10-19-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
I get why many people-especially those within the Pittsburgh Pirates Fanbase-are not fond of hearing and/or reading about prospects. I truly do.
One too many times they have been burned by the call to wait for this guy or that guy, only to have them underperform once they reach the Majors; if they even make it at all.
Sure I could make the obvious point that every player in Major League Baseball was once a prospect; but, then I would have to also point out that more than 120 batters who took the field for at least 100 plate appearances this past season, posted a fWAR of 0.0-exactly replacement level-or below.
For those players, getting to experience the realization of what is likely a life-long dream, most likely can’t be quantified. For fans like me and you, there is absolutely a way to quantify it; hence the WAR measurement.
Now, what about the ones that haven’t even had the opportunity to disappoint-or impress- us yet? Well, not even these prospects are safe from the criticism of detractors.
Take several of the Pirates Minor League Award Winners from a year ago.
If I had been in the business of writing a blog post like this after the 2021 MiLB Season, Honus Wagner Player of the Year Matthew Fraizer, Bob Friend Pitcher of the Year Adrian Florencio and Kent Tekulve Reliever of the Year Enmanuel Mejia, all would have probably made the list.
Across High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona, Frazier slashed .306/.388/.552 with 23 homers and 55 extra base hits; losing some power-.578 to .492 SLG-along the way. Although, this ultimately wasn’t enough of a drop to contribute it to anything other than a level adjustment.
On the mound Florencio posted a 2.46 ERA and a 1.053 WHIP with 117 Ks in 19 starts, across 95 innings; while, Mejia put up a ridiculous .42 ERA and a 1.242 WHIP with 53 Ks in 32 appearance and 42.2 innings.
So, what did they do this year?
Well, Fraizer slashed .219/.284/.333 with 6 homers in his first full Double-A Season, Florencio had an 8.07 ERA and a 2.017 WHIP in 58 High-A innings and Mejia owned a 5.80 ERA and a 1.631 WHIP in 49.2 innings for the Curve.
Obviously this is extremely disappointing, but is not unexpected.
So I guess, make what you will of the end of the year Top. Well, as one of the great lyricists of our time-Kayne West-once said, Nothin’s ever promised tomorrow, today.
1) Endy Rodriguez-C/IF/OF
Endy clearly didn’t come out of nowhere. Last season-his first on American soil, and his first in the Pirates Organization-Rodriguez batted .294 with an .892 OPS with 15 homers, 46 total extra base hits and a 17.7% K to 11.5% BB-rate; earning the Florida State League’s Most Valuable Player honors in the process.
He also made his mark in very limited action in Spring Training.
However, at the same time, it’s not like anyone could have predicted exactly how well the 2023 season would go for the Young Dominican. Beginning in the friendly confines of First National Bank Field-often know for inflating offensive numbers-Endy actually got off to a little bit of a slow start; slashing .240/.279/.373 in 79 plate appearances during the month of April. In the first 18 games of the year, Rodriguez only crouched behind the plate 6 times; a percentage that would increase consistently over the remainder of the season.
As Rodriguez began to get regular playing time at his natural position, he saw his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging increase over the next two months; landing at .269, .354 and .454. And, it would only go up from there.
Over the next 25 games, and 110 plate appearances he slashed .385/.482/.769 with a 15.5% BB to 11.8% K-rate; ultimately earning a promotion to the Altoona Curve.
After arriving in the Mountain City, Endy just kept on hitting; launching 8 homers and cracking 12 doubles in 31 games and 138 plate appearances.
In years prior to 2021, this is more than likely where his season would have come to a conclusion. However, with the extension of the Triple-A schedule, Rodriguez had the opportunity to turn the Circle City into Endyanapolis.
And just like during his earlier promotion, Endy kept on hitting; slashing .455/.435/.773 with 4 extra base hits in only 23 plate appearances, which has lead to discussions surrounding an Open Day Debut in the Majors in 2023.
Because it’s not like his defense is lacking; and, his offense sure isn’t.
Still, we all know it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Endy will start the year with the Triple-A Indians. Call it service manipulation if you will; it still won’t change the facts. Endy has only 6 games above the Double-A Level; and, that alone is enough justification for Cherington and Company to potentially hold him back.
2) Blake Sabol-C/OF/DH
Sabol was catcher by trade, an outfielder/designated by the desire to keep his bat in the lineup and then a catcher again by necessity.
Throughout this entire process over the past two seasons, the former Trojan never skipped a beat.
Even though I had seen him play in the New York-Penn League back in 2019, in what would be an All-Star Season with the West Virginia, Sabol first really caught my eye toward the end of June 2021; just prior to his promotion to the Greensboro Grasshoppers from the sunny Florida State League, as a member of the Bradenton Marauders.
During the 2021 season Sabol slashed .310/.406/.551 with 13 homers and 30 total extra base hits; spending the majority of his time behind the dish, after having not played the position since the 2018 Cape Cod Season.
