12-18-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
One knock on Neil Huntington during his tenure as General Manager in Pittsburgh-with many others that could surely be listed by the Pirates faithful-was his propensity to make deals for Major League ready talent. Of course you could always thrown in the occasional Oneil Cruz acquisition to balance things out a little bit or make a slight counter argument; however, for the most part Huntington brought in players whose potential ceilings were most likely limited, but had floors that were high enough to almost immediately slide into the lineup at PNC on a regular basis.
Low risk, with what was in all probability going to be minimal reward. That was one of Huntington’s calling cards; and it worked from time to time, along with other well-timed moves to bring a level of success to the Pirates Organization that hadn’t been experienced in two decades.
Unfortunately for him, in the end it just wasn’t enough; ultimately resulting in him being shown the door following the 2019 season.
Enter the current General Manager Ben Cherington, who in his first major move sent Starling Marte to the Arizona for two high ceiling 19 year old prospects that ranked 9th and 18th respectively in the Diamondbacks Farm System according to MLB Pipeline.
As with Huntington there have been some decisions made to go off script, bringing in players like David Bednar and Wil Crowe; nevertheless, with that one move Cherington essentially broke the Huntington mold, and in turn showed Pirates Fans that it wasn’t going business as usual moving forward. Still, we can’t pretend that trades such as this are foolproof in nature; hence the term high risk, potential high reward, with the word potential being key to this and every other discussion.
Prospects that have a high ceiling by nature are more apt to have a lower floor; especially ones that are brought into the organization at young age. Obviously there are exceptions, but the odds are rarely in their favor. Yet, if they work out, the benefit to the Major League Ball Club could be nearly beyond measure; particularly if it happens more than once as Pirates Fans are hoping for.
But what are the chances? And who are the lottery tickets Pirates fans are praying to the baseball gods for, in hopes of seeing them at PNC Park one day?
1) Liover Peguero
Brought over from the Diamondbacks for Starling Marte as one of the previously mentioned 19 year olds, Liover Peguero had originally been signed by Arizona in July of 2017 for $475,000. Over the next two years the Dominican Republic product would make four stops in the Diamondbacks Farm System; from the DSL to the Arizona Complex League in 2018, and then from the Advance Rookie Club in Missoula to the Short-Season A Hillsboro Hops in 2019. All in all it was a fairly progressive path, which Peguero mostly took in stride; with a few bumps along the way as he moved up the ladder.
In his time with the DSL Diamondbacks 1 the then 17 year old batted .309 with a .812 OPS that took a pretty hit , falling to .197 with a .450 OPS when he jumped to the ACL. The next year the same thing happened-just less dramatically this time-when his Missoula average of .364 with a .970 dropped to .262 and .690; all while he spent every single game at shortstop.
Ultimately he-along with fellow top prospect Brennan Malone-would catch the eye of Cherington and Company; eventually spending the 2020 Season at the Alternate Site in Altoona before being assigned to the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers for the duration of the 2021 MiLB Season.
Now, for those of you that don’t consider Peguero a lottery ticket player any more, try to talk Gus into forking over your winnings from the Daily 4 when you only matched three numbers. See how far that gets you.
Yes, I know that he is in the Top 100 Prospects in MLB, but so was Anthony Alford a few years back. No, I am not saying that Pegeuro is Alford; it’s just that he isn’t a player without any concerns based on what I have seen from the young man thus far.
During the 2021 season his home and road splits were striking-at least as far as power is concerned-in that he batted .271 across the board, yet saw his Slugging Percentage drop from .486 to .393 when he was away from the hitter friendly confines of First National Bank Field with 10 homers versus 4. Pegeuro also had a tendency to exhibit a less than ideal approach at the plate as he struck out at a 25.2% clip versus a 7.9% walk rate. In the field he also struggled at times, committing 23 errors in 86 games and posting a .934 fielding percentage. He did however show some decent range with a 3.95 R/9, which would top Kevin Gold Glove Finalist Newman (3.77).
At only 21 years old heading into the 2022, and most likely heading back to Altoona as one of the newest members of the 40-man, there is still a lot of room for growth and improvement in all facets of his game.
2) Joaquin Tejada
After the Pirates deadline attempt to move Tyler Anderson across the state to Philadelphia fell through, the team immediately set its eyes on the Seattle Mariners System and two of its prospects in particular; Catcher Carter Bins and Right-Handed Panamanian Pitcher Joaquin Tejada, who at the time had only logged 5 innings in the DSL following his $200,000 signing back in 2019.
