The Pittsburgh Pirates should see a large influx of new players joining Triple-A next season giving them a strong roster to kick off the 2022 season
The Pittsburgh Pirates farm system is one of the best in baseball. On FanGraphs’s updated rankings, they put the Pirates at #2, behind just the Baltimore Orioles. In terms of overall value, they have a system worth $361 million. The only team to come within $50 million of the Bucs is the Tampa Bay Rays at $319 million. However, the Orioles, Pirates, and Rays are the only systems that are worth more than $300+ million.
But this season most of the Pittsburgh Pirates big talents weren’t at the minor’s highest level, Triple-A. While you did have some impressive names like Miguel Yajure and Travis Swaggerty, the Triple-A roster mainly consisted of organizational depth. Many of the most noteworthy prospects were at Double-A and below.
However, that could all change next season. The Pittsburgh Pirates saw a whole lot of movement through the system of players getting promoted, and recently, they promoted 8 prospects to Triple-A Indianapolis. Among them were very noteworthy guys such as Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Mason Martin, Canaan Smtih-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, Rodolfo Castro, Yerry De Los Santos, and Osvaldo Bido.
The two that stand out the most are Cruz and Contreras. Ranked as two of the team’s best prospects, both looked outstanding at Double-A. However, both also were limited in playing time due to injuries. Nonetheless, Cruz hit .292/.346/.536 while cranking 12 long balls in only 273 trips to the plate. Overall, he had a .377 wOBA and 136 wRC+. He showed off his light tower power, blasting many no-doubters while having an isolated slugging percentage approaching .250 (.244)
Contreras, who was part of the Jameson Taillon trade, pitched 54.1 impressive innings. He posted a 2.65 ERA, 2.74 FIP, and 0.90 WHIP. Before heading to the Pirates, Contreras was always known to have solid control and he continued that with a 5.5% walk rate. Plus he put up a strikeout rate nearing 35% (34.9%). He had a solid 0.83 HR/9, but considering that he had a strong 47.5% ground ball rate and line-drive rate of just 12.5%, it’s very arguable that it should have been lower. Contreras had a massive uptick in fastball velocity, saw him add more break to his curveball, and has always had a plus change up. Contreras looked outstanding in his first start at Indianapolis, only allowing a single earned run in 3.2 innings, but striking out 6 with a single walk and 4 hits.
First baseman Mason Martin also had a solid season at Double-A. He hit .242/.318/.481 with 22 home runs in 431 plate appearances. Martin showed a ton of pop, hitting 20+ home runs for a second season in a row and having a .239 ISO. But he struck out at a career-high 34.2% rate and walked at a career-low 8.1% rate, leading to some concerns about his offensive potential. But overall, Martin is considered one of the top 10 first base prospects in the sport.
Outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba was another noteworthy prospect from the Taillon swap. Smith-Njigba batted .274/.398/.406 with 6 long balls in 266 plate appearances. Overall, Smith-Njigba had a solid .364 wOBA and 126 wRC+.He walked at a strong 16.9% rate, but his strikeout rate (24.8%) was a tad high. Plus he only had a 10.9% line drive rate and 65.3% ground ball rate. It’s quite surprising that he had a .365 batting average on balls in play despite his very high ground ball rate and very low line drive rate.
Both Rodolfo Castro and Cal Mitchell had solid campaigns at Double-A. While not as highly touted as the other names we talked about, they’re definitely potential guys who could see some time in the Major Leagues in 2022.
Yerry De Los Santos did miss a good chunk of 2021 due to injury but when he did pitch, he was effective. He’s also one of the team’s highest-ranking relief pitching prospects. Among all the players the Pirates called up, Bido struggled the most. Still, the likes of Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Mason Martin, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, and Rodolfo Castro make a very strong Triple-A roster to start 2022. Those shouldn’t be the only players who start next season at Triple-A either.
Speedy Korean infielder Ji-Hwan Bae should be another guy that starts 2022 at Indianapolis. This was Bae’s second quality season where he hit .278/.359/.413 with a .343 wOBA, and 114 wRC+. Bae had a walk rate above 10% (10.4%), which plays up as he has great speed. He swiped 20 bases in 28 total attempts and stole 31 more in 2019. Plus he had a bit of an uptick in power. His slugging percentage reached above .400 while having a .134 isolated slugging percentage, compared to an ISO of just .107 in 2019.
Bae has mainly played shortstop and has plenty of experience at second base. But he’s started to see some time in center field this year. This is an understandable move as the Pirates have a boatload of middle infielders. Both Cruz and Castro joined Diego Castillo as options to play shortstop and second base.
Arguably, the Pirates’ best prospect is second baseman, Nick Gonzales. Another one of their highly touted prospects, Liover Peguero, is one of the top shortstop prospects in the league. Don’t forget about Maikol Escotto, Mike Jarvis, Jackson Glenn, Tucupita Marcano, Hoy Park, Michael Chavis, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, and Bubba Chandler as just the handful of other noteworthy names either on the 40-man roster or in the minor leagues that can play second base and/or shortstop.
One last player that has a chance to start 2022 at Triple-A is left-hander Omar Cruz. Cruz, who was part of the Joe Musgrove trade, has had a solid year at Altoona. Through 70.2 innings, the southpaw has a 3.44 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 1.302 WHIP. Cruz isn’t getting many strikeouts with a K% of just 19.9%, but he consistently got strikeouts at a high rate in the years prior to the trade. Plus he has limited home runs to the tune of a .76 HR/9 rate while having a strong 7.3% walk rate.
I have the soft-tossing lefty ending 2022 as part of the Pirates’ rotation. Next year will be his age-23 season, so the Pirates should have enough motivation to start him at Indianapolis given his age and solid season at Altoona. Cruz, if healthy and pitching fine at Indianapolis, could be an early-to-mid-season reinforcement. The Pirates are going to enter the year with some question marks in the rotation and if Cruz starts off the year off strong, it’s not impossible to see him as part of the 26-man roster by the start of May.
Overall, while Triple-A Indianapolis didn’t boast many big-time names this year, they will go into next year with a very strong roster, one that should hold many names of the Pirates’ potential future core. They’re already giving some of their best prospects like Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz, their first taste of action. With a few other names joining them this year, and a few that should join them in 2022, you’re looking at quite an impressive roster to start next season. It’s also a good sign of what the future holds for the Pirates as now all of these players will be just a step below the major leagues.