The Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league system has a handful of young and talented prospects, but which ones could develop the fastest?
How fast a player develops will always be on the minds of Major League Baseball organizations and their fans. This is especially true for the Pittsburgh Pirates and similar teams, as they must rely on player development to build the core of their team’s major league roster. The Pirates have steadily built up a decent farm system, but what young guys could develop the fastest (by young, I mean under 20 years old)?
Termarr Johnson is going to be the most popular answer to that question. Johnson already has many of the hallmarks of a mature and disciplined hitter. MLB Pipeline highlights one statement from a scout who watched Johnson, comparing him to Wade Boggs because of his plate discipline and Vlad Guerrero Sr. for his plate coverage. Some even believe his ability to make contact is a top-of-the-line, 80-grade tool.
But he isn’t strictly a contact hitter, either. This isn’t a Tucupita Marcano-type, who draws walks and avoids strikeouts, but with zero power to speak of. Johnson has the potential to be a consistent 20+ home run threat. Pipeline is exceptionally bullish on Johnson’s power, even going so far as to say he has the best power among all second base prospects. Even average power with Johnson’s mix of plate discipline and hand-eye coordination would make him a high-end prospect. But the fact he has above-average to well-above-average power makes him a highly touted name.
A few players stand out on the pitching side of things. The first is the team’s most recent top international signee, Jun-Seok Shim. The South Korean right-hander opted not to partake in the Korean Baseball Organization’s draft and chose to head to the United States instead. Shim was considered the top international pitcher by many publications and for a good reason. Shim sits in the 94-96 MPH range with his fastball and tops out at 100 MPH before his 20th birthday. His curveball has a true 12-6 shape and has a feel for both his slider and change-up. The last two offerings of his arsenal project as average to above average.
Shim is already a sturdy-built 6’4, 215 pounds. But he has decent athleticism and a clean delivery. He’s not just a flamethrower with no command, either. He displayed decent control over all four offerings. He could still sharpen up his location, but already having a good feel for four average or better offerings at just 18 is impressive. He already has decent control, but he has room to grow as well, which is another reason he could be a fast rising prospect.
The other pitcher is Michael Kennedy. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Kennedy in the fourth round of last year’s draft. An over slot pick, Kennedy was considered one of the best prep southpaws in his draft class. Kennedy is a different pitcher than Shim. Instead of throwing the ball in the upper-90s in his late teens, Kennedy works closer to the 89-91 MPH range and tops out at 92. But he uses good spin to give it riding life in the zone. If he adds a few more ticks of velocity and works closer to the 91-94 MPH range, his fastball could be a well above-average pitch. His slider is also an above-average pitch, and he has shown a good change-up.
Kennedy also has above-average control. His athleticism has helped him keep his motion in check, and he’s still projectable. He’s slightly smaller than Shim at 6’1”, 205. But there is room to add some muscle and velocity. He has a fairly high ceiling, and it took an over-slot deal for the Pirates to pry him away from his LSU commitment.
Now that’s not to say that Johnson, Shim, and Kennedy will be the next Juan Soto and fly through the minor leagues at mach five. But given that this trio has a handful of abilities and skills that can take years of professional experience to master at such a young age and other tools that make their skills worth even more, they certainly have a chance to move fast through the Pirates’ minor league teams. Johnson already made his debut at Bradenton, meaning there’s a chance he could end up at Greensboro by the end of 2023, and Shim will likely get that chance this year if he doesn’t start the year there. Kennedy will also likely see Bradenton.