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Roansy Contreras the first of a line of dominoes set to fall in Pittsburgh

Who will be the next top prospect to be promoted?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
Roansy Contreras pitching in his major league debut
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates celebrated the first-ever “Roansy Day” at PNC Park on Wednesday as right-handed pitcher Roansy Contreras took the mound in his Major League debut.

Contreras finished the outing scoreless through three innings, giving up three hits and a walk while striking out four Chicago Cubs hitters, becoming the youngest Pirates starter in 17 years.

The 6’0’’ 175-pound hurler advanced from AA Altoona to AAA Indianapolis earlier this month, making only one start—giving up one run in 3.2 innings—before receiving the call of a lifetime to pitch in the big leagues.

The 21-year-old has been the most prized piece of the Jameson Taillon trade, despite a nagging mid-season forearm muscle strain, logging a 2.64 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 58 innings spanning two Minor League levels.

Contreras making his debut with only one AAA start and days before the end of the regular season is a rarity, but becomes the first in a line of dominoes set to fall in Pittsburgh over the next few seasons.

After the conclusion of Altoona’s season, numerous top prospects including Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Mason Martin, Cal Mitchell, Rodolfo Castro, and Canaan Smith-Njigba were promoted to Indianapolis. Further down the pipeline, A+ Greensboro Grasshoppers lost in the final game of a five-game playoff series to the Bowling Green Hot Rods, but the Low-A Bradenton Mauraders were victorious sweeping a five-game set against the Tampa Tarpons.

The state of the Pirates Minor Leagues are in great shape, ranking in the top five or higher in virtually every farm system ranking nationwide.

The Pirates used an aggressive approach with Contreras—the team’s sixth-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline—especially given his lack of longevity innings wise since returning from the injured list.

Since his promotion, Cruz has been absolutely on fire in six games, slamming five home runs, totaling seven RBI, a .524 average, and 1.941 OPS.

The unreal hot streak has already prompted cries for a similar promotion as Contreras for the final three games of the season.

Overall, the promotion of Contreras for one start—then subsequently returned to Indianapolis—may be an outlier, but exemplifies the Pirates’ willingness to aggressively move players throughout the Minor Leagues.

Former first-round pick (Comp A round) and Greensboro starter Carmen Mlodzinski was surprisingly promoted to Indianapolis as well for the final three games of the year at the conclusion of the Grasshoppers season. Mlodzinski has yet to throw more than 2.2 innings in an outing since July 10.

The jump from High-A to AAA is substantial, even if the 23-year-old makes one appearance and begins 2022 in AA, but once again exemplifies an aggressiveness in Ben Cherington’s approach to the final week of the year and potentially a quicker acceleration of players than past seasons under Neal Huntington.

Earlier this season, Cherington explained his belief that the core of a team should stick together throughout the Minor Leagues and into the end of their respective seasons, leading to a Bradenton championship and Greensboro one game short of accomplishing those goals.

The promotion of Roansy Contreras coinciding with numerous other transactions for players to receive extra at-bats and innings is wise of Cherington and may signal the beginning of a new chapter of Pirates baseball.

Contreras is just the first domino to drop for the 100-loss Pirates. Cruz, Martin, Mitchell, Tucupita Marcano, Travis Swaggerty, and others occupy AAA and will be knocking on the doorstep of the Majors by June—if not now in Cruz’s case—and the most talented group of players, and four of the Bucs top five prospects in the system, ready to move from Greensboro to Altoona and crack AA.

The prospects are coming—Roansy Day was just the first celebration—and it’s almost time to learn if the hype is just that, or the hope of a new beginning this decade.