It’s no secret that things didn’t go the Pirates way in 2021, but that doesn’t mean all was lost. A number of key prospects that project to be a part of the Pirates’ future developed all season in the minor leagues after there was no minor league game-action a year ago. The development was even on display in the Major Leagues at the very end of the season, when Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz both made their Major League debuts for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Contreras got the start against the Chicago Cubs on the final Wednesday of the regular season, and showed the potential scouts have been raving about since being acquired from the Yankees in the offseason deal that shipped Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees. The soon-to-be 22-year-old dazzled over his three innings of work, keeping the Cubs off the scoreboard. He allowed three hits, walked a batter and retired four Cubs via strikeout.
First one in the books. pic.twitter.com/92Nd1Q4bjU
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 29, 2021
The right-hander featured a power fastball, a sharp slider and mixed in more than a few curveballs. He only sparingly used his changeup, which is also considered at leas an average offering. The Pirates gave Contreras a start despite making just one start with Triple-A Indianapolis. While he likely will begin 2022 with Indianapolis, it may not be long before Contreras becomes a regular in the Pirates rotation.
Similarly to Contreras, the Pirates gave Cruz a chance despite limited action in Triple-A, calling him up for the final two games of the regular season. In his Major League debut, Cruz picked up two hits and an RBI in a come-from-behind victory over the Reds. In the final game of the regular season, the 6-foot-7 Cruz displayed his power potential by blasting his first career home run.
ONEIL CRUZ JUST HIT HIS FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN!!! pic.twitter.com/PIMMswXDYl
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) October 3, 2021
Cruz also was able to handle all his five defensive chances at shortstop while displaying his plus-arm. Like Contreras, Cruz seems to be destined to begin the year at Triple-A, but like Contreras, could play his way into Pittsburgh before long. The debuts of Cruz and Contreras offered the Pirates as well as the fans a look into the future and the hope that these two, along with the crop of young talent that has been compiled, will lead Pittsburgh back to the postseason.
While both Cruz and Contreras are the Pirates two higher-profile prospects to get a taste of the big leagues, they weren’t the only prospects to get action in the Major Leagues this year. Guys like Miguel Yajure, Hoy Park and Rodolfo Castro all showed flashes of success and displayed glimpses of what’s to come as the Pirates’ prospects work their way up the minor league system.
In addition to more of the players listed, the Pirates will give chances to even more of their prospects at the Major League level next season. While in 2021 most of the Pirates’ higher-regarded prospects were in Double-A or lower, the talent has started to climb the ranks of the system and reach the upper levels. 2022 should mark the stage of the rebuild where the prospects start to become Major Leaguers.