They paid lip service to bringing him back at a reduced rate, but keeping him around seems like inviting an ill wind. Every time a Pittsburgh fan sees him in uniform, a painting in an attic somewhere writhes itself into unimaginably hideous shapes.
It’s time to sail on, is all I’m saying. Or just flip the painting so we never have to look at it again.
The team did well in the draft this year and has honestly my favorite system of the nine I’ve covered so far. I say “honestly” not because I’m mostly lying in this space but to convey my mild surprise at the realization of that thought. I think there’s a strong case to roster sixteen of these young bucs, so I’ve adapted the list a little this week.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA
1. SS Nick Gonzales | 21 | NCAA | 2022
I thought Gonzales would go off the board before the seven spot in the 2020 draft, but the Orioles’ selection of Heston Kjerstad created a domino effect that left Gonzales on the board for the Pirates. Yarr! They announced him as a shortstop on draft night and will likely develop him there, although most scouts think he’s a better fit at second base. It’s better for our game if he lands there, but I don’t care much where he plays. He’s always hit well, with both aluminum (or vibranium or whatever they make bats with these days) and wood.
I didn’t think he’d go earlier because he hit five home runs in one day this year. I thought he’d earned it by slashing .351/.451/.630 across 153 at bats in the Cape Cod League, where his seven home runs helped him take home the league MVP.
Oh and did I mention he steals bases? He’d swiped four in 16 games by the team the NCAA season ended. He’d also hit 12 home runs in those 16 games. 82 plate appearances. New Mexico plays at elevation, and Pittsburgh is tough on righty power, so there’s plenty of reason to doubt his ability to produce power in that park, but I’ll bet on him where I can in dynasty leagues and try to buy via trade if he starts out slow.
2. SS Oneil Cruz | 22 | AA | Late 2021
What to do with Oneil Cruz, one of my favorite prospects in baseball prior to the news we received recently in reference to a car accident that ended the lives of three humans. I have no idea where he’ll go from here. He’s a little taller than 6’6” yet dynamic enough athletically to play shortstop and go to the opposite field with a natural-looking flick of the wrists that makes me much harder to strike out than someone so big can be. His regular swings are often beautiful and tremendous in the potential for destroying baseballs. He’s reportedly coming to spring camp but could still be facing some kind of suspension, and he’s so incredibly talented he has to remain on the list. I don’t want to soapbox or presume anything, but Cruz has a lot of work to do as a baseball player, and I hope he can find a healthy balance and manage the trauma I would certainly be facing on a daily basis were I in his shoes.
3. 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes | 24 | MLB | 2020
Here’s a snippet that Fantasy Master Lothario Grey Albright himself wrote this week in his Ke’Bryan Hayes, 2021 Fantasy Outlook:
“In Ke’Bryan Hayes’s big month of September, he had a 25% HR/FB and would need to continue that to come close to a 5-homer per month guy. His minor league numbers speak more to a 3-homer per month. Small quibble maybe, but over a six-month season, he’s more of a 18-homer guy vs. 30 homers. Thankfully, he doesn’t just homer. In fact, if you read that a year ago, you’d think he did everything but homer. While not an extreme blazer like Trea Turner or someone obscenely fast, Hayes isn’t a complete dud for speed either. He’s a 55-grade speed guy, which should translate to 10+ bags, maybe 20 if he feels like putting on a show like that boastful showoff, Itch.”
Oof. Shots fired. Luckily I’m so quick I can dodge a bullet. Or could. Maybe. I hope I’ll never find out.
I mentioned the righty power problems in Pittsburgh, but they can be overcome more easily by dead pull hitters because so many blasts die in left center field (383’ power alley jutting out to 410’ in left center). The eye test, limited as it is thus far, tells me Hayes hits blasts a little like his father did, hunting fastballs he can yank down the line. If he can figure out how to replicate that, he has a chance to pay out on his current perceived value, but that’s a rare skill to master. Mookie Betts is the only guy who comes quickly to mind.
4. OF Jasiah Dixon | 19 | R GCL | 2023
Do not pay this price for Jasiah Dixon, which likely represents his high water mark this rankings season. His hands are fast, his feet are fast, and I’ve just got a really good feeling about the kind of player he can become. Might have the highest non-Oneil topside on this list. Can’t wait to see him in a full-season league.
