There is freedom within
There is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There’s a battle ahead
Many battles are lost
But you’ll never see the end of the road
While you’re travelling with me
It is truly a Crowded House in the Circle City.
There were always going to be players that were sent down to Indianapolis, while others would start to put pressure on them from Altoona; potentially landing there due to roster constraints-limited positions, at bats and innings-with the Indians.
Clearly some of these decisions were bound to cause frustration-and out-lash-within the Pirates Fanbase; even though most were inevitable.
All the way back in December, Manager Derek Shelton didn’t hesitate to punctuate that Endy Rodriguez-and Henry Davis-would start the 2023 Season in the Minors; yet, some have still gone on a personal crusade since this move was recently made.
Almost immediately after this, the target was expanded to include Luis Ortiz, and now Johan Oviedo; both of which were obvious options to start the season in Indianapolis. Although, as of right now the jury is still out on Oviedo’s fate.
Nevertheless, I feel like it is time to move on, as this wasn’t meant to be another blog post on service time manipulation.
Who eventually ends up in an Indians uniform is really all that matters at this point; along with the expectations and hope(s) that exist for each of these players. Because in the end, continued strong performance(s) and/or struggles will ultimately determine the future.
1) Malcom Nunez-1B/DH
Even tough I don’t believe any player is ever truly blocked, there is one position on the Pittsburgh Pirates Roster that never even comes up in these conversations. Since the days of Kevin Young no player has really taken ahold of the first base bag, and not given it up for an extended period of time; while generally being successful at the same time.
Because of this overall void in Pirates Organization we saw 44 different first baseman deployed from 2004 through 2016. That was until Josh Bell came along, which didn’t go very well defensively-or offensively for that matter out outside of a near historic during the first half of 2019-as evidenced by his collective -26 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) at the position for Pittsburgh.
Since that time we have seen the likes of Colin Moran, Erik Gonzalez, Phillip Evans, Yoshi Tsutsugo, John Nogowski, Will Craig, Josh Van Meter, Bligh Madris, Josh Van Meter, Zack Collins and Michael Chavis all get their chances; and that was just during the last two seasons.
In 2022 first base was candidly The Black Hole on the roster, as they totaled -3.0 fWAR for the year.
Now-at least for the first few months of 2023-the void has been filled with veterans Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi, with Connor Joe possibly mixed in.
But, what about the end of this season, and more importantly beyond?
Well, that’s where the opportunity lies for Nunez.
The only issue-that can’t be ignored-is that he just started regularly playing the position last season; compiling 756 innings of work between Springfield and Altoona. Still, before any of that is sorted out, Ben Cherington and Company will have to make sure the bat will play.
If you have read any of my previous articles containing my feelings on Nuñez-Spring Training Impact, Power Bats and Peaking My Interest -you already know how I feel.
Nunez slashed .255/.360/.463 with a 110 wRC+ and .208 ISO in Springfield, and then went on to slash .286/.381/.476 with a 134 wRC+ and .190 ISO in Altoona.
On another encouraging note, that spread across both organizations, is that Nunez saw his walk rate surge to 13.7% and 13.5% respectively, while his strikeout rate only pushed slightly over 20%; or not bad at all if he is to be considered a power hitter.
Toward the tail end of the season, he did get a cup of coffee with Indianapolis; blasting another homer, and generating almost as man walks (4) as strikeouts (5).
2) Cal Mitchell-OF
During this current Spring Training, the names of two outfield prospects have been mentioned much more than any other. To anyone who has been paying attention, you will know Cal Mitchell isn’t one of them.
Since getting an early look at the beginning of Grapefruit League play, Mitchell has clearly fallen behind Travis Swaggerty and Canaan Smith-Njigba for the fourth-or fifth-outfield spot on the 26-Man Major League Roster.
At this point in time no one is questioning whether or not Cal can hit; even with his .226/.286/.349 slash line and 5 homers in 232 plate appearances with the Pirates last season.
For me-and probably others-I look at his track record in the Minors.
In 1873 plate appearances Mitchell has slashed. 277/.337/.430 with 48 homers and 155 total extra base hits.
Unfortunately his defense hasn’t always tracked inline with this offensive production; even though he has shown the ability to dabble in the dramatics.
Still only 24 years old, time has not run on the Rancho Bernardo product. The talent pool has simply gotten deeper.
