8-23-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
With as bad as things have been for Pittsburgh’s Big League Club over the past two and half seasons plus-posting a record of 127 and 216-Pirates Fans have at the very least been able to hang their hats on being a unanimous Top 5 Farm System. That is until Baseball America released their updated MLB Organizational Rankings, in conjunction with the Top 100 Prospects in the Minor Leagues.
After starting the year at #3, Pittsburgh has not only fallen to #9, but has also been passed by division rivals Cincinnati at #5 and St. Louis at #7. This along with two horrible losses to the Reds, being called a hodgepodge of nothingness by Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, hearing that Derek Shelton is very “secure” in his job-even with the previously listed record-and General Manager Ben Cherington using his usual word salad to explain the state of the rebuild, has caused a complete meltdown across Pirates Social Media for the past week or so.
Now, I’m not going to try to make excuses for the state of the Pirates Farm System, as some might expect me to. They should have more Top 100 Prospects than the four in Baseball America; and, they should absolutely be a Top 5 System across the board, given the string of trades and high draft picks over the past 3 years. Yet, they aren’t.
However, it’s not like everyone is underperforming; which you would know if you’ve read any of my Top 5 posts during this season. It’s just not always the guys you thought it would be, who are leading the pack at times. Especially after hard luck injuries for Nick Gonzales and Henry Davis.
But, I will digress; before it starts to sound like I am racking up the excuses.
1) Blake Sabol-C/OF/DH (Altoona)
It’s been a little while since Troy Polamolu’s cousin has made his way onto the list. After starting out the year by slashing .297/.381/.500 with 5 homers across April and May, Sabol’s stats took a dip in June. Across twenty-two games he slashed .213/.286/.400, but added another 3 homers.
Then in July,and also leading into August, his bat woke up again. In his last 156 plate appearances-across 36 games-the former USC Trojan has batted .297 with an .856 OPS, while tacking on an additional 5 long balls.
On the season he is third on the Curve in OPS (.826) and home runs (13), second in RBI (57) and triples (5) and first in batting average (.278) and doubles (21).
Not bad for an afterthought catcher, designated hitter and part-time outfielder.
2) Anthony Solometo-LHP (Bradenton)
Obviously a more well known/high touted prospect than Sabol, Solometo had his longest-and arguably his most successful-outing of his 10 game professional career; in the piggyback role with another Top Prospect, Bubba Chandler.
In 5 innings of work he allowed only 3 hits and no runs, while striking out 4 and walking none. On the season he is sporting a 3.15 ERA and a 1.107 WHIP with 35 strikeouts and 11 walks in 34.1 innings of work.
At only 19 years of age, Solometo is a full 3.1 years younger than his average competitor.
3) Malcolm Nunez-1B/3B (Altoona)
I know…picking the new guy, who Cherington just traded the teams most consistent starter for, seems like a bit of cherry picking. However, it’s hard to ignore the power, and more importantly Nunez’s overall approach at the plate.
Since joining the Curve he has blasted 2 homers, to add to his career high of 19. Also, he has continued his yearly pattern of increased walks, with a 17.5% BB-rate. For comparison’s sake it was 13.7% in 350 plate appearances with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals; so it’s not exactly a new phenomenon.
On the year he is slashing .256/.364/.463 with the previously mentioned 19 homers and 30 total extra base hits.
4) Valentin Linarez-RHP (Bradenton)
Linarez was one of the Five Pirates Prospects that I had discussed as having Carved Up The Complex League during the 2021 season; along with Joelvis Del Rosario, Darvin Garcia, Carlos Jimenez and Po-Yu Chen.
At the time I projected that Linarez could potentially start the year in High-A Greensboro due to his age-22 at the beginning of the season. However, with Low-A Bradenton being deemed as his eventual landing spot, I was hopeful that he could get things going, and be promoted sooner rather than later.
Spoiler alert…that’s not what happened. Over the first three months of the season Linarez limped to a 5.36 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP; as his strikeout rate remained high at 11.20 per 9, but so did his walk rate-5.00 per 9.
Then he flipped a switch-to a certain degree-by concentrating more on control and less on trying to overpower batters for punch outs.
Over his last 7 starts, the 6’5” and 225 pound young man from the Dominican Republic has posted a 2.02 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP; earning Florida State League Pitcher of The Week Honors along the way.
5) Endy Rodriguez-C/2B/OF (Altoona)
Rodriguez has been the most consistent, if not the best prospect in the Pirates Farm System in 2022. And no, that’s not an exaggeration.
Since being called up to Altoona on August 9th he is slashing .371/.450/.657 with 2 homers, 2 doubles and at least one hit in every single game.
Bonus: Nick Gonzales-2B (Altoona)/Ji-Hwan Bae-IF/OF (Indianapolis)
All aboard the injury train.
Gonzales, Cherington’s initial First Round Draft Pick back in 2020, has been bitten by the injury bug more than once. Last season he missed over a month in Greensboro with a fractured right pinky; and then this year it was two with a heel issue while running to first base for the Curve.
Since his return-an extremely small sample size-Gonzales is batting .333 with 4 doubles and a triple in 39 plate appearances. For the season he is slashing .267/.379/.390 with 4 homers, and an unfortunate 32.2% strikeout rate.
On the other end of the spectrum is Bae; who had been on fire all year, but succumbed to an injury as of late. Prior to being placed on the IL-from July 25th to August 18th-with an oblique injury, Bae was slashing .297/.364/.450 with 8 home runs.
He only returned for two games during the Indians most recent series before being removed in the game in a double switch in the top of the 8th.
Unfortunately, he did not play the next day.
As of right now I have not been able to find out if this was injury related; or, part of the process to work him back slowly.
Guess we will have to wait and see.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the 20th week 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) hopefully-during the Minor League Baseball Season!