The Pirates system doesn’t have immense depth or a long line of high-impact players but the big league club could benefit from quite a few contributions in 2019 — especially on the infield.
1. Mitch Keller | RHP | AA —> One of the top arms in the upper levels of the minors, Keller has a nice mix of fastball velocity and ability to generate ground-ball outs. He’s also been durable and threw more than 140 innings split between three levels in 2018. He finished the year in triple-A but may return to that level in 2019 until he adds some additional polish to his secondary offerings and command. His fastball/curve combo, along with better-than-average control, could make him a solid No. 2/3 starter at the big league level — especially with an improved changeup.
2. Ke’Bryan Hayes | 3B | AA —> I’ve long been a fan of Hayes, who had his best pro season in 2018 while playing in double-A at the age of 21. He flirted with a .300 batting average while showing a better eye at the plate with 57 walks and just 84 Ks. On top of that, he started to show more gap pop and could be good for 30-40 doubles at the MLB level while producing 10-12 homers with his current approach. Defensively, he has the skills to develop into an impact defender at third base.
3. Cole Tucker | SS | AA —> Tucker really started to take off in the second half of 2018 so I see 2019 as a big breakout waiting to happen for the young middle infielder. He’s hitting the ball into the air more and starting to tap into his raw power potential. He also has good speed and just might develop into a 20-20 threat if he doesn’t fill out too much. Tucker, 22, should settle into the left side of the infield but might be a slightly stronger third baseman than shortstop but he’ll remain at the latter position for the foreseeable future.
4. Travis Swaggerty | OF | A —> The Pirates’ first round pick in 2018, Swaggerty showed signs of what made him so highly regarded but he had an overall uneven performance. The biggest issue with his debut season was the strikeouts, especially after he moved up to A-ball. I’m not as convinced as some that he’ll have much power and I really think he’s at his best when he’s using the whole field and taking advantage of his above-average speed. But he does have the power (and bat speed) to sell out on his approach, see significant Ks and hit 20 homers. He also has a chance to be a special fielder in center.
5. Kevin Kramer | IF | AAA —> Kramer had an outstanding offensive season in 2018 at the triple-A level while showing increased power output. It came, though, at the expense of contact and he struck out 127 times in 129 games so don’t expect him to hit .300 at the big league level. He has also become a more aggressive hitter and doesn’t walk much. But I could see 15-20 homers at the big league level while playing average defence at second base or third (if he has the arm strength).
6. Kevin Newman | IF | AAA —> Ranking the three Pirates shortstops (not counting Oneil Cruz) is not easy. Newman is the hardest of the three because he has almost no power to speak of but he grinds out at-bats and doesn’t quit. He also doesn’t strike out much and does a decent job of taking a free pass. Newman has the speed to nab 15-20 bases in a full season. He can play shortstop but it’s a stretch so he’s likely a long-term second baseman.
7. Bryan Reynolds | OF | AA —> Reynolds is a tough guy to project but it’s hard to see an impact MLB hitter here. There is skill — he’s finished above .300 in each of his three pro seasons — but he doesn’t produce the power you look for in a corner outfielder and he doesn’t play center field well enough to be out there every day. He took more walks in 2018, which is encouraging to see but he still needs to make adjustments to his swing to tap into his raw power more consistently. I’ve also seen him really struggle with breaking balls, especially from the left side.
8. Calvin Mitchell | OF | A —> The 19-year-old outfielder had an encouraging first full season in pro ball, although he appeared to tire later in the year. He showed flashes of being able to hit for both power and average, although he needs to tighten up his approach at the plate a bit and continue to see more breaking balls. Mitchell also hung in very well against same-side pitching, although the sample size was small at fewer than 100 at-bats.
9. Oneil Cruz | 3B/SS | A —> A tall, wiry player, Cruz doesn’t really look like a power hitter but he has pop in his bat. Despite limited moving parts in his swing, the young hitter has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game and he’s definitely not the most patient hitter. He has the potential to be a very powerful hitter as his body matures but I see a low average/low on-base rate guy. And he’s either a corner infield buy or, possibly, a right fielder at the big league level.
10. Luis Escobar | RHP | AA —> I continue to be a fan of Escobar, who reached double-A in the second half of the year. He has excellent mid-90s velo on his fastball and a potentially-plus curveball. He doesn’t command his stuff well enough right now, which limits his strikeouts and can lead to higher walk totals when he fights his delivery and struggles with his control. There is 3/4 starter upside here with improved command/control and a better changeup but he also has the ingredients to be a high-leverage reliever.
Travis MacGregor | RHP | A —> MacGregor was on and off and back on the disabled list throughout 2018 but pitched relatively well when healthy. He has good heat on the fastball but the secondary stuff is inconsistent. If his shoulder can hold up in 2019 and the secondary stuff continues to improve, he could move quickly and zoom up the prospect ranking.
Lolo Sanchez | OF | A —> The rail-thin outfielder struggled in his first taste of full-season ball but he has impact speed and the potential to be a plus defender. If he can get stronger, he has a shot at being a starter in the outfield; if not, he profiles nicely as a back-up outfielder capable of playing all three outfield positions.
Braxton Ashcraft | RHP | Rookie —> The Pirates’ 2018 second-round draft pick, Ashcraft has a great pitcher’s frame and the potential for three average, or better, offerings. He also has a strong frame that could help him pick up more power as he adds muscle and could allow him to develop into an innings-eater.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.