Pittsburgh Pirates: Organization’s Most Improved Prospects


The Pittsburgh Pirates have built up a decent farm system, however some of their prospects have developed into potential core pieces over time.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have seen their farm system take major steps forward the last few offseasons. They have made a handful of additions to improve their future by acquiring Liover Peguero and Brennan Malone in the Starling Marte trade last season and by drafting middle infielder Nick Gonzales with the #7 overall pick in the 2020 draft.

However, while they have brought in many different high ranking prospects, not all started their career out by being a highly ranked prospect. Some have made major improvements to their game in order to be potential future core pieces.

In terms of prospects that the Pittsburgh Pirates signed internationally themselves or drafted, their most improved prospect on FanGraphs is right-handed pitcher Cody Bolton. Bolton was selected out of Tracy High School as a 6th round pick in 2017. Bolton didn’t appear on FanGraphs’ top prospect lists until the start of the 2019 season.

During 2018, Bolton pitched to the tune of a 3.65 ERA, 3.74 FIP and 1.12 WHIP in 44.1 innings of work at Low-A. He put up an outstanding 3.9 walk rate and solid 25.1% strikeout rate for a 6.43 K/BB ratio. However, he did allow six long balls. His xFIP sat at a strong 3.05 mark.

However, 2019 was the season that turned Bolton into one of the Pirates’ best pitching prospects. The right-hander got the year started at High-A Bradenton pitching in a dozen games and 61.2 innings. During his time at Bradenton, Bolton had a pristine 1.61 ERA, 1.96 FIP and 0.85 WHIP. The home run issues he faced at West Virginia didn’t carry over here as he allowed just one long ball. However, his fantastic ability to limit free passes (5.9% walk rate) and healthy strikeout rate (28.9%) did carry over. Eventually, he was promoted to Double-A where he did struggle to a 5.85 ERA, 4.67 FIP and 1.32 WHIP, but only in a limited 40 inning sample size.

FanGraphs now ranks the right-hander as their 10th best prospect. Meanwhile on MLB Pipeline, Bolton was still unranked at the end of the 2018 season, but is their 12th best prospect. While he originally started out with just one 55 grade pitch, he now has a 60-grade pitch, that being his curveball. His fastball has also improved to have an outlook as a 55-grade pitch.

Another pitcher that has risen through the ranks is right-hander Tahnaj Thomas. Thomas didn’t start his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was originally a Cleveland Indian prospect who the Bucs traded for. Thomas was a very raw talent when the trade was made, having a 60-grade fastball with an average curve and change up. While the talent was there, the control was not walking 43 batters in his first 58 professional innings.

Once he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas put up the best numbers of his career. Tossing 48.1 innings at Bristol Rookie-Ball, Thomas posted a 3.17 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 1.12 WHIP. He got a bit unlucky seeing as his xFIP was 3.49. Thomas saw his walk rate plummet to just 7% while having a 29.5% strikeout rate and 0.93 HR/9 rate.

Thomas’ fastball has now reached a 70-grade on FanGraphs with a plus curve (60-grade) and usable change up (50-grade). The flamethrower can reach into the triple digits with his fastball as well. Originally ranked as the Indians’ 26th best prospect, Thomas has risen to become the 71st best prospect in baseball. However, not all sources view Thomas that highly with MLB Pipeline only ranking him as the team’s 16th best prospect, criminally underrating the right-hander.

One position player prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted and developed themselves into a solid prospect is first baseman Mason Martin. Like Bolton, Martin was a 2017 draft pick, but was picked much later than the right-handed pitcher. He was the Bucs’ 17th round pick out of Southridge High School.

Martin showed a lot of power potential in his first taste of professional action blasting 11 home runs and putting up a .630 slugging percentage and .323 isolated slugging percentage in 166 plate appearances. While Martin did struggle in 2018, he came back to hit .254/.351/.558 with 35 long balls, 32 doubles with an outstanding .393 wOBA and .304 ISO in 556 plate appearances between Low-A Greensboro and High-A Bradenton.

Martin has shown a great ability to draw walks with a 12.2% walk rate in 2019. However, he also struck out at a 30.2% rate. While some first basemen are at first to hide their glove, Martin is able to field his position with a current fielding grade of 45 with a future of 50. In comparison to former first baseman Josh Bell, who was considered one of the worst defenders in all of baseball, had a 30-grade entering 2017 with a future of 40.

Martin is ranked as the team’s 17th best prospect on FanGraphs, but was only recently added to FanGraphs’ top prospect lists in 2019’s update. He’s one of the few Pittsburgh Pirates prospects with elite-level power, having a future game power grade of 60 and raw power grade of 70.

One last prospect worth mentioning is Liover Peguero as another out-of-organization acquisition who has developed into a top ranked prospect. When he was originally signed, Peguero only was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 25th best prospect in a system only housing two top 100 prospects. After a solid showing at the Dominican Summer League, Peguero eventually made his way up as the D-Backs’ 9th best prospect.

His strong 2019 season is what put him on FanGraphs’ top 100 list. Through 249 plate appearances at Rookie-Ball and Low-A, Peguero posted a .326/.382/.485 line with 11 doubles and 5 long balls and a .379 wOBA. While Peguero did have a .401 batting average on balls in play and ground ball rate well above 50%, he did have a 90 MPH exit velocity and with a 6’1 frame, could fill out more as he currently only checks in at 160 pounds.

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Peguero is now ranked as the 97th best prospect in baseball according to FanGraphs but like Thomas, isn’t seen as a top 100 prospect by other evaluators. Peguero has an elite hit tool (60-future grade) and is a plus fielder at shortstop with a good arm (55-future grade for both), but needs to get the ball in the air more and fill out his frame in order to take that next step forward. Luckily, he just turned 20 on December 31st so he has a few years to improve his game before reaching the Majors.