Where does the Pittsburgh Pirates 1st round draft selection fit into the minor league system?
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected right-handed prep pitcher Quinn Priester with the 18th overall pick in the MLB Draft. The 18-year-old Priester has all the talent in the world, and is currently slated to play college baseball for TCU. With this likely to change, where does Priester project to fit in the Pirate farm system?
During Neal Huntington’s tenure as general manage, the Pirate farm system has been better known for its pitching than position players. Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Mitch Keller, Trevor Williams, and Tyler Glasnow are all names that come to mind as pitchers who have developed under Huntington’s watch. However, the farm system has shifted.
According to MLB Pipeline, 13 of the organization’s top 17 prospects entering the 2019 season were position players. While the organization is not void of pitching depth, it certainly is lacking high end pitching prospects. Priester could help change this.
The team’s top prospect is the aforementioned Keller. After Keller, the next highest ranked prospect is Luis Escobar who MLB Pipeline ranks as the team’s 9th best prospect. Steve Jennings is 12th, Braxton Ashcraft is 13th, and that’s it in terms of pitchers among the team’s top 17 prospects.
One pitcher that is not on this list, but will undoubtedly be on the soon to be released mid-season list, is Cody Bolton. In 10 starts for High-A Bradenton this season Bolton owns a 1.81 ERA, 2.00 FIP, a 5.6% walk rate, and a 29.0% strikeout rate in 54 2/3 innings pitched. When mid-season prospect rankings are released, Bolton should be comfortably within the team’s top 10 prospects.
Outside of Keller, who could soon graduate to the MLB level permanently, and Bolton, there is a shot that Priester will be the team’s third rank pitching prospect. His primary competition will be Escobar and Ashcraft.
Split between High-A and Triple-A Escobar has pitched in 15 games with three starts this season. In these 15 games he owns a 1.30 ERA, 11.0% walk rate, 30.9% strikeout rate, and a 4.05 FIP. Long term, Escobar projects as a reliever at the MLB level. This is likely to put him behind Priester in prospect rankings.
This leaves Ashcraft. The 19-year-old Ashcraft has not pitched yet this season. In 2018, he posted a 4.58 ERA, 5.13 FIP, and 12 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings pitched for the Gulf Coast League Pirates. In fact, there are a lot of comparisons between Ashcraft and Priester as they each look to develop a third plus pitch.
If Priester’s change up can develop, he projects as a top of the rotation starting pitcher. If not, he still possesses a plus fastball and curveball. This combination can still make him a solid middle of the rotation arm. It will also make him one of the top pitching prospects in the Pirate system.