Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers

8-31-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

Monday night I coached my oldest son’s first Little League game of the Fall; and let me tell you, there’s nothing like it.

Kids showing up in their crisp clean new uniforms, warming up with their friend(s) in the outfield and taking grounders beside the third base line; making sure all their teammates know it is bad luck to step on the fresh chalk.

As the game balls are unwrapped-to replace the practice balls that have been beaten up over the last week-they all want to be the first to hold it in their hands; rhythmically popping it in pulling it out of the webbing of their glove, just to hear the sound.

Then in an almost hypnotic like state, they all take a seat on the bench; waiting in anxious anticipation, to find out what position they will be playing to start the game, and where they fall in the batting order.

To them, the scorebook I hold in my hands is almost magical. More than once I caught several of them peaking over my shoulder to check out their stats, the score of the game, the position(s) for the upcoming half inning, and of course who I had lined up to toe the rubber the next time we took the field.

Unfortunately the game ended abruptly as the storm clouds rolled in, with the good guys trailing 10 to 14 in the top of the 5th. Nevertheless, each kid has a smile on his face as the gathered up their helmet, bat and glove(s); all while I thought to myself:

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

Week of 8/23-8/28

1) Endy Rodriguez-C/2B/LF (Altoona)

The Endy Train-or bandwagon as @JV_PITT described it in yesterday’s blog post-has quickly been pick up steam, and passengers.

Since being promoted to Double-A Altoona, Endy has gotten at least one hit in all but one game of his first 15 games with the Curve, is slashing .373/.448/.746 and has 12 extra base hits; including 5 long balls.

He has also gotten comfortable behind the dish; throwing out 5 of 14 would be base stealers, which brings his yearly tally to 24; with 60 reaching safely-or approximately a 29% success rate Clearly this isn’t elite, but it isn’t too shabby either.

On top of all of this is his desire to be a leader, which is something Mike Persak and myself talked about during the latest episode of Bucs In The Basement .

Mike also shared what he learned about Endy while interviewing him for one of his latest articles.

2) Luis Ortiz-RHP (Altoona)

Having just made the Top 5 list for the first time a couple of weeks ago, Ortiz has continued to pile on to his season strikeout total; adding 18 over his last two starts, across 11 innings of work.

During this time he has also only issued one free pass; although the 4 earned runs and 12 hits-including his 19th homer allowed-could be seen as a little concerning.

3) Cristian Charle-RHP (Greensboro)

Charle originally emerged on my radar during the final weeks of June, when he was still donning the black and gold of the Bradenton Marauders; where he had struck out 36 batters in 29.1 innings, not allowed a homer and posses a 1.84 ERA with an 1.023 WHIP.

After continuing to dominate at the Low-A Level to the tune of a 1.93 ERA and a .75 WHIP for another 2 weeks, Charle was eventually promoted to the Greensboro Grasshoppers on July 12th.

From this point on he hasn’t had the same level of success in facing batters; striking out only 12 and walking 6 in 16 innings. However, he has managed to keep a solid ERA (2.25) and WHIP 1.13, which is very promising.

4) Tahnaj Thomas-RHP (Altoona)

Thomas has made it a habit of appearing on this list every other month during the season; landing on it for the third time this year.

Obviously, prior to the season the hope was for Thomas to regain the form he had exhibited as a starter in the now defunct Advanced Rookie Appalachian League for the Bristol Pirates in 2019. During that season he posted a 3.17 ERA and an 1.117 WHIP in 12 starts.

Following what was arguably his best season as a professional, everything just kind of fell apart for Thomas. His ERA ballooned up to 5.10, his WHIP rose to 1.582 and his walk rate followed along with them to 5.19 per 9. He was still throwing his fastball in the upper 90’s, touching 100 mph at times; he just seemed to have no clue where it was going.

Over the off-season the Pirates Developmental Staff worked on trying to hone Thomas’ elite potential, and focused on transitioning him into a reliever.

Thus far this plan has worked.

On the season Thomas has a 2.87 ERA, an 1.255 OPS and 49 strikeouts in 47 innings; while continuing to display improvements throughout the season. For instance, since making the list on July 12th, he has posted a 1.29 ERA, an 1.14 OPS and 18 strikeouts across 14 innings.

5) Tsung-Che Cheng-SS/2B/3B (Bradenton)

Prior to the season Cheng was mentioned by Greg Rosenthal as one of his Top 50 Pirates Prospects that he could see rising from his then 35th/Tier 4 Ranking during his appearance on the Bucs In The Basement Podcast back on January 18th.

For the first month of the season Cheng lived up to the hype-at least somewhat-by slashing .276/.356/.434 with 7 extra base hits-two of them for homers-and a 123 wRC+. However, over the next two months-and 7 more games, thanks to a multiple week stint on the IL-Cheng would bat only .233 with .695 OPS and with a slight below average 99 wRC+ and 11 extra base hits; including a single homer.

Fortunately as the calendar turned to July, he would heat up again; reaching base safely in all but six games during the next 47 games, through this past Sunday. During this stretch he has slashed .305/.431/.461 with 17 extra base hits, a 158 wRC+ and a very respectable 16.7% BB to 17.6% K-rate.

Bonus: On The Cusp (And One That Returned)

As I was prepping to write this post, Jack Suwinski was recalled as a replacement-at least the OF part-for Bligh Madris. Prior to being send down Madris was batting just .102, with a .345 OPS over the last month. Although it’s not like Suwinski was really setting the word on fire in Triple-A. Since his mid-July demotion, the Taft High School Product has been slashing .214/.285/.410 with 6 homers and 5 doubles; but, he’s also brought along 37.7% K-rate.

For my money I thought Cal Mitchell may have gotten the quick turnaround call after registering a hit in 14 out of 15 games; all while batting .352 with 3 doubles, 2 triples and 3 bombs.

It could have also been possible to maybe even give Travis Swaggerty a real shot, after his one week 9 at bat appearance in the Majors back in June. On the season-with the Indians-he is batting .255 with a .758 OPS and 8 home runs.

And, if you were looking for the infielders that can play outfield-one much better than the other-route, Ji-Hwan Bae and Diego Castillo.

Even with being injured for a short period of time, Bae has produced all season. On the year he is batting .299 with an .814 OPS, 8 home runs, 18 doubles and 5 triples. He also has a very sustainable BABIP of .353; which is almost exactly the same as the one he had all of last year. Did I also mention that he plays a better than average Shortstop, Second Base, Center and Left Field(s)?

Castillo has also been hitting fairly well; coming in at .258, with a .695 OPS, 4 homers and 2 doubles. Although the case is not nearly as convincing as it would be with Mitchell and Bae.

However, Cherington had other ideas.

This isn’t about me not liking Jack Suwinski; or, another player better. I actually really like Suwinski as a ball player. I guess I just don’t get the whole send him down after an 0 for 28 streak; and then, bring him back up when he is obviously still struggling.

There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the 21st week of 2022; with a little bit of a bonus!

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!

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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