Let’s look at the lower levels of the system. As we all know, it’s easier to get excited about lower-level players because it’s all about potential at that stage. There are some good arms here, though, apart from just the obvious guys — the Priesters, the Burrowses, and so on. And a handful should be in AA in 2022. So it should be interesting to follow these guys.
A quick aside first — Baseball America has an article up on ten DSL pitchers who could break out soon, and two of them are Pirates. One, Joaquin Tejada, came from Seattle with Carter Bins in the Tyler Anderson deal. He has a good pitch mix and got on the map when his velocity jumped to 89-92, reaching 95, which is good for a guy who’s still 18. The other, Roelmy Garcia, is the opposite type of pitcher. He has what could eventually be upper-90s velocity with good movement, but he’s currently hide-the-mascots wild. Pretty much any DSL pitcher is under-the-radar, but hopefully we’ll see these guys in the FCL next year.
Again, * = LHP.
Enmanuel Mejia — Mejia is a 5’11” righty who signed out of the Dominican at age 20 in 2019. He put up a 16.1 K/9 that year in the DSL, then made the jump to full season ball, with the plague year in between. He split 2021 between Bradenton and Greensboro, with ERAs of 0.00 and 1.10, respectively (although there were a lot of unearned runs in there). He walked a lot of batters, well over five per nine innings at each stop, but opponents don’t seem to make decent contact against him. Mejia’s stuff isn’t overwhelming . . . about 94 mph or so with a good breaking ball. He just seems to keep the ball away from the center of the plate and somehow manages to get outs. I don’t know whether this will work at higher levels, but hopefully he’ll get a chance in AA.
Austin Roberts — In the 2019 draft, the Pirates selected a modest number of college pitchers in the middle rounds and a bunch of them in the late rounds. The latter are nearly all gone. The former are mostly still around. We’ll leave aside fourth-round pick J.C. Flowers, who’s a higher-profile guy, and 24th rounder Trey McGough, who was covered yesterday. Most of the remainder ended up this year in the Greensboro bullpen. The results, ERA-wise, were almost uniformly ugly, but in a couple cases the main culprit seems to have been the ultra-extreme-homerun environs of the Grasshoppers’ park. Home/road splits can be tricky; it’s generally not safe just to assume that the road stats are the “real” ones. But the numbers we have are the numbers we have.
Roberts is a case in point. As a reliever his velocity is in the mid-90s and his best pitch is a change. But he got rocked with gopher balls at home, one every three innings. That led to a 5.40 ERA at home and 3.56 on the road. Overall, he had a solid walk rate and fanned 13.6 per nine innings. Roberts also got a late-season trip to Indianapolis and struck out all four batters he faced. So it’s worth seeing what he does in 2022, probably at Altoona.
Bear Bellomy — Another 2019 draft/Greensboro guy. After he was drafted, he started and relieved, and he seems to have much better stuff in relief. This year, strictly in relief, Bellomy’s results were even more extreme than Roberts’; opponents had an .870 OPS against him at home and .509 on the road. He had very good walk and K rates, and a 1.13 WHIP. Bellomy also pitched decently in the Arizona Fall League.
Colin Selby — Selby’s situation was a bit different from Roberts’ and Bellomy’s. For one, he was drafted in 2018 and for another, he had Tommy John surgery right after the plague hit in 2020. Prior to that he was a starter, but he pitched in relief in 2021. He throws in the mid-90s with a good slider. Selby spent the first half of 2021 in recovery mode and had an 8.53 ERA with serious control problems. After that, the walks plummeted and his ERA was 2.43. He also had the standard home/road problems for a Greensboro pitcher. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if he went back to starting in 2022.
Will Kobos — A 19th round pick in 2018, Kobos has some injury history. He only pitched about half a season in 2019, but had a string of outstanding starts for Greensboro (which of course was Low-A then). He was more or less the Greensboro closer in 2021 and did not have the home park problems. In fact, despite some control problems, opponents managed only a .484 OPS against him and he fanned 14.7 per nine innings. Unfortunately, he missed the last five weeks. I don’t know what the injury was, so it’s hard to know what to expect in 2022.
Luis Ortiz — Ortiz (pictured) had something of a breakout in 2021 with Bradenton. After a shaky first half, he tightened up his control substantially the last three months and pitched about as well as Adrian Florencio, who was the league’s pitcher of the year. Ortiz sat at 95-97 this year and has a very good change, which we don’t see a lot. And he misses lots of bats. If he survives the homer-crazy park in Greensboro next year, he’ll definitely be on a good track.
Valentin Linarez — A big guy who throws hard, Linarez needed three years to get to the US, thanks partly to the plague. He spent two in the DSL and made a lot of progress with his control. This year, he went to the FCL and fanned 14.3 per nine innings. When Greensboro lost some starters to COVID near season’s end, the Pirates sent Linarez there and he made two decent starts. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft in a year, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the Pirates try to push him aggressively.
Tyler Samaniego* — The Pirates drafted Samaniego in round 15 this year. I’m still wondering how a 6’4″ college lefty who throws in the mid-90s lasts that long. A lot of the pitchers the Bucs drafted this year didn’t pitch in games after signing, even some of the college guys, but Samaniego got into five games for Bradenton near season’s end and threw three scoreless innings in the playoffs. He fanned over half the batters he faced, which amounted to a 19.3 K/9. Okay, he was a college draftee pitching as a reliever in Low-A, but I’m very curious to see where the Pirates send him next year.
Cameron Junker — Another of the 2019 college pitchers, Junker was a tenth round pick. He blew away New York-Penn League hitters that year, fanning 14.5 per nine, mainly as a closer. He was a curiosity to watch, because his delivery featured an extremely long pause. Sadly, the Pirates must not have liked that because he wasn’t doing it this year. He spent the first half of this year in Bradenton and continued dominating despite control problems, fanning 14.1 per nine. The Pirates moved him up to Greensboro but he got hurt after three games. I don’t know what the injury was, so of course I don’t know what his status is expected to be in 2022.
Darvin Garcia — The Pirates signed Garcia from the Dominican at age 20 in 2019, probably because his velocity got into the 90s. He didn’t pitch much before this year, when he pitched in long relief in the FCL. He fanned a dozen per nine innings and walked very few, while holding opponents to a .188 average.
Luis Peralta* — A 5’11” lefty, Peralta throws in the low-90s with good secondary stuff. He spent two year in the DSL before the plague hit, so he’s already eligible for Rule 5. The Pirates put him on their AAA roster, so they must think he has some potential. He pitched as a starter this year in the FCL and fanned 11.1 per nine, although he also had control problems. He’s an example of how minor league stats are more hazardous than ever these days; all but one of his starts came against the Pirates’ other FCL team. Who knows what sort of impact, if any, that might have.
Andy Maldonado — Another FCL starter this year, Maldonado is also eligible for Rule 5, but the Pirates did not put him on the AAA roster. He drew a PED suspension that, luckily for him, he was able to serve during the plague year. He had pretty serious control problems this year, but still managed a 2.45 ERA because he was very hard to hit. That included a 13.5 K/9 and .190 opponents’ average. He reaches 95 and has a good breaking ball.