As I sit here, looking forward to my next trip of the season out to PNG Field in Altoona to check out the Curve and the Pirates Top Prospects on the current roster, of which there are many, my mind drifts back to the last time I traveled out 22 and up 99 back at the beginning of May. In this game Oneil Cruz didn’t start or make an appearance, which I was really looking forward to; however, the Curve got the win, Canaan Smith-Njigba-a Pirates Top 30 Prospect acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees-had a playful back and forth with an Adley Rutschman supporter throughout the afternoon, Rodolfo Castro went 3 for 5 with a double, Arden Pabst drove in four on homer and a double of his own and my youngest got to run the bases following the contest- the obvious highlight of his day and mine as well.
Since this trip, and actually even before, my eyes (and ears) have been taking in as many MiLB TV and radio broadcasts as possible, scouring the box scores and stat lines on daily basis and reading every article I can find concerning each of Pirates Affiliates (Indianapolis, Altoona, Greensboro, Bradenton); all the while looking for players who are performing well, those that are struggling, what a specific player could be working on, different positions a guy may be experimenting with and pretty much everything else you can think of.
During a few of these routine stat research sessions, I began to notice a player that had not seen, or heard much from, since the 2019 season when I saw him play for the now defunct Short- Season A Affiliate for the Pirates, the West Virginia Black Bears-who are now a part of the MLB Draft League. At the time he was bouncing back and forth between first base and right field, on a pretty consistent and even basis, but-sometimes-more importantly he was hitting everything that was thrown at him. So, as I often do, I quickly jotted down his name; both then and now, for future reference as it seems that Brendt Citta may be a player worth keeping tabs on in the Pirates Farm System.
Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 38th Round of the MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Kansas, Citta has an abundance of players he must compete against in order to get on the field on a regular basis; including the previously mentioned outfielder Smith-Njigba, Mason Martin-the Pirates Top First Base Prospect and another outfielder and Top 30 Prospect in the form of Cal Mitchell. Luckily though, three of the Curve’s five opponents are American League Affiliates, so they have been able to utilize the designated hitter more often than not to find a way to get Citta in the lineup. On the season thus far he is slashing .328/.386/.516 with one homer and eight total extra base hits in 64 at bats, which fits his reoccurring profile of being a player with power to the gaps.
Back when he was with the Bristol Pirates for the second year in a row in 2019, due to a Spring Training Quad Injury, then Manager Kieran Mattison and Hitting Coach Jonathan Prieto worked closely with Citta to unlock his often untapped power potential; ultimately resulting in a career high-at the time-.185 ISO and 132 wRC+. Unfortunately this did not fully transfer over to his time in Morgantown, as his ISO dropped back down to .138.
This season in Altoona-I know, small sample size-Citta has new career highs in ISO at .188 and wRC+ at 147, which is extremely encouraging see as he-like many other Minor Leaguers-dealt without having a season in 2020; coupled with the fact that he legitimately jumped two full levels since he last played an organized game.
Now, there are some potentially unfavorable attributes to think about; as there are with most players. The first one, often considered by many prospect evaluators, is that Citta is set to turn 25-the average age for AA player-in a little over a month. next is the fact his K rate has risen 24.3% and his walk rate has fallen to 5.7%-both are the worst in career thus far-and finally is the level and depth of competition that exists at the positions that he plays; not only at AA-Altoona, but also those that will eventually need to move up from Greensboro. For example, outfielder Matt Fraizer and Lolo Sanchez, who both have a .900+ OPS.
Clearly, it might not be an easy path for Citta to make it to PNC Park, but things have never really been that easy for him since he left Leland High School in San Jose, California; losing a year to the transfer portal after leaving San Jose State following a frustrating freshman year, not getting much draft buzz, despite a solid redshirt Sophomore season at Kansas and the injury set back in 2019. Although I wouldn’t worry too much about Citta because he has always made the best of every opportunity; even when it is being the regular designated hitter.