Who Are the Most Likely Prospects to Wear a Pirates Uniform in 2021?

It gets exhausting watching a team go through a rebuild, especially when we just watched one that failed due in no small part to poor execution. Even for those of us who think given MLBs economic imbalance this provides the best shot at delivering a team in the conversation at some point you want to start seeing some of it show signs.

Like, one guy who was acquired could come up and give you a glimmer of hope, a glimpse into how good Cherington might be at evaluating talent. Maybe it’s even a guy who was already in the system and we just want to see if the Pirates leopards have changed their spots to now be able to develop.

Before we get too deep into this, let’s just be clear, getting help for 2021 hasn’t exactly been the goal in most of the moves they’ve made. They’ve targeted young, high upside guys who for the most part won’t even smell AAA this year. So, you’re going to see some familiar names, and I’ll try to highlight the guys BC acquired as we go. This won’t be a long list, because I’m not going to get into September call ups. Let’s leave this at those who have a chance to actually contribute this season.

Jared Oliva

Now, in many ways this should almost be a given. He already made his debut last season but even if the Pirates sign a free agent to compete in the outfield, he’ll still battle Anthony Alford to make the club. He has one thing Alford doesn’t, options, so that gives Alford the edge if it comes down to either or but it’s hard to fathom an entire baseball season taking place and Oliva not making it back to the show.

His speed and defense will play at any level, so it’s more about how the bat develops. Either way, I think he sees significant time in MLB this year.

Wil Crowe

Wil had a cup of coffee last year, and I don’t think it tasted too good. That said, he’s borderline as developed as he can get in the minors and unless they sign a veteran FA starter he’s in the mix for fifth starter.

A common theme with all the pitchers is really health. The next season I watch where a five man rotation gets through 162 without missing a start will be my first. He’ll get a shot, and maybe out of Spring.

Miguel Yajure

Recently acquired from the Yankees for Jameson Taillon, Yajure also had a cup of coffee in 2020. And his went significantly better than Mr. Crowe. Miguel is another in direct competition for the fifth spot and actually might be the favorite.

More than Crowe, Yajure could potentially slot into the bullpen as well if they think the talent is too good to leave off the roster heading north. I still see him making it in 2021 and contributing, regardless of the area they deploy him.

David Bednar

The hometown kid acquired from the Padres for Joe Musgrove will almost certainly start in the bullpen for the Bucs, and unless he gets hurt, the most likely candidate to head North from Bradenton.

He’s not one of the guys who I see ever starting here, or anywhere really, his delivery just doesn’t scream I can go 7 innings, but he could provide a nice option for the late innings.

Chris Sharpe

The speedy outfielder plays all three positions and if the Pirates find themselves in an emergency situation he’s the most evolved outfielder they have beyond Oliva.

Sharpe would have to really take a drastic step back to allow the Pirates to contemplate jumping him or even Bligh Madris in order to rush Travis Swaggerty. I’ve heard some suggest Swaggerty could be a guy to come up and contribute this season, even people I respect, but I just don’t see it. He’ll most likely start in AA and I see no reason to start the clock on him this year.

Cody Ponce

It’s probably not someone you’re thinking of as a prospect per se, he came up last season and honestly, looked more competent than almost anyone else they called up to the mound in 2020. Ponce was acquired from the Brewers in exchange for Jordan Lyles back in 2019 and there’s just something about him and how he carried himself that tells me not to underestimate him.

Cody could compete for that fifth spot as well. After reading all these names, it should be pretty apparent that Spring will be key to figuring out that spot because I’m not done with the options.

Clay Holmes

Clay has been around for a while, and last year missed the entire season on the IL. After the season the Pirates released Clay and then resigned him to a Minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

Clay has scary stuff, he really does, but he also has had scary control issues. When he started to get a handle on where exactly his sinker would go when he released it back in 2019 he became a very effective option from the pen.

Before being called up to the Pirates he was right there with JT Brubaker for starting pitching options to keep an eye on, and it looks like the Pirates are interested in returning him to that role. He could be AAA depth, but his stuff is eye popping, don’t be shocked if he doesn’t open some minds this year.

O’Neil Cruz

I’m not breaking news here. He’s the most likely top prospect not named Hayes to crack the lineup this year. The Pirates still solely list him as a short stop, and outside a couple innings of outfield work in the Dominican this Winter that’s exactly what he is.

The talent is still a tad raw, especially at the plate. He can flick a ball over the fence with ease, but he still struggles for contact so he does need a bit of seasoning, plus he’s only played in AA. I do believe at some point this year though, it will become hard to ignore him and he’ll get a shot.

Will Craig

It’s now or never really. They have Colin Moran for first base and Erik Gonzalez can also handle the position, but Craig is option number one if they need one. I don’t happen to have a lot of faith in him if I’m honest, but on a team with zero power, perhaps it would be good to have someone who can put the ball over the fence on the club for when Moran does need a break. Problem is, I just don’t see the roster space. That said, this is about who we might see, not should.

Kevin Kramer

There was a time when Kramer was more exciting than Kevin Newman or Cole Tucker combined. But here is a versatile player who can patrol the corner outfield, and all the infield positions from the left side of the plate.

As with Craig, it’s really getting to now or never time for Kevin. His biggest issue is he’s not even the second or third choice for middle infield. In fact the Wilmer Difo pick up all but dooms him to AAA depth, but the outfield is so thin he could squeak in there as an option in front of Sharpe or Madris.

Again, all of these are just based on where they are, and what makes sense for the rebuild. I’m also not going to touch the bullpen where players like Nick Mears, Blake Cederlind, Edgar Santana, Geoff Hartlieb are all not guarantees to make the club and I didn’t even include the two Rule five signings Luis Oviedo who could also be in contention to start or Jose Soriano who is recovering from TJ surgery and could make an appearance this season.

Depth is important, and as bad as last season was, this is twice the cavalry they had at their disposal for 2020. That in and of itself is a step in the right direction.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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