It’s typically not a good idea to draw conclusions about a general manager’s ability to help a team win after one year on the job. When that one year is 2020, then that’s certainly true.
When Ben Cherington took over in November 2019, no one knew what lay ahead in terms of the pandemic and the impact it would have on the baseball season. The Pirates followed up their 90-loss season at the big league level in 2019 by finishing with the worst record in baseball in this shortened year, meaning Cherington will have the No. 1 pick in the '21 Draft.
It might take some time for the new regime to have a true impact on the scouting and development systems, though the club did have a strong 2020 Draft that brought in four Top 30 prospects (one of them in the Top 100).
The first impact Cherington and company made came in January when they traded veteran outfielder Starling Marte to the D-backs for a pair of prospects, and there could potentially be more of that to come as the middle-of-the-pack farm system continues to need some upgrades.
The farm system did provide some contribution at the big league level. Mitch Keller missed time with injury but came back and threw well while graduating off prospect lists at the start of the year. And Ke’Bryan Hayes put down an early marker for 2021 Rookie of the Year Award honors.
FARM SYSTEM RANKINGS
2020 Midseason: 16 | Preseason: 15
2019 Midseason: 15 | Preseason: NR
2018 Midseason: NR | Preseason: 7
2017 Midseason: 6 | Preseason: 7
2016 Midseason: 4 | Preseason: 8
2015 Midseason: 6 | Preseason: 4
Only the top 10 systems were ranked from 2015 to the 2019 preseason; the top 15 systems were ranked 2019 midseason.
International: Po-Yu Chen, RHP
Gonzales, taken seventh overall, is the kind of advanced college hitter who should move quickly and impact the big league lineup soon, but they also added three other Top 100 Draft prospects in Mlodzinski, Jones and Garcia.
The Pirates used the extra time in the 2019-20 international signing period, along with the extra bonus pool money acquired in two separate deals with the Cardinals and Orioles, to sign Chen for $1.25 million in October. The club views the 19-year-old as equivalent to a Top 100 high school talent in a Draft class.
Peguero and Malone both came to the Pirates from the D-backs in the Marte trade last January. While neither obviously got to play any real games, Peguero did impress during his time at the alternate site in Altoona this past summer.
2021 IMPACT PROSPECT
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B: Had Hayes not been slowed by a positive COVID test early in the summer, it’s possible he would’ve graduated off of lists and made a claim for this year’s NL Rookie of the Year Award. Instead, after posting a .376/.442/.682 line with more power than expected offensively and Gold Glove caliber defense at third, he has to be on a short list of 2021 ROY candidates.
2022 TOP PROSPECT
Nick Gonzales, 2B/SS: There’s an outside chance that Gonzales hits his way up to the big leagues in 2021, leaving someone else to fill this spot. But given that he’ll effectively begin his pro career in '21, there’s a good chance he’ll start '22 in the Minors, but don’t expect him to stay there for long.
Hit: Nick Gonzales
Power: Mason Martin
Run: Ji-Hwan Bae
Arm: Oneil Cruz
Field: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Best athlete: Liover Peguero
Fastball: Blake Cederlind
Curveball: Quinn Priester
Slider: Brennan Malone
Changeup: Carmen Mlodzinski
Control: Aaron Shortridge
How the Top 30 Was Built
Seven of the Pirates’ top 10 prospects all came via the Draft, including four first-round picks. Ji-Hwan Bae (No. 12) is the top international signees on the Top 30, with the bulk coming in the 21-30 range. Peguero and Malone are the most recent trade acquisitions, but Cruz and Tahnaj Thomas (No. 15) also joined the organization in previous deals.
Top 30 by Position
Just like a year ago, the Pirates are without a catcher or left-handed pitcher in the Top 30. Even with Keller’s graduation, there’s still a lot of right-handed depth here, with Priester and Malone potential candidates to replace Keller in the Top 100 in the future.