The Pittsburgh Pirates have a large number of prospects that are ,or are near, MLB ready. Which prospects could lose rookie status in 2022?
The Pittsburgh Pirates farm system is one of the best systems in the sport. Next season, they will see a handful of players graduate prospect status, as well as make their debuts. While not all of the prospects that debut will lose status, there’s still a lot to look forward to next season.
There are a few locks that, so long as they’re healthy, will lose prospect status. The first is Oneil Cruz. Cruz made his major league debut, going 3-9 with one of the hardest-hit balls of the season last year. Cruz did well at Double-A, and even better at Triple-A before making his debut. After Cruz, another high-end prospect that will lose status is right-hander Roansy Contreras. Like Cruz, Contreras started the year at Double-A, played very little at Triple-A, and then made his major league debut. The right-hander fired 3 shutout innings with 4 strikeouts.
Another noteworthy pitching prospect that will surely lose prospect status is Miguel Yajure. Yajure would have lost status last season had it not been for an injury that kept him out for a good chunk of the year. The headliner of the Jameson Taillon trade, Yajure is a command pitcher. He showed flashes of potential during his few starts in the majors, including 5 shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants, but also struggled at times. Still, he has done well at every level of the minor leagues, making him a prime long-term rotation candidate.
An outfielder who also would have lost status had it not been for an injury is centerfielder Travis Swaggerty. While the lefty outfielder is mostly known for his defensive ability, many sleep on his offensive potential. He’s been on a hot streak with the bat since the second half of the 2019 season. Last year, he only had 48 plate appearances at Triple-A but had 6 walks, just 8 K’s, 9 hits, and 3 home runs. Swags was getting the ball in the air a lot more (he was a line-drive machine) and were severely hurt by a .200 batting average on balls in play during that short stint. The only worry might be if there are any lingering effects from his shoulder surgery. Hopefully, for him and Pirates fans, he’s at full strength.
One last infielder that’s pretty much a guarantee to lose prospect status is infielder Diego Castillo. Castillo is another former Yankees prospect who the Bucs acquired for Clay Holmes. Castillo saw a huge power boost with 19 home runs in 440 plate appearances and a .209 isolated slugging percentage. He also only had 56 strikeouts (12.7% strikeout rate) and 44 walks (10% walk rate). Castillo ended 2021 at Triple-A where he had a 146 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances. The Pirates also added him to the 40-man roster. He’s easily a guy fans could see by mid-May.
Cruz, Contreras, Swaggerty, Castillo, and Yajure will likely play most of the 2022 season. But multiple players should still have a fair chance to lose prospect status. Korean infielder/outfielder Ji-Hwan Bae could be a summer call-up. Last year, Bae posted solid numbers, including a .771 OPS, .343 wOBA, and 114 wRC+ at Double-A. He’ll start the year at Triple-A, but could be in the majors by the start of summer. The Pirates could probably find a regular spot for Bae given that he can play shortstop, second base, and recently added centerfield to his versatility.
2020 first-round pick Carmen Mlodzinski will likely get a shot to take over a rotation spot by mid-season. The right-hander was drafted with the 31st pick in the 2020 draft. He pitched most of 2021 at High-A Greensboro but ended the campaign at Triple-A. Seeing as the team has been more aggressive in promoting their higher-end prospects, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Mlozinski completely skip Double-A. We could see a Contreras-Mlodzinski-Yajure rotation by the All-Star break.
The Pirates’ top first base prospect is Mason Martin. Martin posted solid numbers at Double-A, but he posted career worsts in strikeout rate and walk rate. He still showed well above average pop. Martin ended the season at Triple-A, so he’s another player that the Pirates could have in the majors early into the season. There’s a lot of risk in Martin, but the team will certainly give him a shot in the majors.
A lower-risk outfielder who also reached Triple-A last season was Canaan Smtih-Njigba. The third player from the Taillon deal we’ll be talking about today, Smith-Njigba has shown a good ability to hit for contact and draw walks. He has a ton of raw power but has yet to fully translate that into game power, mainly because he has struggled with a high ground ball rate. He’s a solid hitter, but not a great fielder. Though if he continues to hit for average, draw his fair share of walks, and starts to unlock his full power potential, he could be a long-term outfield/DH option for the Bucs.
One more outfielder worth mentioning is Matthew Fraizer. Among all the names we have talked about today, he and Bae are the only ones who haven’t played at least one game at Triple-A yet. Last year, Fraizer had a huge breakout season with a 150 wRC+ between High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona. He might come up a little later, possibly around the time Mlodzinski arrives. However, the Pirates will have plenty of outfield options between Fraizer, Swaggerty, and Smith-Njigba at their disposal.
One southpaw I want to mention is Omar Cruz. Cruz is unranked by FanGraphs and comes in as MLB Pipeline’s 27th best prospect. Cruz has pitched well at Greensboro and Altoona. He’ll start the year off at Triple-A Indianapolis. While he might not be as touted of a prospect like Contreras, Yajure, or Mlodzinski, he has the potential of a #4 starter. Still, the Pittsburgh Pirates could end the season with a very young rotation.
The 26-man roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates will look much different by the end of the 2022 season. The team will have a lot of new prospects coming up and will be hunting regular playing time. Many are MLB ready, or near MLB ready. The team will see many top prospects lose their prospect status, and potentially be long-term members of the Pittsburgh Pirates.