6-14-2022 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
With the Major League Club in the midst of a seven-game skid, the spotlight-which began to shine brightly the moment Ben Cherington traded Starling Marte for prospects Liover Peguero and Brennan Malone-is now being used as a search light by fans; to find the player(s) in Pittsburgh’s Minor League System that will be someday be able to right the Pirates Ship.
At the beginning of the season the cries were to keep Oneil Cruz, Diego Castillo, and to a lesser degree Bligh Madris on the Opening Day Roster. As the year has progressed the now near blind rage to have Cruz in the Majors has to some degree wiped out the fact that Castillo has remained in Pittsburgh for the entire season thus far; along with the fact(s) that Jack Suwinski, Tucupita Marcano, Cal Mitchell, Roansy Contreras, Travis Swaggerty, Beau Sulser, Yerry De Los Santos and Cam Alldred have all made their Pirates and/or Major League Debuts. However, in most cases these weren’t the guys that the collective we wanted to see, so it feels like it doesn’t matter as much.
We want Oneil Cruz, Liover Pegeuro, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, Henry Davis and now Michael Burrows. Hell, I have even heard demands to bring up Blake Sabol from Altoona to solve the catching situation. To be blunt, I’m not sure this would work out the way you want it to; and, I really like Sabol as an all-around, albeit, Double-A ball player.
We see Quinn Priester be a part of a no-hitter down in Bradenton and want him at PNC tomorrow. Obviously this is a very cool thing to have happen for all the guys involved; but, as far Priester is concerned, he should have the ability no-hit a bunch of Low-A players at this point. To me, I was more impressed, and excited, about Anthony Solometo following up Priester with three strike outs and two walks across 4 innings of work; bringing his career ERA and WHIP down to .82 and .91 respectively.
Yes, I understand that development is not linear, and that Priester was on a rehab assignment after being out the first two months of the season; still, it’s hard not to get frustrated when I see calls for other prospects to come up, when some of them are already here.
A combination of Liover Pegeuro, Oneil Cruz and Nick Gonzales have been sold to you by many as the middle infield tandem of the future; but, what if Marcano, Castillo, Ji-hwan Bae or someone else find their way into one of those spots? Not saying this is guaranteed to happen, but the idea has to be entertained at the very least. Gonzales, like Priester, is a victim of the injury bug, and hasn’t played since May 31st after hurting his heal running to first base. He will be back; but, his progress, which was slowly starting to turn around in May, has been put on pause for the moment. Cruz and Peguero have combined for 25 errors at shortstop so far this season. Clearly, this doesn’t assure poor play at the Major League Level; yet, once again it can’t be ignored.
Sure, this soapbox tirade is probably a little bit ironic coming from a guy that writes a Top 5 Prospect blog post every week. Nevertheless, I can say a few things for certain. I have never made any promises for success, I always aim for the floor of a player-not their ceiling-and I constantly punctuate that these are just a snapshot in each player’s overall story.
But, I digress…for now.
1) Mike Burrows-RHP (Altoona)
Burrows has been the most dominant pitcher in the Pirates Farm System, and maybe the entire Pittsburgh Organization; although, an argument could certainly be made for Roansy Contreras.
As I mentioned, this surprise development has resulted in calls for his immediate promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, if not the Big League Club; with the former being an almost forgone conclusion in the near future. However, I don’t want it to seem like every start from Burrows has been flawless.
Two of Burrows’ outings-including a recent match-up against the Bowie Baysox on June 1st-were less than ideal. When facing the Double-A Orioles, he lasted 3 innings, gave up 3 runs on 7 hits-one of them a homer and walked 4 batters, while striking out 3. In his previous poor performance-back on May 15th versus the Somerset Patriots-Burrows struck out 6, walked two and allowed 4 runs on 6 hits-5 of them for extra bases.
Now, what may you ask, do the Baysox and Patriots have in common? Well, they are second and fourth best hitting teams by OPS in the Eastern League behind Altoona in first and Hartford-who Burrows has not faced-in third.
So maybe, just maybe Burrows has something to learn in Double-A; or, possibly he already has if you read a recent article from Mike Persak, which discusses him working working through his most recent challenge; and, eventually bouncing back in last week’s start against the Reading Fighting Phils.
On the season, Burrows has posted a 2.13 ERA and a 1.206 WHIP, with 66 strikeouts and 19 walks in 50.2 innings.
