Tsung-Che Cheng already made some strides on prospect rankings from 2022 to 2023. MLB Pipeline didn’t even have him ranked and now he’s considered one of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects, per their listing. FanGraphs didn’t have him in their top 60, but now is within their top 40. Cheng could get another bump in rating after his outstanding 2023 campaign thus far.
Cheng opened the year at Greensboro where he hit for an absurd .308/.406/.575 with a .432 wOBA, and 162 wRC+. Cheng, who only hit six home runs in 2022, and had ten career home runs going into the season, crushed nine long balls for the Grasshoppers. He had an isolated slugging percentage well over .250 at .266. It’s not as if he was swinging for the fences either, with an 18.5% K-rate and 13.8% walk rate.
That strong start earned Cheng a promotion to Altoona, but he wasn’t able to carry the fire from High-A to Double-A, initially at least. His first 44 plate appearances yielded just six hits, 13 strikeouts, and two walks. However, while it took Cheng a few games to get acclimated, it seems like he’s found his groove and is now hitting plenty good enough, possibly to earn a promotion to Triple-A before the end of the season.
Since July 7th, Cheng is slashing .349/.375/.506 with a .391 wOBA, and 139 wRC+. A decrease in power from a hitter friendly venue at Greensboro to Altoona was expected, but he’s still rocking a solid .157 mark, as well as a .270 ISO since July 28th. Although Cheng has lowered his strikeout rate to just 12.5%, he’s also seen his walk rate decrease to just 4.5%.
Cheng is all about making contact, getting on base, and stealing. He’s a plus runner who swiped 33 bases last year and already has 21 this season. Cheng’s hit tool will likely get moved into plus territory as well by graders. FanGraphs only has him at a 55 projected and MLB Pipeline places it at average with a 50 remark. Although Cheng has shown little raw power, the fact he’s been able to keep up respectable power going into Double-A, which is the real test in the minor leagues, could earn him more favorable grades in that department.
That doesn’t mean I think Cheng will all of a sudden become a top 100 prospect, but I definitely think he moves within the top 20 of Pirates prospects. The fact he’s been able to perform well at Double-A at just 21 means something. If he makes it to Triple-A by the end of the season, he'll have played at three minor league levels, which is also something to keep in mind.