Eye-Bee-Gar Pirates Pillaging for Playoffs

From 2012 to 2017 the Pirates appeared in the Top Ten for the quality of their prospects. This may have helped them in their playoff appearances from 2013 to 2015. Unfortunately, the trades of Andrew McCutcheon and Gerritt Cole lacked prospects with the name value to see them appear in the top ten in 2018 and probably 2019. The players who made an impact for the Pirates from 2012 to 2017 were Gerritt Cole, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Austin Meadows, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, and Tyler Glasnow. Prospects they are still waiting on are Mitch Keller, Kevin Newman and Nick Kingham. Prospects who failed to live up to their Top 100 hype were Alen Hanson, Luis Heredia and Reese McGwire, though there is still some time for prospects to pass or fail. The Pirates who made top 100 lists in 2018 include Jordan Luplow, Colin Moran, Austin Meadows and Mitch Keller. Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow have been traded so their Pirate contribution will consist of those players the Pirates obtained in the trades.

The Pirate prospect who could make the most impact is Oneil Cruz. He could also turn into a big bust. At 6′6″ it is hard to believe the Pirates still plan to keep him at shortstop. As he matures and the body gains weight his range could be limited and myworld can’t imagine how he gets his rear end near the ground at that height to field ground balls. A move to right field or first base is probably in his future. The bat carries light tower power that kind of remind me of the shots I witnessed from Giancarlo Stanton (then called Mike) when he was still a prospect. The large frame gives the pitcher an extended strike zone, but Oneil did a good job of making contact last year. Next year should see him get a taste of AA with a major league arrival sometime in 2020.

A player ready for his major league debut in 2019 is 2014 second round pick Mitch Keller. Like aged wine the Pirates have been letting him breath in the minor leagues. Last year he had success at AA (2.72 ERA) but struggled at AAA (4.82 ERA). This gives the Pirates an excuse to leave him in the minors to begin 2019 regardless of how well he pitches in spring training to get one more year of service time from him. His fastball reaches the high 90s but sits in the mid-90s with quality secondary pitches and excellent command to reach ace potential. In AAA he struggled a bit with his command resulting in hitter’s raking him at a .280 clip. Expect Mitch to be with the Pirates by mid-season next year.

Nick Burdi was a Rule V pick that had trouble staying healthy last year. He will have to spend the first 90 days on the major league roster in order for the Pirates to keep him. Before his Tommy John surgery in 2017 his fastball sat in the high 90s and often reached triple digits. Because of his lack of command and a third pitch his minor league career has been spent in the bullpen where the Pirates hope to develop him as a closer. If he can gain better command of his fastball/slider combination he can be an impact in the pen.

That is it for the pitchers. The middle infield will see a battle for shortstop. They may not have knock me out tools, but they should do no worse than Jody Mercer. Kevin Squared, which is Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer should battle for the shortstop job next year. The loser of that battle will probably play in a utility role or move to second base. Kevin Newman may have the better defensive tools, especially with the arm. He also had a little more major league success when both were called up last year(.209 vs .135). Both will hit for a decent average but will not generate a lot of power. Kramer did surprise with 15 homeruns and a .492 slugging in AAA last year but if either get in double figures in homeruns in the major leagues the Pirates should be grateful.

Cole Tucker is another possibility for the shortstop position. What separates him from the Kevin Squares is the speed to steal 30 plus bases a year. This speed also gives him the ability to cover more ground at shortstop. Like the Kevins his bat is a little vanilla, lacking power to make an offensive impact. Tucker will probably spend the entire year in AAA waiting for one of the Kevins to fail.

Ke’Bryan Hayes was a first round pick of the Pirates in 2015. He is the son of Charlie, who spent 14 years in the major leagues. Early in his career it did not look like Hayes would have the defensive chops to stay at third. Now his glove is considered a plus. What he needs is to develop some power to fit at the corner infield position. Last year his power was restricted to the gaps with 31 doubles but only seven homeruns for a .444 slugging percentage. That is borderline offense for a corner infielder. The good news is the seven homeruns was just one short of the eight he hit in his three previous seasons. After hitting .293 in AA he will begin the 2019 season in AAA. There are no sure fire starters at the major league position so a good spring and a good start in AAA could see him with the Pirates by mid-season.

Another shortstop to watch is Ji-Hwan Bae, whose $300,000 signing by the Braves was voided because of their violation of international cap rules. The Pirates swooped in and shelled out $1.2 million to sign him, using some of the international bonus money the Giants gave them in the McCutcheon trade. Like many of the middle infielders coming out of Asia Bae has good speed and smooth actions at short. The big question is whether he will show enough bat to see the major leagues. Last year he hit .271 with a .349 slugging percentage in the Rookie League. Depending on how his spring goes he could see a full season league to begin the 2019 season.

In the outfield the Pirates hope USA star Travis Swaggerty shows some swag. He was the Pirates first round pick in 2018 after impressing for Team USA. His defense is centerfield quality with the power to hit 20 plus homeruns. The speed is also there to steal 20 plus bases. The five tools are all there but they are not at the elite level. There was a little struggle making contact in his minor league debut, but the bat showed some pop with five homeruns in 52 games. He struggled a bit when promoted to full season (.129) but that could have been fatigue setting in after a long college season.

The Pirates are hoping to get something from Bryan Reynolds (Andrew McCutcheon trade) and Jason Martin (Gerritt Cole), both with tools that remind myworld of fourth outfielders. They lack burner speed to play center, the arms are better suited for left and the power does not fit a corner outfield slot. The Pirates hope to get some production from them to justify the trades or see Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove and Kyle Crick do better than average for the Pirates in 2019.

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