The top minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates will have an infield worth keeping an eye on in 2019
The infield for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians will have a different look to it during the 2019 season. A quartet of the Pittsburgh Pirates top hitting prospects will construct the Indy infield during the 2019 season. This will make the Indy infield worth keeping an eye on for Pirate fans.
Leading the way will be the team’s top hitting prospect third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. After showing developing power at the Double-A level in 2018, Hayes will make the jump to Triple-A in 2019.
The 22-year-old Hayes checked in as the 46th best prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline and is quickly climbing the Pirate minor league level. Hayes has always projected to be a Gold Glove caliber third baseman, but in 2018 his offense took the next step.
His .444 slugging percentage and .151 ISO were both career bests. Even with the increase in power, Hayes’ strikeout rate (16.5%) remained low while his walk rate (11.2%) remained a plus. All of this led to him posting a .369 wOBA, an .819 OPS, and a 129 wRC+ at the Double-A level, all while playing at PNG Field in Altoona which is very unfriendly for hitters.
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To the left of Hayes at the shortstop position will be 2014 first round draft pick Cole Tucker. Throughout his minor league career Tucker has been a slick fielding shortstop that looks like a future Gold Glove winner at the position. He also brings a speed element to the table having stolen 47 bags between High-A and Double-A in 2017 and then stealing 35 more bases for the Double-A Curve in 2018.
The knock on Tucker has always been his offense, however, he appeared to be turning a corner offensively in 2018. After a slow start to the season for the Curve, Tucker finished the season with four good months for Altoona. From June 1st on Tucker slashed .273/.349/.381 for Altoona with a 10.5% walk rate, 17.9% strikeout rate, and a 103 wRC+. While you would like to see a bit more power and little less strikeouts, you will take slightly above average offense from a shortstop with the defensive prowess of Tucker.
After his strong finish at the plate to 2018, Tucker went on to hit the ball well in the Arizona Fall League. The 2019 season will be a big one for the development of Tucker’s offense as he faces Triple-A pitching for the first time.
Tucker’s double play partner, unless he makes the Opening Day roster as a utility player, will be lefty slugger Kevin Kramer. After making his MLB debut as a September call-up last season, the 25-year-old Kramer, who can play each infield position except first base, remains one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top-10 prospects.
Do not let Kramer’s struggles last September fool you. Despite his appalling 50.0% strikeout rate and .135/.175/.135 line, Kramer can hit. After posting a .203 ISO, .880 OPS, and slugging .500 at Double-A in 2017, he had a .181 ISO, .492 slugging, and .857 OPS in his first taste of Triple-A action in 2018.
Kramer’s hard contact and line drive rates were among the highest in the International League last season. He can also play third base, shortstop, and second base bringing the positional flexibility that Clint Hurdle loves to the table.
Finally, there is first baseman Will Craig. Craig, another former first round pick, like Hayes, began to flash power in 2018. And, also like Hayes, he did it while playing his home games at the spacious PNG Field in Altoona.
Craig slashed .248/.321/.448 for the Curve in 2018. His ISO was .200, he collected 53 extra-base hits, and his 102 RBI were a new Curve single season record. However, his 23.3% strikeout rate was too high and you would like to see a higher walk rate than just 7.7%.
Despite his offensive explosion, what continues to hurt Craig is his defense. There is a lot of question marks around his ability to play first base on a daily basis at the MLB level. Luckily for Craig and the Pirates, it appears the designated hitter could be coming to the National League in 2020 which could benefit Craig in a big way.