7/6or7/22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Last season Matthew Fraizer burst onto the Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Scene by slashing .306/.388/.552 with 23 homers between High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona; ultimately 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.
With numbers and accolades such as these it was no surprise that Fraizer shot up the prospect rankings; landing in at #9 on MLB Pipeline and #8 on Fangraphs. However, it was slightly peculiar that some began to make proclamations about Frazier slotting into left or right field as early as June; a move that would require him to jump over a minimum of 4 to 5 other prospects, plus a couple of players on the active roster.
Now after 64 games and 275 plate appearances for the Curve in 2022 he is currently slashing .220/.276/.357 with 4 home runs, which has put a little bit of a damper on these plans.
Enter this year’s darling. A former 2nd Round Pick-Number 57 Overall in 2019-from the Indiana University, Matt Gorski lit up High-A pitching to the tune of a .294 AVG, an 1.131 OPS and 17 homers for the Grasshoppers. Following his move to Double-A Altoona, Gorski continued to mash; adding another 6 home runs to his season total, while matching his Greensboro average and dropping his OPS slightly to .934.
Then came the evening of June 29th, when Gorski was carted off the field with a quadriceps injury; ultimately being transferred from the 7 to 60-Day IL just a few hours ago, and given a timeframe of 6 to 8 weeks to recuperate. Although, I am sure some will still be calling for his promotion to Indianapolis over the next couple of weeks. Kind of like how people still mention Nick Gonzales as the Pirates starting second baseman for Opening Day in 2023, without realizing he is also on the 60-Day with a heel injury.
Now, obviously I wish Fraizer, Gorski and Gonzales all the best; with a lot of hope for speedy recoveries from the last two. Still, it’s hard not to use these three as a way to examine the psyche of fans ; and, how we often put the cart before the horse. That is until one of life’s curveballs comes from out of nowhere; knocking us-or more notably one of our favorite prospects-to the ground.
Week of 6-21 to 6-26
Clearly it’s hard to analyze or put too much stock into things that happened two weeks ago; especially if we saw any of these players enter a slump over the past week, have a terrible outing, or-in the case of Gorski and Gonzales-find their way to the IL. Yet, it seems like part of the process, so let’s do it anyway.
1) Ji-hwan Bae-MI/OF (Indianapolis)
This guy just doesn’t seem to cool down. After starting the year on a 7 game hitting streak, Bae has simply continued to rake. During this series with the Memphis Birds, he tallied 11 hits in 25 plate appearances, stole 3 bases and posted an astronomical 207 wRC+.
Oh, and by the way, he also hit his 7th homer of the season; with only more more to go until he ties his career high.
2) Mike Burrows-RHP (Indianapolis)
Over his first two starts in Triple-A Indianapolis, Burrows struck out 8, didn’t walk a single batter and posted a 3.68 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP across 7.1 innings of work-a truly small sample size. At the time-on the season-he had compiled a 3.03 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP and a 11.68 K/9 to 2.88 BB/9.
Of course he would proceed go out and throw a stinker in his next outing. Across 4.1 innings he would allow 5 runs on 6 hits, while walking one and striking out 4; which is probably why you won’t find his name on the second list down below.
3) Cristian Charle-RHP (Bradenton)
After signing with the Pirates as an International Free Agent back in April of 2018, Charle would jump right in as a member of the DSL Pirates that summer. Appearing in 14 games, the then 18 year-old Dominican would struggle by walking more batters (23) than he struck out (20), putting up a 6.04 ERA and having a WHIP (1.976), that was in competition for the worst on the team. But, he didn’t allow a single home run, if we are trying to be positive.
Speaking of positive, Charle would test positive for PEDs the following year, and miss the entire 2019 season; along with the 2020 season when Minor League Baseball was cancelled.
When he finally emerged again in 2021, Charle was 21 years-old, and only had 28.1 innings of professional baseball under his belt. Yet, he didn’t let this slow him down as he took on the FCL head on. In 31.2 innings he struck out 37, walked only 5 and saw his ERA and WHIP drop dramatically to a more than respectable 2.56 and .947. This eventually lead to a late season call-up to the Low-A Bradenton Marauders, where he would once again struggle in 11 innings and 5 appearances; although he continued to keep his walks under control.
Due to some pretty consistent scuffling in all of his outings in Bradenton, it really wasn’t a shock that he would start there again this year. However, I’m not sure how long they can keep him down there with the way he has been pitching. For one he hasn’t allowed a home run 29.1 innings or a walk over his last 10.2 innings. Secondly he has 36 strike outs. And lastly, he possesses a 1.84 ERA and a 1.023 WHIP.
