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Minors Matters: Pirates Minor League report - 6/29/2021

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It’s time for this week’s report!

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s review how the Top 15 prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB Pipeline rankings are given) are doing after the first eight weeks of play:

No. 1 - Nick Gonzales

Gonzales returned after missing five weeks with a broken pinky finger and wasted no time making an impact for High-A Greensboro. The club’s top pick in the 2020 draft homered in his first game back Saturday against Greenville and followed that up by homering Sunday against the Drive. Gonzales went 3 for 9 with four RBIs and three runs scored in the two weekend games. Overall on the season Gonzales is hitting .300 with a .990 OPS. In 60 at-bats, he has homered four times and driven in nine runs. He has walked six times and struck out 19 times.

No. 2 - Quinn Priester

Priester, the club’s No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft and No. 18 overall, is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA in eight starts so far for High-A Greensboro. In 34 innings, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander has given up 37 hits and walked 13 while striking out 30. In his most recent start, Priester gave up three hits and one earned run in 3 1/3 innings Tuesday against Greenville. He struck out two and walked four in his 63-pitch outing.

No. 3 - Oneil Cruz

The 6-foot-7, left-handed hitting Cruz continues to have a strong offensive season, as he’s at .290/.878 at Double-A Altoona. In 169 at-bats, Cruz has hit eight homers and driven in 26 – and even added 10 stolen bases. He has an 8.1% walk rate and a 22.6% strikeout rate. In the month of June, Cruz is hitting .319 with a .906 OPS, but he had a rough five-game series against Harrisburg over the weekend, going 4 for 19 with just one extra-base hit – a double – and no RBIs. Defensively, Cruz has 12 errors in 41 games at shortstop. MLB.com reported last week that Cruz had been spotted working out in the outfield at PNG Field in Altoona.

No. 4 - Liover Peguero

On the season, the 20-year-old shortstop is batting .276/.804 with five homers and 17 RBIs for High-A Greensboro. So far in 22 games this month Peguero is batting .261/.757 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 92 at-bats, but in his last two series spanning 11 games, Peguero is hitting .302/.976 in 43 at-bats, striking out 12 times and walking twice.

No. 5 - Hudson Head

The young outfielder, who came over from the San Diego Padres in the Joe Musgrove trade, has picked it up over the past month or so at Low-A Bradenton. During the month of June, Head is hitting .254/.964 in 20 games, walking 20 times and striking out 28 times in 84 plate appearances. He has homered four times and driven in 16. Overall, Head has seven home runs – tied for second in the Low-A Southeast League — 22 RBIs and an .850 OPS to go with a .227 batting average. In 173 plate appearances over 41 games, the 20-year-old left-handed hitter has struck out 54 times (10th in the league), but he’s also drawn 36 walks (seventh) for a .410 on-base percentage. His strikeout and walk rates are 31.2% and 20.8%, respectively.

No. 6 - Tahnaj Thomas

The 6-4, 190-pound right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.97 ERA in seven starts High-A Greensboro. In 25 1/3 innings, Thomas has given up 19 hits and 25 walks while striking out 30. In his most recent start, which came Thursday, the 22-year-old Thomas was charged with three earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. He gave up two hits, but walked seven and struck out one.

No. 7 - Brennan Malone

The 20-year-old right-hander, who came over from Arizona along with Peguero in the Starling Marte trade, has been reassigned from Low-A Bradenton to one of the Pirates’ two teams in the Florida Complex League – formerly known as the Gulf Coast League. He appeared in three games for Bradenton, pitching a total of 3 2/3 innings. He allowed four hits and four runs – none of which were earned – while walking five and striking out two. Florida Complex League play was scheduled to begin Monday.

No. 8 - Travis Swaggerty

The Pirates’ top pick in the 2018 draft, Swaggerty underwent surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder, which he sustained while diving back to first base in a game on May 18. The injury is expected to keep him out at least five months, which effectively ends his minor league season. He was hitting .220/.772 in 41 at-bats with Triple-A Indianapolis before his injury.