Then just this past season, as it looked like Henry Davis would push Sabol to the outfield, an injury to Davis once again pulled him back behind the plate; an assignment he ultimately took advantage of.
In 412 plate appearances, across 98 games for the Curve, he hit .281 with an .833 OPS, 14 homers and 42 total extra base hits. His 25.9 K% was slightly concerning; yet, it was an improvement over the 31.4% from the previous year, so I wasn’t too worried.
In the end Sabol was rewarded with his strong play with a promotion to Indianapolis on August 30th.
Over the final 25 games of season he slashed .296/.426/.543 with 5 homers, 9 total extra base hit and a 21.8% K to 16.8% BB-rate; splitting time between catcher, left field and designated hitter.
With his position flexibility, Sabol could fit in at quite a few places around diamond; including a potential move back to his Cape Cod regular spot at 1st Base.
3) Ji-hwan Bae-IF/OF
Aside from needing, or more accurately wanting more power from a player, Bae clearly had one of the best seasons of any prospect in the Pirates Minor League System this past season; at one point reaching base safely in 28 straight games, accumulating 27 steals on the season, and slashing .289/.362/.792 in 473 plate appearances.
To his credit Bae did tie his career high with 8 homers; although he needed around 100 more trips to the plate for the Indians.
Eventually Bae would get his shot in the Majors-one that many he thought long deserved-for the last week and a half of the year; batting .333 with an .829 OPS in 37 plate appearances, with a full season’s worth likely in the near future.
4) Anthony Solometo-LHP
Prior to the start of the Minor League Season, I anxiously anticipated the professional debut of the funky lefty from Pennsauken, New Jersey; or more accurately, Bishop Eustace Prep.
Even so, when I imagined it, I saw the FCL as the likely jumping off point; not the aggressive placement of Low-A Bradenton for this 19 year-old. And, that’s one reason why this season was so impressive for Solometo. The other ones being his 2.64 ERA, a 1.049 WHIP, 51 strikeouts and 0 homers allowed in 47.2 innings.
Sure it was only Low-A, but once again I will remind you he was only 19-years old; a full 3 years younger than his average competitors.
5) Quinn Priester-RHP
Man, would it have been nice to see Priester pitch an entire season. Maybe he would have gotten a few more Triple-A appearances under his belt; along with a potential cup of coffee with the Pirates to end the season.
However, after starting on the year on the IL with an oblique injury, we can only judge Quinn on the season that was; not the season that could have been.
Following a ramp up of rehab appearances across Bradenton and Greensboro, Priester was ready to in Altoona in the middle of June; making his Curve Debut on June 19th against the Erie Seawolves. And even if it was only for 3 innings, it was great to see Priester toe the rubber; striking out 3, walking none and allowing only one hit.
As the season progressed, the Pirates Former First Round Pick had some ups and downs; but most ups on the way to 2.87 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 75.1 innings.
As it was with Endy, the extended Triple-A Season gave Quinn a chance to get his feet wet at the Minor’s Highest Level. The results were one good-5 IP/2H/0ER/6K/2BB-and one kind of poor-4.1IP/3H/4ER/4K/5BB.
Yet, with how the season started, it’s hard not to be encouraged by the progress Priester made.
Not added to the 40-Man during the off-season, Mitchell came into 2023 with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.
Through the first 34 games of the Triple-A Season, Mitchell was slashing .306/.362/.500 with 5 homers and 9 doubles; earning that 40-Man Spot; and an MLB Promotion in the process.
Regrettably, his first taste of the Majors didn’t go exactly as planned. In his first 88 plate appearances he batted only .193 with an .553 OPS.
Then when he went back down to Indianapolis he immediately started to hit again; posting a .375 AVG and an .879 OPS, so he was brought back up.
This time he was up for 58 plate appearances, and hit .222 with an .615 OPS; adding two more home runs.
Not surprisingly when he returned to the Indians, he went in on another tear. Once again he batted .375; only this time his OPS was 1.126 over 64 plate appearances.
With out fail the Pirates called his number again for the final month and change of the season. In his third go around, Mitchell saw his AVG and OPS raise to .267 and .734 respectively.
For the season-minimum 100 plate appearances-Mitchell was first in batting average (.339) in the Pirates Minor System and third in OPS (.937). Unfortunately this consistency didn’t show up in the Majors, as he combine for a .226 AVG with an .635 OPS and -0.6 fWAR to -0.4 bWAR; but that also doesn’t mean it never will.
When it comes to what should be done with Mitchell, the overwhelming rallying cry is for him to get a first baseman’s glove in the off-season; mostly due to the lack of arm strength he has displayed at times from the outfield.
For what it’s worth, I’m not sure if the lack of power exhibited thus far in his profile would play at the position. On the other hand if he doesn’t at least consider this as a potential option, I’m also not sure exactly where he fits in long term.
There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the entire 2022 Season
Now remember, let me know who I missed, who your Top 5 is, and be sure to check back in for updates on the 8 Pirates Prospects that have been selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League in the weeks to come; and hopefully, some Through The Prospect Porthole blog posts during the off-season.