Each time I have thought about writing this blog post, Matthew McConaughey’s character from Dazed and Confused has popped into my head; voicing one of his more familiar catchphrases, “It’d be a lot cooler if you did”. But instead of you, he responds with they; referring to the possibility of a certain number of Pirates Prospects working out in Ben Cherington’s current installment of a rebuild in Pittsburgh.
Obviously they are not all going to become productive Major Leaguers, however, the greater number that do make an impact at PNC Park will potentially bring winning back to Pittsburgh sooner rather than later. Which really got me thinking about some prospects in particular that could really have an influence on the timeline; either positively or negatively, depending on their development path through the system.
Now, the repercussions of almost any-if not all-prospects won’t be as far reaching as say how picking the correct franchise quarterback can affect an NFL team, but there is something to be said about flat out missing on a pick, trade, etc. or being able to develop player(s) that fit a position of need.
For the Pirates, the most influential prospect at the moment would most likely have to be Oneil Cruz. As Gary wrote in an article the other day, “He has a ton of weight on his shoulders, because if he isn’t a piece, the Pirates will have to wait for the next wave to see one most likely, and in many ways, Cruz will help this club decide how far away they are.”
Outside of Cruz several other prospects exist that could potentially help make things a little bit easier to keep the Pirates moving forward, which is where I would like to shift my focus to; at least for the moment.
1) Henry Davis
Even though it was already somewhat of a forgone conclusion, ever since the Pirates called his name at 1:1 in this year’s MLB Draft, that Henry Davis was seen as the Pirates Catcher of the Future, it feels like the need for this to happen on a fast track -and of course for him to be successful-was amplified by the recent departure of Jacob Stallings. Now, for those of you that have gotten into debates with me, read my thoughts on the decision or heard my commentary on the podcast, this has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Roberto Perez is going to be an adequate replacement for Stallings. To me this is all about the length of player control to bridge the gap between whoever is the current Pirates backstop and Davis. With Stallings that equated to three more years, through 2024, while Perez is only locked down for 2022. Obviously, they could bring in another catcher next year, or re-sign Perez if he is willing and able, but a lot of this uncertainty is now more dependent on how Davis performs in 2022; along with the hope that he will be up in the Majors at some point 2023.
Thus far he only has 31 professional at bats to his name and 46 innings behind the plate, so it’s hard to know exactly what to make of Davis. One thing we do know is that he is dedicated to his craft, even starting to learn Spanish in order to better communicate with his Latin pitchers.
For Davis the receiving end of catching is where he needs the most work, but as always the bat will be the clear deciding factor as how quickly he is moved through the ranks. The glove can be polished on the job if necessary.
2) Nick Gonzales
As Cherington’s inaugural first round pick, Gonzales was immediately bestowed with extra pressure and expectations from many within the Pirates Fanbase. Seen almost universally as a Top 5 player, and as the most developed college bat in his class by many, some of these immediate reactions could be seen as justified to a certain degree; even if there were questions concerning the friendliness of his home ballpark and the level of competition he played against.
In the beginning of the year Gonzales started to put much of the doubt to rest with a solid .294/.368/.549 slash line; yet, as the season progressed this skepticism that existed began to slowly surface. Following the fracturing of his pinky-an injury that kept him on the shelf for a little over a month-June and July were extremely rough for Gonzales. During that time his average dipped to .216 and his strikeout rate skyrocketed to 32.6%, while his walk rate stayed below 10%.
Then came August. On the month Gonzales posted a .346 AVG with a 1.176 OPS, as he mashed 10 of his 19 homers on the season. Eventually this production would tail off slightly as he hit .250 in September and saw his strikeout rate rise back up over 30%. Luckily this time his walk rate came along with it at a 23.3% clip.
On the season as a whole Gonzales put up a respectable .293 AVG and a .937 OPS with 47 total extra base hits before eventually going on to bat .380 in the Arizona Fall League.
