21 Things to Watch For the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021

Man, this year has sucked.

That gets said every year. Every year we assume the turn to the next calendar year will magically bring a change to the fortunes.

Maybe we’ll eliminate a global pandemic in 2021.

Maybe we won’t see the devastating global economic fallout for the years to come.

Maybe the Pirates will take steps toward being good again.

If the 2020 calendar year reminded us of anything, it’s that we crave distractions. People have been willing to risk the lives and health of other humans, just to get back to some normal state where we can drown life out with the distractions of professional sports, comic book movies, live music, and someone else cooking and serving your food.

Unfortunately, for Pirates fans, the game of baseball isn’t a good distraction. The Pirates were the worst team in baseball in the shortened 2020 season. Their farm system had been trending down in the years leading up to Ben Cherington becoming the new General Manager. They are headed for another losing season in 2021, with most of their hope in the farm system sitting in the lower levels. That means your hopes of the Pirates contending in 2022 require strong progression across the board in 2021.

So I guess there’s something to watch in 2021, if you’re a fan of small market MLB teams rebuilding.

To get you prepared for the upcoming calendar year, let’s take a look at 21 players in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system, and what we’re watching for in 2021. We’ve broken the organization into three groups this year: Trade Candidates, 2021 Pirates, and Pirates Prospects.

What are you looking forward to in 2021? The MLB progress? The trades? The prospect development? The release of the Pirates Prospects 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Potential Trade Candidates

Joe Musgrove – I think he’s the most likely guy to be moved this offseason, based on all of the hype around him, and the fact that he’d have the strongest value this offseason.

Jameson Taillon – It would be interesting to see if another team would take a gamble on Taillon, while giving up anything of value. It’s more likely that he pitches for the Pirates in 2021, and becomes a trade candidate at the deadline, assuming he regains value.

Adam Frazier – Frazier is another guy I could see getting moved this offseason. I’m not sure if he’d land a significant return, but he could give the Pirates a few lower level fliers. The benefit for the Pirates here, long-term, would be opening the second base position to give work to Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker in 2021.

Bryan Reynolds – Reynolds had a big year in 2019. He struggled in 2020. He’s got five years of control remaining, which means he might have two years on the Pirates when they’re contenders, at best. Reynolds would be an interesting guy to move this year if a team was paying for 2019 production and years of control. You could include Kevin Newman here as well for the same reason. These guys might be more likely to move next offseason, after trying to regain value in 2021.

Richard Rodriguez – Rodriguez has the most value out of anyone in the bullpen that the Pirates could move. I don’t think the returns from here on out would land much of a return.

Colin Moran – Moran will get a chance to boost his value in 2021 now that Josh Bell has been traded. He could be a trade candidate by the deadline if he does well.

Erik Gonzalez – I’d expect Gonzalez to get plenty of time at shortstop, with the chance to prove his value as a starter. The Pirates have better options in the long-term, so Gonzalez looks like a future trade option at some point if he does well.

2021 Pirates

Ke’Bryan Hayes – There’s no player more important to their future. Hayes provides Gold Glove defense at a difficult position to fill, while also giving a bat that could mature into an impact number three hitter in the majors. He exploded onto the scene in 2020. The league will adjust in 2021, and how quickly Hayes adjusts back will determine if he will reach his lofty upside, and how quick he will get there.

Mitch Keller – Keller is the anchor to the future Pirates’ rotation, giving them a guy who can be a top of the rotation starter and a future mentor to some of the younger prospects in the system. He’s shown flashes of dominance, along with signs that he’s still developing toward his upside, and adjusting to the majors in the process. The 2021 season will be a big development year.

JT Brubaker – Brubaker is a fringe starter at this point, but has the potential to be a #4 starter or better in the majors. He could also be a hard-throwing reliever, capable of multiple innings. I’d expect the Pirates to push him toward the starter role in 2021.

Blake Cederlind – There are a few hard-throwing relievers to watch in 2021, including Cody Ponce, Nick Mears, and the Rule 5 guys — Luis Oviedo and Jose Soriano. The most exciting of them all might be Blake Cederlind. That’s only if you think consistently seeing triple digit fastballs is exciting.

Kevin Newman – I mentioned Newman above in the Reynolds section. You could mention Reynolds here. Both of those guys struggled in 2020, following a breakout 2019. The hope from 2019 is that the Pirates have two starters with average production for the next five seasons. The fear from 2020 is that 2019 was a mirage, and that Reynolds and Newman are below-average starters, or not even starters at all. The 2021 season will give us a better idea in each case.

Anthony Alford – Add Phillip Evans and any other waiver claim the Pirates make between now and the end of the 2021 season. There will be plenty of opportunity for former top prospects who are in the 25-28 age range to get a crack at the majors with the Pirates. How many of them will boost their value enough to stick in the majors with the Pirates over the next few years?

Jared Oliva – Oliva might not be the most exciting prospect to follow, but he’s one of the more intriguing guys I’m watching in 2021. He’s been impressing with his bat since his junior year with Arizona, always playing above his expectations. He’s got solid defense in center field, and the Pirates need outfield help. Someone like Cody Bolton might have more upside, with a chance to work into the MLB mix in 2021. I just think Oliva is a guy who will continue to surprise people, and that might start to carry more significance when he’s doing it at the MLB level. Think of this situation like a potential Bryan Reynolds 2019 situation.

Pirates Prospects

Oneil Cruz – Cruz has the highest ceiling in the system, and he’s in the upper levels. I don’t expect him to arrive in 2021, but a good season in Altoona and Indianapolis could put him on pace for 2022.

Nick Gonzales – He’s getting some lofty comps out of the draft due to his hitting abilities. We’ll get to see if Gonzales is the real deal in 2021, capable of giving the Pirates a potential future All-Star second baseman.

Quinn Priester – I think this is going to be a huge year for Priester. He’s hardly had any pro experience, but has been developing well in the absence of real games.

Liover Peguero – Add Brennan Malone and any other Ben Cherington acquired prospects here. We’re going to get to see the first steps of progress from Cherington’s build, or rebuild, or whatever you call their drive to becoming a winning team again.

Cody Bolton – Bolton is a guy who could arrive in the majors in 2021. His prospect value was surging prior to 2020, and he hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since. I’d expect him to start in Indianapolis, with a chance of arriving in the majors by the end of the year.

Tahnaj Thomas – We were really high on Thomas after seeing him consistently working upper-90s at the end of 2019, with improved control to boot. The 2021 season will give a chance to see how far he’s come since the end of 2019.

Mason Martin – The Pirates need a long-term first baseman. Martin has some of the best power in the system. It’s a perfect match, as long as Martin can hit enough to justify the power. He’s been focusing on adjustments since mid-2019 to lead to improvements with his pitch selection and ability to make contact more often. The 2021 season will give a chance to show the results of that work.