5. SS Liover Peguero | 20 | A- | 2023
Seen as the primary piece coming from Arizona (along with RHP Brennan Malone) in return for Starling Marte, Liover Peguero caught hype wave in the aftermath of the deal and is likely unavailable in your dynasty league. Listed at 6’1” 160 lbs, Peguero has a frame you can dream on and brings four plus tools to the shortstop position with the potential for five if he adds power.
6. OF Jared Oliva | 25 | MLB | 2020
Oliva Newton John capitalized on his fame from the 2019 Fall League production of Greece and made his big screen debut this summer. It was only 16 plate appearances over six games, and it didn’t receive rave reviews (.188/.188/.188 slash line), but it’s there on the film if you want to get a look at Oliva on the main stage. I’m skeptical he’ll translate his just-plus across the board toolset into a long-term major league starting spot, but he should get plenty of run this summer, and he should run enough to help us in fantasy. I’ve had him lower than this at times because I question the hit tool. I wish he were left handed because he could use the extra millisecond out of the box and the platoon advantage. I’m worried he’s not impactful enough to overcome that.
7. RHP JT Brubaker | 27 | MLB | 2020
One thing about Brubaker is you can probably drop him and pick him back up at your leisure. At a glance, he seems very meh, but I found myself watching a disproportionate number of his outings last year, and I think he’s a legit rotation piece. He’s not going to be an ace, but his slider is a dominant big league pitch, and that’s a nice foundation. I’ve seen him touch 97 up in the zone, but he’s throwing mostly sinkers these days. It’s not working super great, if his -4.8 pitch value on fangraphs is any indicator. It’s especially plain in watching his starts. He’s overusing his mediocre two-seam fastball. Anyway, it’s not easy to be a one-pitch pitcher, but his curveball (81 mph) is distinct from his slider (87.9 mph), and I’m hoping he learns to lean on that for strike one, then try to find a cutter or four-seamer to access the 93-94 velocity band without getting dinged as much. He’s got a good arm and some present aptitude. Easy to see real promise when you watch him face big league bats. Only over the other pitchers on the list because he’s here and doing the thing now. I’m patient, but I tend to reward proximity in my own dynasty valuations, in part because I think it’s generally undervalued.
8. SS Ji-Hwan Bae | 21 | A | 2022
Bae’s a slapstick lefty who would be a boon for our game in a regular role whether or not he found a way to access his power. He’s athletic enough to play shortstop but seems to be settling in a second base. Kind of a Dee Gordon type at this stage. Not much room left for that type in the real game these days, but Bae’s made it work so far, posting a 145 wRC+ in 86 games in A ball and stealing 31 bags along the way.
9. 3B Alexander Mojica | 18 | R DSL | 2024
I’ve found myself frequently fighting the urge to move Mojica up the list this week. At actualization, he’d be a plut hit, plus power bat with plus strike zone discernment. Rare creatures, indeed. But he hasn’t even played stateside yet, so that fact that he’s walked more than he’s struck out in 55 games in the Dominican Summer League just doesn’t warrant that huge a parade. It happens a lot down there. Command comes late for a lot of pitchers. Anyway, I think Mojica is a nice flier in a dynasty league, and I think he’s got a chance to bounce up the public lists this year, so he makes the swashbuckling ten.
10. 1B Mason Martin | 21 | A+ | 2022
I’m not super into Martin’s chances to actualize at the big league level given his 32.3 percent K-rate at high A, but he did hit 35 home runs in 556 plate appearances across two levels in 2019 when he was a fair bit younger than his average competitor. The game is changing to keep high strikeout bats in lineups, and there’s no doubt Pittsburgh needs lefty power in that park, but I’d be trading Martin if anyone felt strongly about buying him off me.
11. RHP Tahnaj Thomas | 21 | R APPY | 2022
12. RHP Cody Bolton | 22 | AA | 2021
13. RHP Quinn Priester | 20 | A- | 2023
14. RHP Cameron Mlodzinski | 22 | NCAA | 2022
15. RHP Jared Jones | 18 | HS | 2025
16. RHP Brennan Malone | 20 | A- | 2024
Pitching prospect value varies wildly from league to league, but for the most part, you could do better with an MiLB spot than lock yourself into a long term relationship with a young arm. Any wait longer than one year seems a wasted spot, or at least a spot that could be swapped out for someone with better potential to bring functional return on investment. I’d like to have Bolton and Mlodzinki on the super cheap, or at least on the speed dial if they’re in free agency, and Thomas certainly has enough value to be part of a trade, but these are all borderline dynasty assets in my opinion despite being excellent prospects for the real game.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.