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First Pitch: The Outlook of the Top of the Pirates’ Farm System


Keith Law releases his top 100 prospects this week over at The Athletic, and had five Pirates on the list. Rather than simply listing Law’s rankings, I thought I’d use them as a template today to get a feel for the outlook of the top of the Pirates system.

46. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B

Law’s Thoughts – Law pointed out that Hayes hasn’t hit for a lot of power yet, even with power being up in Triple-A last year. That’s the one area Law focused on for improvements.

Path to the Ceiling – Law said that Hayes can be a star with 20 homers a year and an average in the upper .200s. He points out above-average exit velocities and a need to get under the ball more for power. The Pirates worked last year on optimizing contact points with their hitters in the big leagues. Hayes has a smooth swing with natural lift. The Pirates need to adjust his contact point to utilize this upswing, without tanking the average or raising the strikeouts.

Where is the Floor – Law had Hayes as at least an average regular, due to his defense and contact rate. I agree with this.

71. Mitch Keller, RHP

Law’s Thoughts – Law is lower on Keller than a lot of other rankings, which typically have Keller number one in the system, or at least on the same level as Hayes. He notes that Keller’s outlook is “cloudier than ever”, mentioning the tendency for his fastball to flatten out and the lack of a viable third pitch for lefties.

Path to the Ceiling – My thoughts here – Keller has the talent, with his fastball, curveball, and new slider giving him three near-plus offerings, if they’re not at that level already. A lot of what Law criticizes are symptoms from the former development system. I don’t want to put a lot of hopes on new pitching coach Oscar Marin, but I don’t think it will take a lot to get Keller to being a middle of the rotation starter or more, possibly in 2020. I see top of the rotation upside here. I understand Law being lower on him, as I was in a similar position up until the front office changeover. Still, I had him up there with Keller, and I think Law is an outlier here with his lower ranking of Keller.

Where is the Floor – Law had Keller as a reliever in a more likely outcome right now. I don’t see Keller dropping any lower than a back of the rotation starter, and that would take very little improvement from what we’ve seen.

79. Oneil Cruz, SS

Law’s Thoughts – Law feels that Cruz can’t be a shortstop due to his size. He had him more likely to end up in center or right field. He had Cruz as an above-average regular in the outfield.

Path to the Ceiling – Cruz is one of the most difficult players to evaluate. He’s got so much untapped power potential, and is so athletic, to the point where I’m not totally sold that he can’t play shortstop for a year or two in the majors. I’d agree that he’s more likely to end up in the outfield, but even there I see above-average or better upside. His power production will play the biggest role in his future value.

Where is the Floor – Again, this is difficult to evaluate. Cruz is athletic enough that I think he’ll at least reach the majors as a bench player. I see an average or worse starter for a few years if he “disappoints”, similar to what we’ve seen from Gregory Polanco.

84. Travis Swaggerty, CF

Law’s Thoughts – Law has always been higher on Swaggerty. We might be the lowest on Swaggerty, so there’s going to be a big gap in the rankings. He mentioned Swaggerty cleaning up his swing, trying to hit for power without losing his ability to make contact.

Path to the Ceiling – Law has Swaggerty as an above-average center fielder with power and added value from his range. He also calls the outlook for more and better quality contact “rosier” after the adjustments Swaggerty made last year. I can see this upside for Swaggerty. We’re lower on him, and considerably more so than Law, due to a less rosier outlook of his future power potential and stronger contact rate all working together in the upper levels.

Where is the Floor – The defense in center field is strong, and Swaggerty has plus speed and Law rates him as a 60 runner. I see that combo leading to him being at least a fourth outfielder, and I think he’ll at least get a chance to start for a second division club if the power doesn’t develop as hoped.

100. Quinn Priester, RHP

Law’s Thoughts – Priester rounds out Law’s rankings, with Law saying he’s “everything you’d want to see in a teenaged pitching prospect.”

Path to the Ceiling – Law had Priester as a mid-rotation starter in the making if he develops a changeup. He said that Priester needs to add velocity or improve his curveball from a 55 to plus rating. I don’t disagree with either of these assessments, and could see Priester having a real chance at being a top two starter.

