Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Potential First 2022 Draft Pick to Debut

Which prospect from the Pirates' 2022 draft class will debut in the Major Leagues first?

Jul 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first round pick Termarr Johnson and
Jul 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first round pick Termarr Johnson and / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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Many of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2022 draft picks are performing well thus far. Which player from this group could make their MLB debut first?

The first prospect from the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 draft class to debut was right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski. Soon after that, Henry Davis was the first player from the Pirates’ 2021 draft class to make his debut. It’s very likely that Paul Skenes will be the first Pirates prospect from their most recent class to make his debut. The Pirates will likely see their first 2022 draft pick debut next season, but who will that be?

Josiah Sightler has made an extremely unexpected, but very serious bid to be the first player from their 2022 draft class to make his Major League debut first. The Pirates took the first baseman as a senior out of the University of South Carolina in the 15th round. Sightler has only had 182 plate appearances but is batting .368/.434/.645 with a .475 wOBA, and 181 wRC+. Sightler has gone yard a dozen times already. He’s struck out less than 20% of the time (18.8%), with a solid 9.9% walk rate to boot.

Sightler hasn’t done as well at Greensboro as Bradenton. Granted, how much can you ask of him after putting up an ungodly 268 wRC+ at Low-A? However, he’s been far from bad at High-A either. Sightler is already 23, as the Pirates took him during his final season of college. If he continues to hit well into 2024 and at an upper level of the minor leagues, I’d expect him to make his debut first from this class.

However, if it’s not Sightler, then it could be Thomas Harrington. Harrington wasn’t taken as late as Sightler, but instead was the Bucs’ first round competitive balance pick and their second pick of the draft. He has a 3.82 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP in his first pro season. Harrington is striking out 27.8% of opponents while keeping a clean 7.1% walk rate. His home run rate is the weakest number on his baseball card, coming in at a still solid 0.98 rate.

Don’t be fooled by Harrington’s numbers at Greensboro. Despite his ERA going from 2.77 to 4.48, his strikeout rate and walk rate have both improved from his innings at Bradenton. The major component of his struggles traces back to his .382 batting average on balls in play. It’s very unlikely he’s able to manage that high of a BAbip over the course of a full season. Harrington could still see his name being called at the back end of some top 100 lists going into next season. Plus he should start the year at Altoona.

Jack Brannigan has easily put his name into the ring this season. Through 291 plate appearances, Brannigan is slashing .279/.392/.546. Brannigan is hitting for a lot of power with a .267 isolated slugging percentage and 16 home runs on the season. Not only has he hit for pop, but has been a threat on the basepaths. He’s 21/24 in stolen base attempts. Although his 27.8% strikeout rate is a tad high, he’s also walking in 13.7% of his plate appearances. Overall, Brannigan has a .422 wOBA, and 150 wRC+.

Brannigan is a quality defensive third baseman. On the surface, that might seem like it would be hard for the Pirates to work his bat into the line-up with Hayes and Triolo on hand, and Nick Gonzales also able to handle the hot corner on the 40-man roster. But the Pirates have been able to work Brannigan’s defense into both shortstop and second base. Even though the only other position he played in college was pitcher, Brannigan hasn’t seemed to have any trouble up the middle thus far.

While Sightler and Harrington are the prime candidates, don’t sleep on Tres Gonzalez. The outfielder was their 15th round pick, and is batting .289/.401/.417 with a .384 wOBA, and 130 wRC+ in his first full pro campaign. Gonzalez has a quality 18.3% strikeout rate, but he’s also walked at a high 14.4% rate. Gonzalez is a very contact and on-base-oriented hitter. He doesn’t have much power, putting up just a .128 ISO and knocking just eight balls out of the park in 436 plate appearances. Gonzalez got promoted to Greensboro early this season, but still has a quality .815 OPS, .379 wOBA, and 129 wRC+. 

I know you’re probably wondering “well then where’s Termarr Johnson?” While Johnson could still be a quick riser, you still have to account for the fact he just turned 19 in mid-June. He spent nearly half of the 2023 season at 18, and he’ll spend nearly half of 2024 as a 19-year-old. Johnson has done outstanding as of recently, but you have to be a little patient. Not every prospect is Juan Soto, or even Jackson Holliday, who was taken in the same draft as Johnson. If anything, they are major outliers to the norm.

Dating back to the start of July, Johnson is batting a strong .237/.425/.500 through 161 plate appearances. He has a .428 wOBA, and 152 wRC+ in this time. Ignore the batting average for just a second. He has a .235 batting average on balls in play. Even a .270 BABIP would bring his actual BA up to around .270-.280. . However, instead consider the fact that he’s struck out just 18.6% of the time while drawing walks in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances (23.6%).

If I had to make a guess right now, Harrington will be the first player from the 2022 draft class to reach the big leagues. Although Sightler is still on the radar, the fact of the matter is there are reasons Harrington was taken at the tail-end of the first round while Sightler was a 15th rounder. Johnson is still a possibility, though given his age, it might take a little longer. Brannigan is my next pick to make his debut, followed by Sightler, Johnson, and Gonzalez. That doesn’t mean I think they’ll debut in that order, but that is the currently where I stand with which are the most likely to come to the majors first.