Sunday, January 23, 2022

Pirates top prospects 2022: Henry Davis, No. 1 pick in 2021 MLB Draft, ranks second on Pittsburgh’s list

Major League Baseball’s owners may have locked out the players, triggering the league’s first work stoppage since 1994-95 and bringing the offseason to a halt, but that doesn’t mean we’re letting it derail our typical offseason plans. Indeed, CBS Sports is in the process of highlighting the top three prospects for all 30 teams.

That journey finds us today focusing on the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ farm system. 

Do note that these lists are formed after conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development folks from around the league. There is personal bias baked in, as one would expect from subjective exercises, so some disagreement is to be expected.

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1. Oneil Cruz, SS

Cruz’s availability at this point last year was up in the air after he was involved in a car accident that killed three people. (Cruz’s lawyer and the Pirates pushed back against reports suggesting alcohol was involved.) He ended up playing in 68 minor-league games and then, surprisingly, two big-league contests to end the season despite limited Triple-A exposure. Cruz has one of the oddest profiles in the game stemming from the fact that he’s a 6-foot-7 shortstop. The Pirates haven’t hedged their bets against him sticking there by so much as cross-training him at other positions. They’re all-in, in other words. Cruz has big-time power and he’s a fast runner (at least for the time being), making him a potentially dynamic offensive talent. He also cut into his strikeout rate this season, too, which bodes well for him given his hit tool has been scrutinized in the past. Cruz should get a longer look in the majors this year.

2. Henry Davis, C

The Pirates approached last summer’s draft with a “portfolio approach” in mind. Taking Davis at No. 1 played into that plan, as it allowed them to save money on his signing bonus that they later rerouted to other picks. Nevertheless, Davis shouldn’t be written off as anything less than a desirable talent himself. He made a habit of hitting the ball hard while seldom striking out at Louisville, a desirable combination in any batter, let alone one with enough defensive chops to stick behind the plate. Some scouts have expressed concerns about Davis’ swing and if it’ll cause his bat to play lighter against top-end pitching; there’s only one way to find out for sure.

3. Nick Gonzales, 2B

The Pirates selected Gonzales seventh overall in 2020 based on his offensive polish. He validated that assessment in his professional debut, hitting .302/.385/.565 with 18 home runs at High-A. Scouts believe Gonzales will hit for average (though his strikeout rate, at 27 percent, was concerningly high) and walk a healthy amount, but they have reservations about other aspects of his game. He’s viewed as just a second baseman (something the Pirates have seemingly conceded on their own), and they aren’t convinced he’ll ascend beyond “doubles power,” limiting his offensive ceiling. Gonzales should begin the season in Double-A with an eye on The Show in 2023.

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