Age is an important factor when looking at the prospect status of players. It’s not the most important factor, but for the most part, we know it’s better to be a 20-year-old prospect in Double-A than it is being 24 years old in High-A.
This week we are going to take a look at the best prospects for each age throughout the Pittsburgh Pirates system. The method here I’m using is Baseball-Reference’s season ages, which gives a player’s age as of July 1st each year. The work is done and we are taking advantage of their great website.
Last week the focus was on the top hitting prospects in the system. This week we will look at the pitchers.
We are using the player ages from the 2021 season. I’m going to look at both the best performance and name the best prospect (just one name if both are the same player). The level of player is taken into account for the top prospect. A guy with huge numbers in the Dominican Summer League isn’t a better performer for his age than someone who puts up solid numbers in Low-A, but if there’s a bigger difference in performance then I’ll make the judgement call.
Here’s a look at each age from 16-24, and then one category for 25+.
16 Years Old
Top Prospect: Only one person qualifies, see below.
Top Performance: Andres Silvera was the only player in the system whose Baseball-Reference age for 2021 was 16 years old, so he was also the worst performer in this group. He actually did well though, with a 2.97 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 36.1 innings for the DSL Pirates. Silvera actually had nice projection when he signed last year. He had a strong mix of pitches and he threw strikes. He threw only 85 MPH, but there was enough arm speed, size and frame for scouts to see him possibly adding up to ten MPH from that point.
17 Years Old
Top Prospect: There are ten players eligible here, and all but Alessandro Ercolani played in the DSL. I considered him for the top spot, but here’s one instance where the scouting report means more than stats. Luigi Hernandez gets the top spot for now. The Pirates thought highly of him at the start of the 2020-21 signing period, and even though he put up a 7.18 ERA this year, he was still a player who made progress from an already strong starting point. It just didn’t translate to games yet.
Top Performance: I’m giving it to Antwone Kelly here, with the asterisk that his first start was so bad that it skews the rest of his season. He finished with a 4.14 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 37 innings. He recorded two outs in his first start, while allowing five runs. That did some damage to his numbers in the shortened season.
18 Years Old
Top Prospect: There are 17 players who qualified for this group, but they would all take a backseat to Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo and Owen Kellington. The problem is that none of those players actually saw mound time, so let’s give it to someone who played instead. The best of the rest would have to be Cristopher Cruz. The stats don’t show it from his debut, but I recently heard that the international players with no experience really had a tough time as a group during the pandemic downtime. That doesn’t mean exactly that Cruz was one of them, but I’m willing to give some credit to him. After all, most of those players started in the DSL this year, while he jumped to the FCL. However, he had a 6.44 ERA in 29.1 innings, with a high walk rate. I’m going to give the group another year before I take too much from their 2021 performance. If he struggles this year too, then there’s a problem.
Top Performance: I considered Carlos Jimenez as the top prospect, but he doesn’t have the upside of Cruz. Another year like 2021 and I’d change on them. Jimenez might have the best changeup in the system, which definitely helps against younger hitters who don’t see big league quality changeups. He put up a 3.15 ERA in the FCL this year, with 44 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP in 34.1 innings.
19 Years Old
Top Prospect: This group has 20 players. The best of the bunch would be Jared Jones over Po-Yu Chen. Both have upside and both pitched for Bradenton by the end of the year, but Jones has the higher potential. I wouldn’t give him to better chance to reach his upside, but the difference in upside gives him the edge. Chen was fatigued by the end of the season and his performance fell off, but there was nothing physically wrong, just a young pitcher who needs to continue to build his innings.
Top Performance: Have to give it to Chen here. His early season performance in the FCL was amazing. He faltered a bit in Bradenton, but not enough to overlook the 2.57 ERA in 42 innings, with 44 strikeouts and a 1.07 WHIP.
20 Years Old
Top Prospect: This was a small group of ten pitchers, but the top prospect was also the top performer…
Top Performance: Quinn Priester nearly won our Pitcher of the Year award, so this wasn’t a tough pick here. He ranks right there with Roansy Contreras as the top pitching prospect in the system. Priester pitched in a hitter-friendly park in 2021 and finished with a 3.04 ERA in 97.2 innings over 20 starts, with 98 strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP.
21 Years Old
Top Prospect: Another one-for-two winner…
Top Performance: Roansy Contreras was the top pitcher here, despite an injury that cost him a long time in a short season. He made it to the majors for one starts, which always helps your case for the best 21-year-old in the system. While he was obviously rushed through Triple-A to make that one big league start, he had a 2.64 ERA in 58 innings in the minors, with 13 walks, 82 strikeouts and an 0.93 WHIP.
22 Years Old
Top Prospect: The top prospect is a tough one between Tahnaj Thomas and Carmen Mlodzinski, but I have the latter rated better right now. Thomas definitely had a rough season, but there is still major upside. Mlodzinski was on a roll before suffering a mid-season injury this year. Before that he was moving up the prospect charts with some strong performances and solid scouting reports.
Top Performance: Well this is an easy one. Adrian Florencio was our Pitcher of the Year, so he would have won whatever age group he was in this year. He had a 2.46 ERA in 95 innings, with 117 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP, helping Bradenton to a league title.
23 Years Old
Top Prospect: Not counting two positions players who appeared on the mound, there were 20 players in this group in 2021. The best of the pack are the two guys who pitched in the majors, Miguel Yajure and Max Kranick. Yajure has better polish, Kranick has better velocity. I’d go with Yajure, who I think would have made a better name for himself if he was healthy all year.
Top Performance: Trey McGough gets the nod here. He started at Greensboro, but spent more time at Altoona, combining to post a 3.13 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 113 innings. He was one of four pitchers who surpassed 100 innings last year for the Pirates and he was the only one who had a strong season from that group.
24 Years Old
Top Prospect: There were 12 pitchers who were 24 years old in 2021. Two were position players, three are no longer in the system, and Nick Mears has too much big league time to be a prospect. That leaves six players, and Hunter Stratton is the best of that small group. Stratton split the year between Altoona and Indianapolis, posting a 2.39 ERA in 49 innings, with 70 strikeouts and a 1.26 WHIP, which would have been mentioned in the top performance section, but….
Top Performance: Cam Alldred also split 2021 between Altoona and Indianapolis, though most of the year was spent in Altoona. He finished with a 2.13 ERA in 66 innings, with a 1.14 WHIP. I almost gave it to Stratton because he spent more time in Triple-A, but the difference in innings played a part. If you pitch more innings and have both a better ERA and better WHIP, then you deserve the top performance. What helped Alldred with my decision was the fact that he finished strong with Indianapolis.
25+ Years Old
Top Prospect: There were 36 pitchers in this category, but at this age, you can bet that a lot get eliminated for one reason or another. Sure enough, a quick scan eliminated 25 players who are either not around anymore, not prospects anymore (due to too much MLB time) or they are position players. Some players qualified for multiple groups. Of the other 11 players, there are no top 50 prospects, but there are players who have potential to reach the majors, such as John O’Reilly, Osvaldo Bido, Shea Murray, Blake Weiman or Joe Jacques. I’d go with Bido only because he’s a starter, plus he got a really late start in baseball and was painfully skinny when he joined the Pirates at a later age. He was developing nicely before the shutdown, so I’ll give him a year to see if he can get on track in 2022.
Top Performance: No one really stood out from this group, and the top performance out of the entire group was actually Shea Spitzbarth, who is no longer in the system. I’m not going to force a pick from a group that collectively had mediocre-to-poor seasons just because Spitzbarth isn’t around anymore.