On Wednesday March 4th MLB Pipeline released the Pittsburgh Pirates New Top 30 Prospects list for all the world to see. I know I am not the only one that was clamoring for this to be released, but I definitely think I was more anxious/excited/eager to see the results than many of you out there. As a self-proclaimed “Prospect Junkie” this is my Christmas Morning. I want to see where everyone is on the list, the breakdowns of each player, the projections or grades, those that have made their move onto the list and those that have unfortunately fallen off and not due to “graduation”. For this article I am going to be focusing on the players within the Pittsburgh Pirates Organizations that fall into the last two categories; some of which came as a shock to me and others that I fully expected.
Additions to the Top 30
Coming in at #24, Mojica is a name that many of you who follow Pirates’ Prospects closely may have already been aware of. Originally signed by the Pirates in August of 2018, on the day that he turned 16 years old for $390,000, He played in the DSL for the Pirates2 Team this past summer, not turning 17 until there were 12 games to go in the regular season; which probably makes his performance all the more impressive. For the season Mojica batted .351, with a 1.048 OPS and 23 extra base hits, including 8 homeruns. As if a player with these types of numbers needs any more upside his walk rate (17.0%) was higher than his strike out rate (15.6%), already showing he can be patient at the plate. If there is any downside it would be his speed/run, currently a 30 grade, but I fully expect the power (50 grade) and hit (50 grade)tools to make up for that. His also has a an above average arm (60 grade) and just below average fielding (45 Grade), the latter being something that can improve with time and development. Presently listed with an ETA of 2023, Mojica is a player that clearly fits into the plans for the future of the Pirates.
Landing squarely behind his 2019 DSL Teammate, Alexander Mojica, at #25 is this lean and athletic outfielder. Nolasco signed exactly one month earlier, to the day, than Mojica on July 2, 2018 for $235,000. His first year in the Pirates’ Organization may not have been as impressive as Mojica’s, but was not far off as he batted .302, with a .846 OPS and 21 extra base hits; including 5 homeruns. Rated as an “average” player (50 Grade) almost across the board, Nolasco’s power is sometimes underrated (45 Grade); in spite of an exit velocity that has been known to reach 110 mph. To put this into perspective the average exit velocity in the MLB hovers around 90 to 94 mph. Playing the majority of games in RF for the DSL Pirates2 his arm was often tested and he rose to the challenge every single time. As with Mojica, Nolaco’s ETA is listed as 2023. I see it, this as an extreme positive as these two players will be able to grow and move through the system together, inspiring each other along the way.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 3rd Round (95thOverall) of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of Arizona, Fraizer only played 19 games in his final season as a Wildcat due to a fractured hamate (a type of carpal fracture). This definitely had an effect on his draft stock as he was originally projected to go in one of the first two rounds. The righty throwing, lefty batting outfielder immediately reported to the West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh’s Short Season A Affiliate) in the New York-Pennsylvania League. In 43 games and 154 at bats with the Black Bears, Fraizer slashed .221/.287/266, with 6 extra base hits. I know that these numbers look less than appealing, but considering the time off with injury during the college season I am a little more optimistic. His run grade (60) and average (50) grades as it pertains to hit, field and arm are all positive signs and his power (40) is something that can be improved upon with a full healthy season in either Greensboro and/or Bradenton. His projected ETA with the Pirates is 2022, so it looks like a steady progression is ahead for Fraizer, as long as he does not experience any major setbacks.
