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Minors Matters: Pirates Minor League report - 8/3/2021

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Top pick Davis breaks in with a bang

MLB: New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates’ organization has seen an influx of new blood since the last Minors Matters piece was penned, as the MLB First-Year Player Draft took place July 11-13 and the club swung several deals at or just prior to the July 30 trade deadline.

The draft brought a windfall of young talent, including four players considered by some to be among the top 32 players available in catcher Henry Davis (No. 1 overall), left-handed pitcher Anthony Solometo (No. 37), outfielder Lonnie White Jr. (No. 64) and Bubba Chandler (No. 72). Deals that sent Adam Frazier, Clay Holmes, Tyler Anderson and Richard Rodriguez packing also fetched a handful of prospects, including one that slotted into the club’s Top 10 list in Tucupita Marcano, who’s rated No. 7 by MLB Pipeline.

The recently drafted – and signed – players haven’t yet been ranked by MLB Pipeline. Fangraphs, however, has Davis ranked as the Pirates’ top prospect while Chandler is No. 10, Solometo No. 16 and White – who turned down a chance to play wideout for James Franklin at Penn State – No. 20.

The draft class, along with some of the talent headed to Pittsburgh from the recent trades, will bolster the franchise’s overall talent level in the minor leagues, but it will be up to the development staff – and the players themselves – to make a real difference on the field.

Top pick Davis had a most impressive professional debut Tuesday, stroking an RBI double in his second at-bat in a Florida Complex League game, and then following that with a two-run homer in his next trip to the plate. And that was just through the first four innings.

Let’s take a look at the existing Top 15 prospects and a few others as we head into the final two months of minor league play.

No. 1 - Nick Gonzales

Gonzales has been heating up at High-A Greensboro as the summer has progressed. In his last 14 games, covering 65 plate appearances, the club’s top draft pick in 2020 is hitting .386/.988 with a home run and nine RBIs. Those numbers won’t hold up; Gonzales’ BABIP during that stretch is .525. Since July 1, Gonzales is at .274/.749 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and 37 strikeouts in 119 plate appearances (31%). Overall, Gonzales is hitting .270/.799 with six homers, 20 RBIs and 60 strikeouts in 194 plate appearances (30.9%) to go with an 8.8% walk rate.

No. 2 - Quinn Priester

Priester, the club’s No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft and No. 18 overall, is more than holding his own at High-A Greensboro. So far in 13 outings – all starts – Priester is 4-3 with a 3.05 ERA. In 62 innings, the big right-hander has yielded 49 hits and 25 walks while striking out 54. In his most recent start, which came Friday against Winston-Salem, Priester had perhaps his best outing of the season, as he gave up just one hit – a solo home run – and one run in a seven-inning win. Priester walked just one and struck out five in his 84-pitch outing.

No. 3 - Oneil Cruz

The 6-foot-7, left-handed hitting Cruz hasn’t played since June 30 due to a forearm strain. According to MLB.com, Cruz no longer is showing any symptoms of that injury, but he has yet to resume throwing. On the season, Cruz is at .289/.887 for Double-A Altoona. In 190 plate appearances, Cruz has hit nine homers and driven in 29. He has a 7.9% walk rate and a 22.6% strikeout rate. Defensively, Cruz has 12 errors in 42 games at shortstop.

No. 4 - Liover Peguero

The highly touted shortstop had a rough start to the month of July but he has turned things around lately, and over the last 14 games – plus the first game in August – Peguero batted .313/.928. In 73 plate appearances, Peguero struck out 14 times and drew five walks. Peguero earned a spot on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the week after going 11 for 26 with five homers and 12 RBIs in six games. On the season, Peguero is batting .266/.793 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 269 plate appearances for High-A Greensboro. He has a 24.5% strikeout rate and an 7.8% walk rate. Defensively, Peguero has committed 17 errors in 56 games at short.

No. 5 - Hudson Head

The young outfielder, who came over from the San Diego Padres in the Joe Musgrove trade, is hitting .217 with a .785 OPS in 295 plate appearances. He has 11 home runs and has driving 35 runs. Head has a 17.3% walk rate and a 30.2% strikeout rate. Since July 1, Head is hitting .204/.711 with 34 strikeouts (29%) and 15 walks (12.8%).

No. 6 - Tahnaj Thomas

The 6-4, 190-pound right-hander has compiled a 1-2 mark with a 4.66 ERA in 38 2/3 innings over 11 appearances – all starts. Thomas has given up 35 hits and 26 walks for a 1.58 WHIP while striking out 42. Seven of his 35 hits allowed have left the yard. Thomas missed more than three weeks during the end of June and first half of July. In his three most recent starts, he has given up 16 hits, six earned runs and one walk while striking out 12 in 13 1/3 innings. In his last start Sunday, Thomas yielded six hits and three runs – all earned – while walking one and striking out five in a 5-1 victory.

