12-2-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
This week, Baseball America released a new top 10 prospects for the Pirates. These lists always get conversation going, but to me, a lot of people kinda misunderstand what these lists are. They are intended to be a list of which prospects are seen to have the most talent, the best shot at being a star in MLB. Many take it as simply, the best, or even closest to being a Pirates player.
Here’s the order Baseball America came up with.
1. Endy Rodriguez
2. Termarr Johnson
3. Henry Davis
4. Luis Ortiz
5. Quinn Priester
6. Bubba Chandler
7. Liover Peguero
8. Nick Gonzales
9. Mike Burrows
10. Thomas Harrington
Argue about that if you’d like, I truly couldn’t care less. These lists mean absolutely nothing to me. For instance, had Termarr Johnson been selected in 2021 and Henry Davis in 2022, they’re probably flipped on this list. Neither having done anything different.
Today, I wan to create a list of which prospects I believe have the best chance to make or return to the big club and make an actual impact.
I’ll do these in order with 10 being the lowest and 1 being the top. Should be interesting, and honestly as I sit here fixing to write this puppy, I truly don’t know where I’m going to land or why. Sometimes I just write these things for the fun of the exercise and this is one of those times. Some of these names could even be selected in the Rule 5 draft, when that is a possibility, I’ll mention it in the write up.
10. Canaan Smith-Njigba (OF)
Canaan was one of the first call ups last year and was off to a great start in his 3 games before suffering a fractured right wrist. I toyed with Travis Swaggerty here, but I chose Canaan because the Pirates did last year over Travis, and I think they’ll do so again if given the choice.
I actually think Canaan could challenge Cal Mitchell for a spot on the roster, even if he doesn’t it stands to reason he’d be one of their top call up options when and if a need arises.
9. Ryan Vilade (OF)
The Pirates claimed Vilade after the Rockies ran out of room and had to DFA him, but he’s only got 3 games of MLB experience. A theme you’ll see throughout this list is a right handed bat gets a bump, and Ryan is a right handed bat.
I put him on this list because I think should he survive the additions to the roster and not be DFA’d along the way, he’s going to get a shot in Spring. Remember, impact starts by being in the league in the first place, a guy who has already reached it of course has a bit of a leg up.
8. Malcom Nunez (3B-DH-1B)
Malcom was not protected on the 40-man, we have to knock that out right away. I don’t personally think he’ll be selected but plenty of analysts do so I have to mention he might not be here. If he is, his biggest struggle might very well be his lack of position. Weird right? I mean I listed a couple for him after all. If I had to guess though, he’s a DH. He makes this list because he’s a right handed power option and this team despite trying to address it still has more lefties than righties.
A career .280 average and an OPS of .833 go along with his breakout power season where he hit 23 in 2022. Issue there is really the ballpark he played in with the Cardinals organization, it’s a bandbox and I’d guess the Pirates are going to want to see what he does with cavernous Indianapolis for a little at least.
7. Mike Burrows (SP)
In my mind, Burrows is the most evolved of all the starting pitching prospects in the system. He’s done nothing but improve every step he’s taken and last year he spent half the season with Indianapolis. I put him here because bluntly, he didn’t perform in AAA nearly as well as his time in AA Altoona and I think the team will want to see him correct some issues before giving him a shot. Mike has competition for being the next starter who gets a call, and you’ll see that later in the list, but if I was writing a list of who I think has the best MLB career out of Pirates prospects, he’s near the top.
6. Jared Triolo (3B-IF-OF)
Jared is quite possibly the most talented defender in the Pirates system, and folks I mean to tell you he rivals Ke’Bryan Hayes at 3B, which I’m not even convinced is his best position. With the universal DH, pinch hitting is less and less important when developing a roster, defensive replacements on the other hand are gaining prominence.
Jared may have to wait for an injury to get his shot, but if he does, one thing he will absolutely do is impress the hell out of you with the glove.
That’s what people will celebrate about him from the jump, but the bat isn’t exactly a waste. We’re talking about a career .281 hitter with a lifetime OPS of .796. Power numbers won’t blow you away but he hits enough extra base gap shots to rack up a SLG or .436 too. He walks, he doesn’t strike out, you know, the more you look at Jared the more you EXPECT him to make it to the show don’t you?