No. 9 - Cody Bolton

Bolton underwent knee surgery in May to repair a torn medial meniscus and is expected to be sidelined from four to six months.

No. 10 - Carmen Mlodzinski

The 22-year-old right-hander, chosen 31st overall in the 2020 June draft out of the University of South Carolina, is pitching at High-A Greensboro, where he is 2-2 with a 1.72 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. In 31 1/3 innings, Mlodzinski has yielded 21 hits and nine walks while striking out 46. In his most recent start Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mlodzinski worked six innings – his longest outing of the season – and allowed just two hits and one earned run while striking out nine. He did not walk a batter.

No. 11 - Miguel Yajure

Yajure is currently sidelined after experiencing forearm tightness in a start with Triple-A Indianapolis on May 26. The 23-year-old right-hander, part of the Jameson Taillon trade, was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts for the Pirates and 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA in three starts with Indianapolis. Yajure was placed on the seven-day injured list retroactive to June 1, but multiple outlets reported last week that Yajure was transferred to the 60-day injured list and thus won’t be able to resume pitching until early August. Jerry DiPaola of the Trib quoted Pirates manager Derek Shelton as saying the move to the 60-day injured list had nothing to do with Yajure suffering a setback of any kind. “Just more of a paper move,” Shelton said. “We need him to be healthy.”

No. 12 - Eddy Yean

The young right-hander, who came over from Washington in the Josh Bell trade, celebrated his 20th birthday with his most impressive outing of the season Friday for Low-A Bradenton. Coming on in relief against Jupiter, Yean pitched six innings and allowed just one hit and no walks while striking out nine. He allowed two runs but both were unearned. On the season, Yean is 3-1 with a 5.72 ERA. In 28 1/3 innings, Yean has allowed 24 hits and 18 earned runs. He has walked 15 and struck out 33.

No. 13 - Ji-hwan Bae

The 21-year-old middle infielder, who has played exclusively at second base at Double-A Altoona this season, is yet another victim of the injury jinx. Bae, who started slowly but began picking it up in June, was placed on the seven-day injured list after hurting his knee in a collision with outfielder Cal Mitchell on June 8. Bae was hitting .265/.679 in 25 games at Altoona after going 11 for 23 in his first six games in June. He’ll be out another three to five weeks.

No. 14 - Mason Martin

The power-hitting first baseman is continuing to produce during the month of June and overall on the season he is at .253/.837 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 162 at-bats. He has struck out 60 times and walked 12 times; that equates to a 33% strikeout rate and a 6.6% walk rate. In 22 games in June, Martin is hitting .261/.814 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 88 at-bats. He has struck out 29 times and walked only twice during that stretch.

No. 15 – Jared Oliva

The 25-year-old outfielder, who started the season injured, has appeared in 13 games for Triple-A Indianapolis. Oliva is hitting .200/.548 in 40 at-bats with two RBIs.

Others:

Indianapolis: Mitch Keller made his first start after his demotion from Pittsburgh and allowed four hits and three runs – two earned – in three innings. The good news is he did not walk a batter and struck out two. ... Outfielder Anthony Alford, who had been producing at the plate in a bid to rejoin the big league club, had his progress halted by a wrist injury he suffered in a collision at first base. Overall, Alford is hitting .292/.958 with six homers and 22 RBIs and a .449 on-base percentage. However, he has struck out 44 times in 106 at-bats.

