Pittsburgh Pirates: Future of Organization Shine on Minor League Opening Day

Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

 The Minor League Baseball season kicked off on Tuesday and all four of the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm teams played for the first time in almost two years.

It was a feel good day, and you definitely had to take a moment to realize how far we have come. After losing the entire minor league season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all four levels of full season baseball returned on Tuesday making for a busy weekday.

The Pirates' organization went just 1-3 on Tuesday, but it certainly wasn't without it's moments across the four games, and the minors aren't really about wins and losses - it's about getting to see the future of the game in action as they work to the majors.

And boy was the future of the Pirates one display, whether it be some of the players knocking on the door to the majors, or some of the players that are more long-term projects - it's clear that Ben Cherington's goal of infusing the system with talent is working.

Some highlights from each contest.

Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A) 3, Iowa Cubs 0

Chase De Jong picked up where his strong Spring Training left off, pitching six shutout innings for the Indians, striking out 10 hitters in the process. At 27 years old, De Jong is far from a prospect at this point in his career, but he is certainly positioning himself to be one of the first guys to get a call should the big league team need an extra arm.

Altogether, the pitching staff struck out 15 batters, with Geoff Hartlieb, Chasen Shreve, and Jandel Gustave all pitched scoreless inning in relief of De Jong.

The biggest star of Opening Day in the Pirates' system may have been center fielder Travis Swaggerty. The former first round pick was aggressively placed at the Triple-A level, skipping Double-A completely. Swaggerty went 3-for-4 on the night, leading off the game with a home run and later driving in the third run of the night.

Altoona Curve (Double-A) 1, Bowie Baysox 2

This game was the definition of a pitcher's duel, with a late-inning error eventually being the deciding factor. There was a combined 31 strikeouts in the game, which also had to deal with a rain delay towards the end. Of the 31 punch outs, 21 were by the starters, as Roansy Contreras struck out 11 over five innings.

His counterpart, D.L. Hall struck out ten of his own in 4 1/3 innings pitched.

For Contreras, he put on a display of the stuff that made the Pirates push to get him included in the Jameson Taillon trade. He was hitting the upper-90s with his fastball, and his slider was a pure punch out pitch right to the end of the night. 

Some think he ends up in the bullpen at the major league level but the Pirates decided to roll with him as a starter to get more work in. They may be onto something at this point.

The Curve only managed five hits on the night and 22-year old Canaan Smith-Njigba had the lone extra-base knock, hitting a double in the fifth inning.

Greensboro Grasshoppers (Class A+) 5, Hickory Crawdads 7

This is the team that most will be watching throughout the season, as there are no shortages of high-end prospects on the roster, including Quinn Priester - Pittsburgh's top pitching prospects. He pitched three innings, allowed six runs (only three earned) while striking out three and walking two.

Liover Peguero, one half of the return in the Starling Marte trade, blasted a three-run home run in the loss while Nick Gonzales doubled in his first professional at bat. Matt Gorski also homered in the contest.

Lolo Sanchez stole over 30 bases in 2019, and got his first of 2021 after swiping third.

Bradenton Marauders (Class-A) 3, Fort Myers Mighty Mussels 6

The other half of the Marte trade, Brennan Malone, begins the season with Bradenton but didn't pitch on opening night.

There has been a lot of talk about Endy Rodriguez as an intriguing prospect to watch this season, and he got off to a good start to the season, going 2-for-4 with an RBI double.

Alexander Mojica, just 18-years old, blasted a two-run run home run in the bottom of the seventh to give the Marauders the lead before Oliver Mateo allowed four runs in the ninth.

Three Stars of the Night

1. Roansy Contreras - 5 IP, 5 H, 11 K

2. Chase De Jong - 6 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 10 K

3. Travis Swaggerty - 3-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI

It probably won't be often that someone who goes 3-for-4 with a double and homer will finish as the third star, but it was a night of pitching for the Pirates' organization, at least at the top of the system.

What was your biggest takeaway from Minor League Opening Day? Who stuck out the most one day one of the season? Let us know in the comment section below, subscribe to the link at the top of the site and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.

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