12-9-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Obviously when Pittsburgh Pirates Fans-but in all likelihood, more specifically the ones that pay attention to and/or care about the Minor Leagues-think about the players that need to make the leap/take a step forward, their focus probably falls directly on prospects like Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Travis Swaggerty, Jack Suwinski and Diego Castillo due to their recent additions to the 40-Man Roster, along with their proximity to MLB; as it would almost have to be assumed that each of them is likely to start the season in at least Triple-A Indianapolis.
However, for the time being I would like to focus on some prospects who may be a little bit further away, yet could be a part of the second or third wave that keeps the organization from going into full re-build mode again by maintaining a steady flow of players; that would be very similar to the manner in which the Tampa Rays choose to operate.
In no particular order, and honestly not trying to focus on players acquired by Ben Cherington. It just seemed to turn out that way as I combed the statistics of all the Minor League players in the Pirates Farm System, read articles, studied scouting reports and watched some film; randomly jotting down names that stuck out to me.
1) Hudson Head
Originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 3rd Round of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft from Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio, Texas, and given a $3 million dollar signing bonus-approximately $2.28 million over-slot to steer him away from his commitment to the University of Oklahoma-Head was ultimately acquired by Cherington in the Joe Musgrove Trade after only 32 games and 141 plate appearances in the Arizona Rookie League back in 2019. Still, in this short time with the Padres Organization, at least some of his reported 5 tools were on full display as he batted .283 with a .800 OPS, a 119 wRC+ and collected 11 extra base hits, while starting 26 games in Centerfield at only 18 years of age.
After a year off due to the MiLB shutdown-and of course the change of scenery on January 19th, with a #6 Prospect Ranking on the MLB Pipeline Top 30 to boot-the expectations for and anticipation to see the now 20 year-old were extremely high.
Unfortunately, his season at Low-A Bradenton was somewhat of a overall disappointment as he was unable maintain consistent production for more than a couple of weeks at a time; ending the year with a pedestrian .212 AVG and an excessive 31.7% K rate, but a slightly promising .748 OPS, 113 wRC+ 15.7% and 15 homers.
For Head, his difficulties mainly stemmed from his clear inability to control the zone in what has normally been a pitcher friendly/heavy Florida State League, which will ultimately require quick correction with Sergio Campana, Rodolfo Nolasco and Lonnie White, Jr. potentially breathing down his neck.
2) Brennan Malone
Prior to the 2019 MLB June Amateur Amateur Draft, many experts had Quinn Priester and Brennan Malone listed as the top two prep arms of their class. So, it was really no surprise that when Malone joined the Pirates Organization along with Liover Pegeuro, and now alongside Priester, in exchange for Starling Marte, there was quite a commotion from the prospect junkies in the Pirates Fanbase as his slid into the top 10; even though he only had 8 innings of professional baseball under his belt.
Two years later, he only has a total of 22 innings to his credit; once again because of the shutdown, but also due to a lat injury and struggles with command during the 2021 season.
After only three appearances and 3.2 innings for the Low-A Bradenton Marauders-where he walked five batters and only struck out two Malone did not see the field again until the beginning of August, after nearly 3 months off. Almost immediately his issues with command continued-this time in the newly named FCL-as he allowed six runs on six hits in slightly over six innings.
Eventually, he was able to calm down and get in a groove over his last two starts by allowing only one hit and struck out six across 4 innings; but regrettably, this is where the season ended.
Luckily, for Malone he still has his average to above average four pitch mix; and now, hopefully he has the command as well.
3) Carter Bins
In a system that has regularly been starved for talent behind the dish, anytime Cherington has been able to obtain a catcher, joy almost immediately ensues. Sure the reactions to Bins’ addition were not as boisterous as when he roped the Mets into a three team deal to get Endy Rodriguez, or drafted Henry Davis; but, it was without a doubt still seen as another positive mark on Cherington’s transaction belt.
Bins had started 2021 in High-A with the Everett AquaSox of the Seattle Mariners Farm System, where he performed well. In 40 games and 185 plate appearances, Bins posted a .284 AVG with a .915 OPS and 7 homers; earning a promotion to Double-A Arkansas in the process. After only 11 games, during which he batted .063 with one homer, he then found himself on the Altoona Curve.
Although he did improve marginally by bringing his average up to an even .200 with two extra base hits, in the long run he went back to being known as the defensive catcher with some pop; which is far from a resounding endorsement of future success.
Now, I understand that Henry Davis is almost unanimously thought of as the catcher of rebuild. I just thought it might be nice to have two catchers to potentially rely on if one falters for any stretch of time.
4) Connor Scott
One of the newest prospects under the Ben Cherington Umbrella, Scott is someone who I previously addressed immediately following Jacob Stallings Trade to Miami.
