This is one in a series of stories breaking down PBN’s Top 30 Pittsburgh Pirates prospects.
Tsung-Che Cheng burst onto the scene in 2023 with an excellent start to his season while with the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers.
With Greensboro, the native of Taiwan put together a .308/.406/.575 slash line with 12 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs and 31 RBIs in 57 games. The impressive showing prompted the Pirates to promote Cheng to Double-A Altoona in June.
With the Curve, Cheng wasn’t able to have the same success he had in High-A. The 22-year-old appeared in 66 games with Altoona, where he hit .251 with a .656 OPS. His 80 wRC+ in Double-A was roughly half of the 163 mark he posted with Greensboro.
Cheng’s power and walk rate dropped drastically after his promotion, though he was able to maintain a steady strikeout rate of a tick below 19%. With Altoona, he also had much more success on the basepaths. Cheng swiped 13 bases in 16 attempts with the Curve. In Greensboro, he also stole 13 bags but was caught nine times.
Speed is a big part of Cheng’s game. While he had strong slug numbers in the hitter-friendly South Atlantic League, the left-handed hitting Cheng is considered to have below-average power. Part of that is his frame — Cheng stands only 5-foot-7-inches.
I remember discussing Cheng with a scout, who said he liked Cheng’s ability but questioned the upside due to his stature.
The limited power potential is why his ability on the bases is a crucial element to his game. While he has below-average power, Cheng is a plus-runner.
In 2022, Cheng was named the Pirates’ Omar Moreno Baserunner-of-the-Year after finishing second in the Florida State League with 33 stolen bases in 39 attempts. The award goes to the top baserunner in the Pirates’ minor league system.
While he will never be a big-time threat at the plate, Cheng makes enough contact and reaches bases at a fairly-high percentage to give him upside in other ways. Pairing that with his speed and defensive abilities, he brings intrigue as an infield prospect.
2024 will be a big year for him. Being out of a hitter’s paradise in Greensboro, Cheng will need to prove he’s more than what he showed with Altoona this past season if he wants to continue to emerge in prospect status in the upper levels of the Pirates’ system.