5-24-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Back when I made my first list-and for the few posts that followed-everything was truly a snapshot, or the often used small sample size of how a player was performing. No one had more than 30 at bats, starters maybe went three or four innings and relievers probably only made a handful of appearances at most. However, at this point the Minor League Baseball Season is beginning to hit its stride-as the dust should be fully shaken off from the Winter months-a better picture what the season holds for many players in the Pittsburgh Pirates Farm System is really coming into focus. Sure breakouts and turn-around could still happen, but for the most part guys have started to get their footing.
For this reason my own process of how each selection is made has started to morph a little bit; because honestly, one solid week doesn’t mean as much when the total body of work doesn’t match up with guys that have been putting up numbers all year long. So, at times a hitter or pitcher that had a productive series or outing may be left off in favor of someone that has strung together a few series in a row; or at least have the good ones outweigh the bad. In a few cases I have waited a week to add a player, just to make sure what I am seeing could be real.
For example, over the past day or two I had my options narrowed down to the standard eight or nine Pirates Prospects that I watched have a higher level of success over the previous week; including three that I really wanted to put in the Top 5. Nick Gonzales broke out at the beginning of this most recent series with a two doubles and a home run; batting .417 for the week, and adding another homer along the way. Travis Swaggerty came back from his short IL stint with a vengeance to bat .563 in 5 games against Mud Hens; with a home run and a triple in Friday night’s contest. Not to be outdone, Mason Martin blasted 3 homers in the last four games in the series against Toledo; tossing in a triple and a double for good measure.
Yet, with Gonzales batting .212 AVG and striking out 36.5% of the time through the first 30 games of the season, Swaggerty hitting a paltry .174 with a 46 wRC+ before talking the field a week ago and Martin tallying double digit strike outs in 7 of 12 games leading up to this past week, I found it hard to make them a weekly top performer-again in Martin’s case-until I see more consistency.
1) Andres Alvarez-IF/LF/DH (Altoona)
This is Alvarez’s second time on the list, with his his first appearance coming back on May 3rd. At the time the Washington State Product was hitting .273 with a 1.025 OPS and three home runs. Since then he has upped his average and OPS to .311 and 1.134 respectively, while cranking out an additional 5 bombs; which now puts him in lead on the Curve with 8 homers.
During the latest series Alvarez batted .421, hit 4 homers, swiped 3 bags in as many attempts and extended his current hitting streak to 9 games. Although a middle infielders by trade, Curve’s Manager Kieran Mattison has started to use him in the outfield, just to get his bat in the lineup.
2) Christofer Melendez-RHP (Indianapolis)
With Yerry De Los Santos earning a promotion to The Show yesterday, Melendez now has the opportunity to step into the role of the shutdown reliever in the Indians bullpen. On the season he has posted a 2.76 ERA, a 1.224 WHIP and struck out 23 over 16.1 innings and 12 appearances.
Originally signed by the Houston Astros as an International Free Agent back in 2014, he was released three years later, picked up by White Sox, selected by the Padres in the MiLB Portion of the 2018 Rule 5 Draft and immediately traded to the Pirates for cash considerations. Needless to say it’s been a journey for the now 24-year old righty from the Dominican Republic.
With a fastball that run in the upper-90’s, touching 100 on occasion, Melendez has continually struck out batters at high rate, since joining the White Sox. However, walks have also followed him due to a lack of control; with the season being no different. For the year he has 12.67 K/9, with an unfortunate 5.51 BB/9 in tow; a stat somewhat ballon by two rough outings where he walked a total of 5 batters across 2.1 innings.
Nevertheless over his past 3 appearances, Melendez seems to be putting things together. Over 4.1 innings he has struck out 8, walked 2, allowed a single hit and given up no runs.
Of the players on this week’s list, Melendez may still be one that fits into that snapshot/small sample size as a reliever with limited appearances, Even so, as the MLB roster continues to churn, his is a name that could be called upon sooner rather than later.
3) Cody Bolton-RHP (Indianapolis)
Bolton-like Alvarez-is making his second appearance on my list; showing up in the inaugural Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers, following an Opening Day start and relief appearance during the first week of the season.
Initially I was curious about his use as a reliever; and, actually wondered if it was a way to get him innings after two years on the shelf. However, after seeing him bounce back and forth between an opener/starter and coming out of the bullpen nearly every week, this seems like a verifiable plan to make his role with the pitching staff fluid.
On the season, Bolton has a 3.33 ERA, a 1.315 WHIP and 32 strike outs in 24.1 innings. It should also be noted that he has yet to allow a long ball during this time.
This past he first appeared as a piggyback to the opener; going 4 innings, striking out 6, walking two, allowing 1 hit and zero runs. On Sunday he got the start; putting up an nearly identical stat line of 3.1 IP/1 H/ 0 ER/1 BB/6 K.
4) Ji-Hwan Bae-2B/CF (Indianapolis)
Bae is one of a few Pirates Prospects that I thought might get held up in Altoona, when I wrote about him this past off-season; mostly due to the number of middle infield and outfielders that could have filled up the roster at Indianapolis. In the end this fear didn’t come to fruition as he found himself with the Indians from day one; spending most of his time at second base, but also longing some innings in centerfield-something that started last year in his time with the Curve.
Along with creating some position flexibility/versatility at PNG Field, Bae also began to show a little more pop in his bat. Prior to the 2021 MiLB Season, he did not have a single home run in the Pirates Farm System. By the end of the year he had 8; including 7 while in Altoona, in 320 at bats.
This pattern has continued in Indianapolis as he already has 4 homers in 126 at bats; counting his most recent one this past Friday.
For the week he had 6 hits-3 of them for extra bases, in 15 at bats, walked 2 twice and only struck out once; the latter two being fairly standard for him as evidenced by his 16.7% K to 12.3% BB rate(s).
Now, as far as on the season goes, Bae is slashing .286/.370/.468 with a 125 wRC+ and a team high 10 stolen bases.
5) Tucupita Marcano-IF/OF (Altoona)
Yes, I realize Marcano’s name is known to cause a visceral reaction from some within the Pirates Fanbase based on how he was acquired; and, in some cases the number of times Cherington tried to get his man. Ben made his first run for Tucupita in the Musgrove Deal, but had to settle for making him a part of the Frazier Trade; only after throwing in quite a bit of cash to the Padres.
Seen as the headliner for these reason(s)-as well as the fact that he made the Day Roster for San Diego at 21-the expectation(s) for him were also inflated. Some of this was absolutely understandable after seeing Marcano struggle in his time with the Indians; earning him the nickname Adam Frazier Light across Pirates Fan Social Media. In his final 48 games of the season he batted .230 with a .604 OPS.
Then as this year began he got somewhat of a surprise assignment/demotion to Double-A, which caused the jeers to only get louder; forgetting the fact that he had essentially skipped this exact level, and Triple-A for 25 games with the Padres just last year. Meaning, just maybe it was time for a little bit of a reset.
Over the last week, Marcano hit for a .412 AVG, walked 5 times, struck out twice and showed opposite field power for a homer and a double; bringing his season average up to .286 with 11 total extra base hits.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the seventh week of 2022.
Now remember, let me know I missed who your Top 5 is and be sure check back each and every Tuesday during Minor League Baseball Season!
As I was putting a bow on this week’s post it was announced that outfielder Cal Mitchell-and current #25 Pirates Prospect-was being promoted to the Major League Club. So, I thought it would be as good a time as any to share my post on the former Rancho Bernardo Bronco from the old SI.com Pirates site. You know, the defunct blog that started this all.