Shortstop might be the Pittsburgh Pirates deepest position in terms of young players. But out of them, who is the best?
When you look at the Pittsburgh Pirates roster and minor league system, you’ll see a trend. The Pirates have many top prospects and young players who are very talented position players, but a lot of them are middle infielders. Guys who have experience at shortstop and second base.
With so many top prospects that can play those positions, it can be hard to find who’s the most talented out of the bunch. Who has the highest ceiling, the highest floor. It’s easy to look at prospect lists and say that this player is better than that player, but sometimes you have to look a bit deeper.
So, with that, I want to look at the Pittsburgh Pirates top middle infield prospects, and try to identify who the best is. However, I should note this one important detail. I will be considering Cole Tucker here. Although by the rules of the MLB Tucker graduated prospect status last year, he barely made it to rookie status in 2019. You need at least 130 at bats to get rookie status and he had 147. He might not be eligible for any sort of NL Rookie of the Year voting, but it’s not by enough that I think he should be left off. Plus, since he was optioned, he is part of the Pirates’ farm system.
Now, out of the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league middle infielder’s, the best batter is up for debate. If you weigh power over hit, then your guy is Oneil Cruz. Cruz has outstanding power potential. The shortstop blasted 14 home runs and had a .202 isolated slugging percentage in 2018 and had a slugging percentage above .500 before being moved to Double-A.
Cruz’s body frame of 6’7, 210 pounds gives reason to why he could reach that potential. FanGraphs has his game power at 30 with a future of 60. In terms of raw power, he has a current grade of 70 and future of 80. Those grades are better than Yordan Alvarez, comparable to Aaron Judge, and fall just short of Pete Alonso. Although I think FanGraphs’ grade for his hit tool is a bit low at a future of just 40, you can’t deny that Cruz might just be the best power hitter in the Pirates’ system.
If you value hit over power, then Liover Peguero is the guy you want to focus on. Last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Rookie Ball and Single-A affiliates, Peguero had a .326 batting average and .382 on base percentage in 249 plate appearances. He even had a .364 batting average in Rookie Ball. Although he only has a current hit grade of 25, Peguero just turned 19 right before the new year.
He is seen as a guy with a future hit grade of 60, which is what White Sox’ standout Yoan Moncada has for his hit tool. Last year, he reached the .300 BA plateau at .315, with a .367 OBP. Power wise, Peguero has much less power potential than Moncada, but has overall average-to-below average power grades with a future 40 game and 50 raw power grades. That’s almost identical to St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong, who still had a solid .444 slugging percentage and 61 extra base hits. League average slugging percentage in 2019 was .435.
If you’re looking for a great fielder, Tucker is your guy. Tucker has a 50 current grade and future 55 grade for his fielding. He also has an outstanding arm with a 70 current and future grade. While that’s an impressive number, it isn’t the strongest with Cruz coming in at 80. Still, Cruz isn’t nearly the fielder Cole is, as the slugging Cruz has a 40/45 future grade for his fielding.
The switch hitter showed off his fielding at the MLB level in his brief MLB tenure. In the 318.2 innings Tucker played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he racked up +2 DRS, 0.3 range runs, and 0.9 UZR. His UZR/150 was an outstanding 4.6, which is adjusted if the player kept up the same defensive ability over an entire season. A 4.6 UZR/150 would be one of the top 30 highest marks in baseball. Gold Glove Award winners Kolten Wong and Yolmer Sanchez both had UZR/150’s just above Tucker’s at 4.9 (Wong) and 5.0 (Sanchez). Indians’ standout third baseman Jose Ramirez had a 4.5 UZR/150, as another comparison. Tucker also has plus speed with a current 55 speed grade/50 future grade, and 28.8 feet/second sprint speed, which can help him cover a good amount of ground.
But batting wise, Tucker probably won’t be that big of a batter. He does walk a fair amount at a 9.3% walk rate, but he only has a career .374 slugging percentage and 25 home runs in the minors. His future is a .260/.350/.400 batter, which isn’t all that bad considering a .350-ish OBP is very good for a player with his speed, and ability to add value with his fielding.
However, the aforementioned Peguero also has a future fielding grade of 55. While Tucker does edge him out in throwing/arm ability as Peguero comes in at 55, that still puts the centerpiece of the Starling Marte trade having an above average arm. He is also faster than Tucker with a current speed grade of 60 and future grade of 55. He also has a higher ceiling and floor with the bat than Tucker.
Looking at all the impactful factors, Peguero is probably the best middle infielder the Pirates have in their farm system. He can do a bit of everything. He’s a good hitter who will have a bit of power in the future, can run well, and is a good fielder. Cruz has the power, and isn’t a bad base runner, but he isn’t as good of a fielder. Plus, his final position probably isn’t shortstop. Cole Tucker is a great fielder, and can run well. But he isn’t nearly as good of a batter. Peguero is very well rounded. While his power is probably his weakest tool, he excels in more areas than either Tucker or Cruz.
It should be noted, however, that 2020 1st round pick Nick Gonzales could throw a wrench into all of this. While he will likely end up at second base long term, he has all the tools needed to be a well above league average hitter at the MLB level when his time comes.