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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Top 10 Pitchers: Can Rafael Perez Be a Lefty Option For the Pirates Out of the Bullpen?

Below are the pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The top ten scores are highlighted in the write-up below. The rankings include every pitcher who made a start for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the starting pitcher has prospect eligibility.

*Game Score is a stat created by Bill James used to determine how good a pitcher’s outing really was. The formula for game score is simple: Start with 50 points, add one point for every out recorded, add two for each inning completed after the fourth, add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit, four points for each earned run, two points for each unearned run and one point for each walk. There tends to be an advantage for pitchers who can go longer in the game, as they have more time to pile up strikeouts, while getting bonus points for extra innings beyond the fourth frame.

In terms of pitching game scores, anything that scores a 65 or better is considered a “gem”. The Pirates farm system had seven “gems” this week. Here are the top performers.

1. Rafael Perez – Perez isn’t a prospect at all. He’s 32 years old, and has 329 innings as a reliever in the majors, with a 3.64 ERA. When he signed, it looked like he had a chance to be a sleeper reliever that could help the Pirates down the stretch. So far he is putting up some great numbers with Indianapolis, posting an 0.44 ERA in 20.1 innings, with a 10:6 K/BB ratio. However, he’s doing this mostly with his off-speed stuff, as his fastball was only topping out at 85 MPH earlier in the week last week. He threw eight shutout innings in a start on Saturday, although no velocity readings were available for the start. Despite the career history, and the current stats, it seems unlikely that Perez will help the Pirates this year out of the bullpen, as his current stuff won’t be effective against MLB hitters.

2. Zack Dodson – I wrote an article recently about a few players the Pirates stuck with, despite poor numbers, all because of their talent and upside. If you’re looking for someone who still has talent, and is still getting opportunities despite poor numbers, then Dodson would be on that list. He is still getting starts in Altoona, despite a 5.25 ERA in 85.2 innings this year. His numbers in Bradenton and West Virginia the last two years weren’t much better. Dodson just turned 24, so he’s getting on the older side for a prospect, and getting to the point where he needs to figure things out. He does have good stuff, with a low-90s fastball and a nice curveball. That combo could allow him to be a reliever in the majors one day at the least.

3. Tyler Glasnow – Glasnow has been phenomenal lately, and has started getting ranked as the top prospect in the system. He has a 1.30 ERA since the start of June in 55.1 innings, with a 69:23 K/BB ratio. It’s probably time for him to move up to Altoona and start getting some experience at a higher level. He will most likely take the Jameson Taillon route, spending almost a year at the Double-A level, then moving up to Indianapolis at the end of next season. That will put him on pace to make the majors by the middle of the 2016 season.

4t. Alex McRae – The 2014 10th round pick has put up some good numbers in the Jamestown rotation, with a 3.57 ERA in 35.1 innings, and a 24:6 K/BB ratio. This week he threw five shutout innings, with two hits, no walks, and six strikeouts. Will Cleveland covered the start, and had an article on McRae over the weekend, along with video from his start.

4t. Frank Duncan – Duncan was a 13th round pick this year, and has put up decent numbers in Jamestown, with a 4.04 ERA in 35.2 innings, with a 21:6 K/BB ratio. He gave up one run in six innings this week, with a 5:1 K/BB ratio. That was in his second start, rebounding from two runs on five hits in three innings last Monday. Duncan got off to a rough start, but has a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings in the month of July, with an 18:2 K/BB ratio.

6. Jason Creasy – Creasy has been outstanding this year from a control standpoint. He pitched 7.2 shutout innings in his start last week, giving up seven hits and one walk. The walk was the first one he issued since June 11th, spanning well over a month without a free pass, and 43.2 innings in total. He’s given up just six walks since the end of April, with 84.1 innings during that span. Creasy could end up a back of the rotation starter in the majors one day. He’s got great control and a fastball that can hit mid-90s, giving him a good chance of success in the higher levels.

7. Dovydas Neverauskas – The encouraging thing for Neverauskas this month is that he has a 3.95 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. The discouraging thing is that he has walked 14 batters in that time. He’s got a live arm, and consistently hits 95 MPH, but control and consistency are issues for him.

8. Junior Lopez – Lopez might not be getting a shot at the rotation if the Pirates had stuck with just two short-season teams in the US. The addition of a team in Bristol adds five more starting spots, and we’re now getting a look at a guy who was signed at the age of 22, and didn’t spend any time in the DSL.  The results have been mixed, with Lopez struggling in June, then putting up a 3.86 ERA in 21 innings in July, with a 15:5 K/BB ratio. He gets a lot of ground balls, with a 1.61 GO/AO ratio. The Pirates must have liked something about him to sign him so late, and then give him time as a starter in the lower levels.

9. John Kuchno – Out of all the Bradenton starters, I’ve seen Kuchno the least often this year, being limited to two starts (one of which was a rare disaster outing). He’s been pitching on the road a lot lately, and the results have been fantastic. As I haven’t seen him during this span, I can only comment on the numbers. He’s got a 2.70 ERA in 33.1 innings, with a 10:6 K/BB ratio and a 2.86 GO/AO ratio. That’s pretty much his game, getting a ton of ground ball outs, and limiting walks. I think Kuchno’s upside is a power reliever in the majors, but if he keeps pitching so well as a starter, he’ll get a shot to try and be a back of the rotation guy.

10. Tom Harlan – Harlan posted great numbers in Bradenton this year, with a 2.49 ERA and a 41:9 K/BB ratio in 50.2 innings. I was surprised that he was the guy to move up and take over in the Altoona rotation, based on how well guys like Glasnow, Creasy, Kuchno, and Chad Kuhl have pitched. So far he has done well in Altoona’s rotation, with a 2.53 ERA and an 8:5 K/BB ratio in 21.1 innings. I don’t think he has a future as a starter, but he might be emerging as a sleeper middle reliever for the majors one day, which is an upgrade over where we had him coming into the year.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


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Josh Wall is really coming on. That’s the guy that intrigues me the most right now.

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