MLB 26-and-under power rankings: No. 13 Pittsburgh Pirates

FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new twist on classic prospect ratings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already available, farming systems alone cannot tell the whole story. So let’s take a deep dive into each one MLB club, ranking them all by players in an organization who start their season 26 or younger, from the bigs to the farm. Every weekday until March 24th, we’ll be counting down from last to first.

number 13 Pittsburgh Pirates
Total score for 26 and under: 18 (out of 30)

With every Rich Hill grunt in the backfield, Pittsburgh’s young players are learning a different way to operate.

The lessons gleaned are less about the words spoken in those bullpen sessions—many of which probably aren’t worth repeating—and more about the intensity with which baseball’s greatest player still handles each rep, the care with which Hill handles every pitch and the wisdom the veteran pitcher can impart as he prepares for his 19th major league season.

Hill is one of the few short-term veteran signings the Pirates made this offseason; moves that won’t dramatically change Pittsburgh’s prospects for 2023 after a 62-win season, but could be helpful for a growing group of young players heading to the majors. The advice Hill can give 22-year-old Quinn Priester, or the advice receiver Austin Hedges can offer 22-year-old Endy Rodriguez and 23-year-old Henry Davis, or the tips Andrew McCutchen can offer everyone Pittsburgh position players. The prospects could help in the coming seasons.

With a payroll still among the lowest in baseball, prospect development and “finishing school” for these players will be crucial in a year that is still all about development in Pittsburgh. And if the Pirates want to end their seven-year playoff drought soon, some of the prospects that complement Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes will need to become more than useful big leaguers in the coming years.

In the meantime, those players can wish Hill a happy 43rd birthday this weekend.

Major league hitting: 6 (of 10)

Two of the most intriguing young players in the game reside on the left side of the Pirates’ infield.

Cruz’s potential is most evident in the way he tore up the leaderboards. The striking 6-foot-7 outfielder hit a ball 122.4 mph off the bat last year, the hardest in the Statcast era. It was not an anomaly. The year before, Cruz hit a ball at 118.2 mph. He also displayed the fastest arm speed of any shortstop last season, averaging 93.9 mph on his pitches, and his sprint speed ranked in the 98th percentile in baseball. With a full season of work, he could be a 30-30 guy, even if he doesn’t average particularly high. Which brings us to some of the shortcomings.

He hit 17 homers in just 87 games, but hit just 7% better than league average while finishing the year with batting splits of .233/.294/.450. He hit a lot, his slugging percentage was third-worst in baseball among players with at least 300 plate appearances, and he chases a lot, though he improved in that regard as last season went on. He also committed 17 errors in just 77 starts at shortstop, but the capabilities are endless.

Similarly, Hayes demonstrated immediate returns while leaving room for further growth. Offensively, the power display from his first taste of the majors in 2020 has not been replicated. After hitting five homers in 24 games in his debut campaign, he has 13 homers and a .356 slugging percentage in 232 games over the past two seasons. Some of that could be attributed to injuries, and some of the underlying exit velocity and high-impact numbers indicate there could be more in the tank if he’s able to get the ball up more consistently, though that power was never his calling card.

Still, even though he finished last season with an 87 OPS+, there was a reason he was worth 4.3 bWAR. Entering his age-26 season, he is already arguably the best defensive third baseman in the game. He led all defenders there in strikeouts above average and all major leaguers in defensive runs saved last season.

With Cruz setting Statcast records with his power, arm and speed, and with Hayes playing elite defense at the hot corner, it might be easy to overlook the contributions of Jack Suwinski, who hit 19 homers in .326 in the bat last year as a rookie. while offering above-average speed and defense. With Suwinski in the outfield, Rodolfo Castro potentially blocking second base and Ji-Hwan Bae providing useful depth, the Pirates have a horde of young position players who could make a significant jump in 2023.

Potential position players: 4 (of 5)

Most teams would be happy to boast one of the best catching prospects in the game in their system. The Pirates have a few.