Subtractions from the Top 30
Brubaker was the Pirates #28 Prospect on the MLB Pipeline Top 30 in 2019. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 6th Round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Akron. For the next few years Brubaker methodically moved up through the Pirates’ farm system with little to no fanfare. Then in 2018 he burst onto the scene by leading the entire Pirates system in ERA for the season, dominating in his second year with the Altoona Curve (1.80 ERA, a 1.057 WHIP and 35 Ks in 35 Innings) and continuing to perform well after his promotion to the Indianapolis Indians (3.10 ERA, a 1.319 WHIP and 96 Ks in 119 innings). There was a decent amount of hype and expectations for the young righty coming into 2019 and, in his first 4 starts, he didn’t disappoint. He posted a 2-1 record, a 2.57 ERA, a 1.095 WHIP and 20 Ks in 21 innings. Then came the forearm injury. At the end of April this past year, Brubaker was placed on the 7-Day Injured List with a right forearm strain. Less than two months later Brubaker got the OK to report to the West Virginia Black Bears for a few rehab starts. In 6.2 innings over two starts he had a 1.35 ERA. However, he walked as many as he struck out, 4, and had a 1.350 WHIP. After these two starts he was shut down again for what would end up being the remainder of the season. On September 30, 2019 the Pirates selected Brubaker’s contract from the Indians and added him to the 40-man roster. Unfortunately since JT’s participation in Spring Training has been limited (as it has been with many pitchers) and because the injury took away most of last season, it is understandable that he “fell” out of the top 30. However, I do not see this as a knock on his potential and ability, just that he was a victim of circumstance; including new additions to the system via trade and performance.
Martin was originally drafted by the Houston Astros in the 8th Round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Orange County Lutheran High School in California. Acquired in the infamous Gerrit Cole Trade with Houston, Martin arrived in the Pirates’ System in January of 2018 and was assigned to the Altoona Curve to begin the season. This past season Martin was called up from AAA-Indianapolis twice, but he barely had a chance to do more than get his feet wet before Starling Marte returned from injury and then he was injured himself toward the end of the season. In 40 major league plate appearances he posted a .250/.325/.631 slash line, but showed some promise with a .346 BAbip (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Martin’s minor league career has been very encouraging at times; especially up through at least the middle of the 2018 season when he was promoted from AA-Altoona to AAA-Indianapolis. Prior to this promotion he had been hitting .325, with a .522 OPS and 9 HRs in 68 games. That same year he was listed as high as the Pirates #13 Prospect on the MLB Pipeline Top 30 and was listed as the Pirates #18 Prospect this past year, so it seems that something is still there. As with Brubaker, Martin may be the victim of unforeseen circumstances including his own injuries and uncertainty. Although I would say that Martin looked pretty good legging out a triple against the Rays this past Thursday.
The 17-year-old infielder Luis Escobar was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in July of 2019. He quickly made the transition from fielder to take his place on the rubber before his debut in the DSL in 2014. Over the next few years Escobar made his way up the Pirates’ farm system, until he hit a bump in the road in 2018 after his promotion to AA Altoona. Prior to this he had landed on the Pirates Top 30 Prospects of 2017, according to MLB Pipeline, at #18 and even reached as high as #11. In 2019 he was listed at #16. In Altoona that year, he just couldn’t seem to find his bearings. He walked almost as many players as he struck out (25K/21BB), which was completely out of character for him. His walk rate had never been the best, hovering between 10 and 12%, but his strike out rate usually made up for that as the lowest it had been since his early years was 21.6%. In Altoona, he had a 13.4% walk rate and 15.9% K rate. Due to these struggles he was sent back down to Bradenton to begin 2019 and made the full transition to a reliever; appearing in 10 games, pitching 13.1 innings, striking out 15 and not allowing a single run. He was immediately promoted to AAA Indianapolis and began switching back and forth between starter 5 games) and reliever (19 games). His K rate stayed solid at 23.7%, but his walk rate rose back up to 13.3%. Due to injuries and struggles in the Pirates’ bullpen he was called up to the big league club and made his debut on July 13, 2019 against the Cubs and gave up 0 earned runs over two innings. His last appearance for the Pirates came on July 24 against the Cardinals, where he gave up 5 runs on 5 hits and walked 4 batters in 2 innings. He finished up the year in Indy. During the off-season he was a non-roster invitee to spring training. He has the “stuff” as his fastball is a 60 grade and his curveball is 55; even his changeup is a 50. It is the command and control where he falters, coming in at a 40. If he can get this moving in the right direction he has the potential of being a solid part of the Pirates’ bullpen or a rotation moving forward, Top 30 status or not. Unfortunately for Escobar he had a pretty rough outing a couple of days ago against the Phillies that he can hopefully rebound from.
I have said it before and I will say it again, a team is not made up of all top 30 prospects; so I do take the rankings with a grain of salt. However, in the same breath, it is difficult to see certain guys falter; just as it is exciting to see other guys take a step forward and be recognized on this list.