Standing at 5’11” and only weighing in at 160 pounds, this teenager is known for his off the charts spin on his 55/60 grade curve ball, but also unfortunately for his lack of command at the moment. Over his final 23.2 innings, now in a Pirates uniform, Tejada put up a 3.80 ERA, a 1.500 WHIP and striking out 25 batters. Unfortunately, due to his lack of control he also walked 13 along the way.
A true lottery ticket, there is really no way of knowing what the future holds for Tejada; especially if his pitch management never comes around, or he can’t add some untapped velocity onto his high 80’s fastball.
3) Bubba Chandler
On the second day of the 2021 MLB Draft Cherington and Company utilized the money they saved by picking Henry Davis at 1:1 to select-and eventually sign-three more prospects that fell within the Baseball America’s First Round Grades/Rankings; the final one being two-way player, as well as Clemson QB Commit, Bubba Chandler (Number 20) at 72nd Overall in the Third Round. In the end it took a cool and even $3 million ($2.3 million over slot)-plus the promise of allowing him pitch and play the field-to bring Chandler aboard.
With a 60 grade 92-95 fastball that touched 97 during his senior season at North Oconnee High School in Bogart, Georgia, Chandler posted a 1.25 ERA with 96 Ks-including a 17 strike out one hitter-in just north of 44 innings. At the plate he batted .411 with 8 homers and 12 doubles, while he leaned on his 70 grade arm from the shortstop position in the field.
Following the draft-and subsequent signing-we only were able to see him briefly in the Florida Complex League, and only at the plate 37 times. During this minimal glimpse Chandler hit .197 with one homer and 16 strike outs.
Due to this extremely small opportunity it seems to me that Chandler will resurface back in the FCL to start the season after having participated in both versions of the Get Better Camps this off-season.
4) Po-Yu Chen
On August 28, 2020 the Pirates traded outfielder Jarod Dyson to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for an additional $243,300 of international bonus pool space; a bump in available funds that they almost immediately put into signing the 22nd best International Prospect in 2019–20, Po-Yu Chen of Taiwan, for $1.25 million.
In 2019 the 6’2” 198 pound right-handed hurler pitched in the WSBC U-18 Baseball World Cup, where he put up a 1.29 ERA over a total of 14 innings thanks to his high 80s/low 90s sinking fastball, curve ball and somewhat advanced changeup.
With the Pirates, Chen would begin his professional career in the FCL; a situation in which he was nothing shorting of dominating. Over his 26 inning of work he did not walk a single batter, struck out 29 and posted an nearly identical 0.69 ERA and .692 WHIP. His transition to Low-A Bradenton did not go as smoothly however as put up a 5.63 ERA and a 1.688 WHIP, while walking 12 and striking out 15; although his one start was a 7 inning, 3 hit, 0 run and 6 K performance.
As far as Chen’s future is concerned, much of his success-or lack thereof-will depend on his ability to add strength and velocity.
5) Shalin Polanco
Heading into the pandemic delayed 2020-21 International Signing Period, Pittsburgh had been regularly linked to the 11th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline, soon-to-be 17 year-old outfielder Shalin Polanco. So, it was really no surprise that on January 15th of this year, Polanco was ultimately inked to a deal by the Pirates. However, to some extent there was a little bit of sticker shock as Polanco received $2.35 million for his services; the second biggest bonus ever given to a non-drafted international free agent in the team’s history.
Due to this large sum of money being invested, and the high prospect ranking, expectations for Polanco were set fairly high from the get-go; which is probably the reason why many were initially disappointed in young man from the Dominican Republic.
Over his first two months of pro-ball in the DSL, Polanco’s slash line sat at a meager .157/.252/.260 with two homers. Articles were written, pondering whether or not to give up on him, and all the talk about where he should rank among the Pirates Top Prospects became a quiet whisper.
Then came the final month of the season. In 17 games and 65 plate appearances he slashed .271/.323/.458, as his strike out rate dropped from 28.8% to 18.4%.
Obviously, this extremely small sample size doesn’t guarantee any certain level of success, but it at least doesn’t make it seem like all hope is lost.
It is pretty easy to imagine that this list could have been made into a Top 10-or more-because of the types of trades, draft selections and signings that have become commonplace during Ben Cherington’s time with the Pirates. Even so, that’s not really the point; or is it?
This process that the new regime in Pittsburgh has instituted is one that has loaded nearly every level of the system with talent; albeit largely high risk/potential high reward talent, conceivably as way to minimize risk. It sounds crazy doesn’t it?
So crazy, it just might work.