia. The lower level group also includes 2018 first rounder Travis Swaggerty, Lolo Sanchez, and other interesting guys like Jared Oliva. None of those guys are close to ready, but the Pirates could go with Martin or Reynolds as short-term options if they traded Meadows and didn’t extend Dickerson.

Of course, any of the above players could be traded as well. Mitchell would have the highest value as a guy who is now starting to be seen as a top 100 prospect. Swaggerty can’t be traded until after the season. Sanchez wouldn’t have as much value, since he’s more tools than results right now. Martin and Reynolds could have value as a Grade B hitter at best if teams liked their particular skills.

But if the Pirates needed a big trading chip, Meadows would be the guy they could part with for the biggest return, with the only issue being figuring out the third outfielder in 2020.

As for the outfield overall, this is the biggest area of depth for the Pirates if they want to make a trade.

Starting Pitching

The starting rotation in Pittsburgh is pretty young, filled with a lot of guys who project as back of the rotation starters. If the Pirates add a starter, then someone gets bumped. It’s possible that they could deal someone from the current group, or even someone from the current bullpen in the majors.

In the minors, the Pirates have Mitch Keller as their top prospect, although he’s the one guy in the system who I would make untouchable.

Behind Keller, they’ve got guys like Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, Brandon Waddell, and JT Brubaker in Indianapolis. Holmes would have the most trade value of the group, with the others grading out more as fringe starters or relief prospects for the majors.

The Altoona group is led by recently promoted Luis Escobar and Taylor Hearn, who both provide some upside due to their stuff. The Altoona group also has guys like Eduardo Vera, Cam Vieaux, and Pedro Vasquez as fringe starter/relief prospect guys. Dario Agrazal is also in this group, although he’s currently rehabbing in Bradenton.

The best prospect below Double-A is 2017 first round pick Shane Baz, although he’s been struggling with his fastball command this year. Cody Bolton might be up there with him right now, although Bolton is recovering from a minor injury at the moment. You could also add Travis MacGregor as a trade option for teams dreaming on upside, although I’m not sure if he or the other two would grade higher than a Grade B pitching prospect right now.

The Pirates do have some pitching depth to deal from, but a large majority of it would be Grade C types who profile more as back of the rotation starters or relievers in the majors. They have a few Grade B options to deal from, but it’s unlikely that anyone here would be the centerpiece in a deal, unless they traded Keller, which I don’t think they should do.

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