by David Finoli
As the Bucs have completed another draft under General Manager Ben Cherington, they’ve added more talent to an already deep system including the top pick in the entire MLB Draft, Paul Skenes from the National Champion LSU Tigers.
Skenes is considered a generational talent whose fastball averaged 98 MPH, topping out at 103, while having a mind boggling 47.2% strikeout rate. Before he’s signed a professional contract, MLB Pipeline already has him as the number 6 prospect in all of baseball. Also making the top 20 list straight off the draft is right-handed high school hurler, Zander Mueth out of Belleville, Illinois. Just out of high school, his fastball tops out at 97 MPH and has a very high ceiling. Shortstop, Mitch Jebb from Michigan State and first baseman, Garret Forrester from Oregon State sit right outside the top 20. Both are contact hitters and both have very low strikeout rates with good gap power. The antimodern-day hitter if you will.
While the Bucs have struggled on the field, the exciting part of the season’s second half will be watching the fruits of the system’s labor start to develop at the major league level. Despite the fact pitcher, Luis Ortiz, was demoted to Indianapolis, he has hurled too many innings in Pittsburgh this year and has lost his prospect status. That, presumably, will soon happen to Henry Davis and Nick Gonzales, who have enjoyed some success so far at the major league level. Quinn Priester will make his major league debut against the Guardians on July 17th while Carmen Mlodzinski has had some success in the bullpen and Jared Triolo is making a case for himself with a better-than-expected offensive output playing for the injured Ke'Bryan Hayes.
At Indianapolis, Endy Rodriguez is finally looking like he did last season when he was the star of the Bucs' minor league system. Perhaps he didn’t like seeing his mates promoted to Pittsburgh while he stayed back at AAA. Liover Peguero had been the best hitter at Altoona after Davis was promoted to AAA. He, too, has followed with a promotion to the Indians. After an incredible performance with the Curve, Jared Jones has struggled a bit at AAA with three starts but has struck out 24 in 19 innings.
The Curve has graduated several hitters but sits with some of the system’s organizations best pitching prospects. Anthony Solometo got off to a great start in Altoona and has an impressive 2.37 ERA in four starts with a .95 WHIP. His meteoric rise through the system has landed this hurler on some top 100 prospect lists. Braxton Ashcraft continues his impressive return from arm injuries and has given up no runs in seven innings so far at AA. Sean Sullivan, who got off to such a great start this season, has struggled so far over the past month and has dropped off the list as he now sits with a 4.16 ERA for the season.
Offensively, Tsung-Che Cheng had a terrific year with the Grasshoppers before being promoted. His first few weeks at AA hasn’t been as good, but he seems to have stabilized, getting his average over .200 with a .217 mark. Abrahan Gutierrez has gone the other way with a poor last month offensively with a .209 average and .670 OPS, which has dropped him a bit on the list.
Greensboro graduated Cheng, and its top best prospects are pitchers who possess a lot of talent but have not performed well on the field this season. Bubba Chandler has one of the best fastballs in the system but has enjoyed virtually no success with the Grasshoppers. With 82 hits in 62 innings, a 1.93 WHIP and 38 walks he has had a severe drop in the top 20 almost all the way out. His 77 strikeouts give up hope he can regain his form. Thomas Harrington hasn’t been as bad since his promotion but 44 hits in 36 innings and a 1.49 WHIP are not things major league dreams are made from. Still, his walks aren’t horrendous, and his 45 strikeouts have been impressive.
Termarr Johnson is the most intriguing prospect at Bradenton. He started the season injured and has gone through various poor streaks throughout the season. It hasn’t been the kind of season that the top pick for the team in the 2022 draft had hoped for. Still, he’s young and has hit well lately including some unexpected power with ten homers. Hopefully, he will become the player the experts said he was as the best high school hitting prospect in a decade. The team's top rated international signing from 2022, Yordany De Los Santos, has made it out of the short season with a .328 average and .860 OPS. Even though he has been slow out of the gate for Bradenton with a .143 average, the potential of this 18-year-old shortstop is through the roof.
Jun-Seok Shim has had only two starts in the Bucs' short season league, but he has looked impressive, allowing only two hits and striking out 10 in 5 1/3 innings. His fastball borders on triple digits at 18-years old and many predict great things for this year’s number one international pitching prospect.
THE TOP 20 PIRATES PROSPECTS
1. Paul Skenes- Newly Drafted
2. Henry Davis- Pittsburgh
3. Termarr Johnson- Bradenton
4. Endy Rodriguez- Indianapolis
5. Anthony Solometo -Altoona
6. Quinn Priester- Pittsburgh
7. Jared Jones- Indianapolis
8. Nick Gonzales- Pittsburgh
9. Liover Peguero- Indianapolis
10. Tsung-Che Cheng- Altoona
11. Zander Mueth- Newly Drafted
12. Thomas Harrington- Greensboro
13. Jared Triolo-Pittsburgh
14. Yordanny De los Santos- Bradenton
15. Mike Burrows-Indianapolis (IR)
16. Abrahan Gutierrez- Altoona
17. Carmen Mlodzinski-Pittsburgh
18. Bubba Chandler- Greensboro
19. Jun-Seok Shim- Short Season
20. Braxton Ashcraft- Altoona
OTHERS TO WATCH