Over the course of six days, MLB Network unveiled its top 100 players right now list. It didn’t take any insider information to figure out that not a single Pittsburgh Pirate would be included in its rankings. If that wasn’t clear enough from before the rankings were posted, when playoff sweetheart Randy Arozarena took spot number 100, all suspicions were confirmed: There wasn’t going to be anybody from Pittsburgh this time around.
Since 2018, only one Pirate has made the cut for the network’s list: That would be Josh Bell going into 2020. Before him, it was Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in 2017. But now, with a host of new faces, and a surplus of young ones, the odds weren’t just great that no Pirate would be included — they were guaranteed.
But it did make me wonder: Which Pirate might we see on the list next?
While there are probably deeper candidates to pull from the depths of the Pirates’ organization, particularly after general manager Ben Cherington’s trading spree, I wanted to keep the list to players we’re likely to see now, that way it’s a little more relevant to our current discussions. As such, I won’t be including possible candidates who won’t grace the field at PNC Park until 2023 or 2024. Those candidates will have to wait for another entry.
The Obvious: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Hayes was a 2020 standout. Despite playing in only 24 games, the new third baseman led the club in fWAR (1.6), while carrying a 1.124 OPS and a 195 wRC+. To put it simply, he raked during his first taste of the major leagues. Pair that with his solid defensive work at third and he’s a shoe-in to be the next face of the franchise. Hayes is a burgeoning superstar, and is probably carrying about as much fanfare on his shoulders as McCutchen did when he first ascended to the big league club.
While it’s unlikely that Hayes will match his numbers from last year (if he kept doing that, he’d be one of the greatest hitters of all-time), he certainly has the tools to be a top 100 player in the game. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but it seems it’s a matter of time before he finds himself among the ranks of the game’s best players.
The Possible: Bryan Reynolds
Reynolds came on strong in 2019. He played in 134 games and carried a line of .314/.377/.503. His 130 wRC+ was 35th best in all of baseball, sandwiched between Josh Donaldson and Tim Anderson. Take into account the fact that he’s quiet and went about his business in a no-nonsense way, he’s the kind of guy the city of Pittsburgh likes.
But in 2020, he saw a severe regression. Call it a sophomore slump, call it pandemic-induced-regression, but Reynolds saw his excellent slash line reduced to a lousy .189/.275/.357, with a well below average wRC+ of 72. But there’s hope to be had. Here’s why: Reynolds’ 2020 output has all the makings of an aberration, not a pattern. Throughout his minor league days, he didn’t hit lower than .300, nor did his wRC+ come close to dipping below 100.
I would expect Reynolds to get back on track this year, and if he can reach a modicum of consistency at the plate that resembles his 2019 output, there’s a decent chance he’ll find himself as a top 100 player in the coming years.
The Dark Horse: Blake Cederlind
I love Cederlind. He only pitched four innings in 2020, so there’s not much to go off there, but he has tools to become an excellent relief option, perhaps ultimately anchoring down the bullpen and helping it regain its mid-2010s form.
In his last full minor league season (2019), he pitched 45.2 innings, carried a 1.03 WHIP, 3.06 FIP, and 1.77 ERA at Double-A Altoona. While he will assuredly have some things to work out against major league hitters, he has a hard sinker which could spell trouble for bats. While the sinker fell out of vogue around the major leagues recently (and while the Pirates were still trying to make it work as a one-size-fits-all approach), it might be trending back into the game.
Baseball is cyclical, so a resurgence of old utilizations might be in the offings. Just last year, the champion Los Angeles Dodgers found a greater reliance on the sinker than they had in years past. Dustin May uses it over half the time. That sinker velocity for Cederlind is recorded around 98.7 via FanGraph’s PITCHf/x metric, although that recording was only via four innings of work.
Relievers don’t often make the cut on this list (there were only three for 2021), so Cederlind will have to really prove his stock in the coming years, but with his hard-throwing ability and track record trending up, Cederlind will be an interesting case study to watch this year and into the future.