In a normal year, now would be the time to come out of baseball hibernation – if you ever went into it – and start thinking about the upcoming season. After all, in less than a month, pitchers and catchers would start filtering into their respective camps in Florida or Arizona, and the position players wouldn’t be far behind.
As we all know, though, we’re in anything but a normal year – in more ways than one. Baseball has been in a lockdown state since the first week of December, putting a halt to all meaningful transactions involving big league players.
It’s only been 55 days or so since the owners took that action, but it seems like years to me. I was trying to recall the last real news we had to chew on, and then remembered the trade that sent Jacob Stallings to the Miami Marlins, a deal that was consummated Nov. 29 – three days before the lockdown started.
Some fans panned the trade, saying it was another case of the Pittsburgh Pirates getting rid of a solid player for no good reason. I had no trouble with the move; I admit Stallings developed into a fine defensive player and he even had his share of clutch hits, relatively speaking. Still, he moved the needle exactly zero inches for me, and I was more than happy to see GM Ben Cherington jettison him while his value was at its absolute peak and pick up a couple of lottery tickets in return.
One of those tickets is worth taking a closer look at.
Connor Scott is a once highly regarded outfield prospect who was ranked No. 23 in his 2018 draft class by Baseball America. He was compared favorably to Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker, who attended the same high school in Tampa and had similar frames and approaches at the plate.
The Miami Marlins liked what they saw of Scott, who was 18 at the time, and chose him 13th overall in that year’s amateur draft – just three spots behind the Pirates’ top pick that year, fellow outfielder Travis Swaggerty.
The 6-foot-3, 187-pound left-handed hitting Scott split time his first season between the Marlins’ Gulf Coast League team and Greensboro of the South Atlantic League. He had his challenges, batting a combined .218 with a .605 OPS in 208 plate appearances.
The Marlins were not deterred, and Scott spent the 2019 season at what was then Low-A Clinton in the Midwest League and Jupiter in the former Florida State League. He picked up the pace a bit, hitting .248 with a .670 OPS in 523 combined plate appearances.
After losing the 2020 season to the pandemic, Scott was sent back to High-A competition in 2021, where he added more than 100 points to his OPS (.779) and batted .276 with 10 homers and 46 RBIS in 435 plate appearances.
That brings us up to date. So what do the Pirates see in the 22-year-old Scott? Well, for one thing, you can always use another high-pedigree prospect, even if his results haven’t been eye-popping so far. He was obviously highly regarded as an amateur; Baseball America noted in 2018 that some teams looked at him as a sure-fire first-round pick and others had him going in the supplemental first round or even beyond.
FanGraphs rates Scott as having 50 game power and 55 raw power on the 20-80 scale to go with a 70 grade on speed and a 60 grade as a fielder. Overall, they give him a grade of 40-plus, which equates to a bench player or a bit beyond. I liked the idea of taking him off the Marlins’ hands, given the state of the outfield, organizationally speaking.
The Pirates have a few fine young outfield prospects, including 2021 draft pick Lonnie White – ranked as the club’s No. 11 prospect by MLB Pipeline, and Braylon Bishop, who ranked among the top 100 prospects in that draft. But outfield isn’t exactly a position of strength in the system; other than White only three outfield prospects rank among the club’s top 22 in Hudson Head (No. 12), Swaggerty (No. 16) and Cal Mitchell (No. 18), although Ji-hwan Bae (No. 22) has gotten some time in the outfield after working primarily as a middle infielder during his first four years in the organization.
And Matt Fraizer (No. 23) had a major breakout season split between High-A and Double-A, so he could be a factor at age 24. Further down the list are Canaan Smith-Njigba (No. 28, turns 23 April 30) and Jack Suwinski (No. 30, turns 24 July 29).
White just turned 19 in December, and Head, who profiles similarly to Scott in terms of speed, fielding, raw power and game power according to FanGraphs, will be 21 in early April, so it’s not likely they’ll be wearing a big league uniform anytime soon.
Mitchell, who turns 23 in March, reached Double-A last season and held his own (.280/.759) but he’s not considered can’t-miss by any means. Swaggerty – who turns 25 in August – hasn’t played much since 2019 due to the pandemic and an injury that wiped out all but 12 games of his 2021 season at Indianapolis.
Given the state of the Pirates’ big league outfield picture, the door is open for Swaggerty to show the promise that convinced the Pirates to make him the 10th player taken in the 2018 draft. But if he falters, perhaps Scott will get a shot after getting more seasoning at Double-A Altoona this season and a half-season at Indianapolis in 2023. He’s certainly worth keeping an eye on moving forward.