First Pitch: How This Draft Could Boost the Pirates’ Farm System

This is the 14th draft we’ve covered on Pirates Prospects.

The first one was just me, working my ass off for days to find updates on every player in a time when there were very few updates available. Over the years this site has gotten massive boosts from John Dreker and Wilbur Miller in the draft coverage department.

I’m always looking to upgrade this site, as you may have noticed by the massively different format we now have.

The latest update goes to one of our longest running features: the Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

This year, the tracker has been updated with a new Draft page, which includes the normal Tracker, along with links to all of our coverage. The link to that page can be found on the menu, or by saving the link.

Check out the newest site feature, and check out the rest of First Pitch below for my thoughts on how this draft will impact the rebuild.

FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

First Pitch continues below…

WHEN WILL THEY CONTEND?

The MLB draft brings hope for small market teams.

It’s one of the few times when they can envision a chance at getting one of the best players in the game. Perhaps Termarr Johnson is the best pure hitter in this draft. Maybe he is Joe Mauer at second base, or a combination of Wade Boggs and Vladimir Guerrero Sr., depending on how lofty of a projection you want to put on a high schooler.

He seems to be able to handle the expectations.

The reality is that at the end of this draft, the Pirates still need to find a way to contend. This draft isn’t going to get them there. It might keep them there.

The Pirates have a deep system, and the way they added on day one of the draft helps to fill one of the weaker areas of that system. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s break down where the young talent current resides.

HELP ARRIVING IN THE MAJORS

The Pirates have promoted a lot of prospects to the majors this year. The most notable arrivals have been shortstop Oneil Cruz and right-handed starter Roansy Contreras, who both project to play impact roles to get the Pirates back to contending.

Outfielder Jack Suwinski has been the biggest story of the rest of the rookie class, though no one — Suwinski included, after being optioned to the minors — has stepped up to look like a future starter on a contending team.

The Pirates extended third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes prior to the season, locking down the cornerstone to their build. They’ve seen good things from starters Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker this year, and could get help from them at the start of the window. Center fielder Bryan Reynolds has been inconsistent this year, and is now injured. He’s under control for three more seasons, and if the Pirates don’t extend him, you’d think they would deal him before free agency. Reynolds — like Keller and Brubaker — could help to open the window.

They’re going to need help, because the Pirates are far from a contender with this group.

MORE HELP IN THE UPPER LEVELS

This is where the farm system is about to push the Pirates closer to being contenders. They will still need to add help from the outside, but the system will fill some holes in the next year or two.

The pitching will get a boost from Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester, who could both be number three or higher starters. Kyle Nicolas, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Cody Bolton can also factor into the starting depth mix. Nicolas has the highest upside of that group, currently in Altoona.

Altoona will provide the biggest position player impact. Liover Peguero already got a look in the majors this year, and could factor into one of the middle infield spots. He’s got the defensive upside to move Cruz off the position. Henry Davis, the 2021 first overall pick, is the hope to end up the starting catcher of the future.

If Davis doesn’t work, the Pirates have Endy Rodriguez a level lower, and Carter Bins a level higher.

The Pirates need outfield help, and have Travis Swaggerty, Suwinski, Bligh Madris, Cal Mitchell, Matt Fraizer, Matt Gorski, and Connor Scott in the upper levels — with a revolving door into the majors. Most of these guys have 50-grade upside, and none have approached the consistency needed to reach that upside. The Pirates have a lot of options, so chances are someone will emerge from this group.

The middle infield is also uncertain, with options. The Pirates have Cruz at shortstop, and a lot of options for second base. Peguero is the highest upside middle infield prospect in the minors. Nick Gonzales has the biggest profile as the 2020 first rounder, though Ji-Hwan Bae has passed him as the better option right now. Tucupita Marcano, Rodolfo Castro, and Hoy Park are bench options, with an outside shot at starting.

Finally, no one is close to challenging Mason Martin at first base — though Gorski at that position would be a good move. Martin has struggled this year, but has plenty of time to get on track, and has been doing that this month. The Pirates need a first baseman, and he’s the only upper level option right now.

THE GROWING LOWER LEVELS

It’s fun to watch Bubba Chandler in the Pirates DVR highlights each morning. It’s fun dreaming about that 2021 draft class, which also includes Anthony Solometo, Lonnie White Jr., Owen Kellington, and Braylon Bishop. It’s fun thinking about that group with Johnson added to the mix.

Maybe the Pirates get aggressive with some of these guys, and we see them as part of the next contender sooner, rather than later. For the most part, I think the lowest levels are going to help extend the next contender — like the 2016 wave of prospects should have done for the 2013-15 Pirates.

That said, there is a lot of uncertainty in Greensboro, leaving a gap of talent in the system between the guys approaching the majors and the high upside guys entering the system.

THE UPSIDE OF THE MIDDLE GROUND

Greensboro isn’t without talented prospects.

The aforementioned Endy Rodriguez is one of the top hitting prospects in the system, and might have a better chance at sticking behind the plate than Davis. Rodriguez has a good shot at being a starter on a contender with his bat and versatility.

Jared Jones is one of the most electric pitchers in the system. Jones was an over-slot prep pick in the 2020 draft, and is in his second full season in High-A.