4) Jesus Castillo-Utility IF (FCL)
I know as soon as you saw FCL, you were probably thinking Bubba Chandler. And, may still be curious as to why I went with Castillo over him as the first player from the FCL on a Top 5. Well, through the first 12 games of the season, this 18 year-old from Coro, Venezuela is batting .415 with a .906 OPS and a 157 wRC+.
At the moment the only knock on the kid is that he lacks power. Over his first 224 professional plate appearances he only has 5 extra base hits; none of them being a home run. Still, this shouldn’t be too surprising for a guy that is listed as 5’9 and 144 pounds.
5) Dariel Lopez-Utility IF (Greensboro)
Lopez was an extremely intriguing player for me prior to the start of the season due to the youth he had injected into the Pirates Farm System, along with the power potential exhibited by hitting 10 homers at Low-A Bradenton; which is where I thought he would start the 2022.
In the beginning it looked like his aggressive placement to High-A Greensboro could have been a slight miscalculation by the Pirates as he limped to a .228 batting average with a .694 OPS over the first two months. Luckily for him the power stuck around as he put 6 over the fence.
Then, slowly but surely over the next couple of weeks he began to work out most his game. Thus far in the month of June, Lopez is batting .274 with a .807 OPS, and has hit an additional 5 home runs; including 4 just this past week alone.
However, you will notice I said most of his game, as he is still striking out at a 30%+ clip and walking just north of 5% of the time.
Week of 6-28 to 7-4
This one is also a little late, but is still relevant; and, is most importantly a part of the process.
1) 1) Ji-hwan Bae-MI/OF (Indianapolis)
Honestly, unless something drastically changes, it might be smart to just type Bae into every Top 5 moving forward; and this is even taking into account that he had one of his worst weeks of the season. Over 6 games and 28 plate appearances he collected only 6 hits, with 5 of them coming in the final two contests on Sunday and Monday.
Nevertheless, in spite of this mini-slump, Bae still leads the team among qualified players in AVG (.310), OPS (.845), Doubles (15) and Stolen Bases (20).
2) Cal Mitchell-OF (Indianapolis)
After spending 26 games and accumulating 88 plate appearances with the Pirates, Mitchell was ultimately optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday June 27th when Josh VanMeter returned from his IL stint. Sure you may not agree with VanMeter being brought back, but it’s hard to argue with Mitchell being sent down. In the previously mentioned 26 games and 88 plate appearances he was batting .193 with a .553 OPS and 52 wRC+.
Obviously, you never know how players are going to react to being demoted. However, for Cal Mitchell it seemed to be his cue to get back to the grind. In his 5 games back with the Indians, Cal collected a hit in every single one; batting .476 with 2 doubles and 5 RBI on the week.
3) Endy Rodriguez-C/IF/OF/DH (Greensboro)
After the first week of the season, Endy made the Top 5 Prospect Performers. Looking the smallest of sample sizes, Rodriguez had batted .308 with 3 doubles and a triple in his first 14 plate appearances.In that post I wrote, “if I had to guess this won’t be the last time he finds his way into the Top 5.”; which I guess is true. But, I also don’t think I believed it would take almost 3 months to find his way back.
Now, in another SSS, he batted. 440 with two homers and 2 doubles. In between these two he hasn’t been bad; just maybe not top performer worthy. From April 12 through June 26th Rodriguez batted .254 with an .768 OPS, 7 homers and 19 total extra base hits.
Hopefully, this past week’s hot streak leads to what I envisioned some 12 weeks ago. Many appearances on this list.
4) Dariel Lopez-Utility IF (Greensboro)
Two weeks in a row as power dissipates, but the hitting streak continues. In case you were wondering it’s now up to 9. During this current streak he is slashing .304/.298/.536 with the previously mentioned 4 homers, and 11 RBI.
Also, in case you were wondering, he has struck out 11 times and not walked once. So yeah, that’s still a problem.
5) Bubba Chandler-SS/DH/RHP (FCL)
During the off-season, I listed Chandler as one of Five Pirates Prospects that Peaked My Interest; and, why wouldn’t he. As a high school senior, 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.
And, after much anticipation we have finally gotten to see glimpses of him. On the mound he has pitched 11.1 scoreless innings, while allowing 3 hits, walking 9 and striking out 20. With the bat he is slashing .250/.419/.708 with 3 homers in limited plate appearances.
Clearly, I want to see more of him; hopefully at Low-A Bradenton at some point. However, I won’t be overly hyping him because in essence he would be skipping at least a level and a half under the old Minor League System. Selfishly, I just want to watch him on MiLB.TV.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the last two-12th and 13th-weeks of 2022.
Now remember, let me know I missed, who your Top 5 is and be sure check back each and every Tuesday (or Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning in this case)-hopefully-during the Minor League Baseball Season!
Just keep praying for no more curveballs; like the most recent ones last Monday morning, last Friday and this Wednesday afternoon that had me looking like Cerrano!