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Minor Leaguers who could make an impact with the Pirates next season

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Contreras, Cruz are automatic locks. But who else?

MLB: FEB 24 Spring Training - Pirates at Yankees Photo by Icon Sportswire

When the 2021 season was in its final legs, Pittsburgh Pirates fans caught a glimpse of what’s in store for the future as young phenoms Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz were called up to the main roster.

Both had stellar debuts, as Contreras fanned four hitters over three scoreless innings, while Cruz tallied three hits including a home run in nine at-bats over the final few games. With this in mind, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if they spend significant time with the Bucs next year to see what they could really bring to the table if granted more playing time.

This, however, leaves one question: Who will join them?

With a stacked Minor League system, it’s hard to decipher who will get promoted to Pittsburgh, but there are some names that come to mind.

Infielder - Mason Martin

Given the Pirates’ situation at first, there should be no doubt that Martin is called up during the year.

Looking at his track record, he’s earned a promotion each year that he’s been with the organization. In 2018, he was bumped up to Single-A West Virginia after slugging .422 with the Bristol Pirates, the club’s Rookie club at the time. Then, in 2019, he started out in Single-A Greensboro and was promoted to High-A Bradenton after 82 games after he hit a then career-high 23 home runs.

Finally, he was promoted from Altoona to Indianapolis after arguably his best season with the organization. He posted more than 100 hits, more than 80 RBI and 25 HR, including three during his eight-game stint with the Indians.

The only negative side: his batting average. He’s only managed to break .260 twice in his career; once in 2019 after hitting .262 with Greensboro, and the other in 2017, where he hit .307 with the GCL Pirates.

It’s clear that the Pirates want to expedite him to the MLB, and if he can produce like he did in years past, he is almost guaranteed a spot on the roster next year.

Infielder - Tucupita Marcano

It’s no surprise that the Pirates need infield help.

Kevin Newman’s disastrous offense this year seemed to be the final straw for most fans, as plenty dreaded seeing him in the everyday lineup, and while Cole Tucker had a fiery September, it’s unlikely he’s the answer for the road ahead.

Insert Marcano. Coming over as part of the Adam Frazier trade in July, Marcano was highly regarded as “MLB-ready”, however he spent the latter part of the year with Triple-A Indianapolis.

He struggled a bit, posting a line of .230/.325/.279 in 48 games with the Indians, but it shouldn’t be viewed as him being a “bust”, but rather him struggling with the change of scenery.

It’s always difficult adapting to new places, and Marcano was no exception. He will most likely start 2022 in Triple-A, but he will find his way to the MLB at some point, especially if Newman and/or Tucker fall back into a rut.

Outfielder - Cal Mitchell

What a story it’s been for Cal Mitchell so far.

After starting 2021 as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Mitchell exploded on offense for Double-A Altoona. In 108 games with the Curve, Mitchell posted a line of .280/.330/.429 with 12 home runs and 61 RBI. In addition, he posted an OPS of .759, marking his second-best in his career.

He was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis following the conclusion of the Curve’s season and collected five hits in 20 plate appearances.

He has yet to have a disappointing season in the Minor Leagues, and given the Pirates’ outfield situation, they’ll want to bump some young players up to form chemistry with Bryan Reynolds, who will lead the outfield for years to come.

Some would question why he would be promoted over Travis Swaggerty or Chris Sharpe, and the answers are simple. Swaggerty is coming off a season-ending shoulder surgery that shelved him for the majority of 2021, but it is possible he could find his way to Pittsburgh next year. It would just come later down the road, after he rehabs more in Indianapolis.

Sharpe, on the other hand, hit just .196 in 2021, so he isn’t anywhere near MLB-ready.

It would be great to see Mitchell get the call and move up to the MLB alongside Contreras, Cruz and possibly Martin, just to see that wave of talent move up at the same time.

Pitcher - Shea Spitzbarth

Spitzbarth also caught a glimpse of the Pirates’ roster in 2021, pitching in five games and allowing just two earned runs in five innings of relief.

He played most of the 2021 season in Indianapolis where he was dominant out of the bullpen. He went 3-3 with a 2.12 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 42 games. He also held hitters to a .210 batting average. With numbers like these, he earned a promotion to the MLB in August and continued to show signs of promise.

He posted a 3.60 ERA in five innings pitched with allowing just one walk.

Needless to say, he’s ready for a full-time workload with the Bucs’ bullpen.

Other possibilities: Ji-hwan Bae, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Quinn Priester, Diego Castillo, Cam Vieaux

Omitted from the list: Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro