This is one in a series of stories breaking down PBN’s Top 30 Pittsburgh Pirates prospects.
The Pirates signed Tony Blanco Jr. as an amateur free agent in 2022 when the international signing period opened, landing a big fish given his rating as one of MLB Pipeline’s top 12 international prospects.
Blanco commanded a healthy signing bonus in joining the Pirates, with the $900,000 figure taking up nearly one-sixth of the team’s international bonus pool for the year.
The son of a former Major Leaguer who bounced around the minors and various overseas leagues for the better part of two decades, Blanco has a highly projectable frame, standing 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds at just 18 years old.
The Pirates signed Blanco as an outfielder, but he played all of 2023 at designated hitter or first base, earning DSL All-Star honors in the process.
He’s already shown a taste for the spotlight, hitting a pair of home runs in eight playoff games this season. Given a 55-grade for his power, Blanco’s size gives Pirates’ fans dreams of 40 home run seasons in the big leagues, but he has plenty of room to grow at the plate at the professional level.
The 18-year-old right-hander strikes out more than 40 percent of the time, punishing lefties to the tune of a .304/.379/.696 slash line while struggling against righties with .221/.313/.336 marks.
Blanco hit just six home runs across 48 Dominican Summer League games the past two regular seasons, although a two month stint on the injured list marred his 2022 campaign. When healthy, though, Blanco displays a propensity for tape measure home runs, including an extra innings walk-off blast that sent the DSL Pirates to their league championship game in 2023.
There’s always going to be some swing-and-miss in his game if he’s taking big hacks, but with the home runs not appearing en masse quite yet, he’ll need to clean that strikeout rate up to really take the next step as a hitter.
Defensively, the Pirates haven’t tested the waters much with Blanco. He spent just one inning in the outfield in 2022 and 13 games at first base this past season, spending the majority of the time at designated hitter.