5-31-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Last week I mentioned how I almost always have my options narrowed down to a standard eight or nine Pirates Prospects that I watched have a higher level of success over the previous series of games; including a few I hope will make their way onto the list. However, as I sat racking my brain this Monday afternoon, I honestly had a hard time coming up with more than three or four sure fire qualifiers. As the day turned to evening I felt fairly confident in my decision to add one more to the list; with the final player changing at least six or seven times. Sure, its possible that I am becoming more finicky, or selective in my choices; yet, inconsistency among players could also be another feasible explanation.
For example. Nick Gonzales Mason Martin and Travis Swaggerty were three prospects I considered placing in the Top 5 a week ago. Ultimately, I wanted to see the progress they made over their most recent contests continue before I officially made this determination.
Leading up to my decision the main concerns I had were 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 prior to May 17th and Martin tallying double digit strike outs in 7 of 12 games. This hesitation occurred in spite of Gonzales batting .417 for the week with two homers, Swaggerty seemly breaking out by hitting .563 in 5 games against Mud Hens, and Martin blasting 3 homers in the last four games at Victory Field.
Clearly this indecisiveness was somewhat warranted as Gonzales struck out 32.1% of the time while posting a .250 AVG, Swaggerty also batted .250 with a 92 wRC+ and Martin was sat down 42.4% of the time he came up to the plate. Obviously they weren’t absolutely awful overall performances; especially in Martin’s case with another three homers added to his yearly tally, which now stands at 11. Still, it’s hard to give them the stamp of approval when they all continue to struggle to a certain degree.
Now you can add Canaan Smith-Njigba to the trio of Gonzales, Martin and Swaggerty; that I am continuing to monitor more closely to see if hot weeks turn into consistent performance streaks. During his first 35 games Smith-Njigba was batting .231 with an OPS of .704 and a league average wRC+ of 100. Over this past week he had a .417 AVG with an OPS of 1.101 and a wRC+ of 202.
Will this be his springboard for the remainder of the season? I have no clue. Could it be? I sure hope so. Nevertheless-for the moment-he will remain outside the Top 5.
1) Mike Burrows-RHP (Altoona)
Dominant could easily be used as the word to describe Burrow’s performance with the Curve this year. Outside of a 5 inning, 4 earned run outing against Somerset a couple of weeks ago, the Pirates #11 Prospect according to MLB Pipeline has become the talk of Altoona. Prior to season Quinn Priester, and possibly Carmen Mlodzinski may have overshadowed him at times. However, with Priester still on the shelf with an oblique injury, and Mlodzinski fighting through a shoulder issue, Burrows has truly emerged.
During his most recent outing, Burrows tossed 7 shutout innings; allowing only 2 hits, while striking out 8 and walking 1 batter on 83 pitches. For the season he has a 1.90 ERA, a 2.67 FIP, a .867 WHIP and 54 Ks over 42.2 innings of work.
2) Oneil Cruz-SS/OF (Indianapolis)
Yes, I realize that many of you think he shouldn’t be, or wish he wasn’t eligible for this list. However, it may surprise you that this is the first time Cruz has found his way onto the Top 5.
Following a slow start to the season in Indianapolis, Cruz has incrementally made improvements at the plate over the past month. During April he posted a .176 AVG and a .566 OPS, to go along with a 32.9% K to 11.8% BB ratio and only 1 homer. Since that time he has bumped his AVG up by nearly 50 points, seen his OPS creep over .700, cut his strikeout rate down to 25.1%, kept his walk rate pretty steady at 12.6% and smacked 6 more dingers; including 3 during this most recent series.
Sadly, thanks to an injury sustained by sliding into second base on Sunday, Cruz’s progress may be put on hold for a little bit. And, even though it has been described as a grade one ankle sprain upon further evaluation, it’s probably worth checking in on Todd Tomczyk’s medical report tomorrow for a potential timeline.
