The minor league season is now more than a month old, and several of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospects are still struggling at the minor leagues’ two highest levels – Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.
But one highly regarded asset has been promoted in the past few days, as catcher Henry Davis – ranted as the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline — made the jump from High-A Greensboro to Altoona. And another — No. 5 prospect Roansy Contreras – figures to be heading back to Pittsburgh from Indianapolis before too much longer.
Davis’ promotion, announced Sunday, was earned on the basis of a 1.035 OPS and a .341 batting average in 22 games at Greensboro.
He’ll now get a chance to work with several of the Pirates’ top pitching prospects, including No. 11 Mike Burrows – who had an outstanding outing Sunday – and No. 14 Carmen Mlodzinski. The club’s top pitching prospect, No. 4 Quinn Priester, also is slated to perform at Altoona after he recovers from an oblique injury.
Contreras joined the Pirates in the season’s first week after Duane Underwood Jr. tweaked his hamstring and appeared in three games – all in relief. But he was returned to Indianapolis in late April with the intention of stretching him out as a starter. There, he has made three starts and allowed five hits and one earned run – which came on a home run — in 10 1/3 innings while striking out 16 and walking seven.
In his most recent outing, which came Saturday, Contreras yielded just one hit and no runs while striking out six and walking two in 76 pitches over four innings.
For those who remain one step away from Pittsburgh, shortstop Oneil Cruz, the Pirates’ No. 3-ranked prospect, continues to look up at the Mendoza Line, as he’s hitting.189 with a .637 OPS in 95 at-bats over 24 games at Indianapolis.
Cruz has two home runs and 14 RBIs while striking out 30 times and walking 13 times. He also has eight stolen bases.
The 6’7” Cruz also has had a few moments while trying to adjust to part-time play in left field.
Oneil Cruz has had some struggles in the outfield, and this play on April 24th was the worst example. pic.twitter.com/sluB8uYM4V— Pirates Prospects (@pirateprospects) May 10, 2022
If you’re looking for a silver lining, Cruz has done better since the calendar flipped to May. In 21 at-bats over five games, Cruz is batting .238 with an .884 OPS despite carrying a .222 batting average on balls in play. He has one home run and six RBIs during that stretch. He’s also struck out only twice while walking three times so far in May.
In 19 games during the month of April Cruz batted just .176 with a .566 OPS. He also homered once and drove in eight runs while striking out 28 times during that stretch of 74 at-bats.
Another player off to a painful start – in his case literally — is No. 13 prospect Travis Swaggerty, who is hitting just .194/.544 in 62 at-bats. Swaggerty was placed on the seven-day concussion list after colliding with Cruz in a game a week ago today, and his return date has yet to be announced.
Ji-hwan Bae, the Pirates’ No. 16 prospect, is at .261/.749 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 88 at-bats, and so far during the month of May, he’s picked it up a bit with an .877 OPS in 21 at-bats. No. 22 prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba is at .229/684 overall with just six RBIs and a home run in 83 at-bats.
First baseman Mason Martin, the Bucs’ next highest-ranked position player at Indianapolis at No. 23, is at .253/.852 with four homers and 18 RBIs. However, he has struck out 34 times in 95 at-bats while walking just six times.
While Cruz and Bae have seen some improvement so far in May, Martin is seeing just the opposite, as he has just one hit in 19 at-bats with no home runs and one RBI. He has struck out nine times in those 19 at-bats.
Cal Mitchell, the Pirates’ No. 27 prospect, is hitting .297/.891 at Indy with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Unlike Martin, Mitchell has his strikeouts under control, as he has fanned 10 times while walking 10 times in 74 plate appearances over 22 games.
No. 26 Rodolfo Castro is hitting .241/.759 on the season but is scuffling so far in May, as he’s hitting just .182/.539 with just four hits – all singles – and no RBIs in 22 at-bats.
At Double-A Altoona, No. 6 prospect Liover Peguero is among the top offensive performers in the Eastern League, as he ranks 10th in OPS at .912 to go with a .333 batting average, three home runs and 18 RBIs. The 21-year-old shortstop is second in the league in hits with 31, tied for fourth in RBIs and tied for seventh in stolen bases with seven.
At the other end of the spectrum is second baseman Nick Gonzales, rated the Pirates’ top prospect by MLB Pipeline. Gonzales, the Pirates’ top choice in the 2020 draft and the No. 7 pick overall, is hitting .188/.643 in 85 at-bats over 25 games. During his first seven games in May Gonzales is just 3 for 25 (.120) with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
Outfielder Matt Fraizer, the Pirates’ minor league player of the year in 2021, has even worse numbers than Gonzales. On the season, the No. 10 prospect is batting .157 with a .430 OPS. Fraizer has just three hits in his last 24 at-bats.
On the pitching side, No. 11 Burrows is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in six starts. Burrows, a 22-year-old right-hander, has yielded just 15 hits and seven walks over 26 2/3 innings while striking out 35. Mlodzinski, ranked No. 14, is 0-2 with a 4.63 ERA in six starts. The 23-year-old right-hander has allowed 19 hits and 12 earned runs along with 11 walks in 23 1/3 innings. He has struck out 25.