The Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of low-level teenage prospects, but who are all their ranked teen prospects in the system?
Most of the time, teenage professional baseball players are a handful of years off from the major leagues. You’ll occasionally get a Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, or Alex Rodriguez who light up major league pitching before their age-20 campaign, but those are few and far between. Still, that doesn’t mean that teen prospects aren’t worth discussing. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of under-20 prospects who have made some prospect boards. While they might be three-to-five years from the bigs, they’re still worth watching as they develop and move through the Bucs’ minor league system.
Termarr Johnson is far and away the best teenage prospect in the system and arguably the best overall prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates have to offer. The #4 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Johnson was arguably the best hitter in this most recent draft. He was highly praised for his bat-to-ball skills and ability to draw walks. Not only is he a high-end contact hitter, but he projects to hit for plus power. What helped Johnson fall was that many do not project him to stick at shortstop long term. While Johnson is fast enough to play the position, his arm and reflexes play better at second base.
But Johnson, regardless of if he ends up at second base or shortstop, is a hitter who could reach the .300/.400/.500 triple-slash. He has the most projectable tools, a strong eye at the dish, and good raw power. But Johnson wasn’t the only notable teenage prospect the Pirates got from the 2022 draft.
Left-hander Michael Kennedy was a big overslot pick in the fourth round. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Kennedy for $1 million when his slot value was just $554,800 out of Troy High School in Troy, New York. Kennedy is already showing decent velocity at just 17 years old, and he also throws his fastball with good spin. His two secondary offerings include a slider and change-up, both of which project to be average to above-average offerings. But his command is his best tool.
At 6’1″, 205, Kennedy already has a young starter’s build. He’s also displayed athleticism on the mound, which will help him in the long run. He was one of the youngest players in the draft, and the Pirates got him in the 4th round when he arguably could have gone in the second round. Kennedy is joined by three other teenage pitching prospects, the next of which is one of the best arms in the system.
That’s Anthony Solometo. Solometo is fresh off a strong debut season for Low-A Bradenton. He pitched 47.2 innings, logging a 2.64 ERA, 2.83 FIP, and 1.05 WHIP. Solometo did not allow a single home run, inducing ground balls just over 50% of the time (50.9%), and struck out 27.1% of the batters he faced. His 10.1% walk rate wasn’t anything special, but it doesn’t reflect how good he is at locating pitches. He was one of the best command pitchers in the draft.
Solometo only averages out at 90-92 MPH, but with his command and deceptive delivery, it plays up. He also throws a slider, slurve, and changeup. His high leg-kick, side-arm delivery has been compared to Mackenzie Gore and Madison Bumgarner. Personally, I see some Dontrell Willis in his motion as well. Solometo has one of the highest ceilings among all Pirates pitchers, and it will be fun watching him pitch a full year in 2023. Though, another pitching prospect from the 2021 draft will be looking to get his feet under him after an injury-laden 2022 campaign.
Owen Kellington was the Pirates’ 4th-round pick in 2021 and was one of their many over-slot signings. Kellington only pitched ten innings for the Pirates’ Florida Complex League affiliate last season but will likely get an extended look at Bradenton next year. Kellington isn’t a hard-throwing pitcher, averaging out at 88-91 MPH, but he also throws an outstanding curveball and change-up. The right-hander’s delivery might not be as deceptive as Solometo, but he has some elusiveness. Kellington is one guy that Pirate fans should look out for, as a healthy season could be all he needs to show off what he can do.
One last 2021 draft pick who is still younger than 20 is Lonnie White Jr. Yet another big over-slot pick, White Jr. was a second-round competitive balance pick out of Malvern Prep. Like Kellington, White Jr. was limited by injuries this past season, only appearing in two games for the Pirates’ FCL affiliate. Overall, he has 40 professional plate appearances in which he has ten hits, three home runs, but 17 K’s. Swing-and-miss is a concern for White Jr., but he projects to have plus power, Gold Glove fielding out of center field, and the speed to both play CF long-term and swipe 35 bases.
Moving on from the draft prospects, we have the Pirate international signees. The first I want to cover is the youngest among all the Pirates’ ranked prospects we’ll examine, Tony Blanco Jr. Blanco Jr. was signed in the 2021-2022 off-season and was one of the most notable international prospects on the market. He also has the highest power ceiling in the system. When the Pirates signed him at 16, he was already a hulking 6’6″, 245 pounds, which is what Baseball Reference lists Giancarlo Stanton at.
There’s a potential 40 home run hitter in Blanco Jr., but also swing-and-miss concern and long-term projection. He’s an outfielder now, and while he can play the grass, how he’ll develop may change that. After all, he is massive before he’s barely old enough to drive. Still, Blanco Jr. is undoubtedly one prospect with a sky-high ceiling.
The second highly notable international prospect from the 2021-2022 class was infielder Yordany De Los Santos. The shortstop put up decent numbers for the Pirates’ Dominican Summer League affiliate, including a .735 OPS, .368 wOBA, and 106 wRC+. He also looked decent down the stretch with a 111 wRC+ in the second half. De Los Santos displays decent hitting prowess and good power but might end up at third base. He’s already not the fastest runner and could slow down as he ages and fills out. The infielder stands at 6’1″, 170, and has already played a few games at the hot corner. Regardless of his long-term home, he has a relatively high offensive ceiling.
The Pirates’ top international signee from the 2020-2021 off-season is also listed among their best teen prospects, Shalin Polanco. Polanco posted mediocre numbers at the Pirates’ FCL team with a .696 OPS, .337 wOBA, and 97 wRC+, making him a slightly below-league-average hitter. Polanco is a well-rounded prospect and doesn’t have a glaring weakness in his game. There’s a lot of projection as he is just 5’11”, 168. MLB Pipeline states he’s been a bit overly aggressive at the dish but has a good approach and mechanics. He projects to be an average defensive center fielder but has the tools to play a corner if he is forced to LF or RF.
Acquired Through Trade
The only teen prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired through trade is Joaquin Tejada. The headliner of the Tyler Anderson deal at the 2021 trade deadline, Tejada has some decent secondary stuff. He throws his curveball with about 2900 RPM and mixes that in with a plus slider and splitter. Despite lacking velocity, his fastball also has good movement.
At 5’11”, 168, there’s some room for growth and potential added velocity. Last season, Tejada pitched 27 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates FCL team. He posted a healthy 24.7% K-rate and didn’t allow a single home run with a quality 46% ground ball rate, but he also handed out a free pass to 14.9% of the batters he faced. As it currently stands, Tejada’s command sits at a 20, but with his athleticism, he’s projected to improve and grow into 50-grade command eventually.
While most of these guys won’t be here for another three to five seasons, there’s plenty to look forward to and watch in the lower levels of the minor leagues. While the team has a decent amount of talent at Triple-A, Bradenton and the rookie-ball levels will also have good teams in 2023.