The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a very long rebuild and will have to start developing their farm system for more long-term success than they have in the past. Over the past several years since making the playoffs in 2013, ’14, and ’15, the Pirates have traded away Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Neil Walker, Mark Melancon, Francisco Liriano, Daniel Hudson, Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, and Jameson Taillon. Even with trading that entire basically All-Star team away, they didn’t get much back to build the farm. In fact, after the Taillon trade, they have just one 2+ WAR player left, who is the number one guy on this prospect list.
Everyone in Pittsburgh will forever be haunted by the infamous Chris Archer trade. That being when the Pirates essentially half-sold, half-bought when they were 56-52 in 2018. Prior to that season, they traded away Cole and McCutchen, and then thinking they were still in the playoff race at the deadline, they went for Archer. But in doing so, traded away two of their top prospects in Glasnow and Austin Meadows, in addition to a player-to-be-named later who turned out to be Shane Baz. Now to add even further insult to injury, Archer has wound up back in Tampa Bay where the Rays could end up rejuvenating his career with their fantastic ability to develop pitching. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the Pirates’ top five prospects who will hopefully be key pieces for their team for years as they continue to rebuild.
Make sure to check out all of our other MLB Team Top Prospects.
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes – 3B
The Pirates drafted Hayes with the 32nd pick in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. He was their second first-rounder following their 19th overall selection of their current shortstop Kevin Newman. Son of former major league infielder and World Series champion Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan made his debut in 2020 and earned Rookie of the Year votes after putting up very solid numbers. He slashed .376/.442/.682 with five home runs and 11 RBI in 85 at-bats.
Hayes has been considered one of the top defensive players in the minor leagues and proved that in Pittsburgh by sporting outstanding defense at the hot corner. He has top range, great hands, a strong arm, and solid instincts which warrants him sticking at the position for many years in the majors. His hitting showed improvements in 2020, as he added some more power and hit the ball very hard with a 55.4 percent hard-hit rate. With his rookie status still intact for 2021, Hayes looks to be a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year this season.
ETA: 2020 (debuted)
2. Quinn Priester – RHP
Priester was taken by the Pirates with the 18th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft out of Cary-Grove High School in Cary, Illinois. A two-sport star in high school (football), the right-hander took a step forward with his arsenal at the alternate site and instructional league in 2020. His four-seam fastball topped out at 98 while sitting at just a touch over 97 mph, while he also has a plus two-seamer that leads to groundball outs.
Priester also sports a plus curveball which sits low-80s and a slider that flashes above-average potential. He is quickly learning on controlling his changeup as well and he consistently hits his spots while getting swings and misses on his breaking pitches. Priester has a smooth, repeatable delivery and looks to be a frontline starter for the Pirates for years. That’s if they don’t trade him before he reaches his full potential. Nevertheless, he could be a top pitcher for any team if they stupidly move him.
3. Nick Gonzales – 2B
Pittsburgh took Gonzales with the seventh pick in last June’s draft after he slashed an insane .448/.610/1.155 in 16 games in the shortened 2020 season at New Mexico State. He proved to just as good a hitter outside of the hitter-friendly New Mexico State ballpark by taking home Cape Cod League MVP honors with a wooden bat. He put up a .351/.451/.630 slash which put him fully on the Pirates’ radar going into the draft.
Gonzales has tremendous bat speed and was one of the best, if not the best, pure hitter in the 2020 draft class. His quick hands and ability to make solid contact leads to the belief he will have at least average power. He registered an exit velocity of over 100 mph on 60 percent of the fastballs he made contact with at the alternate site in 2020. The right-handed infielder was drafted as a shortstop, but the Pirates have had him doing most of his reps at second, mostly because they already have their shortstop in Newman. Gonzales plays decent enough defense, but it’s his bat that will get him to the majors quickly.
4. Liover Peguero – SS
Peguero was originally signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks for $475,000 out of the Dominican Republic in July 2017. He played his way from Dominican Summer League to the States to make his pro debut in the summer of 2018. The shortstop was solid in 2019, as he earned a promotion from the Rookie-level Pioneer League to the Short-Season Northwest League. This led the Pirates to get him as part of the return for the Starling Marte trade prior to the 2020 season.
At the alternate site, he consistently barrelled up the ball. He was one of the most exciting prospects for the Pirates and that carried over into instructional league play. His hit potential is fairly high with his knack for barrelling up the baseball and hitting the ball very hard. Peguero will add to his power as he fills out and his advanced plate approach will lead to him being a plus hitter. He has plus speed which is his best asset as it helps with stealing bases and covering ground at the premium shortstop position. By the time he comes up to the majors, he may be asked to move to the outfield where his offensive profile would fit well.
5. Miguel Yajure – RHP
The New York Yankees signed Yajure in March 2015 for a mere $30,000, and he may end up as the best prospect from that international class. He was also the first to make his debut in that class, as he debuted last season. The right-hander missed the entire 2017 season following undergoing Tommy John surgery, but came back strong in 2018 and had his plus stuff back in 2019. He reached Double-A Trenton that season and was added to the 40-man roster following the year. After making his debut last year, he was sent to Pittsburgh in the Yankees’ deal for Taillon.
Yajure has a plus feel for pitching despite not having much pure stuff. His 95 mph fastball is commanded very well, while his changeup flashes plus. He added a cutter in 2019 which is another above-average offering. He can throw all his pitches for strikes and initiates weak contact which leads him to have a shot at least a back-end starting role. Look for him to be a part of the Pirates’ rotation this season, as they just look to give their youngsters a look.
ETA: 2020 (debuted)
Now under Ben Cherington, who took over as GM in 2019, the Pirates look to fully get behind the youth movement. Hopefully, they stick to it as they also have the number one pick in the MLB Draft this year. That will be where they will select the young stud Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker. Hopefully, for the Pirates’ and Rocker’s case, they can develop him into a stud major league arm and they hold onto him. Is it safe to say that Rocker will immediately be the Pirates’ number one prospect upon being drafted?
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