For over a decade, the Prospect Watch has been a core feature here on Pirates Prospects. Up until recently, it served as the nightly recap for all of the minor league action. That nightly recap can now be found in our new feature: Pirates Prospects Live.
The writers here at Pirates Prospects are more tapped into the farm system than anywhere else. There is so much information that we get, and not all of it can go into an article. Sometimes, we just get a small update about a player. At the heart of the idea, the Prospect Watch is aimed at spotlighting the development trends and notable events of as many players in the system as possible.
Starting today, the Prospect Watch will now feature one player a day from our writers, with each writer tapping into their unique source of information to hopefully provide you with new information on players throughout the system. Not every writer will submit a player each day, but we will aim to have three players per daily update.
The debut article features three deep sleepers in the lower to the lowest levels of the system. A cool note: The Prospect Watch has always been maintained by myself, Wilbur Miller, and John Dreker. In this article, John gets an update on a player in the Dominican, Wilbur has a report from game action at Pirate City, and I talked with the farm director about one of the best pure hitters in the system.
Long time readers will understand that this article might be the most Pirates Prospects article to ever be published on Pirates Prospects.
I hope you enjoy the new format, and keep checking back each day at noon for the latest Prospect Watch.
JOHN DREKER: David Matoma, RHP, DSL Pirates Black (Rk)
The Pirates signed 16-year-old right-handed pitcher David Matoma out of Uganda in January of 2023 for a $20,000 bonus. He was listed at 6’0″, 155 pounds at the time, with athleticism and a frame to add muscle to as he develops. He already touched 93 MPH at the time of his signing, which is impressive for someone from a non-baseball country at 16 years old. Due to his arm speed and athleticism on the mound, the Pirates expected more as he filled out, but probably not as quickly as it has arrived. He threw two shutout innings during his pro debut on Thursday in the Dominican Summer League. The big news from that outing was in the scouting report I received. Matoma hit 101 MPH with his fastball.
Matoma didn’t just come to the Pirates with a good fastball. They were impressed with his slider and his feel for spin on his pitches. He also has a work-in -progress changeup. What they really liked was his competitiveness and desire to get in the system and start progressing towards his ultimate goal. He showed a lot of maturity for his age. He’s going to be one to watch in the years to come.
WILBUR MILLER: Jun-Seok Shim, RHP, FCL Pirates (Rk)
Jun-Seok Shim came to the Pirates from South Korea with a good bit of hype, as well as a $750,000 bonus. Based on his first pro outing, last Saturday, both might be justified. Shim threw four perfect innings against the FCL Orioles, striking out eight.
One thing that was interesting was the contrast between Shim and Orioles’ starter Zack Showalter (no relation to the sometime manager). Showalter got an overslot bonus as an 11th round prep draft pick. He had a very similar start, allowing no hits over three innings, with seven strikeouts. He did it mainly by throwing lots of off speed pitches below the strike zone. The Pirates obligingly chased, and chased, and chased some more. When they didn’t chase, they walked, three times, which wasn’t enough.
Not to denigrate Showalter, but Shim’s dominance was different. He was able to generate swings and misses in the zone. He also got some called strikes when his slider and change left hitters flat-footed. Shim overpowered hitters with his four-seamer, which apparently was sitting about 95-96 MPH (remember, this guy just turned 19). But he didn’t rely excessively on it. He mixed his pitches and moved the ball around. I don’t want to overstate this; “command” in the FCL and at higher levels are very different things. But Shim isn’t nearly as raw as what you typically see at this level, which usually features pitchers just trying to find the plate. Shim was throwing to different parts of the plate. And it sure seems doubtful whether anybody will be seeing him at this level for long.
TIM WILLIAMS: Tsung-Che Cheng, INF, Greensboro (A+)
One of the best hitters in the Pirates system — both from a pure skills standpoint and from his 2023 results — has been Tsung-Che Cheng. The Taiwanese infielder is currently in High-A Greensboro, hitting for a .999 OPS. That’s not just a product of the home park. Cheng has a 1.095 OPS on the road, compared to an .899 in the hitter friendly home park in Greensboro. He’s 21-years-old, but already has a lot of high level international experience, with previous time in the Caribbean Series and the World Baseball Classic. He also spent this past offseason playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.
“I think he’s showing that he may be better than the than the level that he’s in right now,” Pirates farm director John Baker told me when I asked him about Cheng last month. “But at the same time there’s not a tremendous rush there to push him around.”
Cheng has continued to hit, home and road, but Baker told me that with Cheng moving between so many leagues in the last half year, they wanted to give him a few months to stabilize and play in one spot. The fact that he’s a shortstop, and the Pirates have Liover Peguero in Altoona, is also a factor that Baker added, drawing the comparison to Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez. The hitting from Cheng is for real, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hitting in Altoona in a July promotion similar to what Endy Rodriguez made last year.
The Prospect Watch runs every day at noon, featuring three players from the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system.