Top 10 Prospects (2019): Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Breakout Stars Fill The Top 10

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The Pirates are a team that has to consistently churn out young talent in order to stay competitive, though their trade to acquire Chris Archer put a dent in their farm system.  That’s not to say that there isn’t some intriguing talent on the horizon, highlighted by a potential top of the rotation stud and complimented by a slew of intriguing middle infielders (and a few others who are a few years away).  Let’s take a look:


1) Mitch Keller – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B+
ETA – 2019

If the Pirates were a bit more aggressive with the promotion of their prospects it’s highly likely that Keller would’ve already arrived, though he did struggle after being bumped to Triple-A last season (4.82 ERA over 52.1 IP).  While at least part of it was poor luck (61.7% strand rate at Triple-A), there are a few trends that we have to be concerned about:

LevelWalk RateGroundball RateLine Drive Rate

The control was a regression from last year regardless (2.48 BB/9), so that’s a bad sign.  Maybe he needs to adjust to Triple-A so we don’t want to push any panic button.  The upside remains tremendous and it’s easy to call him one of the elite pitching prospects in the game, and one who should arrive by mid-year.


2) Travis Swaggerty – Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2021

The 10th overall selection in 2018, Swaggerty quickly showed his upside as he performed well at Low-A (.288 with 4 HR and 9 SB over 139 AB).  The Pirates then pushed the 21-year old to Single-A where he did stumble a bit (.129 with 1 HR over 62 AB), but it’s an extremely small sample size and we need to give him time to adjust/develop.

We will have to watch the strikeout rate, as he posted a 12.5% SwStr% and 25.3% strikeout rate, because that could ultimately handcuff him and hold him back.  That said he also could develop into a 20/10 type player with the ability to draw walks (9.6% walk rate in his professional debut).


3) Oneil Cruz – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2021

Cruz is listed as a shortstop, but now at 6’6” there’s a good chance he ultimately is moved to the outfield.  Regardless his bat is going to play, as he’s starting to tap into his power (25 doubles, 7 triples and 14 HR over 402 AB at Single-A).  At 19-years old he showed important growth in his strikeout rate, going from 30.1% in ’17 to 22.6% in ’18 (and, as you’d expect, it’s due largely to a drop in his SwStr% from 14.0% to 11.3%).  If he can continue to improve in that regard, as his power develops, the potential is there for him to really emerge as a top prospect.  He’s not there yet, but don’t be surprised if he’s a B+ prospect or better by the end of the year.


4) Ke’Bryan Hayes – Third Baseman
Grade – B
ETA – 2019

The question for Hayes is if he’s going to be able to follow the Josh Bell blueprint, developing more power as he advances.  Right now there’s no questioning his approach, as he hit .293 to go along with a 16.5% strikeout rate and 11.2% walk rate while playing at Double-A.  Couple those numbers with a 5.9% SwStr% and it’s easy to envision a player who can push .300 with a strong OBP.

However he only managed to hit 7 HR last season, and while he added 31 doubles and 7 triples at 21-years old there’s obviously going to be a little bit of concern.  If he can start to tap into his power a little bit more (think reaching the 17-20 HR plateau), to go along with a little bit of speed (he stole 12 bases in ’18, down from 27 in ’17), the value is there.


5) Cole Tucker – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2019

There is no questioning the speed that Tucker brings, with 35 SB in 47 attempts at Double-A last season.  He also offers a solid approach, with an 8.4% SwStr% and 9.3% walk rate.  The problem is that he doesn’t offer much power (33 extra base hits over 517 AB), and while he could grow into a little bit more upside the overall value appears to be capped.


The Next Five:

6) Kevin Newman – Shortstop (Grade – B-)
He got a taste of the Majors in 2018 (.209 with 0 HR and 0 SB over 91 AB), though he showed more upside at Triple-A.  He doesn’t have significant power, but he has speed (28-for-39 in SB attempts) and makes consistent contact (4.7% SwStr%).  He profiles as an ideal top of the order bat with doubles power.

7) Calvin Mitchell – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
In his first professional season Mitchell showed power potential (29 doubles, 3 triples, 10 HR over 443 AB), an ability to hit the ball hard routinely (28.4% line drive rate) and enough of a contact rate (10.2% SwStr%).  We’ll have to wait and see if he begins to tap into his power a little bit more, while at least maintaining the strikeout rate, as he begins to advance to the upper levels after playing ’18 at Single-A.

8) Kevin Kramer – Shortstop (Grade – C+)
Kramer showed an intriguing blend of power (15 HR, while adding 35 doubles and 3 triples) and speed (13 SB) over 476 AB at Triple-A and got a cup of coffee in the Majors (.135 in 37 AB).  The question is going to be his strikeout rate, with a 13.1% SwStr% and 24.1% strikeout rate.  Those numbers could easily rise in the Majors, and that’s going to hurt his production.

9) Lolo Sanchez – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
There was a lot of hype surrounding Sanchez heading into 2018, though ultimately the numbers fell a little bit flat (.243 with 4 HR and 30 SB over 378 AB at Single-A).  That said the speed was obviously there and as a 19-year old he showed an ability to make consistent contact (7.6% SwStr%) and draw a walk (9.3% walk rate).  The power should continue to develop and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a significant step forward in 2019.  Stay patient.

10) Jared Oliva – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
You can argue that this is a stretch, but he showed intriguing potential despite playing as a 22-year old at High-A as he hit .275 with 9 HR and 33 SB over 396 AB.  A 9.4% SwStr% is promising, though he needs to prove that he’s the first half performer and not the one who slid in the second half:

  • First Half – .282/.372/.472
  • Second Half – .267/.332/.367

Sources – Fangraphs,,, Baseball Reference

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Make sure to check out all of our 2019 Top 10 Prospect Lists:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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