Pittsburgh Pirates: The 26-Man Roster Could Look Very Different in a Year


The Pittsburgh Pirates should see a ton of roster turnover on their 26-man over the course of the next 12 months

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a farm system that should soon fruit the work of their rebuild so far. Their system is one of the deepest in baseball, ranking as the #3 system per FanGraphs and #4 system per MLB Pipeline. While some of their higher-end prospects won’t get an extended look until 2023, that doesn’t mean that many of their top prospects won’t be in the Majors in 2022.

Just looking at the infield alone the Pittsburgh Pirates should have a new look. Up the middle, Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker have been manning shortstop and second base after Adam Frazier was dealt to the San Diego Padres. However, middle infield is probably the deepest position in the Pirate farm system.

First, you should see the arrival of Diego Castillo early into the season. He’ll be going into his age-24 season and since he’s Rule 5 eligible, will certainly be added to the 40-man roster. He did extremely well at Double-A, both with the Yankee and Pirate affiliates, and was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis where he has continued to produce well.

Currently, he has had a wRC+ above 110 at all of the affiliates he has appeared with and has walked more than he has struck out at Triple-A (6 walks, 5 strikeouts in 34 plate appearances).

Castillo won’t be the only noteworthy middle infield capable prospect to get an extended look in 2022. Rodolfo Castro should also get a longer look. He has done solid at Double-A and got his first taste of big-league action this year. If he does well at Triple-A to start the season, he should be the team’s starting second baseman by the end of April, mid-May at the latest.

But that’s just two of the Pittsburgh Pirates more noteworthy middle infielders who will likely get an extended look in the MLB. Tucupita Marcano, the headliner of the Frazier trade, will probably get a look at some point during 2021. He completely skipped High-A and Double-A, jumping directly into Triple-A action, and even getting a taste of major league action at just 21-years-old. While he didn’t do all that well in his first few plate appearances, you have to remember that he’s only stepped to the plate 50 times, skipped two levels in the minor leagues, and has been heavily praised by scouts for his outstanding hand-eye coordination and ability to barrel up the ball at a consistent basis.

Ji-Hwan Bae should also be on the radar as a Pirate prospect who should get a decent look in 2022. Bae has had a solid season at Double-A with a 109 wRC+ and .338 wOBA. His 65-grade speed (per FanGraphs) makes his .358 on-base percentage a deadly weapon. Bae has seen time at both middle infield positions but has recently seen some time in centerfield to help make room in a very crowded middle infield picture. Though given his season at Double-A, he will likely start 2022 at Triple-A. Given a strong start there, he’ll probably be a call-up sometime in May, or possibly even earlier if the situation necessitates it.

Along with those three middle infielders, Hoy Park may also get a longer look as a utility man, and 2021 draft picks Mike Jarvis and Jackson Glenn could be given looks at sometime during the season as well. Both Glenn and Jarvis have looked good in their first professional outings. Plus they’ve seen time at multiple positions, making them flexible to where the Pirates can play them.

The possibility of Nick Gonzales at least making his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2022 should not be ruled out either. Gonzales has put together a phenomenal season at High-A Greensboro. He’ll likely start 2022 out at Double-A. While you don’t want to rush someone as talented as Gonzales, he’s one of the highly talented prospects that the Pittsburgh Pirates could probably be a bit more aggressive in terms of how they move him through the system. If he carries over his performance at High-A to Double-A, it’s completely possible Gonzales, at the very least, gets his first few plate appearances of his MLB career in.

At first base, Mason Martin should get a long look. Sure, there are some concerns, like his lack of plate discipline this year, but I doubt the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t give him a shot in 2022. He brings a ton of power and an average glove at first base. If he can either cut down on his strikeouts or improve his walk rate, he could be one of the Pirate key middle-of-the-order pieces for the foreseeable future.

One last infielder that I wouldn’t be surpised if he got a shot at playing time in 2021 is Jared Triolo. Triolo has excelled at High-A Greensboro, having a 126 wRC+, .369 wOBA, and .846 OPS this year. While Triolo is primarly a third baseman and Hayes will be at the hotcorner for the forseeable future, he’s quite versatile. He can play shortstop, and saw a decent bit of left field during his college days. He could probably play both positions on the right side of the infield if he was asked to. 2022 will be his age-24 season, so it’s reasonable to think he at least gets a late-season call-up.

What about the outfield?

Well, the Pirates should see some pretty decent prospects make their debuts sometime during the year. Had it not been for a shoulder injury, Travis Swaggerty would probably be one of the team’s starting outfielders already. The 24-year-old got off to a solid start at Triple-A but ran into some severely bad luck. Despite that, he still had a 108 wRC+, a strikeout rate below 20% (16.7%), and an outstanding 13.5% walk rate. Since he’ll be Rule 5 eligible, he’s one of the prospects that will 100% be protected by the 40-man roster.

