3-7-23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
At this point in the off-season, plotting out the Minor League assignments across the Pirates Farm System is a little bit of a guessing game; but, a very fun one if you are into prospects.
In fact I enjoy it so much that I had Ben Pokorny-new Voice of the Bradenton Marauders-on my podcast recently to breakdown potential players that could land in Low-A to begin the year; or at the very least, could be there at some point during the season.
Among the names mentioned-as well as some that may have come to mind afterward-are some of the Top Prospects for Pittsburgh; which means the job of narrowing it down to just five could be fairly difficult.
Nevertheless, I’m going to try it anyway.
1) Termarr Johnson-2B
Less than two weeks ago, the Pirates #1 Prospect-according to almost every outlet-saw his first taste of Major League Spring Training cut short thanks to a hamstring injury; following some infield drills.
Ultimately, as a precaution, Johnson would be shut down for 10 to 14 days; and, was sent back to Minor League Camp.
This should be no surprise, considering what this young man could mean to the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Drafted less than a year ago by Ben Cherington and Company with the 4th Overall Pick, the Georgia high school standout immediately started receiving comparisons Wade Boggs-due to plate discipline-and Vladmir Guerrero’s bat-to-ball skills.
Given a 70-grade hit tool by MLB Pipeline, excitement surrounding Johnson was hard for many Pirates Fans to contain. And luckily, due to some aggressive decision making Cherington, they wouldn’t have to wait very long to see him.
After only 9 games and 29 plate appearances, he was aggressively moved up to Bradenton on a random Wednesday afternoon at LECOM Park; going 1 for 4, and collecting his first hit on a single in the bottom of the 8th.
Over his 14 games in a Marauders uniform, Johnson would slash .275/.396/.450 with one home run-of the inside the park variety-and 13 strikeouts to 10 walks.
Now, I have seen some project that Pittsburgh will continue to be aggressive with their Top Prospect by assigning him to High-A Greensboro to start the season; however, I am just not sure I am there yet. With only 53 plate appearances above Rookie Ball, it makes sense to me, for him to have a launching pad to get up to speed before making the jump.
2) Thomas Harrington-RHP
Since the Pirates have come out of the Pandemic, resting the majority of their prep/high school and college arms in the year they are drafted has become the norm. This was no different for the Harrington, who pitched 92 innings during his sophomore season at Campbell Univerity, home of the Fighting Camels.
After walking on his Freshman year, Harrington earned Big South Freshman and Big South Pitcher of The Year in consecutive years; striking out 186 batters across 168.1 innings; including a school record of 111 during his senior season. With a plus (55 Grade) fastball that levels out between 90-95 mph, an upper-70’s (50 Grade) curve, a fading (55 Grade) mid-80’s slider and his best pitcher in the form of a mid-80’s swing and miss (60 Grade) changeup, he posted a combined 2.94 ERA with a 1.069 WHIP.
At the moment Harrington has yet to throw his first professional pitch; still, I would think his experience, along with the level of competition he has faced would fit right in at Low-A.
3) Jun-Seok Shim-RHP
Over the past few years, the Pirates have become legitimate players in the International Market.
Beginning with Ben Cherington and Company signing 16 year-old Australian outfielder Solomon Maguire to a $594,000 deal a mere 3 months on the job, Pittsburgh has gone on to acquire five Top 30 Prospects over the past three years; bookended by Shim, who was listed at #10, and had multiple suitors.
Predicted to go 1:1 in the KBO Draft-prior to withdrawing himself from it altogether-the 18 year-old South Korean righty agreed to a $750,000 bonus with the Pirates.
On the mound Shim commands and controls two of his four pitches-a mid to upper 90’s fastball and a 12-6 curveball-very well, while working to develop a slider and change-up.
Due to the need for this development, it is possible that Shim could start out in the FCL to hone his skills, much like Po-Yu Chen did back in 2021 And, if he dominates like Chen did, he should come up to Bradenton pretty quickly.
4) Shalin Polanco-OF
Speaking of major international acquisitions.
Following the delay of 2020-21 of the signing period, Pittsburgh-and Ben Cherington in particular-officially made his mark by inking the 11th Ranked Prospect to the second highest bonus in the Ball Club’s history; coming in at $2.35 million.
At only 16 years-old Shalin Polanco was on the tip of so many Pirates Fans tongues. Since then, some of the shine has started to fade; even though it’s not like he has accumulated enough at bats to know exactly what the future holds for this young man.
In 324 plate appearances-split between the Dominican Summer League and FCL-Polanco has slashed .225/.303/.353 with 6 homers and 22 total extra base hits.
Clearly the slash line-coupled with a 27% K-rate in Complex League-leaves something to be desired; however, at almost a full two years younger than the competition, some struggles are to be expected. Although, as you can see-the raw power can’t be denied.
Which begs the question, what can we expect from the newly turned 19 year-old? Well, for one I think we should look for Polanco to harness the power, as he has really started to grow into his projectable frame.
And second, his zone recognition could improve as he matures; leading to an improved balance of walks to strikeouts.
If he can do both, it’s possible this might be the breakout season we have been waiting for from Polanco.
5) Michael Kennedy-LHP
I feel like most people who follow sports in Pittsburgh are more accustomed to the NFL Draft.
Players are often drafted in order of their ranking(s); with a team need(s) mixed in. That’s why it is such a big deal when a player is left sitting at their table-surrounded by friends and family-as they unexpectedly fall down the board.
When it comes to baseball things are quite different, as sign-ability often comes into play for players who have made strong commitments to a particular college program.
In the case of lefty Michael Kennedy it was LSU that stood in the way of Major League Teams taking the risk of drafting him at around his ranking of 89-according to MLB Pipeline. Ultimately he slid down to the Pirates at the 110th Pick in the 4th Round; and required a $1,000,000 signing bonus, which was approximately $445,400 over slot.
Seen as a having as an advanced arm for his age due to three pitch mix-a low-90’s fastball, an upper-70’s slider and a low 80’s changeup-a feel for each offering and an extremely repeatable delivery, Kennedy could end up skipping the Complex League altogether.
Each time I look at the potential Bradenton Roster, my eyes constantly drift up and down from Greensboro to the Florida Complex League; trying to figure out exactly where Ben Cherington and Company will look to place each player on this list, as well as others. All while preparing landing spots for the upwards of 20 prospects that will be selected in the 2023 MLB Draft.
No matter the decisions that are made-or the players that make their way to and through Bradenton-it should be fun season of Marauders baseball.