Top 5 Pirates Prospects: Good With The Glove

1-31-23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

When you are a rebuilding team, that currently lacks consistent power, and is filled with a decent amount of young or inexperienced pitchers, one major aspect of the game of baseball that can help your team immensely is being able to excel at the fundamentals; especially on defense.

Over the past two seasons the Pirates have ranked in the bottom five of all teams in Major League Baseball. In 2021 Pittsburgh had a -26.2 Fangraphs Defensive WAR; good for 27th place in MLB. Last season, in 2022, the Pirates landed in the same overall spot-27th, with a slightly better defensive WAR; coming in at -22.5.

Yet, some people-including several local media personalities- believe 2021 was a great defensive year based on them being second in the least amount of errors and number three in fielding percentage.

Obviously, being able to field the balls that are hit to you is positive thing; but, when you rank at or near the bottom in almost all advanced metrics-including Defensive Runs Saved (-9), Ultimate Zone Rating (-7.2) and Outs Above Average (-11)-in 2021, it’s hard to argue that the defense was actually that good.

To me this equates to continuing the use of batting average in the assessment of a hitter’s ability and value to their team; instead of using the more effective metrics of OPS+, wRC+ and/or wOBA to judge a player.

Now, in the spirit of fairness, I would be remised if I didn’t report the Pirates defensive advanced metrics for 2022. As far as DRS, UZR and OAA are concerned the Pirates posted a 2, a -19.8 and a -21 respectively.

Don’t get me wrong, neither of these seasons were good by any stretch of the imagination; which I’m not even sure has anything to do with how I assess the Pirates needs when they take the field.

It’s more of an overarching theme that it’s going to be tough to see how the Pirates can improve overall; especially if the are giving teams extra outs, and/or runs in the process.

When the Pirates were last successful from 2013 through 2015, they accumulated 88 Defensive Runs Saved; a total that was good for third place in all of Major League Baseball.

Sure this isn’t the only thing that got them over the hump, and back to relevancy; but, it sure didn’t hurt, or even made it a little bit easier.

And, that brings us to the 5-ish players in the Pirates System who could make it a little bit easier to shore up the defense.

1) Jared Triolo

A Minor League Gold Glove at 3rd Base in 2021, two Bill Mazeroski Defender of The Year Awards in a row and a surprise selection to the Pirates 40-Man Roster ahead of December’s Rule 5 Draft is a pretty solid start to a professional career for the young man from the University Of Houston.

Seen as a glove first third baseman, Triolo has shown great range to go with a strong arm; although he struggled slightly with the move to shortstop. In 155 innings up the middle for Altoona, he had almost as many errors (5), as he did in 746.2 innings at third for the Curve (7). Naturally his fielding percentage also dropped from .970 to .929.

Given the opportunity to get in more work at shortstop, I have no doubt he would be able to succeed; still, I can see why some people could, based solely on the numbers.

2) Tsung-Che Cheng

A shortstop by trade, Cheng has branched out to play second, and even third base at times. Possessing what is seen as an average future value in the field, with plus speed, it is also possible he goes the way of Tucupita Marcano and Ji-hwan Bae, and gets to play some outfield in the future.

Seen as a player that can field a fine shortstop by scouts in the industry due to his range and footwork, but slightly lacking arm, the Taiwanese International Signee-inked for $380,000 back in 2019-has also gotten in some Winter League League these past two off seasons; helping Columbia win their first ever Caribbean Series Title in February of this past year.

For right now it seems that Cheng will be in direct competition with Maikol Escotto for reps at both middle infield positions with the Greensboro Grasshoppers this upcoming season; although the later has continued to struggle since being acquired from the New York Yankees, as part of the Jameson Taillon Return.

3) Jacob Gonzalez

I get it, he’s almost 25 years-old. And, that he ended up repeating a level after being acquired by the Pirates in the Minor League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft; which is pretty much used as Farm System Filler.

Nevertheless, Gonzalez-son of former Major Leaguer, 5 Time All-Star and World Series Champion Luis Gonzalez-is a solid hitter, strong fielder, and a really good teammate; hence the Manny Sanguillen Teammate of The Year Award. Plus he may be the most likely starter at First Base to begin the Altoona Curves Season, after being selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League following the season.