Canaan Smith-Njigba was acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade and will be far from the last name from that trade we’ll bring up today. Smith-Njigba was sent to Double-A where he had a solid season, posting a 128 wRC+, .367 wOBA, and .815 OPS. While he’s struggled with ground balls and a lack of line drives, he’s done enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A to start 2021. He could be a mid-season reinforcement for the Pirates next year, or even earlier if any injuries occur and he’s playing well to start the season.

Next, we have Oneil Cruz. Cruz has gotten stretched out as an outfielder, so the 6’7″ shortstop should eventually make that transition. But Cruz has big-time power, even more than Mason Martin. He’s more than earned a promotion to Triple-A and had it not been for an injury earlier this year, he probably would have gotten it.

So far, he has a 132 wRC+, .373 wOBA, and a .228 isolated slugging percentage at Altoona. Cruz is an average defender at shortstop who can get a little wild with his throws, so a move to an outfield spot may end up being a good move for him. After all, another very tall and powerful shortstop recently made the transition to the outfield by the name of Fernando Tatis Jr. You could draw many parallels between the two.

Last but certainly not least is Matthew Fraizer. Fraizer wasn’t even a ranked prospect in the Pirate system going into the year, but he has been one of their best hitting minor leaguers. He started his 2021 season with a 157 wRC+ at Greensboro, which led to a promotion to Double-A. While he hasn’t been nearly as productive, he’s still put up a strong 120 wRC+, and .354 wOBA. Fraizer recently re-appeared on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Pirate prospects, placing him at #23. Pretty good for one of the deepest systems in baseball.

That’s a whole lot of outfield prospects to name. But while Swaggerty, Smith-Njigba, Cruz, and Fraizer are the most notable, there are some other names you can’t forget who could also help the outfield. Both Lolo Sanchez and Cal Mitchell have done well at their respective levels. Both could see some playing time in the majors (more so Mitchell since he’s done solid at Double-A).

The pitching side of things is where you should see the most turnover. The Pittsburgh Pirates should get a full season out of Miguel Yajure. He was one of the main pieces going back for Taillon, and he’s done well at Triple-A this year. He, like a few other prospects, probably would have gotten a longer look in the major leagues this year had it not been for an injury. He did solid in his first few outings in a Bucs uniform, so he’ll look to build off of that in 2022.

The last player we’ll talk about from that Taillon trade is Ronasy Contreras. Again, probably would have gotten a promotion to Triple-A had it not been for an injury. But when he has been healthy, he’s been outstanding. Not only has he prevented runs from scoring, but he’s striking out a ton of batters (35.6%), hasn’t let walks bother him (5.4%) while having a ground ball rate approaching 50% (49.5%). Next year will be his age-22 season. He’ll probably start the season out at Triple-A, so look for him to be another mid-season reinforcement.

Another highly talented pitcher that the Bucs may see later on in 2022 is Carmen Mlodzinski. He was a first-round pick by the Pirates as they used their competitive balance pick to select him at the 31st overall spot. The right-hander has done well at High-A Greensboro, so starting out at Double-A next season is very likely. He’s a good enough talent that he can be pushed through the system with a bit more aggression. Combined with the fact that 2022 will be his age-23 season, and he’s probably another guy who you may see sometime in June or July of 2022.

Yajure, Contreras, and Mlodzinski are probably the most talented pitchers who will get an extended look with the Pittsburgh Pirates next season, but they’re far from the only oenes. Omar Cruz, who was part of the Musgrove deal, will probably get a decent look. You may see some late-season promotions given to Ricky DeVito, Tahnaj Thomas, Santiago Florez, and Michael Burrows.

So just to round things up, the Pirates should be giving a longer look at Diego Castillo, Rodolfo Castro, Tucupita Marcano, Ji-Hwan Bae, Hoy Park, Mason Martin, Travis Swaggerty, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Oneil Cruz, Matthew Fraizer, Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, and Carmen Mldoznski in 2022. Not to mention that younger or less experienced prospects like Jackson Glenn, Mike Jarvis, Jared Triolo, Nick Gonzales, Ricky DeVito, Tahnaj Thomas, Santiago Florez, and Michael Burrows may also get at least a late-season look.

That’s a lot of talented, young players. Will every prospect come up and destroy the ball, or throw sub-3 ERA baseball? No, but it’s also foolish to think that all of them will completely flounder in their first taste of action, especially the ones who have either done well in the upper minors or are highly talented like Castillo, Fraizer, Swaggerty, Smith-Njigba, Marcano, Yajure, Oneil Cruz, Mlodzinski, Omar Cruz, and Contreras. Though overall, the 25-man roster should see a whole lot of new faces, many of whom should play important role in the Pirates’ future.

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They’ll help support some already good core pieces like Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, David Bednar, Jacob Stallings, and Colin Moran. Overall, it’s a very promising sign of things to come. Not many teams can say they have as bright of a future as the Pirates. It gets brighter from there as in 2023, they’ll see even more reinforcements like Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone, Liover Peguero, and Hudson Head.