When it comes to Gonzales the path to the Majors is slightly crowded at the moment with 8 spots being taken up on the 40-Man by players at the middle infield positions that are ahead of him as far as assignments are concerned; with none really grasping firmly on to their spots. The ninth belongs to his double play partner at Greensboro, Liover Pegeuro. Clearly this doesn’t mean that he can’t be promoted within the system, he will just have to do so more forcefully than a player with an open position waiting for him; which almost everyone is fully expecting him to do. The timing of these promotions is where fans differ as some still think the final one is going to happen at some point this season.
3) Quinn Priester
For the purpose of this exercise I probably could have picked several players from the Greensboro Grasshoppers Opening Day Starting Rotation, or possibly just lumped the whole group together. However, Priester seems to be the one that is always mentioned from this particular group; being labeled as the one true potential ace within the farm system.
Drafted by Neil Huntington as his final first round pick, Priester caught the eye of scouts during the lost MiLB season with his brief work at the Alternate Site in Altoona, as well as his performance in the Instructional League that fall. Touted as a potentially being the best pitcher in the Minor Leagues headed into last year, the bar was set extremely high. Almost too high to actually be reached.
Due to these higher than high expectations some may look at Priester’s overall numbers and be a little bit disappointed, but seeing as it was his first full year in professional ball-and possibly playing a level up-it’s hard to hold very much against him; especially as a high school arm that usually takes longer to develop-its hard to feel that way.
On the season Priester posted a 3.04 ERA and a 1.239 WHIP, while remaining fairly consistent for the entire season. His 4.26 ERA over his final three starts of the season was less than ideal, but we have to remember that he was fast approaching 100 innings after a season off the previous year. It’s totally possible that his young arm was just starting to tire.
4) Liover Peguero
Peguero is in a similar situation to Gonzales as there is an abundance of depth at the middle infield positions ahead of him. Yet, as also mentioned before, there isn’t a single player that has consistently taken control of either position.
In trying to estimate Peguero’s potential, fans have their sights set pretty high due to him being Ben Cherington’s first major acquisition; seeing him as the other half of the Nick Gonzales led double-play tandem for years to come. Obviously it would be great if this happened, and they were both productive, but it’s hard to see it as much of a need on L end for the overall success of the Pirates because Cruz should be there.
Also, as many of you already know-from a previous article -I am slightly concerned about his performance at High-A Greensboro due to his home and road splits, so I have already resigned myself to the fact that Peguero is kind of a bonus in the overall build to either take over for Cruz if he doesn’t stick or move to another position if he does.
5) Mason Martin
Martin’s place on this list is mostly position based, which is the exact same reason I thought Ben Cherington and Company would protect from the MLB Rule 5 Draft. As the top first base prospect in the system by both rank and level, he has the opportunity to be the first player at this position to be homegrown-and developed properly-since Kevin Young when he debuted back in 1993.
Sure the position could be filled by someone who simply changes position in the manner that Young and Martin have, although most-if not all-that would fit this specific profile currently sit in the lower Minor Leagues. The other option is free agency, which can always be a costly venture. Each year there are a few consistent players with power on the market, however every one of them could end up costing $10 to 15 million+ per year. Still, as much as we would like this to be in the cards for the Pirates, it doesn’t seem like a realistic way to acquire talent at first base under the current management and overall landscape of baseball.
So, at the moment it is Yoshi at the helm with Martin waiting in the wings; baring the latter’s plausible selection in the MLB Rule 5 Draft, if and when it takes place. Albeit, the same reason he wasn’t protected-his ever increasing strike rate-may be the reason he isn’t selected.
Ben Cherington has stated more than once that much of the talent at the Majors will need to be developed through the Pirates own Farm System. Well, the time has come for him to put his money where his mouth is. He has spent two full years acquiring prospects-and a few MLB ready players-through trades, the draft, international signings, free agency and the waiver wire; eventually fans are going to need to start seeing the fruits of all this labor, with these five players being a really good place to start.
And even if the chances of all of them working out is slim, I can’t help but think that it’d sure be a lot cooler if they did.