On to the hitters . . . .
The Pirates don’t have as many hitters who could credibly be in the Rule 5 conversation as they do pitchers, but in some ways there’s more urgency. Unlike the situation with pitchers, they don’t have many guys who are still in class A. That’s good, because a disturbing percentage of the position players on the current active roster — if you include trade candidates, it’s most of the roster — probably don’t have a future role in Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, none of the hitting prospects in the system are major-league-ready right now and probably most won’t be at the start of the 2022 season. That makes things tough, because you have to build an active roster of 26 out of the 40-man roster and you also have to have depth.
So the Pirates are facing crunch time in their rebuild. They’re going to have to show some real urgency, something that hasn’t happened since . . . forever. And they’re going to have to start showing it literally within weeks, or their efforts to build all this impressive minor league depth will be wasted. Some of these prospects — particularly players already on the 40-man, like Rodolfo Castro and Oneil Cruz — have to get to AAA soon so they’ll be in a position to compete for major league jobs next spring.
All this means the Pirates are going to have to start showing the courage of their convictions. All of the team’s three previous GMs failed in part because they repeatedly chickened out when it came to committing to their prospects. This front office has reached the point where it can’t continue to waste time with veteran, dead end flotsam any more. We’ll start seeing in the coming weeks, not months, whether they have the fortitude for it, because they have to start getting prospects ready to step into major league roles in the short term. Considering how awful the major league roster is, that shouldn’t be so hard.
Travis Swaggerty, OF — Shoulder injury and all, this one is easy. One of the worst developments this season has been Swaggerty being deprived of a chance to earn a promotion and get himself established in the Pirates’ disaster of an outfield.
Chris Sharpe, OF — Sharpe got off to a good start this year but he’s tailed off a lot. He’s not really a R5 candidate. His chance would be getting in a groove and getting a shot due to injuries and/or bad performances. Or, I should say, performances bad enough to be unacceptable to this front office, if there is such a thing.
Bligh Madris, OF — Same situation as Sharpe, except he’s left-handed. Madris got hot after he was promoted, but he’s hitting .143 in June. Sharpe would have the advantage between the two because he’s right-handed and he has a better track record overall than Madris.
Mason Martin, 1B — Martin has done OK but hasn’t gotten into a groove. Still, he’s in AA having turned 22 just two weeks ago, even with the canceled season. There’s no way a team with the Pirates’ massive hitting problems can afford to risk losing him.
Cal Mitchell, OF — Mitchell’s also in AA despite being just over 22. He’s having a good season, with major improvements in his walk and K rates. Again, the Pirates can’t afford to lose anybody who may be able to hit, considering that all but a handful of players on the active roster have proven they can’t.
Canaan Smith-Njigba, OF — Almost exactly the same age as Martin and Mitchell, Smith-Njigba isn’t having as good a season as Mitchell. He’s doing OK, though, and he’s skipping High-A. Another guy the team can’t spare.
Jonah Davis, OF — Not really a R5 candidate, Davis’ all-or-nothing approach isn’t playing so well in AA. He’s also nearly two years older than the three preceding players. And he’s striking out in well over half his at-bats. Still, he’s skipping a level and he has a history of getting very hot all of a sudden.
Brendt Citta, OF — After coming into this season looking like an organizational player, Citta has a .906 OPS despite making a huge jump, all the way from short-season ball to AA. The sample size is much too small to think he’s become a prospect, but it’ll be interesting to see, if he keeps hitting, whether the Pirates give him a shot at AAA.
Liover Peguero, SS — He’s scuffling a bit now, but this is a no-brainer.
Jesus Valdez, IF — The Pirates got Valdez for David Freese. He’s played short and third, but doesn’t seem to have a real position. He started this year sharing first base with Aaron Shackelford in High-A, which was a big jump from Bristol. Valdez hit four home runs in 13 games, then got promoted to Altoona when Ji-Hwan Bae got hurt. Since then he’s been sitting on the bench. Basically, Valdez seems to have a good bat, including some power, but the Pirates have handled him like an organizational player, so he probably isn’t going to be a R5 candidate.
Fabricio Macias, OF — Macias has always hit just pretty well, with no particular outstanding ability. Lately, he’s been very hot, with an .898 OPS in June. It could be a legitimate breakout, but he’ll have to sustain it.
Lolo Sanchez, OF — Seems like he’s been around for ages and he was passed over in R5 twice, but Sanchez only turned 22 in April. He’s been too much of a slap hitter, despite his great speed. Yet he’s suddenly slugging .529 (.595 in June) and he doesn’t have a H/R split, so it’s not the park in Greensboro. If they think this is real, you’d expect the Pirates to move him up soon.