After making a few playoff runs in a row with a solid core of players and home-grown talents, it’s time for the Pirates to rebuild. The good news is that they have been drafting very well for years since that’s what they are built on, much like several other small-market teams, so they aren’t quite as far behind the eight ball as some others are. A few of their top prospects are ready to make major league impacts now or at least in the next year while a few of their other top prospects are further away but still just as promising. The foundations of their recent playoff runs are present in the current crop of prospects coming up through their system right now.

Org. Rank (100): 18

Division Rank (100): 2nd

Top-100 Prospects: 4

Org. Rank (300): 13

Division Rank (300): 1st

Top-300 Prospects: 12




DSL Pirates 1&2

Rookie Summer League

Dominican Summer League

GCL Pirates


Gulf Coast League

Bristol Pirates


Appalachian League

West Virginia Black Bears

Short-Season Class-A

New York-Penn League

Greensboro Grasshoppers


South Atlantic League

Bradenton Marauders

Class-A Advanced

Florida State League

Altoona Curve


Eastern League

Indianapolis Indians


International League

Top Prospects In The System

Ke'Bryan Hayes

Pos. - 3B  Ht/Wt - 6’1” 210 lbs.  Bats: R Throws: R Age: 23

Level - Triple-A  Drafted - 2015 (1.32)  ETA: 2020

Grades: Hit: 60 Power: 50 Run: 55 Arm: 60 Field: 65

Hayes was the second first-round selection of the 2015 draft for the Pirates with the other being starting shortstop Kevin Newman . Hayes was taken out of the Texas high school ranks and has been known as a glove-first third baseman for his entire career and one who is arguably the best defender regardless of position or level in all of the minor leagues. The problem is that his bat is still catching up to the glove and he took a step back in that department in 2019 with all but three games coming at Triple-A for Hayes. He slashed .261/.334/.411 with 10 home runs, 65 runs, 55 RBI, and 13 steals in 113 total games. While the home runs were a career-high for him, the 2018 stat line at Double-A Altoona was better in nearly the same number of games (117) with a .293/.375/.444 triple slash and seven home runs, 64 runs, 47 RBI, and 12 steals. There is more power for Hayes to tap into with a more consistent launch angle in the swing and he does take a fair share of walks which helps get into better hitter counts. Hayes isn’t fleet of foot but he’s still an effective base stealer and the speed improves the range at the hot corner as well. The 23-year-old third baseman profiles as a perennial Gold Glove candidate and someone who will hit for average with 20-home-run pop in the bat in a couple of years and steals 10 or so bags a year.  

Mitch Keller

Pos. - RHP  Ht/Wt - 6’2” 210 lbs.  Bats: R Throws: R Age: 23

Level - Majors  Drafted - 2014 (2.64)  ETA: 2020

Grades: Fastball: 65 Slider: 50 Curveball: 55 Changeup: 50 Control: 50

Keller has been the Pirates top pitching prospect nearly since he was drafted out of the prep ranks in 2014. Pittsburgh is perhaps the team that develops the most high school pitchers through their system and Keller has been the next one in line after getting over injury bugs early in his pro career. The fastball is thrown in the upper-90s with heavy sink and generates a lot of soft contact or swings and misses. The slider became his go to breaking pitch once he made the majors last season despite the 11-to-5 power curve being the better overall pitch throughout his career and the slider being the newest one in the arsenal. He rounds out the repertoire with a changeup that is major league average at this point and keeps hitters honest not being able to sit on anything in particular. Keller was actually a better pitcher than his numbers showed in 2019 as he tried to get too cute at times and got too much the plate when the stuff is good enough to put him atop or near the top of a big league rotation. If he can carry the late-season momentum into 2020 and improve his control issues that have plagued him and led to far too many walks and too many hittable pitches, Keller is a prime candidate for a bounceback 2020 campaign.

Oneil Cruz

Pos. - SS  Ht/Wt - 6’7” 210 lbs.  Bats: L Throws: R Age: 21

Level - Triple-A  Signed - July 2015  ETA: 2021

Grades: Hit: 50 Power: 60 Run: 55 Arm: 70 Field: 50

The height is not a typo. He’s honestly that tall, and if you’re thinking well he has to move off of shortstop at that point, you’d be wrong because his athleticism is off the charts and allows him to play the position smoothly, plus the double-plus arm is a big boost at the premium spot too. His 2019 year was shortened by a fractured foot, though he did play 35 games at Double-A at just 20 years old. The offense is there for him to be an impact bat at the highest levels as the last two years he’s played 176 games and slashed .292/.349/.482 with 22 home runs, 101 runs, 93 RBI, and 22 steals with most of those games at Double-A. The power in the game is real and he could tap into it more once he adds more strength to the wiry frame he currently has and his eye at the plate leads to the high averages Cruz has posted, though there is a decent amount of swing-and-miss in his game as well. If his current development holds, he could be a 20-20 type at shortstop who hits for a .280 or higher average and sits in the number two spot in an order.

