The Pittsburgh Pirates exceeded expectations for the 2021 MLB draft by drafting multiple players with first-round grades on them in later rounds such as two-way player Bubba Chandler and left-handed pitcher Anthony Solometo. But the Pirates have other prospects to be excited about, ones that will be ready for action in the not-so-distant future.
The talented farm system of the Pittsburgh Pirates starts with their Low-A affiliate the Bradenton Marauders. However, the most talented stop along the way of the Pirate minor league ladder may currently be the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers.
2019 first-round pick right-handed pitcher Quinn Priester is there and is pitching well for a 21-year old. Quinn has managed a 3-3 record with a 3.49 ERA over 11 starts this season and pitched for the National League in the Futures Game, he went 2/3 of an innings while walking and striking out one.
Another first-round pick on Greensboro’s roster is Nick Gonzales who the Pittsburgh Pirates selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Gonzales has appeared in 33 games this season and is batting with a line of .242/.320/.447 while smashing 3 home runs and knocking in 14 runs. Gonzales is looked at for his power and knack for driving in runs, he racked up 152 RBIs and 37 home runs in college.
His defense is also a strength of his and has not committed an error in a minor league game. Nick is being set up as the future of the position and will surely take over at second base in the next couple of years.
Another player in High-A to watch is right-handed pitcher Santiago Florez. Florez has spent time with Pittsburgh’s Low-A affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders, and was looking like an All-Star. Over 10 starts between Low-A and High-A this season Florez has a record of 5-3 with a supporting 1.72 ERA, 74 strikeouts, and a save. Santiago was signed in 2016 as an international free agent, and at the age of 16 he was throwing 92 mph and has ramped it up to anywhere between 95-97 mph.
Shortstop Liover Peguero is Pittsburgh’s 4th ranked prospect and a young RBI machine. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in January as a 19-year old, the shortstop dominated the rookie-level where he hit .326/.382/.485 with 38 RBIs and 5 HRs. the Peguero/Gonzales
Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate, the Altoona Curve, is home to promising and talented players such as slugging first baseman Mason Martin. Martin has been seeing the ball really well as of late and is second in all of the Northeast league with 17 HRs and has 8 in July. Mason is tied for 1st with 50 RBIs and is ranked high in the majority of categories. The former 17th-round pick is putting on a show and is making a case for why he is ready for his callup to Triple-A.
Another young star in the making is infielder Rodolfo Castro, who spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates before the All-Star Break. Castro has 3 hits and 3 home runs during his 14 MLB at-bats. Castro’s 2019 season saw him hit 19 home runs and 73 RBIs while batting .242 and stealing 7 bases. Castro is tied for the 9th most hits in his league with 62 and has a career on-base percentage of .316, the Pittsburgh Pirates need someone to get on base once Adam Frazier leaves and has the 17th best OBP in his league with .357.
Infielder Ji-hwan Bae is another player for the Curve that comes to mind when thinking about the future. Bae was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018 and shows to be a very consistent hitter. Bae can put the ball in play and would make a fantastic leadoff hitter because of how many walks he’s drawn over his short minor league career. Speed is what attracted the Pirates to Bae and he sure shows it off as he has 11 stolen bases, the 5th most in the league. Currently, the 21-year old is a top 15 prospect within the organization and is hitting well since his return from the injured list.
Oneil Cruz is an intriguing prospect all by himself, he plays shortstop at 6-foot-7 and has a huge offensive upside. Cruz was a part of the return the Pittsburgh Pirates received in 2017 from the Dodgers for Tony Watson, since then he has battled his way up to Double-A despite being involved in a car crash in 2020. Cruz is batting .289 this year with 9 home runs, 29 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. Cruz is the organization’s third-ranked prospect and the 9th ranked MLB shortstop prospect, he was also called the MiLB.com organization’s All-Star in 2019. He has been experimented as an outfielder in the past due to his size but seems to play his best when at shortstop.
Pitcher Roansy Contreras is another great prospect although ranked 19th in the organization. So far, Contreras has had a lights-out season as he is 3-1 and carrying a 2.35 ERA with 65 strikeouts. Contreras, among others, was acquired from the Yankees in the trade that sent former Pirate top prospect Jameson Taillon to the Bronx. Roansy was selected to the Futures Game but was injured so he could not attend. Now preparing to return to the mound, Contreras should continue his strong season and be a reliable arm for the future.
The Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians, has two of Pittsburgh’s upcoming stars. Miguel Yajure, who has already made his debut, was acquired along with Contreras in the Jameson Taillon trade. Yajure pitched 9.1 innings for the Pirates this year and totaled 8 strikeouts, a 3.86 ERA, and a loss. Yajure is currently on the injured list like teammate Travis Swaggerty, Yajure felt right elbow discomfort in early June and was originally on the seven-day IL.
Yajure made 3 starts during the 2021 Triple-A season and held a 1-1 record with a 3.71 ERA and 17 strikeouts. Outfielder Travis Swaggerty was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in 2018 and has climbed through the minors in a short amount of time. As previously mentioned, Travis is on the 60-day IL because of a shoulder injury he suffered while sliding back from a pickoff attempt, as Ke’Bryan Hayes did in April. Before his injury, Swaggerty was batting .220 while hitting 3 HRs and 7 RBIs.
Pittsburgh will be adding more pieces for the distant future into the minor leagues like first overall pick Henry Davis. GM Ben Cherington has made sure to establish a winning mindset and through the trades with the Yankees and Padres and this draft, he is doing great so far.