ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates have spent the past two seasons focused on one thing: building organizational depth and strength. Their efforts got some recognition this week.
On Wednesday night, MLB Pipeline released its midseason update of MLB’s Top 100 prospects and each club’s Top 30 prospects. For the Pirates, it’s chock full of new July acquisitions.
Two Pirates prospects were added to the Top 100 prospects -- one acquired this season, and one who vaulted into it with his recent performance. After Ke’Bryan Hayes graduated from the list, 2021 No. 1 overall Draft pick Henry Davis became the Pirates’ No. 1 overall prospect, and the catching prospect landed at No. 23 -- his jersey number in the Minors -- on the Top 100.
Right-hander Quinn Priester (No. 53), shortstop Oneil Cruz (No. 57) and second baseman Nick Gonzales (No. 68) were shuffled a bit, but they all held their spots in the latest version of the list. Rounding out the Pirates’ representatives was new addition shortstop Liover Peguero at No. 93. The shortstop hit a career best 14 doubles and 11 homers in 69 games entering Friday’s action with High-A Greensboro, and he made an impression on Pirates manager Derek Shelton in Spring Training with his effort and drive.
“This kid, he brings energy every day in a great way,” Shelton said. “Excited as he continues to develop.”
The Pirates’ are one of six organizations to have five or more players represented in the Top 100 prospects.
Looking at Pittsburgh’s revamped Top 30 prospects, a lot of the depth has been built by the current regime led by general manager Ben Cherington. Nineteen of the players among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Pirates prospects have been acquired by the new management team, and other holdovers have broken out in the development environment they’ve helped to lay out.
Among the new entries are four Draft picks: Davis (No. 1), left-hander Anthony Solometo (No. 7), right-hander/shortstop Bubba Chandler (No. 8) and outfielder Lonnie White Jr. (No. 11). One of the fastest in-house risers is outfielder Matt Frazier, who jumped from unranked to No. 23 after slashing .314/.401/.578 with 14 doubles, three triples and 20 homers in 75 games with Greensboro.
“I think it speaks to is Ben lined out a really clear plan when he took the job,” said Shelton of the enhanced organizational strength. “We’re starting to see how that plan is playing out.”
Kuhl returns from COVID IL
Chad Kuhl was reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list ahead of Friday’s series opener in St. Louis, and for the time being, he’ll be in the bullpen as he works back to full strength.
“I think we’ll kind of play it by ear,” Shelton said. “I don’t think we’ve decided what we’re going to use him as right now. He will pitch out of the bullpen. We could see him in multi-faceted roles.”
“We haven’t really had those conversations,” said Kuhl of the specifics of the bullpen progression plan. “I’m expecting to pitch and to be able to build back up, and I’ve proven that I can start and be pretty good as a starter.”
Kuhl isn’t coming back without building up somewhat already. During the time away from the field, he stayed fresh by any means, whether throwing into a net, at a local park “with a bag of baseballs” or to one of the Pirates’ former Minor Leaguers, John Kuchno, who offered his services to play catch with Kuhl. The Bucs’ right-hander has also thrown a bullpen and two live batting practice sessions.
“I threw pretty much every day that I was in quarantine,” Kuhl said. “The biggest part was just getting back off the mound, getting that feel back, but I feel good. I feel fresh. Really not much lag. … I was a little bit sore after the first time off the mound, but all good.”
The positive test surprised Kuhl, though he said he felt some nausea and headaches two days before he was placed on the COVID-19 related IL on Aug. 2. Those issues went away on Sunday as the team prepared to head to Milwaukee, Kuhl said, but a nose swab came back positive and further testing confirmed that to be the case.
“I was fortunate enough that I had minimal symptoms, and that was it,” Kuhl said. “I’m good to go.”