Where is the Floor – It’s hard to project a realistic floor for a guy just out of high school. Priester’s stuff is so good at a young age that I could see him at least making it to the majors as a reliever. The 2020 season will go a long way to getting a more clear picture of his floor and ceiling.





By John Dreker

On this date in 1999 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded second baseman Tony Womack to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor leaguer Paul Weichard and a player to be named later. Exactly six months later, the Diamondbacks sent pitcher Jason Boyd to the Pirates to complete the trade. Womack was drafted by the Pirates in 1991 and had spent parts/all of five seasons in the majors. He led the NL in stolen bases each of his two full seasons (60 in 1997 and 58 in 1998) and was named to the All-Star team in 1997. His first year in Arizona he won his third straight stolen base title, stealing a career high 72 bases while scoring 111 runs. The next year he led the league with 14 triples and he stole 45 bases while also scoring 95 runs. In 2001 he helped the Diamondbacks to their only World Series title. Weichard was just 19 at the time, having never played above rookie ball and he didn’t make far for the Pirates, playing in the system until 2002. He topped out at Double-A, playing one game there his last season in the organization. Boyd was in the majors, but he pitched just four games for the Pirates before he was lost on waivers.

Phil Irwin, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. His big league career consisted of two starts, one for the 2013 Pirates and one for the 2014 Texas Rangers. Irwin gave up five runs (four earned) over 4.2 innings on April 14, 2013. His start for Texas saw him allowed three runs over four innings. His pro career lasted from 2009 until 2015 and included a stop in Korea during his final season.

Xavier Paul, outfielder for the 2011 Pirates. He began his pro career as a fourth round draft pick of the Dodgers in the 2003 amateur draft. Paul played parts of three seasons with Los Angeles (2009-11), hitting .233 in 62 total games. He was picked up by the Pirates off waivers from the Dodgers on April 26, 2011 and in 121 games he hit .254 with 20 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He was released in November and signed by the Washington Nationals. Paul played a total of 349 games over six seasons in the big leagues, batting .250 with 12 homers. Despite 16 steals in a partial season with the Pirates, he finished with 23 stolen bases in the majors.

Jim Dunn, pitcher for the 1952 Pirates. He pitched just three games in the majors, all in relief for the 1952 Pirates. He played in the minors in 1951, but was later signed by Pittsburgh out of the University of Alabama on August 11,1952 and brought right to the majors, where he threw a total of 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks. Dunn pitched in the minors from 1951 until 1959, playing in the Pirates system through the end of the 1955 season when he was lost to the Cleveland Indians in the November minor league draft. During spring training of 1953 Dunn started for the Pirates as they played an exhibition game against a Cuban All-Star team in Havana. He took the loss, allowing five first inning runs in a game that ended 13-10. He was a late cut from the roster that year and was never able to come close to making the majors again.

Phil Slattery, pitcher for the 1915 Pirates. Just like Dunn, Slattery’s entire big league career consisted of three games pitched with the Pirates. He began his pro career in 1914, pitching for three different minor league teams. In 1915 Phil spent the entire minor league season playing for the Marshalltown Ansons, a team named after Hall of Famer Cap Anson who was born in the town. That year Slattery won 21 games and pitched 320 innings. He joined the Pirates in September and was used three times in relief during a ten-day stretch. He pitched a total of eight innings, allowing five hits, one walk, two hit batters but no runs. He returned to the Ansons the next season and had an impressive 22-11 2.14 record in 303 innings, but was not picked up by a Major League team. He pitched in the minors until 1921 without getting another shot at the majors. Only two players in the history of the Pirates franchise pitched more innings without allowing a run, Morrie Critchley (9 IP), who played for the team in 1882 while they were in the American Association and Timothy Jones (10 IP), who pitched for the 1977 Pirates. Honus Wagner pitched 8.1 innings with the Pirates without allowing an earned run, but he gave up five runs total.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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