2-14-23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Before anyone gets too bent out of shape, because their favorite prospect is on the list and/or you decide to jump to the conclusion that I am writing everyone of these guys off, let’s remember who I probably would have had on the Top 5: Odd Men Out last year.
Well, Cal Mitchell for starters.
After having not been added to the 40-Man ahead of the 2021 Rule 5 Draft-that would never take place-Mitchell was behind Canaan Smith-Njigba, Jack Suwinski and Travis Swaggerty for a spot on the roster; but he still got his shot before everyone except Suwinski. And, it’s extremely likely that he will get another one this year. All it took was continuously playing well, to the point where the Pirates and Ben Cherington couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Over his first 138 plate appearances with the Indians, Mitchell slashed .306/.362/.500 with 5 homers and a 125 wRC+; all while striking out 14.5% of the time. And, even though his first few cups of coffee in the Majors were less than spectacular, Mitchell would perform well-once again-each time he returned to Indianapolis; ultimately forcing his way back onto the Pirates Roster.
That’s what these guys need to do; if they ever want to get their shot(s).
1) Mason Martin-1B/DH
The kid can hit the ball a mile. No one’s doubting that.
Ever since Martin appeared on the radar of Pirates Fan back in 2019, after blasting 35 home runs across Greensboro and Bradenton. Then in 2020-even without Minor League Baseball-Martin impressed many by targeting the roller coaster over the right field wall, at the Alternate Site in Altoona.
When MiLB returned in 2021, the onslaught on the coaster continued, as hit 22 homers for the Curve that season; adding another 3 during an eight game stretch in Indianapolis at the end of the season.
In spite of all of this excitement surrounding his power, there was another subject matter that kept popping up; on his way up through Pittsburgh’s Farm System. For any Pirates Fan-who has paid even the least amount of attention to prospects-Martin’s strikeout rate has been an almost constant point of contention.
Prior to this last season, Martin and the Pirates began working on his approach, in an attempt to cut down on his strikeouts, that had increased at each level; from 29% in Greensboro to 34.2 % in Altoona, with a jump to 37% during his brief Indianapolis appearance.
Unfortunately for Martin, following an extremely hot start to 2022-.303/.349/.671 with 4 homers, 16 total extra base hits and a 157 wRC+ in 83 plate appearances-he entered on of the biggest slumps of his professional career. Over the next 280 times he came to bat, the 23 year old slugger slashed .161/.243/.335 with a 50 wRC+ and a 40% K-rate.
Over the last two months of the year he did rebound slightly by compiling a .242/.326/.401 with a 90 wRC+ and a 32% K-rate, but the damage was already done to his overall numbers.
Nevertheless, it could be something for him to build upon heading into 2023; although this time around he will have some competition in the forms of Malcom Nunez and potentially Matt Gorski.
In addition to the possible position battle in Triple-A there are also legitimate first basemen on the Major League Roster, instead of what we saw last season; which pretty much means, the path isn’t as clear.
2) Carter Bins-C
After being acquired by the Pirates as part of the Tyler Anderson Trade with Seattle back in 2021, Bins continued to experience struggles at the Double-A Level.
In his time between Arkansas and Altoona he slashed .143/.288/.233 with two homers and 54 wRC+, before eventually being promoted to Indianapolis on May 10th, 2022: which just happened to coincide with Roberto Perez causing a chain-reaction with his injury.
When he arrived in Indianapolis, things didn’t get much better; but he did show some pop by knocking 10 over the fence for the Indians.
He also showed off a pretty decent arm, and good receiving and blocking skills behind the plate.
However, the bat never fully came around, as he slashed .208/.297/.408 in 71 games and 279 plate appearances.
And now, Endy is set to be right there in Indianapolis with him; as Henry Davis potentially nips at both their heels.
A position that was once lacking in the system, is now starting to show off its depth; and with a few prospects on the cusp to boot.
3) JC Flowers-RHP
From centerfielder to starter, and now to the bullpen. Needless to say it’s already been one hell of journey for Flowers. Yet, for that journey to continue the former Florida State Seminole will need to build upon last season to push his way past some other relief arms, who may have a little stronger footing.
All in all, Flowers put together a pretty solid year in Double-A Altoona by posting a 2.88 ERA with a 1.180 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 68.2 innings.
With two above average pitches-a 55 grade mid-90’s fastball and a 60-grade upper-80’s wipeout slider-Flowers has show the ability to completely baffle hitters. However, he has struggled with command and control often enough that there are some concerns about their effectiveness with more advanced hitters; as his strikeouts have consistently decreased, while his walks have increased each time he has moved up a level.
Triple-A is set to be the proving ground for Flowers, as well as a few other pitchers with similar bullpen profiles.
4) Cody Bolton-RHP
Turn the clock back to 2021, when Bolton was set to begin the season in Altoona, as one of the Pirates Top Pitching Prospects.
Regrettably, this entire season was lost-just like the previous one-after surgery was required to repair a medial meniscus tear in his right knee; suffered during workouts prior to Opening Day.
At the time the last anyone saw from Bolton were his slight struggles following a mid-season promotion to Altoona back in 2019. Over his final 40 innings of the season, the then 21 year old posted a 5.85 ERA and a 1.325 WHIP with 33 strikes and 6 homers allowed.
When Bolton finally took the mound again this past season, I’m not sure exactly what anyone expected from the now 24 year old.
For the most part much of the work he put in this past year was fairly promising, as he bounced around the bullpen; pitching in every single role imaginable.
One game he would be a starter, the next he was used in long relief, then he would be an opener and after that he would be set-up man. In one game he was even asked to be the closer.
In the end he had a 3.09 ERA, a 1.282 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 75.2 innings to show for his hard work and flexibility.
So what role(s) do the Pirates see him playing in 2023? Honestly, I have no idea.
Right now it seems like all of the rotation spots at the Major League and Triple-A Levels are pretty much spoken for; which would make a repeat of the Swiss Army Knife Role the most likely scenario.
5) Liover Peguero-SS/2B
Pirates Fans have regularly questioned Oneil Cruz’s ability to stick at shortstop; often pushing him to the outfield corners. In his place Pegeuro’s name was always one of the first ones mentioned, as his successor.
This was until he batted .259 with .692 OPS with 10 homers, and a 21.3% K to 5.6% BB-rate in Altoona this past season.
Now they don’t know what to think. Maybe everyone’s expectations were a little to high; because nothing about his game says he going to be a bad professional baseball player.
Over the last two seasons he has taken the field being almost 3 years younger than the average player at each level.
Maybe he just needs to develop and mature. He’s still only 22.
The ability is in there. We’ve all seen it.
I mean, I don’t know of too many 21 year-old shortstops that can turn on a ball like this.
Some of these guys might be down, but they’re not necessarily out; while others may be reallocated into other positions and/or roles.
To me this speaks to the amount of depth within the system that is now approaching the Majors; creating a legit competition for places on the roster.
Sure, I would like to have more high ceiling prospects within that group; but I also can’t act like someone won’t emerge, and take the bull by the horns.
In the end we just kind of have to sit back, and watch it play out. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.
Only time will tell.