The Pittsburgh Pirates will go into 2023 with many talented young prospects playing for their short-season affiliates at the Dominican Summer League and Florida Complex League
The Pittsburgh Pirates have their fair share of talent in the low-minors. Players such as Termarr Johnson, Thomas Harrington, Lonnie White Jr., and a handful of others should make up Bradenton’s roster. But below Bradenton is short-season ball, including the Dominican Summer League and the Florida Complex League. Much of the talent at this level is international signees and young high school draft picks. So what does the Pirates’ top short-season ball talent look like heading into 2023?
We’ll first start behind the dish with Axiel Plaz. Plaz was one of the Pirates’ highest-paid international signees in the 2021-2022 off-season. In just 86 plate appearances, Plaz had 26 hits, 11 of which were doubles, along with three home runs. He struck out just 16 times while drawing 13 walks. Plaz was renowned for his defensive work, as well as for decent power. Next year will only be his age-17 campaign, and he won’t turn 18 until August.
Another young catching prospect the Pirates have is Samuel Escudero. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, the backstop had just 94 plate appearances but hit extremely well. Escudero had a total of 16 hits. While he didn’t hit a home run, he had five doubles while displaying strong plate discipline. Escudero walked 16 times while striking out in 14 of his plate appearances. It was a small sample size, but he performed extremely well. For a guy who was traded for a depth outfielder and depth relief pitcher, Escudero could end up being one of the most underrated trades made during the rebuild.
Two more of the Pirates’ 2022 international signees should also start the year with one of the Pirates’ short-season affiliates. The first is Yordany De Los Santos. The infielder batted for a solid .738 OPS, 368 wOBA, and 106 wRC+ through 234 plate appearances. De Los Santos will turn 18 later this February. De Los Santos has a fairly high offensive ceiling, showing a solid hit tool and an ability to hit for some pop. He signed as a shortstop but has fringy range and also saw a few games at third base.
Tony Blanco Jr. may potentially be the Pirates’ most intriguing prospect. He only appeared in seven games with 19 plate appearances, being limited because of injury. However, he’s a hulking figure at just 17 years of age. Blanco stands at 6’6”, 245 pounds, and projects to have top-of-the-line power. Though he does come with some questions regarding his hit tool. Blanco struck out ten times in the 19 plate appearances he did have. It’s a small sample size, and extremely young players typically have some swing-and-miss, but with Blanco’s strapping size, there’s more concern than usual.
On the pitching side of things, the Pirates’ most recent top international signee should make his debut at the short-season level. That’s South Korean right-hander Jun-Seok Shim. Shim can crank the heat up, sitting in the mid-90s and topping out in the triple-digits. He pairs that with a 12-6 curveball, which projects as well above average, along with a solid slider and change-up. He has also displayed an ability to locate his pitches well for a teenager. He is slightly older, as he’ll turn 19 in early April, so he might not be long for Bradenton.
Joaquin Tejada is another slightly older pitcher who should also make his debut at Bradenton sometime next year if he doesn’t start the year there but has a good shot at debuting at the Pirates’ FCL team. Acquired in the Tyler Anderson trade, Tejada pitched 27 innings last year, allowing 12 earned runs. While the right-hander struck out 28 batters and didn’t allow a single home run, he allowed 17 free passes. Tejada has a four-pitch mix, including a fastball, curveball, slider, change-up, and splitter. He’s not a flamethrower, but some believe he could add another tick of velocity. He will be the oldest player we talk about today as he’ll enter the season at 19 and turn 20 in July. As stated earlier, there’s a good shot he makes it to Bradenton and has a chance of starting the year at Low-A.
But one player that will see another year at the short-season level is Pitterson Rosa. The right-hander was the Pirates’ top pitching prospect signee from the 2021-2022 off-season. Rosa made his debut last year at the Pirates’ DSL affiliate, pitching 22.1 quality innings. He allowed just eight earned runs with 24 strikeouts. On top of that, he didn’t allow a home run while having a ground ball rate of 55.4%. Rosa has a lot of athleticism and projectability, two things you like to see from a young pitcher. A converted outfielder, Rosa stands at 6’2”, 180 pounds. Rosa also has a decent fastball, already hitting 94 MPH.
Andres Silvera pitched 41 innings for the Bucs’ DSL affiliate and is looking to have a good season at the FCL. He had an ERA of just 1.54 while also having a 2.13 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. Silvera struck out 29% of the batters he faced but had an extremely strong 3.9% walk rate. Like Rosa, Silvera had a strong ground ball rate with a 53.5% mark. He also didn’t allow a single home run.
Another young player that will make their professional debut at the DSL is Michael Kennedy. The Pirates' fourth-round pick, Kennedy was an overslot draftee as he was projected to go within the first 100 selections. Kennedy throws a fastball, curveball, and change-up. He only sits in the low-90s right now, but with a 6'1", 204 pound frame, and having just turned 18 in November, there's plenty of time for him to add velocity.
Some of these players will debut at Bradenton sometime this year, specifically the ones who will start the year at the Pirates’ Florida Complex League affiliates. By the end of the year, Bradenton could be one of the Pirates’ strongest minor league teams based on the amount of young talent in the low-minors going into this year.