The Pittsburgh Pirates should take advantage of any opportunity that gets them a high-risk high-reward prospect.
Over the course of nearly the last two years the Pittsburgh Pirates have significantly grown their collection of prospects. It’s given them a very bright outlook on the future. They’ve acquired many through the draft, such as Nick Gonzales, Henry Davis, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Quinn Priester. But they’ve also acquired many through trade. This goes for the likes of Roansy Contreras, Liover Peguero, and Miguel Yajure.
While the rebuild looks like it’s starting to bear fruit and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, the Pittsburgh Pirates are still in the process of building up prospect capital. The biggest ways they’ll do this for the rest of the rebuild are likely through the amateur (rule 4) draft and Rule 5 Draft. They’ve traded pretty much all of the valuable veterans, but if they do have the opportunity to trade one of the (albeit less valuable) veterans left on the roster, I think they should look at some higher-risk prospects.
Now, what do I mean by higher-risk prospects? While I do agree that could mean a lot of things such as a hard-throwing pitcher with outstanding breaking stuff, but command issues, I am more looking at prospects who were once considered the cream of the crop but have fallen down the rankings due to lack of chances in the major leagues and age, poor performance in the last year or two, or injuries occurring.
One of the best examples I can think of is Oakland A’s left-hander A.J. Puk.
The A’s 2016 first-round pick was once one of the best prospects in the game. He ranked as high as the 17th prospect going into 2020 by Baseball Prospectus. However, he missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery and then all of 2020 because of more injuries.
Puk is now 26-years-old. 2022 will be his age-27 season. He has just 24.2 innings under his belt at the major league level. Despite his arm injuries, Puk’s fastball still comes in with upper-90’s heat. He still displays a strong slider and curveball. While durability long-term may be the biggest question he has to overcome, if the Pittsburgh Pirates would ever get the opportunity to acquire Puk, they should pull the trigger on it.
Another player I think fits this mold is another left-hander, that being Tampa Bay’s Brendan McKay. McKay was a 2017 first-round pick. McKay came into the league as a two-way player. Like Puk, McKay was a consensus top 20 going into the 2020 season. He’s also suffered his fair share of injuries, not pitching at all in 2020, and just 12.2 innings this year.
Now McKay doesn’t throw nearly as hard as Puk does, but he still tops out around 95-96 MPH. He also uses a curveball, cutter, and change-up to get outs. While nothing overpowering, they all are considered good offerings with plus potential. However, his biggest strength is his command. FanGraphs projects it to be beyond elite territory, grading it with a 70-projected (55-current, which is still above average). McKay will be going into his age-26 season, making him a bit older than your usual high-end prospect.
There are some other prospects that could fall into this category. Some prime examples include Astro right-hander Forrest Whitley, Yankee Estevan Florial, Albert Abreu, Boston Red Sox Jay Groome, and Philadelphia;’s Mickey Moniak. Many of them were ranked much higher
Now, sure, Puk and McKay may be big asks, but some of the other names I mentioned shouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility. The Pirates remaining veteran trade pieces with any value left are right-handed relief pitcher Chris Stratton, first baseman Colin Moran, and outfielder Ben Gamel. While none of those names are going to bring back a high-end prospect, I would like to see the Pirates get back more of a higher risk/higher reward prospect like the names we have talked about today.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a large number of young prospects, meaning 20-or-younger. The 26-man roster should see a lot of turnover over the course of the next year, but I would still like to see the Pirates get at least one prospect who’s close to MLB ready. While that may mean taking on one with higher risk, I think it’s worth exploring. If the opportunity arises, they should take advantage of it.