Last season the Pittsburgh Pirates were the worst power hitting team in the National League. However, they could see improved power this season.
Last season the Pittsburgh Pirates were the worst team in the National League when it comes to power hitting. They were last in home runs with 124, last in slugging percentage at .364, and last in isolated slugging percentage at .124. Overall, the sport of baseball has become a power spot. The team may not have been a power team in 2021, but this is something that should improve in 2022.
The most apparent addition is Oneil Cruz. Cruz, who generates massive power with his enormous 6’7″, 210 pound frame, led all Pirate minor leaguers in slugging percentage at .594, was second in ISO at .284 (min. 20 plate appearances) hit 17 home runs in only 271 plate appearances. When Cruz appeared in the majors, he went 3-for-9 with a home run on a ball well below the strike zone and had one of the hardest-hit balls in the majors last season. It wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Cruz led the league in home runs someday or if he led all rookies in home runs next year.
An under-the-radar power addition the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely see sometime next year is outfielder Travis Swaggerty. With 60-grade raw power, the question going into 2021 was if he would get the ball in the air enough to make his power matter. He had displayed the ability to hit for power in 2019 with an 89 MPH exit velocity and 41% hard-hit rate but had just a .116 isolated slugging percentage, mainly caused by his 49.3% ground ball rate.
This past season, however, he had a 26.7% line drive and 36.7% fly ball rate. Swaggerty would have already seen the majors this year if it had not been for a dislocated shoulder. He got off to a good start at Triple-A with a 108 wRC+ and .772 OPS through his first 48 plate appearances and was hampered by a .200 batting average on balls in play. Though if his arm injury hasn’t zapped any of his power, he’s a guy that could hit upwards of 25 home runs in an entire season. He will provide more power than Ben Gamel and likely Anthony Alford.
Another position where power is slept on is third base. Ke’Bryan Hayes had a 56.7% ground ball rate, nearly 10% higher than any mark he posted in any season throughout his minor league career. Some of that likely had to do with his wrist injury. While I’m not suggesting the 2020 Hayes we saw with a .333 ISO is the real Hayes, he was still in the top 71st percentile of exit velocity (90.2 MPH) and top 75th percentile of hard-hit rate (45.8%). Hayes might be a guy that will rack up 30-40 doubles, but he’s also a guy that could hit 18-20 home runs annually while hitting .270-.280.
The Pittsburgh Pirates brought Yoshi Tsutsugo back into the fold, signing him to a low-risk, one-year, $6 million deal. Now that the Pirates have non-tendered Colin Moran, he’ll take over at first base. One of the top slugging pro international free agents in the 2019-2020 offseason by the Tampa Bay Rays, Tsutusgo posted about a league-average .198/.314/.395 line, .309 wOBA, and 99 wRC+ in 185 plate appearances. Tsutsugo showed power with a .197 isolated slugging percentage and eight home runs, plus he walked 14.1% of the time.
Last season Tsutsugo was released by the Rays into the 2021 season, was picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers, rereleased in mid-August, and picked up by the Pirates a few days later. He was one of the bright spots from a dismal 2021 season as he hit .268/.347/.535 with a .372 wOBA and 134 wRC+. Tsutsugo cut down his strikeout rate from 27% with the Rays in 2020 top quality 22.9% rate with the Pirates. Though his walk rate also decreased to 10.4%, his ISO rose to .268 and hit eight home runs, matching his 2020 total in 41 fewer plate appearances.
Second base will also see a power boost. Currently, Michael Chavis is lined up for regular playing time. Coming up through the minors, he was a power-hitting prospect, and 4 of his first 15 hits as a Pirate went for extra bases.
If Chavis doesn’t work out, the Pittsburgh Pirates may turn to Rodolfo Castro, who has a career minor league .188 ISO and hit five home runs in his first 93 plate appearances in the majors. Diego Castillo is arguably the best major league-ready option at second for the Pirates. Last year, he had a massive power breakout, hitting 19 home runs, which was over double his career total between 2015-2019, while having a .487 slugging and .209 ISO.
There are also a few other prospects with plus power potential that the team will see in 2022. First baseman Mason Martin has some of the best raw power in the system. While he needs to improve his launch angle, Canaan Smith-Njigba has 60-grade raw power. Long-term the Pittsburgh Pirates have Henry Davis, who was the 2021 Draft’s best college power hitter, Nick Gonzales, who projects to have above-average pop, and Liover Peguero, whose power has been trending upward.