3) Ji-hwan Bae-2B/CF (Indianapolis)
For the second straight week, Bae has made his way onto the short list with consistent play. During the most recent series against the St. Paul Saints he batted .370 and hit his 5th homer of the season; adding in 3 doubles and a triple with the help of his 70 grade speed.
On the year he is slashing .301/.381/.503 with a 137 wRC+ and a 17.1% K to 11.9% BB ratio. Currently his .884 OPS is tops on the Indians, while his .301 AVG is second to only Cal Mitchell’s .306. Because of this fact it is probably worth noting Mitchell’s addition to the 40-Man, and promotion to the Pirates exactly a week ago.
4) Noe Toribio-RHP (Altoona)
For the first half of 2021 Toribio was a regular in the Curve’s rotation; posting a 5.35 ERA and a 1.330 WHIP, while striking out 24 batters and allowing 5 home runs in 35.1 innings. Following these 8 starts, he found his way to the bullpen for his last 6 appearances of the season. Accumulating only 14.2 innings of work, Toribio experienced success to the tune of a 1.80 ERA, a .818 WHIP and 16 Ks.
Due to this more than favorable outcome in his new role, it was no surprise that he would remain a reliever with Altoona to begin 2022; eventually building up to a 5 inning appearance during his last outing to close out the game. Over his last 8.2 innings Toribio has not surrendered a single free pass or an earned run, while striking out 12 opposing batters. On the year he owns a 1.86 ERA and a .897 WHIP across 29 innings and 10 appearances.
5) Kyle Nicolas-RHP (Altoona)
Usually my list is in no particular order; however, as I stated before, this week was absolutely different than the rest. In the end I’m not completely sure if Nicolas 100% deserved to make the cut.
On the year he has a 4.21 ERA that is pretty much line with his 4.03 FIP, is striking out batters at a constant rate of 11.89 per 9 as compared to 11.44 last season and has decreased his BB/9 from 5.72 to 3.47; although walks have continued to plague him as evidenced by him giving up 2 or more free passes in over half of his 9 starts-including his last 4-to begin the season.
During his most recent start Nicolas went a five innings on a season high 84 pitches, striking out 8 for the second time in 3 games; which ultimately put him over the edge in my mind.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the eighth 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 the Minor League Baseball Season!
As I was prepping-and diligently researching for-this week’s post it was announced that Cole Tucker had been DFA’d; officially removing him from the 40-Man roster, to make was for newly acquired Yu Chang from the Cleveland Guardians.
To his credit Cole always acted and looked the part of someone that you would want to succeed. An infectious personality, love and excitement for the game, near constant energy and a great rapport with Pirates Fans. Unfortunately these qualities never fully transferred into his play on the field. Glimpses were all we ever really got to see. A game winning home run in his debut, a web gem toward the end of last season and a grand slam to cap it off.
In his career thus far, Tucker has a slash line of .211/.259/.314 with a combined -2.1 WAR. This season he had 25 strikes and zero walks in 63 plate appearances; ultimately resulting in him sticking to the left side of the plate in favor of his usual switch hitting role. Optioned to Indianapolis back on May 12th, he continued to struggle; bringing about something that had become almost inevitable.
Criticize Neal Huntington for reaching to draft him in the first round back in 2014. Blame them for failing to develop him as he moved through the Pirates Farm System. Point to his early and abrupt call-up in 2019 following the Erik Gonzalez-Starling Marte collision. Condemn the outfield experiment of 2020. All of these more than likely played a part in where we are today. But, so did the extra month of individual work with Jon Nunnally leading up to last season. Maybe it was just too little, too late.
No matter the reasoning, the result remains the same. Another ill-fated first round pick for your Pittsburgh Pirates. Not the worst by any stretch of the imagination, because Tucker actually made it to the Show. But, an overarching failure nonetheless. Which is definitely something Cherington and Company need to improve upon, if they want to outperform the previous regime.