No. 7 – Tucupita Marcano

The 21-year-old left-handed hitter, who came over from San Diego in the Adam Frazier deal, has been assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis. So far on the season, Marcano is hitting .265/.795 in 48 games at the Triple-A level, covering 185 at-bats. He has six homers and 26 RBIs. At Indy, Marcano is hitting .188/.628 in 16 at-bats over four games. Before being dealt to Pittsburgh, Marcano appeared in 25 games for the Padres, hitting .182/.484 in 44 at-bats. I wouldn’t look for Marcano to join the Pirates anytime soon; he would be better served by getting everyday at-bats at Indianapolis while GM Ben Cherington and Pirates skipper Derek Shelton sort out the big league club’s middle infield picture.

No. 8 - 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. He has yet to appear in a Florida Complex League game.

No. 9 - Travis Swaggerty

The Pirates’ top pick in the 2018 draft, Swaggerty underwent surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder. 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. 10 - 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. 11 - Carmen Mlodzinski

The 22-year-old right-hander, chosen 31st overall in the 2020 June draft out of the University of South Carolina, experienced shoulder stiffness last month, and it’s not known how much longer he’ll be sidelined. Kevin Gorman of TribLive.com reported last week that Mlodzinski was scheduled to throw off the slope of the mound last week. Mlodzinski last appeared in a game on July 10. On the season, Mlodzinski is 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA in nine starts. In 41 innings, Mlodzinski has given up 27 hits, 12 earned runs, 14 walks and five home runs and has struck out 54 for a 1.00 WHIP.

No. 12 - Miguel Yajure

Yajure remains on the 60-day injured list 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, is 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. According to MLB.com, Yajure threw batting practice last week and is expected to throw another session this week. It’s not certain when he will return to game action.

No. 13 - Eddy Yean

The 20-year-old right-hander, who came over from Washington in the Josh Bell trade, is 4-2 with a 5.44 ERA in 14 appearances, six of which have been starts, for Low-A Bradenton. In 44 2/3 innings, Yean has given up 34 hits, 27 earned runs, seven homers and 23 walks while striking out 47. In his most recent outing, which came Thursday in his first start since June 10, Yean pitched five innings, giving up two hits – one of which was a home run – and two earned runs while walking two and striking out three on 66 pitches.

No. 14 - Ji-hwan Bae

The 21-year-old middle infielder has come on strong in recent weeks at Double-A Altoona. On the season, Bae is hitting .272/.778 in 192 plate appearances, with four home runs and 15 RBIs. He’s done most of his damage in the power department, hitting three home runs in his last five games. In his last 19 games since returning from a knee injury, Bae is hitting .280/.905 with all four of his home runs and 11 of his 15 RBIs.

No. 15 - Mason Martin

The lefty-swinging first baseman is tied for second in the Double-A Northeast League in home runs with 19, one behind the league leader, and is second in the league in RBIs with 56, two behind the leader. On the season, the 22-year-old slugger is batting .263/.902 in 299 plate appearances. He has struck out 100 times (33.4%) and has walked 22 times (7.4%). Since July 1, Martin has been hitting .280/1.001 with 10 homers, 23 RBIS and 39 strikeouts in 111 plate appearances (35%).

Indianapolis: Outfielder Anthony Alford continues to push for a promotion, as he’s hitting .301/.979 with 11 home runs, 34 RBIs and a 15.7% walk rate in 210 plate appearances. On the negative side, Alford has a 34.8% strikeout rate. ... Fabricio Macias, a 23-year-old outfielder whose .316/.861 start at High-A Greensboro earned him a promotion to Triple-A after 184 plate appearances, has gone 8 for 25 in his last eight games at Indianapolis. Overall since his promotion, Macias is hitting .298/.783 with two homers and seven RBIs in 62 plate appearances. ... Reliever Shea Spitzbarth, picked up in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft over the winter, earned a promotion to Pittsburgh after posting a 3-2 record with a 1.41 ERA and a WHIP of 1.03 in 27 appearances. He has 25 strikeouts in 32 innings and has walked 13 batters.

