1-22-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
When reading about the meeting General Manager Ben Cherington-and one of his Assistants, Steve Sanders-had with the local sports media on Wednesday concerning the start of the International Signing Period, it seems that the focal point of some columns was a singular word-diverse-uttered by Sanders as he described this year’s current class.
“We feel pretty confident that this group of 19 players we brought in this past weekend represents a really diverse group in a lot of ways. Diverse in being from all over the globe, I think spanning six countries. Diverse in a pretty impactful mix of position players and pitchers. Different skill sets. Different ages. Guys at different parts of their developmental progression. I think we feel really good about that.”
I can’t disagree with the sentiment of Sanders’ statement one bit. It is an extremely diverse group of young men. However, I also don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea; like this is something brand new for the Pirates Organization.
During a previous blog post, one in which I compared the differences between Cherington and former GM Neil Huntington’s approaches to the International Signing Period, a brief overview was given concerning some of the young men Pittsburgh had signed to open the 2019 International Class; focusing mostly on the bonuses assigned to each player, in an attempt to demonstrate Huntington’s departure from his usual methods. Yet, during this succinct description I failed to mention each and every country encapsulated by these acquisitions.
After just the first day the total was seven, with an eighth to be added to the list a few days later when the Pirates signed 17 year-old Taiwanese shortstop Tsung-Che Cheng for $380,000, with $60,000 for educational expenses. At the time Pittsburgh wasn’t the only team interested in Cheng, but he felt they took the most initiative and gave him the best opportunity to develop as a player.
Eventually the number would reach ten before Cherington took over the the process. Still, my mind would keep coming back to the addition of Cheng as one that peaked my interest due to the similarities in tools between him and another international signee Ji-Hwan Bae; who at the time had already experienced some immediate success in Pittsburgh’s Farm System.
Unfortunately, it would be an extra year of waiting before we could actually see if the comps matched up on field, and not solely on the scouting sheets. Although, when Minor League Baseball finally returned, it’s fair to say Cheng didn’t disappoint in his delayed debut.
After missing a couple of weeks to start the FCL Season-thanks to a pitch to the face in camp-Cheng hit the ground running with a homer in his first professional game; showing more pop than had been expected from a player with his frame-5’7” and 154 pounds. However, it was his overall approach at the plate that was most impressive as he put up a 19.1% walk rate, while only striking out 8.9% of the time. Of course having a .312/.449/.492 with a 154 wRC+ and four homers on the season doesn’t really hurt either.
After the somewhat short 38 game start to his professional career, Cheng went to play for Caimanes de Barranquilla in Liga Colombiana de Béisbol Profesional (aka the Columbia Professional Baseball League) where he has performed very well; finishing the regular season with a .296 AVG and a league leading 4 triples. His solid play continued into the playoffs, where his team recently earned a championship along with a spot in the upcoming Caribbean Series.
Now obviously none of this guarantees success for Cheng in the future; but believe me, many people-including myself-are starting to take notice. During a recent conversation with Greg Rosenthal from Prospects1500 for the Bucs In The Basement Podcast, I asked him to talk about about a player he could see flying up the rankings board over the next year. Without hesitation, Cheng was the name he gave.
He’s got the tools, he can move all over the infield seamlessly and he’s added some surprising power.
Once again my anticipation is high to be able see Cheng take the field in Bradenton, Greensboro or both this upcoming season. Luckily this time I won’t have to wait almost exactly two years for it to happen.