2022 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 5 Prospectsby Andrew Atkins February 19, 2022 0 comments
The Pittsburgh Pirates may have lost 101 games during the 2021 Major League Baseball season, but their loaded farm system is poised to make losing a distant memory in the near future. Former top prospects Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes have already cemented themselves on the Major League roster. However, in order to build the next great Pirates team, they will need to be soon joined by the upper echelon of prospects down on the farm. This will occur very soon, and the Pirates are a lot closer to ending their rebuild than people may initially think.
For an organization looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015, the future is exceptionally bright. MLB Pipeline ranked the Pittsburgh farm system as the fourth-best overall this past summer. This is a huge jump from being ranked 15th overall as recently as prior to the 2020 season. The 2022 season will be an exciting time for the Pirates, as many of their young players will get continued exposure at the Major League level.
Make sure to check out all of our other Top Prospect Articles.
1. Oneil Cruz, Shortstop
The Dominican Republic native first broke into professional baseball in 2015, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $950,000. A massive prospect in terms of height, Cruz has actually grown three inches since signing with the Dodgers. He now stands at an intimidating 6-foot-7, but his huge arm has allowed him to stick at shortstop. The Pirates acquired Cruz as the centerpiece of the Tony Watson trade in 2017 and he has been with the organization ever since.
The left-handed hitter produced extraordinarily well at the plate in 2021, splitting time between three levels. In 62 games at Double-A Altoona, Cruz slashed .292/.346/.536 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs. Late in the season, the shortstop was called up to Triple-A Indianapolis and terrorized opposing pitchers. In just six games, he hit .524/.655/1.286, and five of his 11 hits were homers. This earned Cruz a quick promotion to the Major League club to end his age-22 campaign.
Cruz played in just two games for the Pirates in 2021 but still had some impressive moments. When he made his first start, he became the tallest shortstop to start a game in league history. Also, in his debut, he roped a ball 118.2 mph, the hardest-hit ball in Pittsburgh history since the Statcast era began. The 23-year-old has huge offensive potential and clearly barrels up the ball very well. Time will tell if he one-day shifts to third base, but he has shown enough to stay at shortstop for now.
ETA: Debuted 2021
2. Henry Davis, Catcher
The 2021 number one overall pick in the MLB Draft actually signed with Pittsburgh for an under-slot value of $6.5 million. During his final year at Louisville, the backstop hit .370/.483/.663 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 50 games. After just two professional games in the Florida Gulf Coast League, Davis was assigned to High-A Greensboro to finish out the 2021 season.
Davis is said to have a higher offensive ceiling than most catchers due to his pitch recognition and hard contact rates. The right-handed hitter could eventually turn into a decent average, 20 home run threat who draws a lot of walks. Defensively, Davis’ arm is what stands out. In his first two seasons at Louisville, he threw out 34 percent of potential base stealers. This huge arm and great footwork should easily translate as he moves through the Pittsburgh system. Though it seems to be improving, Davis needs to work on his receiving, especially as the quality of pitchers improves.
Davis was ranked as the 22nd best prospect in baseball during MLB Pipeline’s summer ranking in 2021. Since he was taken out of college in the 2021 draft, he only appeared in eight professional games this past season. The 2022 campaign will be huge developmentally for the 22-year-old. Davis is very athletic, so the Pirates could always switch Davis’ position in an attempt to get him to the majors faster. The bottom line is, he is a tremendous prospect who should be a staple on the next great Pirates team.
3. Nick Gonzales, Second Baseman
A very exciting prospect, Gonzales was the number seven overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. The right-handed batter can flat out rake. In parts of three seasons at New Mexico State, Gonzales hit .399/.502/.747 with 39 doubles and 37 home runs across 128 games. He was additionally the MVP of the Cape Cod League in 2019 and was arguably the best hitter in college baseball when the 2020 season was cut short.
After spending the remainder of the 2020 season at Pittsburgh’s alternate training site, Gonzales made his professional debut in 2021. At High-A Greensboro he picked up right where he left off in college, slashing .303/.385/.565 with 18 round-trippers. The righty has extremely fast hands and incredible bat speed. As he matures, he should also develop average power at the higher levels. He was drafted as a shortstop, but projects to stay at second base in the long run.
Gonzales, who will turn 23 in May, projects to begin the season at Double-A Altoona. Despite having not played above High-A, the 2021 MLB Pipeline’s 62nd ranked prospect is going to move quickly through the Pittsburgh system. Should he continue to hit as well as he has been throughout his career, there is a reasonable possibility that he could be seen in Pittsburgh at some point in the latter half of 2022.
4. Roansy Contreras, Right-Handed Pitcher
In a loaded farm system, Contreras has been a huge surprise. The 6-foot-tall right-hander was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the New York Yankees during the 2016-2017 international signing period. Prior to the 2021 season, Contreras was one of the four prospects sent to Pittsburgh in exchange for starting pitcher Jameson Taillon. Despite not even being the centerpiece of the trade, Contreras posted phenomenal numbers once arriving in the Pittsburgh system.
In 12 starts at Double-A Altoona, Contreras posted a 2.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and striking out a stellar 76 batters over just 54.1 innings. This earned the then 21-year-old quick promotions to both Triple-A Indianapolis and then the Major League roster. When the updated scouting grades are released by MLB Pipeline, it would not be outlandish to see Contreras’ overall increase. He went from topping out at 97 mph prior to 2021 to sitting at around 97 mph during the 2021 campaign.
Contreras has the potential to have at least three MLB-caliber pitches once he fully matures. His changeup is already the best of his secondary pitches, as it has a heavy sink to it. Contreras only threw three big-league innings in 2021, but he did register three strikeouts. It is too early to say that this success will translate in the long term, but there is good potential for the 22-year-old to be a mid-rotation starter for the Pirates sooner rather than later. If all goes according to plan, Contreras should make a good number of starts for the Pirates in 2022.
ETA: Debuted 2021
5. Quinn Priester, Right-Handed Pitcher
People often forget how highly regarded a prospect Priester is. The Pirates drafted the right-hander out of high school in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Between Rookie ball and Low-A in 2019, Priester combined for a 3.19 ERA and 41 strikeouts over 36.2 innings pitched. With no Minor League season in 2020, he split time between the instructional league and the alternate training site.
Priester’s hard work at these camps paid off, as his fastball now averages over 97 mph and his spin rate on his curveball is up to 2,900 rpm. These pitches were on full display during his 2021 season at High-A Greensboro. Here, Priester made 20 starts, pitched to a 3.04 ERA, and struck out 98 batters across 97.2 innings. He was one of just 160 Minor League pitchers to strike out more than nine batters per nine innings.
The 21-year-old is very athletic and can use that to his advantage as he continues to get comfortable with his 6-foot-3 frame. A top 60 prospect in MLB Pipeline’s mid-2021 rankings, Priester should begin the 2022 season with Double-A Altoona. It is important to remember that he has really only thrown one complete professional season. It would be wise not to rush him through the farm system. Nevertheless, in the near future, Priester projects to be a top-end of the rotation guy. He could very reasonably even be the next ace of the Pittsburgh rotation.
What Does the Future Hold?
Since the Pirates have a top farm system, there are certainly other big names to consider. 21-year-old shortstop Liover Peguero was added to the 40-man roster this winter, so it is reasonable to expect to see him in Pittsburgh at some point in 2022. Another big name is 19-year-old two-way player Bubba Chandler. Chandler notably declined the opportunity to play both football and baseball at Clemson when he signed with the Pirates this past year. The Pirates are doing a tremendous job at rebuilding their farm system, and by the looks of it, winning should come sooner rather than later.
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