Altoona: No. 18 prospect Cal Mitchell continues to do well for the Curve, as he’s hitting .296/.848 in 152 at-bats. Mitchell has six home runs and 25 RBIs and has struck out 29 times – a 17% rate — while walking 12 times. During the month of June, Mitchell is hitting .302/.848 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 86 at-bats. ... No. 20 Roansy Contreras, who broke into Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects this week at No. 99, is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in eight starts. Contreras has yielded 29 hits and nine walks in 45 innings while striking out 64 for a WHIP of 0.84. ... No. 22 prospect Omar Cruz had a solid Double-A debut against Harrisburg last week after being promoted from High-A Greensboro. The left-hander, acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade, gave up five hits and one unearned run in six innings, striking out two and walking none. He was 3-3 with a 3.45 ERA in 28 2/3 innings at Greensboro before his promotion. ... No. 24 prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba, an outfielder who came over in the Jameson Taillon trade, is at .263/.761 in 137 at-bats. He has three homers and 22 RBIs to go with 24 walks and 38 strikeouts. For the month of June, Smith-Njigba is at .299/.783 with a home run and 11 RBIs. ... Infielder Rodolfo Castro leads the team in RBIs with 37 and is tied for the team lead in homers with nine. In 175 at-bats, Castro is hitting .314/.897 with a 20.3 % strikeout rate and a 5.7% walk rate. ... Starter Travis MacGregor is 1-1 with a 3.82 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over eight starts totaling 30 2/3 innings. He has struck out 35 and walked 13.

Greensboro: No. 22 Braxton Ashcraft is 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in six starts spanning 23 1/3 innings. He has given up 16 hits and five walks while striking out 23. ... No. 29 Michael Burrows has a 2.41 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in eight starts covering 33 2/3 innings. The 21-year-old right-hander has allowed 16 hits and 13 walks while striking out 45. ... Right-hander J.C. Flowers, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, continues to pitch well since his promotion from Low-A Bradenton. In four appearances, the last three of which were starts, the 2019 fourth-round draft choice has thrown 18 innings and given up 12 hits and three earned runs. He’s walked only one and struck out 13. ... Outfielder Matthew Fraizer, the Pirates’ third-round selection in the 2019 draft, is hitting .304/.906 in 181 at-bats. The left-handed hitter has 10 home runs and 25 RBIs for the Grasshoppers. ... Fellow outfielder Lolo Sanchez, 22, is hitting .252/.844 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. ... Outfielder Fabricio Macias, 23, is at .333/.923 with six homers and 36 RBIs. Macias has struck out 34 times in 162 plate appearances and walked nine times.

Bradenton: No. 17 prospect Jared Jones, the Pirates’ second-round pick in the 2020 draft, turned heads with his most recent performance, a four-inning scoreless outing Sunday against Jupiter. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder struck out 11 and walked one while yielding two hits. Overall on the season Jones is 1-0 with a 2.41 ERA in six appearances, four of them starts. In 18 2/3 innings, Jones has given up 16 hits and eight walks while striking out 33. ... No. 21 Nick Garcia, last year’s No. 3 draft pick, is 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA over 26 2/3 innings spread out over nine appearances, seven of which came in relief. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has struck out 31 and walked 16. His two most recent appearances came in a starting role; in 5 1/3 innings he gave up 10 hits and three earned runs while walking three and striking out five. ... No. 25 Jose Soriano, the top pick in this year’s Rule 5 draft, underwent revision Tommy John surgery two weeks ago, and the 22-year-old right-hander will be sidelined for 16 months. ... Shortstop Maikol Escotto, the last piece in the Taillon trade, is hitting .302/.875 with 24 RBIs in 106 at-bats at Bradenton. He has struck out 39 times and walked 23 times in 132 plate appearances. His on-base percentage is .432. He has made six errors in 25 games at shortstop and two more miscues in five games at second base. ... No. 18 prospect Sammy Siani, the No. 37 overall pick in 2019, has raised his batting average to .226 and his on-base percentage and OPS are .398 and .836, respectively. The 20-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder has six homers and leads the team with 30 RBIs. He has struck out 44 times in 137 at-bats but has also walked a team-leading 39 times. ... Endy Rodriguez, the organization’s top catching prospect and No. 25 overall, is at .253/.802 with six homers and 27 RBIs. ... Pitcher Santiago Florez, 21, is 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA in eight games, seven of which have been starts. In 41 2/3 innings, the 6-foot-5, 222-pound right-hander has given up 27 hits and walked 10 while striking out 56.