Jared Oliva

Pos. - OF  Ht/Wt - 6’2” 195 lbs.  Bats: R Throws: R Age: 24

Level - Double-A  Drafted - 2017 (7.208)  ETA: 2021

Grades: Hit: 55 Power: 45 Run: 60 Arm: 50 Field: 55

Oliva really popped on the prospect radar over the last two years as he posted back-to-back 33-plus steal seasons with very similar slash lines. The former Arizona Wildcat rebounded from a concussion early last year to have a scorching hot second half and lead the Arizona Fall League in steals, after finishing second in the Eastern League with 36 thefts. There are some things to work on with his swing though as he puts it on the ground too much still with a 47.2-percent rate in 2019 compared to just a 14.5-percent line drive rate. Oliva is still too much of a pull hitter as well and if he works on both of those the power might show up a bit more, but he will certainly raise his average and be more of an extra-base threat than he is now. The speed definitely plays with an 80-percent success rate at swiping bags the last two years and that has helped him turn his stock into more of an everyday center or left fielder than a fourth outfielder which is what he profiled as when he was drafted.

Travis Swaggerty

Pos. - OF  Ht/Wt - 5’11” 180 lbs.  Bats: L Throws: L Age: 22

Level - A-Advanced  Drafted - 2018 (1.10)  ETA: 2021

Grades: Hit: 50 Power: 55 Run: 60 Arm: 55 Field: 55

Sometimes all it takes is one impressive year before the draft to bump up a player’s draft stock and that’s what happened with Swaggerty in his junior year at South Alabama. The power and speed combo he showed really intrigued the Pirates who saw the upside from him, so much so that they looked past the contact issues that other teams were concerned with. In his first full year of pro ball, Swaggerty slashed .265/.347/.381 with nine home runs, 79 runs, 40 RBI, and 23 steals for High-A Bradenton in 121 games. That stat line is evidence of the power-speed combo and the top of the order spot they hope the speedster can fulfill despite the lower batting average and the fact that he struck out 116 times in that span. He has the speed to play center field and an above-average for the position and likely slots there long-term defensively. As he continues to move up through the ranks of the minors, he’ll need to continue working on calming down his swing and actions in the box to improve his contact rates and make the average power show up more often. Swaggerty tended to move too much in the box and get too big with the swing making his head move and leading to higher strikeout rates, but he’s shown the beginnings of making adjustments having raised his average from the .230s in the rookie ball ranks to .265 in High-A.

Prospects To Watch For

Quinn Priester

RHP Age: 19 Short-Season Class-A ETA: 2023

Priester was one of the top prep pitchers in last year’s draft class coming out of Illinois. I wrote of him “The righty has the frame to be a number two, innings-eating, type pitcher who has four pitches in his mix right now anchored by a four-seam fastball that can touch 97 with riding life. His two-seam fastball is more of a sinker-type pitch that sits low-90s with exceptional movement making it a highly effective pitch. Priester also possesses a 60-grade curveball which is perhaps the best in the prep class this year as it sits low-80s and has tight spin and sneaky depth. The changeup is behind the other three as he didn’t have to use it much in the high school ranks and it needs more velocity separation from the fastball to be more effective.” The pro debut was a brief one in the Gulf Coast League, amounting to 36.2 innings, though he did look good with a 41:14 K:BB ratio and a 3.19 ERA. The projection still sticks as a number-two starter and when he adds a bit more weight to the frame, the velocity will improve and make his secondary pitches that much better.

Liover Peguero

SS Age: 19 Rookie (App. League) ETA: 2023

Peguero was an international signee of the Diamondbacks in 2017 before being involved in the Starling Marte trade this offseason. Peguero is a guy that’s filled with all sorts of potential and could have four plus-tools when all is said and done with the only exception being his power. The 19-year-old hasn’t reached A-ball yet, except for a 22-game stint at short-season with Arizona. The right-handed stroke really impacts the ball with great bat speed and once he adds weight to his 160-pound frame, that bat speed will translate into a bit more power but certainly great XBH pop. Over the course of 101 total pro games, Peguero has slashed .299/.354/.428 with six home runs, 69 runs, 59 RBI, and 18 steals. Defensively, his actions, footwork, hands, and arm strength have all improved since he reached pro ball and gives him the shot to stick at shortstop long-term though could move to the other side of second base and play the keystone as well.