So, how is his fielding exactly? Well, he’s been working on the transition from third to first since 2019, and catches almost anything that comes his way; committing only 6 errors in 771.2 innings, while posting a .991 Fielding Percentage, and a career 7.73 RF/G (Range Factor Per Game); which isn’t elite, but would obviously be better than anything the Pirates have produced over the past couple of years.

4) Travis Swaggerty

Widely thought to be the best defensive outfielder in the upper Minors for Pittsburgh, and possibly the best fielder on the grass if he stepped into PNC Park tomorrow, Swaggerty was given the aggressive promotion to Triple-A in 2021; following the 2020 cancelled season. Unfortunately, Swaggerty would dislocate his shoulder diving back into first base in Indianapolis; officially ending his season when he underwent laboral surgery in June of that year.

Back at full health in 2022, the South Alabama Product-and former First Round Pick-played 816.2 innings across all three outfield positions ; committing only 3 errors and participating 7 outfield assists, all while posting a .983 Fielding Percentage.

Still on the 40-Man, one would think Swaggerty would still get a shot at the Major League Roster in 2023; preferably for more than 5 games and 9 at bats.

5) Rodolfo Nolasco/Tres Gonzalez

Set to be everyday right fielder for the Bradenton Marauders, Nolasco dealt with injuries that shortened his season to 77 games, 280 at bats and 530.1 innings in the outfield.

On the season, the Pirates #19 Prospect on Fangraphs had a total of 5 errors, 4 assists and 2 double plays, with a .986 Fielding Percentage at 20 only years old.

Obviously many fans don’t know who this kid is, yet at 20-with him participating in only his third actual season in professional ball, and second in the states, Nolasco’s speed and defense is very well known.

As far as Tres Gonzalez is concerned, there is this immediate blast of player who came from college, almost straight to Low-A. Not even recognized on any top prospect prospect list, Gonzalez was discussed in my Best Of The Rest from the 2022 MLB Draft; mostly because of his flexibility and hustle, because their isn’t much power to go along with his contact, and overall plate presence; but his defense would be an asset.


I am a firm believer in the old baseball adage…if the bat plays.

Or more succinctly put, if the player can hit, people don’t really pay attention to how bad his defense is.

Sure, some will notice, or point to a slugger’s defensive metrics when they benefit the argument of which one is the better overall player; however, it’s not like Pirates Fans had a problem with Josh Bell’s defense at first when he was putting up one of the best stretches at the plate in Pittsburgh history. From Opening Day to the All-Star Break, Bell was one of the best hitters in MLB, setting records as a Pirates batter, slashing .302/.376/.648 with 27 homers at the All-Star Break in 2019.

For reference does anyone know what Bell’s DRS and OAA was at this time?

Of course I know almost no-one does. It was -20 DRS at first base from 2017-19, with -12 OAA average; which is probably why the best season Bell had based on WAR in Pittsburgh was 2.8 bWAR vs. 2.9 fWAR in 2019-or a regular starter but quite not an All-Star.

On the other hand, Hayes slashed only .244/.314/ .349, but put up 4.3 WAR or 3.0 fWAR-strictly based on defense; or simply put, over the top defense with no offense, could potentially result in a similar WAR to stellar offense with no defense. And, since the Pirates haven’t shown the ability to do the later-just yet-here I am looking at the defensive stats of Pittsburgh’s prospects.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

5 thoughts on “Top 5 Pirates Prospects: Good With The Glove

  1. I think the low number of errors and high FP is a good first step. Yu have to make the routine plays and it seems that we didn’t do that very well for a number of seasons prior to 2022. Hoefully they’ve been working on range, foot work, etc and those start to reflect in the advanced stats.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andres Alverez has been good defensively and his bat seems to have come around as well. Well atleast his power. And the Pirates are very thin at backup SS for Cruz. Alverez playing multi positions along with a good SS could become very valuable. Especially if he keeps hitting.

    Matt Gorski is also very good defensively in CF. He’s a lot more athletic and faster than people think because of his size. He even has the arm to play a corner OF position if he’s moved off CF.

    But I agree with Swaggerty. Imo, his defense is good enough to give him a full go at CF. If he can hit .250-.260/.320-.340/.390-.420 with 8-15 HR and 15-20 SB while playing a gold glove caliber CF, that’s more than serviceable CF for a playoff caliber team. As long as the team can get the power from the corner OF spots.

    Liked by 1 person

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