I could go through the Greensboro roster and list off guys with upside. Upside isn’t going to get the Pirates to the playoffs, or keep them there.

None of those hitters, other than Rodriguez, have been producing consistent offensive numbers this year.

On the pitching side, Jones hasn’t been consistent, but fellow 2020 draft pick Nick Garcia has been. The Pirates have seen a few relievers stand out.

Largely, this Greensboro group lacks results. There is a lot of talent, and the group is very young, so you can forgive them for not having it all put together just yet.

Those college pitchers will add some experience and depth to this group of prospects. I’d expect the college players from the 2022 draft to mostly hang behind this group.

What you want to see are fast risers. The Pirates obviously saw that with number one overall pick Davis from 2021. They’re also seeing this from 15th rounder Tyler Samaniego — a lefty reliever who is already in Double-A.

Their 2022 36th overall pick, Thomas Harrington, seems to have the command and pitch mix to make such a quick move. We’ll see if they add more players on day two who might join him to eventually join that wave of prospects in Greensboro.

SYSTEM THOUGHTS

**Here are the best Greensboro hitters over the last 30 days, by OPS:

  1. Endy Rodriguez: 1.019 OPS, 78 AB
  2. Francisco Acuna: .893 OPS, 49 AB
  3. Dariel Lopez: .815 OPS, 101 AB
  4. Abrahan Gutierrez: .812 OPS, 72 AB
  5. Ernny Ordonez: .810 OPS, 76 AB

That’s a young hitting roster, and it will be important to track their progress as the year continues.

**From that group, the most intriguing to me right now is Gutierrez. He’s on a hot streak lately, but has been consistently in the .700-800 OPS range this year. He actually has better numbers on the road, rather than at home in the hitter friendly confines. This includes a better strikeout rate and a better walk rate. He would add extra insurance to the catching position if his bat can develop.

**After a little over a month on the injured list, Juan Jerez returned to Bradenton to hit for a .915 OPS in 33 plate appearances over his first eight games back. Jerez has the frame for power, but has seen horrible offense this year. He’s a first base prospect who will need the bat to develop. We’ll see if the time down continues to lead to better results.

**Nick Garcia struck out 12 in six innings this past week, including nine strikeouts in five innings of work. Garcia had a rough start to the year, mostly due to a pair of bad outings at the end of April and start of May. Since his May 6th start, Garcia has a 2.83 ERA in 57.1 innings, with 50 strikeouts and 18 walks. On the season, he’s been good everywhere, but has limited hitters to a .578 OPS at home.

**Anthony Solometo, taken with the Pirates’ second pick last year, threw four perfect innings with six strikeouts this past week. The lefty starter with the funky delivery has a 3.26 ERA in 19.1 innings in Single-A this year, with a 23:5 K/BB ratio.

PIRATES LINKS

**Alex Stumpf: Pirates take energetic shortstop Johnson No. 4 overall

**Jason Mackey: 5 thoughts on how the Pirates opened the MLB draft

**Cody Potanko: “He Was the Best Available,” Pirates Ben Cherington on Termarr Johnson

WEEKLY PIRATES QUIZ

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clemo83

Good article Tim

k1rainey

Was Njigba left off the list purposefully?

redwards60

The draft helps the farm system every year – that is obvious. I am waiting for when the cumulative impact of multiple drafts helps the major league team. Almost all of the young players who have reached Pittsburgh this year were not drafted or originally signed by the Pirates – Cruz, Suwinski, Contreras, CSN, Castillo, Peguero, and Marcano. Exceptions that I have noted so far are de Los Santos, Mitchell, and Delay – did I miss anyone?

roberto

The draft is just one source. Giving NH full credit, he built a robust pro scouting team. BC has added to it. Where else can you watch almost-mature play with wood bats? And some teams either have urgent needs or don’t scout themselves very well.

BTW I would love an article that explores how the Bucs scout themselves.

soberg2002

Swaggerty, Madris, Vieux, Alldred and Sulser.

Danatural08

Love the new tracker format, great job Tim

RAS TN

I hope the new guy Tremarr is the next coming of Joe Morgan!!!

adicesa14

I love the Morgan thought but that flapping arm always drove me crazy!

PirateRican21

I’ll settle for Jose Ramirez!

Cobra

Not that it means anything but
Vladimir signed in ‘15, MLB debut in ‘19 just turned age 20
Boggs drafted in ‘76 @ age 18, MLB debut in ‘82 age 24

leefieux

We need the perfect storm/the stars to align if we are to contend and keep contending. Can Ben do it?

adicesa14

The key will be pitching. Keller and Brubaker’s recent showing is good to see and with Contreras and Thompson the makings of a decent pitching staff is already here. If one or two of these or someone else from the system step up, contention will follow. Has anyone noticed that Keller and Brubaker’s performance is improving with the appearance of ‘command.’

I don’t know what to make of the anemic offense. It seems there’s an effort to obtain hitters, especially those with power, but so far, no joy! For me, Swaggerty and Gonzalez have been a disappointment but the lost 2020 season may have delayed development. I wonder whether other organizations have similar problems.

Last edited 2 months ago by adicesa14
RAS TN

I thought he retired??

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