9-21-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Even though it sometimes seems as if the season just started, soon every Minor League Ballpark across America will once again become silent for the Fall and Winter months; as they already have in Bradenton, Greensboro and Altoona.
For Bradenton the end of the season was extremely anticlimactic; when we they-along with the Dunedin Blue Jays-were unable play their final game of the season, for a chance to see if the Marauders could defend their Florida State League Crown. In the Final Standings-for the second half-they finished just a half a game behind the Blue Jays.
In Greensboro and Altoona their conclusions to the year were slightly less dramatic as the Grasshoppers and Curve were 7.5 games and 2.5 games-respectively-off the winning pace. Although, I would have to say Altoona’s season was the more disappointing one, with all the expectations that they existed for them to be a potential Minor League Powerhouse prior to Opening Day.
However, in spite of these shortcomings, it’s hard to declare the development throughout the system as going through a regression; especially from those that state that Minor League Records don’t matter.
If it was truly regressing, I would have had been more difficult for me to come up with 5 Pirates Top Prospect Performers each and every week; most times having to narrow the list down by like 3 or 4 players, and/or adding a bonus player to circumvent my own criteria on occasion.
Sure there were some discouraging outcomes due to injury, inability to repeat success from the previous season and general underperformance; yet, there almost as many surprises or breakouts from prospects that may have not been ranked as high as others, if they were even ranked at all.
For what it’s worth, I honestly think some of this doom and gloom concerning the Pirates Farm System has simply been a trickle down effect from what we have been witnessing at the Major League Level.
When you’re staring down another 100 loss season, it’s hard to be positive about anything.
Obviously a statement like this will quickly get me labeled as a Ben Cherington Fanboy or a Nutting Apologist; still, it’s hard for me to give up this quickly during a process that started just 3 years ago.
1) Malcolm Nunez-1B/DH (Altoona)
Since joining the Pirates Organization in the Quintana Deal, Nunez has slashed .286/.381/.476 with a 134 wRC+, 5 homers and 5 doubles; which includes a .250/.455/.313 slash line thanks to drawing walks at a rate of 27.3%.
On the season he has a 20.6% strike out to 13.7% walk rate; something that is fairly impressive for a player with his power potential.
2) Endy Rodriguez-C/2B/OF (Altoona)
There isn’t much to say about Rodriguez that hasn’t already been said at least a hundred times during the season. He has hit extremely well at every level, his receiving skills have improved, the arm we already knew he had has been on full display and he plays the field-second base and the outfield just as well as he does behind the dish.
At Double-A Altoona Endy has put up a .356 AVG and an 1.120 OPS, slammed 8 homers and 14 doubles, posted a 199 wRC+ and walked at nearly the same rate as he has struck out-13.0% to 15.2%.
Oh, and yeah, he also throws out would be base stealers at a 45.5% rate.
Still, even with all of the positive accolades, please be prepared for Endy to begin next season in Triple-A. I’m not saying it’s right or the way things should go, it’s just the reality of the situation. So blast away at Pirates management if you must, but also realize what usually happens when you scream into a void…or do a couple of things into the wind.
3) Kyle Nicolas-RHP (Altoona)
In Nicolas last outing of the season, he had one of his better performances on the year; striking out 5, walking only 1 and not allowing a single run on 5 hits, spread out across 5.2 innings.
On the season he posted a respectable 3.97 ERA and a 1.301WHIP, while striking out 101 hitters across a career high 90.2 innings of work.
4) Cameron Junker-RHP (Altoona)
It took all season for this Notre Dame product to make the list, and almost nearly as long for him to get his promotion to Altoona.
Originally drafted as a starting pitcher, Junker is truly the product of the 2020 COVID Season, and a season ending injury in the July 2021.
Relegated to the bullpen, he had to adjust to his new role of reliever and eventually a closer over the first three years of his professional career.
Over 47.0 innings in Greensboro, the now 25 year old Junker struck out 62 batters over 47 innings, posted a 3.64 ERA and earned a 1.30 WHIP. Then in his short time-only 4.1 innings-with the Curve he didn’t allow a run on only one hit, struck out 7 of the 15 batters he faced and walked just one.
5) Blake Sabol-C/OF (Indianapolis)
Remember when I mentioned the players that had surprise and/or breakout performances this year? Well, this is clearly one of these guys.
Since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, Sabol has slashed .306/.434/.581, as compared to the .281/.347/.486 line that he had in 412 plate appearances at Altoona. Also on a positive note his K-rate has dropped from 26.0% to 21.1%, while his BB-rate has increased from 9.2% to 15.8%.
The crazy part about his performance across two levels this season, is this that it shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. Just last season he had a .310 AVG and a .957 OPS between Bradenton and Greensboro.
Now he is one step away from the majors, with no indication of slowing down.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the 24th 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!