2-11-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement On Twitter)
Nowadays it feels like every prospect-especially when it comes to the Pirates-needs to be labeled as something. Whether it be underrated, overrated, under the radar, relative unknown, forgotten, or any variation of these designations, they have to be seen as something; which is somewhat mind boggling to me since the Pirates Farm System is getting more love and more coverage than it has in years.
Sure, there are those that pretty much try to ignore a player until they actually step on the field at PNC Park, or in the most extreme causes fly into a fit of rage as the very mention of the word prospect; even after having read a blog post like the one I wrote this past weekend, cautioning fans to not put too much stock into prospect rankings. However, outside of this group-one that I honestly hold no ill will towards because truthfully not everyone has to interested in the Minors, on top of how often we have been burned here in Pittsburgh by the hype train-the Pirates Prospects have become the de facto focus of the off-season.
With no guarantee of Major League games this season-just in case you forgot there is a Lockout taking place-it’s either write about the Minor Leagues, the CBA Negotiations (Gary is much better at this than me.), an unknown/incomplete outlook for the Pirates and their individual players in 2022 or nothing. For those of us who already had an interest in the Pirates Farm System prior to this current set of circumstances, the decision to choose the former is an easy one, while others have joined in out of necessity to maintain their own livelihood and/or interest in their publication’s content; ultimately flooding the market, and in turn causing people to use these buzzwords as a way to imply-mostly not in a misleading manner-they may know something about a player that others don’t, often in an attempt to stay relevant.
Recently I have read-from extremely knowledgeable sources on occasion-that Endy Rodriguez, Matthew Frazier and Jared Jones are underrated in spite of them showing up 7th through 9th on Fangraphs recent Top 61 Pirates Prospects; with Endy winning the Low-A Southeast League MVP and Frazier being named the Honus Wagner Player-of-the-Year in the Pirates Farm System and the High-A East League’s Most Valuable Player, as well as the organization’s Player-of-the-Year by Baseball America. I have also seen it written more than once that Jared Triolo, Cody Bolton and Omar Cruz were under the radar even though Triolo was named the Pirates Bill Mazeroski Defender of Year, Bolton was a Top Ten Pirates Prospect as recent as 2020 and Omar Cruz has had a minimum of five articles/blog posts-one by me-written solely about him since coming over in the Joe Musgrove Deal and that Adrian Florencio is unknown regardless of the fact that he won the Bob Friend Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
There is no denying, that at this point, things have gotten totally out of control. So much so that it’s tough to even start a conversation about players that could potentially breakout; as if there weren’t enough misconstrued buzzwords for you.
On people’s lists I have seen the aforementioned Endy Rodriguez, Matthew Frazier and Jared Triolo, along with Roansy Contreras being predicted to do so in MLB. If a player achieves a certain level of success, no matter the class within the Pirates Farm System, is it still possible for them to breakout again? Wouldn’t it just be continuing perform well as they are promoted? Are we going to create a new word for multiple breakouts?
Instead of trying to make the case for following a prospect seem more compelling, maybe just say it’s a player that you are looking forward to seeing perform in the upcoming season. A prospect that has peaked your interest. That’s what I am going to do.
1) Anthony Solometo
Mechanics. That’s the first thing that likely comes to mind whenever anyone thinks about Solometo; along with Madison Bumgarner and MacKenzie Gore comps. If you don’t happen to know what I am talking about, one can only assume that you have been living under a rock since the most recent MLB Draft.
Selected by the Pirates out of Bishop Eustace Prep-located in Pennsauken, New Jersey- with the 37th Pick, Solometo was ranked as high as #17 by MLB Pipeline and #28 by Baseball America, making him one of the top Prep/HS arms in the class. Ultimately given a $2.8 million signing bonus-nearly $1 million over slot-it was unfortunate that we never got to see the lanky lefty in action during the 2021 season; which I am guessing is the main reason why I am so anxious to see him pitch in 2022. Another explanation would have to be getting a peek at how he works his three pitch mix; especially his 55 grade slider, that often becomes less effective when it starts to slurve.
2) Alexander Mojica
Signed on his 16th Birthday-August 2nd-back in 2018 for $350,000, the 6’1, 195 pound third basemen from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic began is professional career the following year in the DSL for the heralded Pirates 2 ball club; a team that I have written about, and made mention of numerous times over the past two years.
At 1.8 younger than the average player in the league that year, Mojica slashed .351/.468/.581 with 8 homers, 23 total extra base hits and a 17.6% walk to 15.6% strike out ratio; good for a ridiculously unsustainable 182 wRC+.
