Bucs' Minor League rosters unveiled

May 1st, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates’ new regime, led by general manager Ben Cherington, took over ahead of the 2020 season, player development was front and center as the direction that the team wanted to take, especially at the Minor League level.

After some big trades netted a horde of young talent, the Pirates will finally get to execute on that plan, as the Minor League season is set to begin Tuesday.

“The lifeblood of our organization is going to be development,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We need to get these guys on the field. To get these guys on the field, it’s really cool.”

The Pirates unveiled the Opening Day rosters for their four Minor League affiliates Saturday, and there is no shortage of top talent nor intriguing placements among them.

Perhaps the most interesting: No. 9 prospect Travis Swaggerty will begin the 2021 season at Triple-A. The former first-round pick in the ‘18 Draft will skip Double-A to begin the year after slashing .265/.347/.381 with 32 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases in 121 games at then-High-A Bradenton in ‘19.

Swaggerty went 3-for-17 with a double and three walks in 20 Grapefruit League games this spring, and coaches spoke highly of him. First-base and outfield coach Tarrik Brock said “it’s just a matter of time” until the 23-year-old Swaggerty will be playing center field in the Majors.

“He's been one of our most consistent hitters in that group, in terms of the at-bats he's had in the alt site games in April,” Cherington said. “Hitting the ball hard, playing good defense. So you know, we feel like he's ready to take the challenge of playing at Triple-A and excited to see him do that."

Miguel Yajure, the Pirates’ No. 12 prospect, who made his team debut in Minnesota last week, will be at Triple-A. No. 16 prospect Jared Oliva is also a candidate to join Triple-A, but he’s currently sidelined with an oblique injury.

The Curve’s roster is stocked with eight of the Pirates’ Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, including No. 4 prospect Oneil Cruz. The No. 56 overall prospect in the Majors will return to Altoona, where he played 35 games in 2019. Though Cruz got reps in the outfield during Spring Training, Shelton said that the 6-foot-7 infielder will get the majority of his reps at his natural position.

“We’ve talked about versatility. Obviously, that’s going to be important, but he’s going to play shortstop,” Shelton said.

Among the other Top 30 prospects on Altoona's roster are Cody Bolton (No. 10), Ji-hwan Bae (No. 14), Mason Martin (No. 15), Cal Mitchell (No. 18), Roansy Contreras (No. 20), Canaan Smith-Njigba (No. 26) and Max Kranick (No. 28).

High-A Greensboro may be the most exciting group of the bunch. The Pirates will get their first look at 2020 first-round Draft pick Nick Gonzales, who is their No. 2 prospect and the No. 36 overall prospect in baseball. He’ll be one half of the high-ceiling double-play combination with No. 5 prospect Liover Peguero.

No. 3 prospect Quinn Priester (No. 44 overall) will pass over Low-A and go straight to the Grasshoppers with rave reviews surrounding his arsenal. No. 7 prospect Tahnaj Thomas -- the quickest riser in the Pirates’ preseason Top 30 prospects list -- will also begin in Greensboro.

Among the other Top 30 prospects starting at High-A are Carmen Mlodzinski (No. 11), Braxton Ashcraft (No. 22), Omar Cruz (No. 24) and Michael Burrows (No. 29).

The highest-ranked prospect headed to Bradenton is a new acquisition. Hudson Head, who was acquired in the package from the Padres for Joe Musgrove, last played at the now-defunct Rookie level, where the 20-year-old outfielder hit .283/.383/.417 with seven doubles, three triples and a homer in 32 games in 2019.

Joining Head with the Marauders among the Pirates’ Top 30 prospects are Brennan Malone (No. 8), Eddy Yean (No. 13), Sammy Siani (No. 19), Nick Garcia (No. 21), Endy Rodriguez (No. 27) and Alexander Mojica (No. 30).

Following a year without a Minor League season, Cherington said that he and his group had to go through on a case-by-case basis and process information in ways most teams aren’t typically accustomed to doing. Alternate site performances, Minor and Major League Spring Training, most recent Minor League stops and individual skill development all factored into placement decisions.

And none of this is static. The Pirates are not hesitant to move up prospects who show the gains that the organization seeks for them to make.

“We've got to remind each other all the time that Opening Day gets a lot of attention, and then the rosters are going to change quickly after that anyway,” Cherington said. “So most important is that guys are playing and improving and there's always a chance to move up.”