The lone position player acquired in the transaction, Scott, is a former 1st Round Pick (13th overall) out of H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, who put together a decent campaign this past season in High-A after struggling through 2018 and 2019 between the Gulf Coast League, Low A and High A; with the later being a fairly advanced placement at the time. During his second stint at the level in 2021 Scott batted .276 with a .779 OPS, 10 homers and a wRC+ of 112.
In my eyes I see Scott as a Hudson Head replica, only a year older in MiLB Service Time. A toolsy prospect, with all the pedigree, all the potential and who currently projects as a 4th Outfielder.
5) Tahnaj Thomas/Eddy Yean
Of course they need to have this duo take the leap is baring that either, or both of them are not selected in the Major League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft once it is scheduled.
As we all know by now Thomas was acquired by Pittsburgh in the Erik Gonzalez-Jordan Luplow Trade between the Pirates and the Indians; with Thomas originally being acquired by the Indians via international free agency in December of 2016 as a 17 year old 3rd-baseman/shortstop out of the Bahamas and was signed for $200,000. After recognizing his raw talent the Indians had Thomas begin to focus on pitching. To begin the 2017 season he was sent to the Dominican Summer League to begin his professional baseball career as a pitcher with the DSL Indians. After only 3 games started and 5.1 innings, Thomas was quickly moved up to the Arizona League Indians (Cleveland’s Rookie Level Affiliate). Thomas finished the season with 5.63 ERA, 34K/33BB and a 1.852 WHIP between the two leagues last in 38.1 innings pitched. Because of Thomas’ pitching inexperience and inconsistency he returned to AZL Indians for the 2018 season, where he only appeared in only 8 games, 6 of which he started. He did strike out 27 batters while only walking 10 and lowering his WHIP to 1.169 in 19 innings.
Then came the Neil Huntington guided trade to the Pirates. Upon arriving with he assigned to the Bristol Pirates. It would be his 3rd professional season in a row starting out at the Rookie Level, but this time with a new team/organization; which is exactly when Thomas started to put everything together. The raw talent that had been discovered by the Indians had been polished and was starting to shine. In his first season in a Pirates’ uniform Thomas struck out 59 batters while only walking 14 in 48.1 innings. He posted career bests in both ERA (3.17) and WHIP (1.117). It was a coming out party for the young right-hander from the Bahamas. As the 2019 season came to an end, with the 2020 season then on the horizon, the projected outlook for Thomas was extremely promising due to him rising the prospect rankings thanks to his plus fastball (65 grade), a mid-80’s slider (55 grade) and a new developing changeup.
Then it all kind of fell apart. Thomas’ ERA ballooned up to 5.10, his WHIP rose to 1.582 and his walk rate followed along with them to 5.19 per 9. He was still throwing his fastball in the upper 90’s, touching 100 mph at times; he just seemed to have no clue where it was going.
Now Yean on the other hand is one of Cherington’s Guys; although, if you subscribe to trade rumor talks, he wasn’t the only GM that had called to ask about the now 20 year old from Dominican Republic.
In his first two years in the Nationals Organization, Yean had exhibited marked improvement by cleaning up his delivery in order to showcase his high 90’s fastball (60 grade) and high 80’s slider (55 grade), that both set up perfectly with an above average changeup (55 grade).
After getting mixed results-a 5.38 ERA, a 1.832 WHIP and 32 strike outs to 23 walks through 43.2 innings-in the DSL at only 17, he came back the next year to impress in both the GCL and Short Season A Ball with a combined 3.50 ERA, a 1.165 WHIP and 43 Ks to only 17 walks.
Also, if you ask scouts he continued to impress in the 2019 Fall Instructional League as well. There was no doubt that his stock was on the rise.
Then he came to Pittsburgh; where as with every MiLB player, the 2020 was lost for the then #9 Prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30.
When he finally got to pitch a full season with the Marauders in Low-A, the mixed bag returned; bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation for the entire season, but not experiencing much success in either role. For the year he posted a 5.29 ERA, a 1.432 WHIP and earned 69Ks versus 39 walks in 66.1 innings.
As you can see the struggles have been real for both Thomes and Yean, but so are the ever present peripherals. The later being what could make them attractive in the Rule 5 Draft. A possibility that we will have to wait and see how it plays out.
Through your perusing of Pirates social media you may have seen some of this players misrepresented, or more fairly mislabeled-albeit not purposefully-as bounce back or potential under the radar prospects to some extent. However, to be a bounce back candidate it seems that you first need to have reached a level of success to rebound to. I guess Carter Bins could loosely fit the bill with his 185 plate appearances in High-A, or the 2019 versions of Thomas and Yean, but I could also argue that each of these is a pretty small sample size. And, it is objectively definitive that none could fall into an under the radar category because of their current or former Top Prospect Rankings, along with how they were acquired.
Maybe, breakthrough might suit them better due to the fact that the one thing they need to do is progress beyond the current obstacles that have been placed in their way by underperformance in direct correlation to both amateur and expert’s expectations.
Yep, breakthrough. That’s what I’m going to use.