When looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates system, one of the biggest recurring themes is the continued emergence of potential pitching depth within the organization.
Jared Jones was recently added to Baseball America’s top 100 prospects lists, with players like Anthony Solometo and Thomas Harrington also having fantastic starts to the season.
While the pitching has shown promise, outside of former first overall pick Henry Davis, there hasn’t been as much talk about the hitting side of things.
There have been a few players that have shown some promise, but not many to really take a big step forward development wise. It’s still early in the season, and there are a few making strides. Here’s a look at each level and some of the better hitting prospects currently playing there.
Triple-A Indianapolis Indians
Best Prospect: Henry Davis/Endy Rodriguez
These two are neck and neck in my books, at least for now. Endy has really come along lately, which seems to be perfect timing as the buzz about a potential promotion keeps growing.
Rodriguez really burst onto the scene last year, climbing from High-A Greensboro all the way to Indianapolis last year, establishing himself as the best prospect in the system by most outlets.
Davis has the pedigree as the former first overall pick and has really shown that health was the biggest thing holding him back last year, as he has emerged as the top offensive threat in the system right now.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 7, 2023
Although the hitting output has been fantastic, the biggest case you can make for Davis leapfrogging Endy as the top prospect is the progress he’s made behind the plate.
So far this season, Davis has caught 286.1 innings and only has one passed ball, whereas he had seven in 324 last year. The biggest room for improvement, and this goes for both right now, is throwing out runners.
Despite having a really strong arm, Davis has only thrown out 14.2% of base stealers, which is an improvement, barely, as he had a 12.8 CS% last year.
Double-A Altoona Curve
Best Prospect: Liover Peguero
One To Watch: Abrahan Gutierrez
Peguero is repeating Double-A this season. He got off to a rough start (April wRC+ of 77), but has since been one of the team’s most consistent hitters (125 wRC+ from May-June 12).
He’s improved with his walks and strikeouts from a year ago, and is still young enough to where repeating isn’t as big a deal as it might be for others. Peguero has also been flashing a little more power as of late, with a slugging percentage of nearly .500 since the start of May.
If only he could figure things out in the field.
For Gutierrez, the only reason he started in Greensboro again was to guarantee him consistent playing time behind the plate.
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) June 9, 2023
When the Pirates told Davis to pack his bags to move up a level, their next call was to Gutierrez to take his spot in Altoona.
In 19 plate appearances during his first week at Double-A, he picked up four hits — three were for extra-bases. His home run came on Sunday, a game-tying two-run shot in a contest the Curve eventually won.
He’s a strong defender, is consistently one of the best at making contact and is already flashing some power in his first taste of the big test that is Double-A. I got a good look at him in a game that week, where he went down and hit a double to the wall, as well as made some loud contact in other at-bats.
High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers
Best Prospect: Tsung-Che Cheng
One To Watch: Someone From That Outfield
I was watching Cheng hit a ball into the gap for a double that he turned into a triple, and had an obviously recency biased hyperbolic self-question afterwards — does he have the best hit tool in the system right now?
As he continues to hit in Greensboro, it’s starting to feel like it’s not as crazy as it was when I originally thought it. The power explosion I’m not sure I’ll buy until he’s in Altoona, but it’s starting to feel like few in the system have the hitting ability that Cheng does.
Tsung-Che Cheng with an opposite field double in the first inning pic.twitter.com/QhSY6Rb5fl
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) June 3, 2023
His walk and strikeout rate are nearly identical, both around the 15% mark, and maybe the balls he’s putting over the fence may be a little related to the league he’s in — the balls he’s dropping into the gap and turning into doubles (10) and triples (8) are as legit as they come.
It feels kind of a numbers game when it comes to the Greensboro outfield. Statistically speaking, one of them should break out and force their way to the next level at some point.
Tres Gonzalez might have the second best hit tool behind Cheng, but the power has been nonexistent after a good start. Jase Bowen could probably be the guy to put up a 30/30 season in Greensboro, but the strikeouts still limit his upside.
When Sammy Siani gets on base he’s a terror, and he’s thumping the ball better than he has in years prior, but again, strikeouts.
Hudson Head might have the best collection of tools, but is injured, and can’t seem to put it together long enough to be a threat moving forward when healthy.
Single-A Bradenton Marauders
Best Prospect: Termarr Johnson
One To Watch: Shalin Polanco, Enmanuel Terrero
Johnson was the team’s first round pick last year but got off to a horrible start to begin the season. There were a couple of big caveats with the start – he didn’t have a traditional Spring Training due to an injury, and he was 18-years-old up to recently playing in Single-A.
Termarr Johnson hits this one 111.6 mph off the bat for his third home run of the season. Bradenton was down 8-0 going into the 6th. It is now 8-8 in the 8th inning #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/qhDNp2QrZf
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) June 11, 2023
We saw a little bit of what he could do last year when it comes to his hit tool and power potential. He’s hitting the ball really hard, and it translates to not only extra-bases, but is sending the ball over the fence as well.
The strikeouts are trending in the right direction, as are the walks, and when they are finally in place to what is more ideal, the conversation can begin about the high amount of errors already in the season.
Terrero got off to a rough start as well, but is now potentially the team’s best and most consistent hitter who has picked up 15 multi-hit games this season.
The biggest question for him was his power, and while he flashed some early this season, and still has an average exit velocity right around major league average, he hasn’t hit a home run since April 25. He hasn’t barreled (perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle) anything in his previous 83 batted ball events.
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) June 10, 2023
On the other hand, Polanco is putting up some insane exit velocity metrics for a 19-year-old in his first year of full season baseball. The strikeouts were really out of hand to begin the season but are trending in the right direction, and he has flashed some really strong defense in center field.
If the strikeouts keep heading in the right direction, with the metrics he has when the ball does get put in play, he’s a player that could fly up charts.
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.