8-11-2021 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
For the past month or so, and possibly longer, Pirates Fans have been clamoring for a number of players in Pittsburgh’s Farm System to be promoted up the ladder to the next level; bringing them noticeably closer at times to the day when they could find themselves walking out onto the field at PNC Park.
Some names that were regularly tossed around, but have since been squashed due to injury, included Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras and Carmen Mlodzinski; while others such as Mason Martin and Endy Rodriguez continue to gather steam. In a similar fashion, many were on the Matt Fraizer Promotion Train, until it finally took place-and deservedly so-on August 5th after he posted a slash line of .314/.401/.578 with 20 homers in 75 games at High-A Greensboro.
However, it would be foolish for one to assume that Frazier’s promotion from the Grasshoppers to the Curve was the first of its kind the season; which I know isn’t the case for many followers of the Pirates’ Organization . Nevertheless, as we know, even the most avid fan could miss what is often seen as a minor move between one of the four affiliates, or even the recently renamed Florida Complex League.
To give a few examples, Fabricio Macias received a promotion from Low-A Greensboro to AAA-Indianapolis on July 6th after batting .316 with 6 homers for the Grasshoppers, Hunter Stratton got the bump from AA-Altoona to Indy on June 23rd due to his 1.42 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 25.1 innings with the Curve and Blake Sabol earned his way up to Greensboro from Low-A Bradenton on July 6th as well after only 14 games and 46 at bats with the Marauders.
Of course there have been others, and all of them deserve our attention to some degree, but just for one moment I would like to focus on the last one of this bunch; mostly because of how Sabol has regularly forced his way into a loaded Grasshoppers lineup, after being somewhat of an unlikely call up, with a fairly unique Pittsburgh influenced backstory.
Originally drafted in 33rd Round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Cleveland Indians as a catcher out of Aliso Niguel High School in California-where he was a three sport (baseball, basketball, and football) standout that hit. 338 with 11 homers and 43 stolen bases on 44 attempts-Sabol stayed true to his commitment to USC.
Sticking at catcher during his freshman season with the Trojans, he began to expand on his skill set-mostly due to his athleticism-as he started with a move to first base in the Cape Cod League and then to the outfield in his sophomore campaign in Southern California; ultimately earning an invitation back to the Cape, where he slashed .340/.445/.573 with 7 homers in 37 games.
After seeing his draft stock rise, Sabol once again returned to USC, looking to build upon his success over the summer. Unfortunately, this did not exactly take place as he put up comparable numbers to that of his previous year with the Trojans; that were still very good, but not enough to keep rising up the boards through the beginning of that June’s MLB Amateur Draft, when he was eventually selected in the 7th Round (214th Overall) by the Pirates and signed for $250,000 ($43,500 over slot).
Subsequently, he began his professional career with the West Virginia Black Bears, Pittsburgh’s Short-Season A Ball Affiliate at the time, exactly a week later; ending the season as a NY-Penn League All-Star.
Following such a strong start to his professional career, I was really looking forward to seeing what the next would be for this young man. I imagined going on my yearly Florida Family Vacation and seeing him for the second year in a row; only this time as a Marauder. Then came the shutdown, and with it no Minor League Season. For Blake Sabol this meant no baseball of any sort for pretty much a year and a half considering he wasn’t even added to the Fall Instructional League when the time rolled around.
Finally, for Sabol, and many other Minor Leaguers who found themselves in the same boat for such a long period of time, the 2021 season got underway; with almost a month delay due to staggered Spring Trainings and a modified Alternative Site.
The only thing left to be decided at this point was if Sabol would be assigned to Low A, where he would more than likely have started 2020, or get the benefit of the doubt/age promotion to High A. Well, there was no benefit for Sabol as he was officially assigned to Bradenton a few weeks after the season began; and then unfortunately went on the IL after only three games, during which he accumulated 5 hits-including a homer in his first game.
Luckily he was only out until June 15th, and more importantly he didn’t really cool down; earning the aforementioned promotion to Greensboro by hitting .370 with a 1.052 OPS and as many strikeouts as walks (12). And since his arrival he hasn’t really slowed down. Forcing his way into contests at multiple positions, including catcher; all while batting .306 with six homers and 12 total extra base hits in his 85 at bats in Grasshoppers’ green and orange.
With 36 games remaining on both Greensboro and Altoona’s seasons, it is unlikely that a double jump is in the North Carolina air for Sabol. However, one of his main competitors for playing time in the outfield-Fraizer with an A-I- is now with the Curve, and because of position flexibility, I for one will continue to keep an eye on Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu’s second cousin for the remainder of the MiLB season.