Altoona: No. 18 prospect Cal Mitchell has cooled off a bit in recent weeks, as he owns a .267/.684 profile since July 1 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 95 plate appearances. Overall on the year, he’s hitting .291/.822 in 271 plate appearances. The 22-year-old San Diego product has 11 homers and 40 RBIs to go with a 5.5% walk rate and a 17.0% strikeout rate.. ... No. 20 prospect Roansy Contreras remains sidelined by a right forearm strain. According to Kevin Gorman of TribeLive.com, Contreras began playing catch from 75-90 feet. On the season, Contreras is 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in nine starts covering 46 innings. He has walked 11, given up 31 hits and struck out 65. ... No. 22 prospect Omar Cruz is 1-2 with a 3.90 ERA in six starts since being promoted from High-A Greensboro. Cruz has worked 30 innings and given up 30 hits and 13 earned runs to go with 24 strikeouts and 10 walks ... No. 24 prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba, an outfielder who came over in the Jameson Taillon trade, was placed on the seven-day injured list with a leg issue on July 27. He is at .286/.830 in 248 plate appearances. He has six homers and 40 RBIs to go with a 16.1% walk rate and a 25.8% strikeout rate. During the month of July, Smith-Njigba hit .333/.969 in 78 plate appearances with three homers, 16 RBIs, 15 walks and 24 strikeouts. ... No. 30 prospect Carter Bins, obtained in the Tyler Anderson deal, is hitting .246/.831 overall with most of those numbers coming at the High-A level before the trade. He’s appeared in only two games with Altoona thus far. ... Diego Castillo, a shortstop who came in the Clay Holmes deal, is at .176 in his first 17 at-bats for the Curve but overall on the season he’s at .270/.838 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs. He has an 8.4% walk rate and a 13.7% strikeout rate in 241 at-bats at the Double-A level.

Greensboro: No. 22 Braxton Ashcraft is 1-1 with a 5.35 ERA in 10 starts spanning 38 2/3 innings. He has given up 35 hits and 12 walks while striking out 41. ... No. 29 Michael Burrows was placed on the seven-day injured list on July 16 with an undisclosed injury. Burrows was lifted after retiring the side in order on just 10 pitches in the first inning of his most recent start, July 13 against Rome. In his previous outing, Burrows pitched 5 1/3 no-hit innings and struck out 10, allowing just one run on a season-high 86 pitches. Burrows has a 2.25 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in 11 starts covering 44 innings. The 21-year-old right-hander has allowed 21 hits and 17 walks while striking out 63. ... Right-hander J.C. Flowers, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, is 4-1 with a 3.89 ERA in nine appearances, eight of which have been starts, after being promoted from Bradenton. Flowers has given up 37 hits and 14 walks and has struck out 40 in 41 2/3 innings. ... Outfielder Matthew Fraizer, the Pirates’ third-round selection in the 2019 draft, is at .317/.986 with a 12.1% walk rate and a 20.8% strikeout rate in 346 plate appearances. He is tied for the High-A East League lead with 20 homers and is tied for fifth in RBIs with 50. ... Third baseman Jared Triolo, the Pirates’ second-round draft pick out of the University of Houston in 2019, has come on strong in recent weeks. Since July 1, the 23-year-old right-handed hitter is hitting .346/.905 in 114 plate appearances with four homers, 13 stolen bases and 24 RBIs. Overall on the season Triolo is at .296/.804 with 55 RBIs – third in the league – and 20 stolen bases, good for fifth in the league. ... Pitcher Santiago Florez was promoted in mid-July and has scuffled in his first three starts, giving up 12 earned runs and 16 hits in 16 innings. The 21-year-old right-hander was 5-2 with a 1.37 ERA in 52 2/3 innings at Bradenton.

Bradenton: No. 17 prospect Jared Jones, the Pirates’ second-round pick in the 2020 draft, is 2-2 with a 3.73 ERA in 11 games, eight of them starts. In 41 innings, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder has given up 41 hits and 16 walks while striking out 63. ... No. 21 Nick Garcia, last year’s No. 3 draft pick, is 5-3 with a 3.88 ERA over 46 1/3 innings spread out over 14 appearances, seven of which have been starts. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has struck out 51 and walked 25. ... No. 25 Jose Soriano, the top pick in this year’s Rule 5 draft, underwent revision Tommy John surgery 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 .257/.787 with 30 RBIs in 252 plate appearances. He has a 16.7% walk rate and a 29% strikeout rate to go with a .389 on-base percentage. He has made 12 errors in 46 games at shortstop. ... No. 19 prospect Sammy Siani, the No. 37 overall pick in 2019, was placed on the seven-day injured list on July 17. His last appearance in a game came on July 14. He had been struggling in recent weeks; he was hitting just .146/.420 in the first 13 games of July. Overall he is at .210/.767 in 231 plate appearances. The 20-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder has eight homers and 35 RBIs as well as a 19% walk rate – second-best among the club’s Top 30 prospects behind only No. 30 Carter Bins — and a 25.5% strikeout rate. ... No. 25 prospect Endy Rodriguez is at .277/.819 in 291 plate appearances, with eight homers and 39 RBIs. He has an 19% strikeout rate and an 11% walk rate.

Florida Complex League: Po-Yu Chen, an international signing who received a $1.25 bonus last year, is 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA in five starts for the Pirates’ Black team. In 21 innings, Chen has surrendered just 13 hits and has not walked a batter while striking out 26.