Following the pandemic eliminated 2020 season, Cherington and Company chose to be extremely aggressive with the now 250 pound Mojica by assigning him to the Low-A Bradenton Marauders, where he he would be 3.3 years younger than the average player. As the season progressed, the results ended up pretty much where you would have expected them to be as he struggled with controlling the zone at times. On the year Mojica’s strike out rate rose to 26.5%, his batting average fell to .219 and his wRC+ dropped by nearly 100 points to 87.
For a more advanced player these numbers might concern me a little bit more, but at only 19 years old coming into 2022-with a year of experience-I am very curious to see how the season plays out for Mojica.
3) Bubba Chandler
The final piece of Cherington’s executed master plan in last year’s draft was wooing Chandler away from the Clemson Tigers with 72nd Overall Pick at the beginning of the Third Round. In the end it took a cool and even $3 million ($2.3 million over slot)-plus the promise of allowing him pitch and play the field-to bring Chandler aboard. And, I’m not going to lie, it’s why I can’t way to see him take the field in the Minors in few months.
Following the draft-and subsequent signing-we only were able to see him briefly in the Florida Complex League, as he made a meager 37 plate appearances. During this quick glimpse Chandler hit .197 with one homer and 16 strike outs; never taking the mound to show off his 60 grade 92-95 mph fastball that touched 97 during his senior season at North Oconnee High School in Bogart, Georgia.
In just over 44 innings Chandler posted a 1.25 ERA with 96 Ks, including a 17 strikeout one hitter. At the plate he batted .411 with 8 homers and 12 doubles, while he leaning on his 70 grade arm from the shortstop position; a factor that could also have some impact on how the Pirates choose deploy him in a two way player role. Even when he’s not pitching, his arm could still be affected depending on how often he is called upon to make a throw across the diamond.
These are the types of decisions I am really looking forward to concerning such a highly rated prospect.
4) Solomon Maguire
I’m pretty sure everyone knows the story by now. How the Pirates used the international bonus pool space amassed in the Starling Marte Trade with the Diamondbacks to sign a then 16 year-old Australian outfielder for $594,000. Seen as an uncharacteristically bold move by Pittsburgh at the time, acquiring Maguire has yet to turn out in their favor; which is not to say that it won’t.
At this point he has only participated in 17 professional games in the states. During this short amount of time Maguire blasted two homers, but scuffled in nearly every other area; slashing .146/.288/.292 and striking out 31.3% of the time. Nevertheless, at almost 2 full years younger than the average player in the FCL it’s hard to imagine him not improving when he returns this season, however, this is far from guaranteed.
In all likelihood the goal should be to get Maguire as many at bats as possible in 2022 after such a low total over the past two years. This why I would like to see him start the year in Bradenton, rather spending time in the Complex League to accumulate south of 200 plate appearances.
5) Kyle Nicolas
For anyone who had the opportunity to hear and/or read my immediate impression(s) of the Jacob Stallings Trade to Miami, it goes without saying that I was pretty disappointed. Sure the near immediate signing of Roberto Perez cushioned the blow ever so slightly, but overall I was underwhelmed by the return of MLB ready starter Zach Thompson, 23rd ranked outfield prospect Connor Scott and Nicolas-who was ranked at 16th in the Marlins System according to MLB Pipeline.
Originally drafted 61st overall in Comp Round B of the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft, Nicolas has a limited portfolio thanks to the cancelled 2020 Minor League season; yet it’s a pretty successful one as the Ball State product transitioned from High-A Beloit to Double-A Pensacola, and actually improved along the way in certain areas. For the Snappers (now the Sky Carp) Nicolas had a 5.28 ERA and a 1.358 WHIP. After joining the Blue Wahoos at the end of July his ERA fell to 2.52 and his WHIP dropped 1.220. Unfortunately, his K/9 also dipped from 13.0 to 11.4 and his BB/9 raised from 3.6 to 5.7, so it wasn’t all good news. However, with plus fastball (70 grade) that sits in the mid-90’s and can touch 100 mph, an above average (55 grade) slider with a strong break and an average curve (50 grade), the potential is there to become another strong arm in the Altoona Curve rotation in 2022.
My hope is that Nicolas will be in line for a start this summer when I travel to PNG Field, Canal Park or UPMC Park, so that I can get a closer look.
Obviously as a blogger, journalist, podcaster, fan or whatever you consider yourself, it’s absolutely your right to frame opinions or beliefs in any manner you see fit. Everyone is grinding to various degrees, merely trying to stay afloat in a time when there is very little actual on the field related news to be discussed.
In a way it kind of reminds me of the time during the shutdown, where the lines between everyone covering the Pirates Organization were slightly blurred; with each of us attempting to create our own paths, in an effort to stand out in the crowd.
Unfortunately, unless you start to mention a bunch of names from the Florida Complex and/or Dominican Summer Leagues, chances are most of the ground you are walking on has already been covered.