2) Bligh Madris-OF/DH/1B (Indianapolis)
During the most recent Spring Training, Madris slashed .368/.429/.947 with 3 homers, causing Manager Derek Shelton to say this to the Pirates Media Members:
“He’s someone our player development group for a couple of years now has been pushing and giving us great feedback on,” Cherington said of Madris. “He’s an incredible teammate, so he’s a guy to root for. He continues to play well and have good at-bats, and he’s put himself in a position to earn more and more opportunity.”
Unfortunately, this small sample size, kind words from Shelton and input from Pirates Fans did not result in a roster spot on Opening Day. And, with all of the outfielders needing at bats in Triple-A, it didn’t even result in regular playing time to start the season.
Understandably, Madris struggled to the tune of a .200 AVG, a 30.8% K-rate and no home runs in only 35 at bats during April. Then in May, he started to get back on track; batting .270 with a 21.9% K-rate and 3 homers across 63 at bats. And now in 37 at bats in June he has put up a .405 AVG and an ever shrinking 14.0% K-rate and 2 more home runs.
On the year Madris is now slashing .289/.381/.511 with a 21.9% K to 12.3% BB-rate, 5 home runs and 18 total extra base hits.
It should also be noted that Madris has started to play a little first base to get his bat in the lineup; as well as possible filling a potential organizational hole in the process.
3) Ji-hwan Bae-2B/CF (Indianapolis)
Bae has been the definition of consistency across the board with the Indians this season; current leading the team in AVG (.303) and OPS (.852) among all qualified hitters. Spending time at second base and shortstop, as well as in center and left field, Bae has shown that versatility that General Manager Ben Cherington has put a focus on during the Pirates current team building process.
With 6 home runs in 227 plate appearances, Bae is quickly approaching his career high of 8 for a single season, which is an added bonus for the young speedster.
4) Matt Gorski-OF (Altoona)
As some began to come down with Matt Gorski Fever leading up to his May 24th promotion to the Curve, I cautioned the need to keep the First National Bank Field Effect in mind. During his time with Greensboro, Gorski slashed .294/.377/.754 with 17 homers and an astronomical 189 wRC+; a pace that not many have been able to maintain.
To his credit he has keep his AVG at .283, and maintained a K-rate below 30% and a BB-rate right at 11.6% in Altoona. But, expectedly there has been a drop in power as he has belted only 2 homers in 60 at bats as compared to 126 with the Grasshoppers. Which, doing some simple math would be around 4 with the Curve if things remain consistent.
5) Travis MacGregor-RHP (Altoona)
The last time Travis MacGregor made this list back on May 17th, I asked you to pay attention to his small sample size as a piggyback/long reliever out of the bullpen. To that date he had a 1.59 ERA and a .882 WHIP in 4 relief appearances, across 11 innings of work; all while walking only 4, and striking out 14 batters.
Since then he has made 6 additional appearances, pitched 20.2 innings, posted a 1.74 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, walked 8 and struck out 27; including 8 in his most recent 5 inning outing.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the tenth 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 Gary wrote just a few hours ago, “Oneil Cruz is going to be a Pittsburgh Pirate, and it’s going to happen really soon.” He also went into great detail to walk us through the situation, so I won’t bore you with repetition. I will simply say, that Oneil Cruz can do things that I have not seen many players be able to do before, at any level; but Pirates Fans also have to be patient when they don’t see hits like this during every plate appearance.
As I was prepping and editing this blog post-ever since Altoona’s game ended at about 8 PM on Sunday Night-it was announced that Canaan Smith-Njigba, and to a lesser degree Hoy Park, were going to be promoted to the Pirates. First off, Smith-Njigba’s promotion is well deserved; and honestly this could be the last hoorah for Park.
Smith-Njigba is a player I have been tracking-along with Mason Martin, Nick Gonzales and Travis Swaggerty for the past several weeks; just last week noting my concerns about his lack of power, while punctuating his consistent approach at the plate.
Prior to his promotion Smith-Njigba had reached base safely in 40 of his last 41games, while hitting .297 with the aforementioned homer and 16 total extra base hits during this time. With a propensity to get on base he also lead the Indians with a .387 OBP on the season.
In the corresponding Travis Swaggerty, who had only garnered 9 at bats during his week in the Majors, went back down to Indianapolis. Which basically leads me back to the same concern for Smith-Njigba that I had when they brought up Swaggerty; being able to get him at bats with Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell and Tucupita Marcano in competition for the same spot(s).
Finally, as previously mentioned, Gonzales has been on the IL for the first half of June; and, as far as Martin is concerned, the slump he started to experience in the beginning of May has continued through the first week of June. Even though Martin has smashed 7 homers during this time, he has also hit .173 and struck out 37.5% of the time.