Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Top Players From Taiwan
By Noah Wright
Tsung-Che Cheng, a 2019 July international signee, has done nothing but hit since making his professional debut in 2021. In his first look at the Pirates' Florida Complex League affiliate, Cheng had a .941 OPS, .442 wOBA, and 154 wRC+ with a 30:14 K:BB ratio. Although he wasn't a 150+ wRC+ batter in 2022, he was still productive at the plate and had a phenomenal second half.
In 458 plate appearances, Cheng had a .270/.376/.418 line. Cheng walked at a 13.8% rate with a strikeout rate of just 20.7%. Cheng did have 25 doubles but just six home runs. He had more triples than dingers, with seven triples. Cheng used his ability to get on base to its fullest potential, swiping 33 total bases. All told, Cheng finished out the year with a .372 wOBA and 129 wRC+.
Those numbers are all well and good, but Cheng got off to an ice-cold start. From May 15th through September, Cheng was a .287/.405/.444 batter with a .397 wOBA, and 145 wRC+. Cheng struck out less (19.6% strikeout rate), walked more frequently (15.3%), and also hit for more power (.157 isolated slugging percentage) through his final 327 plate appearances of the season.
Cheng is fast and makes a lot of contact. Those are his two biggest strengths. He's also considered an average defensive middle infielder. He mostly played shortstop last season but still has plenty of experience at the keystone and at the hot corner. He also has a strong enough arm to stick on the left side of the infielder. But it's all going to come down to how his power develops or if he can develop his approach to work around his lack of power.
The Taiwanese infielder stands at just 5'7", 155 pounds. Sure, he's not all that much smaller than Termarr Johnson, who is 5'7",175 pounds, but Cheng doesn't have nearly the same physicality or bat speed as the former fourth overall pick. He has bottom-of-the-barrel raw power, and while he never is going to rival Barry Bonds, that doesn't mean he won't ever be productive. If Cheng can consistently spray line drives over the field and walk at an above-average rate, he could be a proto-typical leadoff hitter-type who can move around the field.