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Six Bucs appear in top 100 prospects list

Usual suspects, including top pick Henry Davis, touted by The Athletic

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Accolades continue to filter in for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, as The Athletic’s Keith Law placed six Pirates prospects in his annual Top 100 MLB prospects for 2022.

Law, who has been compiling such rankings for 15 years, said he favors “upside in prospects more than certainty” but also noted that there is “value in both.”

Law uses the 20-80 scouting scale in which 50 is major league average. That means a 45-grade or less in a particular area is below average and anything 55 or higher is above average.

Making the Top 100 grade for the Pirates were catcher Henry Davis, who came in at No. 20; right-handed pitcher Quinn Priester (57), shortstops Oneil Cruz (65) and Liover Peguero (77), right-handed pitcher Roansy Contreras (83) and second baseman Nick Gonzales.

Five of the six are new to Law’s Top 100 list; only Priester made the grade in 2021 when he was ranked No. 73.

Law pointed out that Davis, the Bucs’ top draft pick and the overall No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, has “outstanding bat-to-ball and pitch recognition with plus game power.” He also noted that Davis’ strong arm is his best defensive attribute but said he needs work in receiving and blocking and also must learn how to call a game and lead a pitching staff. Overall, though, Law believes Davis’ willingness to learn should help in that regard and his offensive skills could make him a potential All-Star behind the plate. Baseball America has him ranked No. 41 on its Top 100 list.

Law describes Priester – the club’s top pick in the 2019 draft and No. 18 overall — as a four-pitch pitcher with his curve and slider showing plus potential, and he projects him as having the upside of a No. 2 starter. Law believes the 6’3”, 210-pound right-hander, who is ranked No. 88 by Baseball America, still has room to grow and add velocity to an arsenal that already features a 97 mph heater.

The 6’7” Cruz, as just about every Pirate fans knows, is the world’s tallest shortstop and many figure he’s destined to find a home elsewhere before too long. The Bucs, though, claim they’ll keep him at short, at least until he proves he can’t handle the position.

He can definitely handle the bat; in a very short stay in the big leagues last season he crushed one pitch 118.2 mph – the highest ever recorded by a Pirate since Statcast came into use. The former Los Angeles Dodgers prospect, who came over in the Tony Watson trade at the 2017 deadline, is held in much higher esteem by at least one other prospect website, as Baseball America has him at No. 14 in its Top 100.

Cruz spent most of last season at Double-A Altoona, where he batted .292 with an .882 OPS in 273 plate appearances, then battered Triple-A pitching during a brief six-game stay at Indianapolis before getting into two games – nine plate appearances – for the Pirates. He figures to flatten a few more pitches in Pittsburgh this season, although it might not be right out of the chute.

Peguero could be the one to chase Cruz off shortstop. The 21-year-old Dominican Republic native, who came over from Arizona in the Starling Marte trade, spent last season at High-A Greensboro, where he batted .270 with a .776 OPS. He showed pop with 14 home runs and also stole 28 bases in 34 attempts. Law speculated that Peguero – ranked No. 80 by Baseball America — has a “high floor” as a utility infielder because he’s already a plus defender at shortstop and has the potential to be a 20-home run guy. If all goes well, though, he could be an everyday shortstop with a 20/20 calling card, according to Law.

The 21-year-old Contreras, one of four players obtained in the Jameson Taillon trade last offseason, made a huge leap last season and was impressive during 12 starts at Double-A Altoona, striking out 76 batters in 54 1/3 innings and getting up to 98 mph on his fastball. His workload was limited, as he missed two months because of arm problems, but he did come back to throw a few innings in the Arizona Fall League and did not show any ill effects. Law pointed out that Contreras is on the smaller size – he’s listed at 6’0”, 175-pounds – but speculated that he won’t be asked to go deep into games. He slots in at No. 80 in the Baseball America rankings.

Gonzales, the first No. 1 draft pick in the Ben Cherington regime, was characterized by Law as “more a mistake hitter with power than a hit-first guy” who struggled a bit with hard stuff up and in and breaking pitches in the strike zone. Law predicted Gonzales could be a “low-OBP, 20-25 homer guy,” with the potential for better numbers if he improves on his ability to connect on pitches in the strike zone. Baseball America has Gonzales ranked No. 49.