Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Potential Early Season Promotions

Indianapolis center fielder Travis Swaggerty, right, celebrates after hitting a home run in the first inning off Iowa starting pitcher Joe Biagini at Principal Park in Des Moines on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.20210504 Iowacubs
Indianapolis center fielder Travis Swaggerty, right, celebrates after hitting a home run in the first inning off Iowa starting pitcher Joe Biagini at Principal Park in Des Moines on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.20210504 Iowacubs /

The Pittsburgh Pirates should have their fair share of movement of prospects throughout their system, even early into the 2022 campaign.

The Pittsburgh Pirates new regime has been more willing to promote players with the system with more aggression. Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras made their major league debut last season, and they pushed prospects like Mason Martin, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Carmen Mlodzinski to Triple-A at the end of the season. The Pirates should continue that trend next season with some early season promotions.

Travis Swaggerty is among the top prospects we could see in the majors early this season, outside of Contreras and Cruz. Swaggerty was demolishing the ball at Indianapolis last season. Many evaluators have praised his improved ability to make quality contact. He’s always had the raw power but was hitting line drives at a rate well over 25%. He also had a sub-40% ground ball rate. While his batting average may not reflect what he did before his injury, he got his fair share of unluckiness on batted balls with a .200 BAbip. Despite that, the outfielder still managed a quality .772 OPS, .343 wOBA, and 108 wRC+.

Another very early-season major league promotion is Diego Castillo. Castillo has a real shot of making the 26-man roster as the team’s starting second baseman. Last season, the infielder batted for a quality .278/.355/.487 line. Castillo hit for his fair share of power for the first time in his career with 19 home runs and a .209 isolated slugging percentage.

Plus, he only struck out 12.7% of the time while having a healthy 10% walk rate. This came out to a .366 wOBA and 122 wRC+ with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees Double-A affiliates and a stint with the Indianapolis Indians in September.

Castillo already has 70 plate appearances at Triple-A, where he had a .914 OPS, .400 wOBA, and 146 wRC+. He’s going into his age-24 season, and second base is far from a given in Spring Training. Although former Boston Red Sox top prospect Michael Chavis has the inside track to start the season as the team’s keystone defender, Castillo is hot on his tail.

The Pirates have two lefties who could see the major leagues early in the season. One is Trey McGough. McGough had pitched to the tune of a 3.41 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP at Altoona this year. Although McGough had a strikeout rate of just 19.7%, he had a sub-6.0% walk rate (5.4%) and great .66 HR/9. Another positive from his season was a 46.8% ground ball rate.

McGough throws a fastball, slider, curveball, and change-up. Although he’s not overpowering, he has solid control and average command. McGough is going to start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. But he’ll also start the season out at 24-years-old. The Pittsburgh Pirates have few good left-handers, especially ones who can make some starts.

The other lefty is Omar Cruz. Acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade, Cruz split the year with Greensboro and Altoona. Overall, he had a solid 3.44 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. His peripherals don’t jump off the page, but he didn’t struggle heavily in any department. Cruz managed a 23.4% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate, and .91 HR/9 rate.

Cruz only throws in the upper-80s to low-90s with a solid curveball and plus change-up. Cruz also has better command than McGough. He’s a little younger than McGough, being 23-years-old, but he’ll be another guy who will at least start the year as part of Indianapolis’ rotation. Given his age and the lack of lefties on the Pirates’ major league roster, he could be another guy we see in May.

An early-season promotion in the minors we could see within the first two months is Matt Fraizer going from Double-A to Triple-A if he doesn’t start the year at Indy. Fraizer has already reached Double-A, where he had a 129 wRC+, .366 wOBA, and .848 OPS in 149 plate appearances. All told, Fraizer batted .306/.388/.552 with a .402 wOBA and 149 wRC+ between Altoona and Greensboro. He also showed off power and speed with 23 home runs, a .246 ISO, and 15 stolen bags.

Fraizer is the same age as Castillo, as he’s going into his age-24 campaign. The weakest part of his game is his defense, but that’s based on his fielding in center field, where he’s so-so. A move to left field would surely help his defensive ability. Given his age and experience at Altoona, the Pirates might promote him to Triple-A to start the season. If not, he’s an easy guy who could move to Indianapolis after the first month or so of the campaign.

If Adrian Florencio starts the year out at Greensboro, he’s another guy who could see a quick rise to Double-A Altoona. Florencio put up a 2.46 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 1.05 WHIp through 95 innings. This came with a 29.8% strikeout rate, 7.6% walk rate, and .47 HR/9. Florencio’s batted ball rates were so-so, but he won his league’s pitcher of the year award. At 23-years-old, he’s old enough and talented enough to make an early-season jump.

Florencio’s Bradenton teammate, Luis Ortiz, could earn a similar treatment himself. Ortiz pitched to the tune of a 3.09 ERA, FIP, and 1.26 WHIP in 87.1 innings. Although he didn’t win pitcher of the year, he still had a better strikeout rate (30.1%), walk rate (7.4%), and a similar HR/9 (0.52). Ortiz also had a better FIP and xFIP (3.23 to 3.72). Ortiz, like Florencio, is also going into his age-23 season. He could also be in store for a start at Greensboro, but quick promotion to Altoona.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates could see their fair share of movement in the minor leagues through the early part of next season. Plus they should see a few notable prospects reach the major leagues. Of course, they should see this all thrgouhout the season, but it’s promising to see at least a few guys who could reach another level through the first two months of the season.