If all goes well, the future outfield in Pittsburgh projects to have Travis Swaggerty in center field, flanked by Bryan Reynolds in left and Oneil Cruz in right.
Things need to all go well in this case. Otherwise, the Pirates have some questions.
They might be able to answer those questions over time, but for now, the prospect depth in the outfield for the Pirates is very thin. I’ve broken down the corner outfield positions this week, which projects out to one last chance for Gregory Polanco in right field, and the likes of Anthony Alford and Phillip Evans battling it out in left. Both corner spots are question marks for the long-term, and center field isn’t much better, with questions about Reynolds’ ability to play the spot, and his inconsistent offense so far in the majors.
The hope is that Swaggerty and Cruz both work out, with another shortstop prospect allowing Cruz to move to the outfield.
Beyond those two prospects, the next best outfield prospect in the system ranks 15th. There’s some upside with the outfield prospects they have, but you’d hope for fewer question marks on the prospect side with so many question marks in the future starting outfield.
Below are the best outfield prospects in the system, beyond Swaggerty, and where they might fit into the Pirates’ outfield mix in the future. The Pirates will be hoping for a breakout or two from this group to help answer some of those future outfield questions.
The Upper Level Prospects
Mitchell is the only guy from this list who is purely a corner outfielder. His defense at the corners is average at best, due to below-average speed. That puts a lot of focus on his bat, which hasn’t shown the in-game results that you’d expect from his tools. Mitchell has the potential for plus power, but a rising strikeout rate the last two seasons in A-ball could limit his offensive production. He could move up to Altoona in 2021, and will be a big prospect to watch to see how the new guys develop their players. Mitchell has breakout potential, and I could see a scenario where he’s in the top ten or even top five of the system by this time next year.
Herman has a plus arm, so he’d be a better fit in right field. He can play all three outfield spots, with enough range in center field to be a backup, and the bat to be a starter at the corners. Herman’s bat has shown impressive power early in his career. He hit for an .804 OPS last year in Low-A, with a .208 isolated power and 13 homers at the age of 19. Herman should go to High-A in 2021, and could emerge as a starting corner outfield option if he continues to hit the same way.
I mentioned Oliva yesterday as an option for the 2021 team later in the season. A conservative outlook for him has his upside as a fourth outfielder, and an aggressive look has him as an average starting center fielder. I think he’s got a shot somewhere in there as an average starter in left field, fueled by his defensive range at PNC Park, along with enough value to stick at the position. The 2021 season should see Oliva starting in Triple-A, with the chance to break into the majors by the end of the year if he’s hitting well.
Gorski is an interesting guy to follow in this system. He was drafted by Neal Huntington in the second round in 2019 and given a $1 million bonus out of college. He’s got the range and arm strength to stick in center field. He’s got plus raw power potential, but also some swing and miss tendencies. The Pirates have drafted many players like Gorski in the past under Huntington, and none of them have worked out. That’s largely because they tried to make those players complete hitters. It will be interesting to watch and see if Ben Cherington’s group is fine letting Gorski develop as a low average, high-power hitter. We haven’t seen many of those players reach the majors in Pittsburgh, typically because the priority for average and power was reversed under Huntington.
Sanchez is a five-tool guy with the potential for at least average tools across the board. He’s been stuck the last few seasons with the question of whether he’ll hit for more power, and how much of a sacrifice he will see to his average and OBP in the process. He put up good numbers in Low-A in 2019 at the age of 20, which would be encouraging for most players. For Sanchez, it came in his second run through the level, after struggling in High-A and getting demoted. He’ll get another shot at A-ball in 2021, and should move up to the higher levels once he starts hitting. He’s got a chance to be an average starting left fielder in Pittsburgh.
The Lower Level Prospects
Sammy Siani, Deion Walker, Jasiah Dixon
In Neal Huntington’s final draft with the Pirates, he added a trio of center fielders out of the high school ranks. All three could make the jump to full season ball this year, at which point we’ll get an idea of who from the list could join the future starting discussions.
Siani is the best of the three right now, although all three are raw. Siani is a line drive hitter with excellent speed, solid defense in center, and an arm that rates at least average. Dixon is a speedy center fielder who will probably stick in center the longest due to the speed and defense. He does have some raw power potential, and promising plate patience, and has the arm strength to play in center or move to right. Walker played right field next to the other two, having the arm for the position after pitching in high school. He showed good power potential in a limited view in the GCL last year, but had issues with his plate patience.
Cal Mitchell photo courtesy Pittsburgh Pirates