The Pirates Have Very Few Prospects at Third Base, But How Many Do You Need With Ke’Bryan Hayes?

This article series is something I’ve been doing in the offseason almost every year since Pirates Prospects has been in existence. It’s a great way to hit the pause button and see what the Pirates have at each position in the majors and minors, giving a good idea of the future outlook of that position in the future.

Every year there would always be a few articles where the future outlook largely focused on one player. In some cases, such as when Andrew McCutchen was early in his career and had plenty of years of control remaining with the Pirates, you didn’t need to discuss anyone else. It’s a foolish exercise to spend too much time forecasting a team that is five years down the line, as there are way too many variables involved.

The other way a future article would largely focus around one guy would be if the Pirates had their best shot in the majors, with very little chance of help coming any time soon from the minors.

The Pirates have a little bit of both of those situations this year at third base with Ke’Bryan Hayes.

Obviously you hope that Hayes ends up more like Andrew McCutchen’s situation, where the future third base recaps in the offseason are entirely focused on his amazing performances, and counting on those performances from him to boost the team in future years. But there’s some concern about the future of third base if Hayes doesn’t work out.

The Pirates do have a lot of shortstop options in the minors, which we’ll get to later this week. Some of those guys could be candidates to move over to third base if Hayes doesn’t work out in the long run. Oneil Cruz would be the best bet, and Liover Peguero would be interesting as well. In each case you’re assuming this doesn’t take away from another position of need — like shortstop, for example — and you’d see a big defensive downgrade from Hayes.

Beyond those shortstops, you’d have to go deep into the system before you find another third base prospect who could step in for Hayes. In the majors the Pirates could take their chances on Phillip Evans as a backup to Hayes.

Fortunately, the 2020 season gave us a great first impression of Hayes that makes it seem like any discussion about him not sticking in the majors is bound to be just as big of a waste as projecting his eventual replacement at the end of the 2026 season.

At the very least, I think Hayes will stick in the majors as an average starting third baseman, due to the contact and on-base skills, plus the defense. The power is the separator, potentially taking him as high as a perennial All-Star third baseman. No prospect is a guarantee, and a Rookie of the Year candidate can turn around and bomb the next year. We saw that this year with Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman. Hayes will fall to Earth when the league starts adjusting to him over a larger sample size. The focus next year will be on how far he falls.

The Pirates don’t have help on the way in the farm system at third base, outside of some spillover from shortstop, which will impact several other positions on the future projected teams.

Fortunately, the Pirates do have Ke’Bryan Hayes. He should have been a Rookie of the Year finalist this year. He’s a Rookie of the Year favorite entering the 2021 season. He’s the best building block the Pirates have, capable of anchoring their position player group, while potentially adding 4+ WAR impact value from a difficult position to fill. And he’s under control through the 2026 season.

Unless they extend him, which would be a great use of funds this offseason.