Rodriguez is the younger of the two, but is also the closest to making his mark in the majors after showing consistency with the bat at every stop from high A to Triple A last season, slashing . 323/.407/.590 with 25 homers on the year. It’s quite possible that the three-team trade that sent Joe Musgrove to San Diego netted the Pirates two key pieces in All-Star David Bednar and Rodriguez, who also adds value by being able to play the right side of the field interior and the corner outfield.

In both Rodriguez and Davis, the Pirates have two versatile catchers who can play multiple positions at the next level: Davis played a couple of games in right field last year for Double-A Altoona, an important skill if both they stay in Pittsburgh. . Davis was the Pirates’ top overall pick in 2021 and had a productive year going from low-A to high-Double-A, but wrist injuries limited him to 59 games. He was hit by a pitch 20 times across the three levels and seven more times in 17 games in the Arizona Fall League. He’s always shown great plate discipline (he had more walks than strikeouts at Louisville), and a healthy season should help him tap into more of his power potential.

That goes for a number of the Pirates’ recent top draft picks.

Nick Gonzalez, a first-round pick in 2020, dealt with plantar fasciitis last season and played in 74 games in a year that ended in Double-A. With Hayes at third and Cruz at shortstop for the foreseeable future, Gonzales will likely have to make his mark at second base, at least until top prospect Termarr Johnson, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, approach the system.

Travis Swaggerty, their top pick in 2018, was robbed of his 2020 season by the pandemic and then played just 12 games in 2021 due to shoulder surgery. He finally made his major league debut last season and could compete with Canaan Smith-Njigba for time in the Pirates’ outfield this year, though the speed threat will need to prove himself more offensively to stick as common in adults.

Both Swaggerty and middle infielder Liover Peguero are names to watch. Peguero, a product of the Starling Marte trade, struggled more in the jump to Double A as a 21-year-old last season, but at his age there is still potential if he can improve his plate discipline and limit mistakes in center.

Big League Pitching: 5 (of 10)

The Pirates won’t have to immediately count on a number of young young pitchers. One exception is Roansy Contreras, the 23-year-old now on his way to assist a loaded Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic.

Contreras enjoyed a productive season last year in Pittsburgh, posting a 3.79 ERA at just 22 years old. His slider is a serviceable secondary pitch, though he may need to continue to develop his curveball and changeup to get hitters off his fastball, which had a tendency to pull.

With the additions of Hill and Velasquez, the Pirates can now play Luis Ortiz and Johan Oviedo slowly if they prefer both to develop in Triple-A. The pair debuted last season as starters, but Oviedo also has relief experience in case the Pirates need help in the bullpen or want him to contribute right away. Oviedo is reportedly working to add a feather to the mix, which could develop further by starting the season in the minors, while Ortiz could use the time to expand his repertoire beyond his changeup and fast high 90’s highly effective.

Mitch Keller, who will lead the squad after a superb finish last season, and standout closer Bednar are worth mentioning, even though they are entering their age-27 and age-28 seasons, respectively, just missing the cut from this list. .

Potential pitchers: 3 (of 5)

Priester, the Pirates’ top pick in 2019 and their top pitching prospect, was limited to 19 starts last year due to an oblique injury, but showed a good understanding of his four-pitch mix in his return and rose from below. -A to Triple-A. He had a 3.29 ERA in four saves. The 22-year-old may not be projected as more than a third or fourth starter, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him join Oviedo or Ortiz in the Pirates’ rotation sometime in 2023.

Mike Burrows was also slowed by injury late last year, as shoulder issues and fatigue possibly contributed to some struggles after being promoted to Triple-A. The 23-year-old’s three-pitch combination could allow him to help the Pirates out of the bullpen early, though they may want to continue developing his secondary pitches as a starter in the minors. He averaged 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 12 starts at Double-A Altoona last year.

As it stands, there are plenty of potential rotation depth pieces in the system without an obvious ace, though it’s still early in the development process for players like Anthony Solometo, Thomas Harrington and Bubba Chandler. Chandler, a 2021 third-round pick and a two-way player who will reportedly stick with pitching in 2023, is an interesting name to watch, with a low-90s fastball and one of the highest ceilings of the farm

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously served as editor of the Dodgers’ digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.

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