Pittsburgh Pirates middle infield prospect Tsung-Che Cheng could be a quick riser through prospect rankings
There are many notable middle infield prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. Termarr Johnson, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, and Ji-Hwan Bae are among the team’s best. But one prospect has continued to hit in the low minors. That’s Tsung-Che Cheng, who could rise through the prospect rankings.
Signed out of Taiwan in the summer of 2019, Cheng made his professional debut last season. The middle infielder made a good impression on the Pirates in his first look with the Pirates’ Florida Complex League affiliate. While it was only 157 plate appearances, Cheng slashed .311/.449/.492 with a .442 wOBA and 154 wRC+.
Cheng over twice as often as he struck out. He had 30 walks and 14 strikeouts. With a 2.14 BB:K ratio, Cheng’s BB:K ratio was by far the best at the Complex League by 0.73. Cheng also had a healthy .180 isolated slugging percentage. However, that power output was questionable, with a 55.9% ground ball rate. Regardless, Cheng still was an on-base machine who had the 10th best OBP, with plus-plus speed. He swiped 16 bags in 22 total attempts.
Cheng has continued to be a quality hitter for the Pirates’ A-Ball team. After a poor start to the season that saw him post a .664 OPS, .308 wOBA, and 89 wRC+ through mid-May, Cheng has since slashed .301/.414/.474 in his last 291 plate appearances. He’s continued to walk at a high rate with a 15.1% walk rate while still posting a solid (albeit increased) 19.2% K-rate. Between Cheng’s impressive feel for contact, ability to draw a boatload of walks, and solid power, Cheng has a .410 wOBA and 155 wRC+ since mid-May.
Keep in mind that Cheng is 21 years old. The lefty infielder stands at just 5’7”, 155 pounds, and while he could add a little more muscle, there’s not a lot of power projection here. Still, Cheng has seen his ground ball rate decrease from over 55% in 2021 to 47.5% in 2022. He needs to become a line-drive-centric hitter, and he has seen his line drive rate rise from 16.7% to 23.6%. He’s a good defender up the middle who has a chance of remaining at shortstop long term. A-Ball pitching isn’t the best, but a walk rate over 15% will always turn heads, regardless of the level. Cheng has top-of-the-line speed and could consistently push for 25+ stolen bases yearly.
His lack of power limits Cheng’s ceiling, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good hitter. He just needs to adapt and become highly line-drive-centric. Guys who can stick at shortstop long term are always projected higher than someone who will likely move to second base. Cheng is fast with a good arm, but he definitely could continue to climb the prospect rankings.
It’s a little too early to project Cheng long-term. He’ll surely climb prospect rankings after continuing to hit at a full-season level of minor league baseball. However, 2023 will be when we can really start seeing if Cheng can keep it up. He’ll start the year with Greensboro but could move up to Double-A Altoona if he is both healthy and hits well. His potential weaknesses could be highly exploited once he gets to High-A and Double-A, but on the other hand, he could use his clear strengths to make up for it.