This is one in a series of stories breaking down members of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster.
On July 2, 2019, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed infielder Tsung-Che Cheng as an amateur free agent. Cheng signed with the Pirates for a signing bonus of $380,00.
A native of Pingtung County in Taiwan, Cheng stands 5 foot 7 and is listed at 173 pounds.
Since entering into the Pirates’ system, Cheng has been a consistent hitter with a plethora of speed. Cheng’s slash line through three years of play sits at .279/.375/.445 with an OPS of .820.
Given Cheng’s profile, you can guess he isn’t much of a power hitter, but he does possess some sneaky pop in his bat. I like to quantify it as “gap power.” Often, Cheng has turned singles into doubles and doubles into triples with his quick lighting speed. In addition, FanGraphs gives Cheng’s speed a 60 grade.
During the 2023 season, the 22-year-old started in High-A Greensboro. Over the course of 57 games and 214 at-bats, Cheng showcased good bat-to-ball skills.
Cheng slashed .308/.406/.575 with an OPS of .981. In addition, Cheng drove in 56 runs, stole 13 bases, knocked 12 doubles, legged out nine triples, and hit nine homers. The nine homers may have been a bit of an outlier for Cheng as the hitter-friendly confines in Greensboro have a tendency to make home runs happen that shouldn’t happen.
On June 22, Cheng was promoted to Double-A Altoona. In Altoona, I was able to observe Cheng personally and get a chance to watch how he operates on a day-to-day basis.
One of the most impressive things I witnessed with Cheng was his defensive ability. Playing the shortstop position isn’t easy, and Cheng made it look effortless.
Talking with Double-A manager Callix Crabbe, he elaborated on Cheng’s defensive ability.
“His feel for the defensive side is outrageous,” said Crabbe. “It’s like he has four or five options that he thinks about beforehand, and then he cancels them immediately when the ball is hit. He is a special talent when it comes to decision making and tactical component on the field, that’s really impressive for the age that he is. He has the instincts of a big leaguer that’s been around for at least five years. I did not realize the type of carry he has on the ball when he throws it.”
With his advanced knowledge of the shortstop position, Triple-A shouldn’t give Cheng any issues from the defensive side. Where Cheng will be challenged is at the plate.
If he maintains his consistent approach and strikes out a bit less, Cheng’s speed should make a difference.
The Pirates added Cheng to their 40-man roster earlier this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He’s one step closer to reaching the big leagues.