Could Pittsburgh Pirates infield prospect Tsung-Che Cheng make his MLB debut at some point during the 2024 season?
Entering the offseason, Tsung-Che Cheng was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. This led to the Pittsburgh Pirates adding the middle infield prospect to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Now, Cheng is set for his first professional season on the 40-man roster.
Cheng started the 2023 season with the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers where he was an offensive force for the Grasshoppers. In 254 plate apperances across 57 games played with Greensboro, Cheng hit for a .308/.406/.575 slash line with a 163 wRC+ and a .266 isolated slugging (ISO). Cheng drew walks at a 13.8% rate, struck out in just 18.5% of his trips to the plate, and utilized his speed to steal 13 bases.
Following his success with Greensboro, the left-handed hitting Cheng earned a promotion to Double-A Altoona. This marked the first time in his professional career that Cheng had reached the Double-A level.
With the Curve, Cheng would struggle. In 281 PAs across 66 games played, Cheng hit for just a .251/.304/.352 slash line with a wRC+ of 80 at Double-A. His strikeout rate basically maintained at 18.9%, but his walk rate dropped to 6.0% and his ISO plummeted all the way to .101. Once again, he stole 13 bases.
Despite his struggles with the Curve, the Pirates still added Cheng to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Cheng's defensive flexibility, speed, and pure hit tool (50 grade via MLB Pipeline) all would have made him an enticing player in the Rule 5 Draft.
Cheng will turn 23 in July. He should begin the season back with Double-A Altoona. If Cheng can improve upon his struggles at the Double-A level last season and perform closer to the way he did at the plate with High-A Greensboro, then he should find himself at Triple-A Indianapolis before the end of the season.
If Cheng can recapture his offensive performance from his time with Greensboro last season, then the young infielder hitting his way to the majors this season is not out of the equation. Especially if he does that while no one else locks down the second base job with the Pirates.
Cheng will be one of the more intriguing Pirate prospects to watch in the upper minors this season.