Ji-Hwan Bae

2B/SS Age: 20 Class-A ETA: 2022

Bae was originally a member of the Braves’ 2017 international class but his deal was voided due to the penalties given to them and the Pirates jumped on the chance to sign him with a $1.2-million deal. Since joining the Pirates he has really taken off including leading the South Atlantic in batting average last season and has turned into a real stolen base threat. Bae possesses elite 70-grade speed and that lets his ground ball hitting approach play up since he can wind up with a bunch of infield singles. In 121 games for the Pirates farm system, Bae has slashed .309/.391/.407 with 93 runs, 51 RBI, and 41 steals. You’ll notice there aren’t any home runs and that’s due to his 30-grade power that won’t really improve much. He likely fits better at second than shortstop with a slightly weaker arm and his actions are better suited to the keystone as well. With a plus-hit tool and elite speed and improving walk rates (leading to over a .400 OBP last year), Bae fits the mold of a top-of-the-lineup hitter who can wreak havoc on the basepaths.

Mason Martin

1B Age: 20 A-Advanced ETA: 2022

Martin was a 17th-round pick in the 2017 draft and then the Pirates went way above slot to sign him away from a commitment to Gonzaga because they were infatuated with his ability to hit for power. Martin may not grade out well in other tools with a 40-grade Hit tool, 30-grade Run tool, and matching 45-grade Arm and Field tools, but the power is 65-grade and easily the best in their system and some of the best in the minors. He split his 2019 campaign between Class-A and High-A, playing a total of 131 games and slashing .254/.351/.558 with 35 home runs, 129 RBI, 90 runs, and eight steals. There are some big problems in his game as he struck out over 30-percent of his trips to the plate last year and in the last 235 games (dating back to the start of 2018), Martin has struck out 317 times though in fairness to him it’s mostly coming from being too patient at the plate. The defense is adequate at first base and he’s made it a big part of his development over the last two seasons. Ultimately, he’s a first-base only option with big-time power and he needs to work on swinging at pitches to hit earlier in the count to raise the average and on-base percentage.

Tahnaj Thomas

RHP Age: 20 Rookie Ball ETA: 2022

Thomas was signed as a shortstop out of the Bahamas by the Indians and then traded to the Pirates prior to the 2019 season. At 6’4”, he has a sturdy frame to handle innings well, though he needs to add some weight to his 190 pounds as he’s listed. The Indians like the strong arm that Thomas possessed and put him on the mound instead of at short and since coming to the Pirates he really started to take off. The fastball is his main pitch and grades out as a 65-grade offering that average 96 and tops 100 mph with late riding life, especially up in the zone. The slider is also an above-average pitch when he stays on top of it and doesn’t let it turn into more of a slurve as it misses bats well in the zone when it’s a tight breaking pitch. The changeup is more so just there for show at this point. In 48.1 innings in the Appalachian League in 2019, Thomas posted a 3.17 ERA and 59:14 K:BB ratio while allowing a .217 BAA. The problem was that he was too fastball-heavy and threw the slider just 10-percent of the time last year. He’ll need to improve his secondary pitches going forward if he wants to stick as a starter, though that’s rare from guys that are converted.

Other Top-300 Prospects of Note

Lolo Sanchez

OF Age: 20 Advanced-A ETA: 2022

Sanchez has speed, but that’s about it right now aside from defensive skill in center and left. He’s posted 63 steals in the last two seasons and reached Advanced-A last year but the pitch recognition and ability to really hit for contact need major improvements. He profiles as a fourth outfielder right now.

Alexander Mojica

3B Age: 17 DSL Rookie ETA: 2024

There’s a lot to like here for Mojica who led the DSL with a 1.048 OPS mark in 2019 despite not turning 17 until August and he also posted a .351 average with 23 XBH in 55 games. He’s got a chance to hit for power and average and fits at either third or first depending on how he physically matures considering he’s not that fleet of foot right now at 6’1” and 195 pounds and it’ll only get worse if he grows a few more inches and adds 20-30 more pounds.