3) Quinn Priester/Mike Burrows-RHP
It’s hard not to mention these two Pirates Pitching Prospects in the same breath, when discussing who could be the next in line for the Big League Ball Club’s future rotation.
With his recent addition to the 40-man, Burrows seems to have a leg-or more accurately an arm-up on Priester; yet, more than likely sits behind Johan Oviedo and Luis Ortiz to get a shot at the starting rotation.
When it comes to Priester’s he is less than a year younger than Burrows, but comes with the 1st Round Tag; which he has lived up to for the most part, in my humble opinion.
Following the 2020 layoff he has posted a 3.04 ERA and a 1.239 WHIP with Greensboro in 2021, and a 2.87 ERA and a 1.195 ERA in Altoona this past year, after an oblique injury delayed the start of his season.
As far as Burrows is concerned, his prospect stock has only continued to rise. And, with good reason.
In 49 limited innings-due to an oblique injury-he put up a 2.20 ERA and a .898 WHIP with the Grasshoppers. He followed this up with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP to start last season in Altoona; ultimately earning a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Sadly, this assignment would not go as smoothly as his last two. After a couple of strong starts, Burrows would start to get hit around a little bit, eventually ending up on the IL toward the end of the season with shoulder inflammation.
All in all his time with Indianapolis was fairly underwhelming, as he ended up with a 5.31 ERA and a 1.346 WHIP.
To his credit he kept on grinding, even into the offseason; adding a new slider to go with his above average curveball-a pitch I wrote about at length prior to last season.
At the moment, I would put Priester slightly above Priester; mostly due to the aforementioned 40-Man designation.
4) Carmen Mlodzinski-RHP
Since being selected in 2020, with the 31st Overall Draft Pick, Mlodzinski has been viewed and deployed as a starter. That all seems to have changed in the past couple of weeks, but not necessarily based on how he has performed.
Sure a 4.51 ERA, with a 1.389 WHIP isn’t ideal, yet it wasn’t terrible either.
Still, it obviously seemed like there might be more to unlock in another role; at least as it pertained to the Pirates train of thought.
A little over a week ago Jason Mackey-Pirates Beat Writer from the Post-Gazette-hinted at the possibility of Mlodzinski moving to the bullpen. He then reaffirmed his impressions of Pittsburgh’s possible intentions on this week’s episode of Bucs In The Basement .
In my opinion, just because he is moved into a bullpen role now, it doesn’t mean he will stay there forever.
However, it’s hard to argue how his stuff could play as a reliever.
5) Endy Rodriguez-C/1B/2B/OF
Some may see this as a case of saving the best for last; which it obviously could turn out to be. However for me, it feels little bit more like avoiding a conversation about the elephant in room.
Yes, I feel like Endy’s bat could play in the Majors right now.
In his Minor League Career, Endy has struck out at a rate of 18.0%, while walking 11.8% of the time. At the moment his OPS is .927, and his wRC+ has never dipped lower 140 in the Pirates Organization.
I guess, in my mind, it comes down to whether or not the Pirates want to keep him at catcher; at least for the foreseeable future. If that’s the goal, Triple-A might be the best option, in order to get him regular innings behind the plate.
I know… “here’s your boot sir”.
For the first time in I don’t know how many years, Indianapolis will be filled with more prospects-and potential Major Leaguers-as opposed to Quad-A depth and option-able fodder.
Obviously, not every player will work out, but it sure is nice to have reasonable options.
3 thoughts on “Top 5 Pirates Prospects: Indianapolis Indians”
Hi Craig, why couldn’t Endy be a full time catcher in Pittsburgh, or at least give him the chance.
If I asked you this I apologize, but we always hear about a young catcher needs to learn to handle the pitching staff, before he can start in the Majors. But with every pitch coming from the bench, and limited mound visits, pitch clocks etc, how much diff can a catcher make these days ? I remember catchers use to call the pitches and make several trips to talk about the batter, but those days seem to be long gone.
Hey Ken. I guess they could have, I am just not so sure it would be beneficial to his development as a catcher. He has about 200 innings behind the plate above High-A. While much of the game planning comes from the staff, catchers still have a pretty big role to play in game; especially with the pitch clock not allowing time for communication between the bench and the battery.
He also still has to be on top of his game as far as receiving, blocking, managing runners and doing all of that while adjusting to Major League pitching and game planning for every batter.
Definitely an exciting time for Indianapolis. Mlodzinski very likely will be first BC pick to reach the Pirates if they keep him in the bullpen.
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