5. Matt Gorski (OF)
Matt isn’t first in line when it comes to outfield prospects. He’s got quite a line in front of him actually. He’s also not on the 40-man, which means he could get selected by another team, but if he survives, and gets back to doing what he started in 2022, he’s got something most of the others don’t, he’s right handed with big time power.
Again, he has work to do and the Pirates have reasons to delay adding him to the mix, but his age and potential power from a side of the dish the Pirates have struggled to populate make him an intriguing option.
4. Luis Ortiz (SP)
Luis pitched 4 games in MLB last year after starting in AA Altoona and a brief stint in AAA Indianapolis. In 3 of those MLB games he looked like a can’t miss tope end starter, in the 4th he looked like Luis Oviedo instead.
He’s a kid, but he’s also someone who has a few things to iron out and already has a taste of the league to work with. This gives him a leg up on other SP competition for a shot, so as long as he continues to improve his secondary pitches, he’ll be back, and likely do damage when he is.
3. Colin Selby (RP)
You aren’t going to find Selby on many top prospect lists, but to leave him off a list of players I truly feel could arrive and impact the team, he simply has to be on it. Relief pitchers tend to fly, and Colin already reached AAA at the end of the season. He can hit 100 on the gun, his other stuff plays, and he has enough things nailed down that the Pirates thought he’d get taken in the Rule 5 had they left him unprotected.
He’s not a lock to win a job in Spring by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s a flamethrower with options and anyone who’s watched baseball in the last decade knows damn well he’ll get his opportunities.
2. Endy Rodriguez (C-OF-2B-1B)
Unless you were under a rock last year, you’ve heard of Endy, and you’re likely more excited about him than any other prospect. The switch hitting prospect acquired in 2021 as part of a 3 team deal for Joe Musgrove. Considering he started 2022 in Greensboro and finished in Indianapolis probably illustrates how quickly things escalated for Rodriguez last year.
Consistently exceptional is a good way to describe what Endy has done in the minors and barring a major set back, he stands poised to hone his skills at a position of great need and pry the starting catcher job from whomever the Pirates allow to keep the seat warm.
1. Ji Hwan Bae (2B-OF)
We all got to see Bae toward the end of 2022, and most people have him penciled in as a nailed on lock to make the opening day roster, but 10 big league games is no hall pass to never see AAA again. 37 plate appearances, 11 hits, .830 OPS, look, the kid did nothing to show the stage was too big, but still, competition is absolutely going to be a thing in Spring and nobody should consider this a finished decision.
I personally think Bae will make it and likely play more CF than 2B. His speed is elite and he’s hit the ball at every level as he’s progressed.
Who missed the cut?
Henry Davis – He had an injury plagued 2022, hasn’t progressed beyond AA, is likely going to get beaten to MLB by Endy Rodriguez and in my mind needs more work. He could also make it in 2023, but in my mind, he’d need some significant injuries and to take a bit of a pronounced step forward.
Mason Martin – Even if Mason comes along this year, I can’t imagine him jumping Nunez. The strike out has been a huge problem but being left handed won’t help him either. Injuries happen so anything is possible but as I sit here, I can’t see him getting significant playing time in 2023.
Quinn Priester – The Pirates have more options to start than they’ve had in recent years, and they probably aren’t done adding. For Quinn I see this as a numbers game, he didn’t need protected from the Rule 5 so he isn’t on the 40. A whole lot would have to happen including his own progression to see him make the big club in any meaningful way beyond September call up stuff.
Nick Gonzales – Injuries derailed his 2022, and when he was healthy he struggled to really get his feet under him. I believe he’ll make his debut at some point in 2023 but I’m simply not counting on him for much production, not yet. Not a reflection of the player I think he’ll be, but instead the circumstances of a team that won’t need to force the issue with a non 40 man guy.
Liover Peguero – He debuted last year, but man did he struggle with the glove in 2022. If Oneil Cruz would get injured god forbid, I can see it, or if Castro or Bae were to sustain a long term injury Peggy could get a look. Thing is, he was added to the 40 last year to protect him from a draft that never happened and that happened simply because he was a top 100 prospect. I’m not sure if he’s done anything since to show progression. That’s his challenge this year, show you’re still a guy we need to carve space for.