8 Pirates prospects promoted to Triple-A

September 20th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- The Minor Leagues’ regular seasons have ended for teams at Double-A and below, but for many of the Pirates’ top prospects, the action has not yet wrapped up.

The Pirates announced on Monday eight prospect promotions to Triple-A Indianapolis, including six of their Top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline.

Infielder Oneil Cruz (No. 3 prospect), right-hander Roansy Contreras (No. 6), first baseman Mason Martin (No. 17), outfielder Cal Mitchell (No. 18), infielder Rodolfo Castro (No. 25) and outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba (No. 27) all made the cut, as well as right-handers Yerry De Los Santos and Osvaldo Bido. All eight were most recently at Double-A Altoona.

Perhaps the most interesting prospects to keep an eye on looking ahead to 2022 are Cruz and Contreras. Both missed significant time with elbow injuries this season, but both also had their strongest campaigns to date.

Cruz posted an .882 OPS with 15 doubles, five triples and 12 home runs in 62 games, and while all of his starts in the field came at shortstop, he got some work in the outfield between games, so he should have some positional flexibility at Triple-A.

Contreras struck out 76 batters over 54 1/3 innings, recording a 2.65 ERA in 12 starts. He has yet to pitch more than 3 1/3 innings in an appearance since returning from the injured list on Sept. 1, so it’s unclear how much he will get to pitch with Indianapolis.

Though the Double-A season is over, two lower-level affiliates are still playing -- and they’re going for titles.

High-A Greensboro and Low-A Bradenton will begin their postseason best-of-five series on Tuesday. The Grasshoppers, who finished with a 74-46 record in 2021, will take on the Bowling Green Hot Rods (the Rays' High-A affiliate). The Marauders (71-48) will battle the Tampa Tarpons (the Yankees' Low-A affiliate).

The Grasshoppers are laden with prospects who stuck out in 2021, and chief among them is Pirates No. 2 prospect Quinn Priester. The right-hander began the season with a 4.71 ERA through his first five starts, but then he went into domination mode, ending the season with a High-A East-leading 3.04 ERA among qualified pitchers.

In that stretch, Priester did some incredible things. The-right hander, ranked the No. 50 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, pitched an immaculate inning in the “Battle of I-40” rivalry vs. Winston-Salem. Two weeks later, he struck out nine batters in a row and 11 of his first 12 to begin his start vs. Asheville.

“It's a good first step, being able to compete and feel good at this level,” Preister told MLB.com’s Sam Dykstra after his K-heavy start in Asheville. “I just want to continue to do good things wherever I go, and ultimately, I hope it translates to the big league level when my time is ready.”

On the hitting side at Greensboro, Nick Gonzales worked his way back from injury to have one of the strongest months by any Minor League batter in September. Entering Monday, the second baseman had 107 total bases from Aug. 1 onward, which was third among all Minor Leaguers in that span.

At Bradenton, No. 19 prospect Endy Rodriguez stuck out among the pack, leading the qualified Low-A Southeast hitters with a .294 average -- the first time a player on a Pirates affiliate has led the league in batting since Josh Bell in the Florida State League (.335) in 2014.

An unranked prospect broke out at Bradenton on the pitching side, too. Adrian Florencio recorded a 2.46 ERA in 95 innings, which was fueled by a league-leading 117 strikeouts.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton has taken notice of the strong showings by the club’s affiliates at Double-A and lower, which combined for an overall 203-153 record. At various times throughout the season, the skipper has pointed out standout performances he caught while the Major League team was away from the ballpark, and he knows this season is a step in the right direction.

“It’s really important to see highlights, to see guys grow, because we didn’t have that last year,” Shelton said. “The only glimpse that I had of this group was a little bit in instructional leagues and a little bit in Spring Training. So to see these guys and see what they’re doing and to see how much better they got, it’s really important.”