Which Pirates Prospects Displayed the Best Hitting Skills in 2021?

Prospects can have all the talent in the world, but if they don’t build the baseball skills that allow those talents to flourish, they will struggle to make the majors. 

On the hitting side, that means laying off pitches that are out of the strike zone, making contact when swinging at strikes, lifting the ball in the air and generating power. Those skills are innate to some but require development for most. 

Let’s take a look at which Pirates’ prospects displayed the best hitting skills in 2021. First, here are the benchmarks:

Walk Percentage (BB%)

  • Calculation: Walks divided by plate appearances
  • Goal: Above 10%
  • Note: O-Swing% is the preferred metric here, but that’s not available in the minors. O-Swing%, also called Chase Rate, is how often a batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone. But for our purposes, BB% will serve as a fine substitute. 

Swing Strike Percentage (SwStr%)

  • Calculation: Swing and misses divided by total pitches
  • Goal: Below 10%

Ground Ball Percentage (GB%)

  • Calculation: Ground balls divided by balls in play
  • Goal: Below 45%

Isolate Power (ISO)

  • Calculation: Slugging percentage minus batting average (which gives you how many extra bases a player averages per at bat)
  • Goal: Above .150

As you’ll see below, there are a handful of young Pirates who fared well in the skills department. There are plenty others that did not, including many in the DSL, where they are just beginning to develop their skills. 

Don’t give up hope on those that didn’t put up big 2021 numbers in these categories. Skills can change. But you can add a little hope for the players mentioned below, who are all showing advanced skill sets with the bat:

4-for-4

Name

BB%

SwStr% GB%

ISO

Diego Castillo

12%

6% 40%

.183

Endy Rodriguez

12%

8% 37%

.218

Lolo Sanchez

13%

7% 34%

.190

Rodriguez put up an impressive 140 wRC+ in Low-A this year, and the skill numbers support his production. On his current trajectory, he’s a well-rounded hitter with a bright future. 

The same goes for Castillo, who put up a 129 wRC+ with the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate before being traded to the Pirates and posting 114 wRC+ in Double-A and a 146 wRC+ in Triple-A. As his skills numbers show, there is a reason why many Pirates fans are excited to see him reach PNC Park. 

Sanchez is a bit of a surprise. He was well regarded in 2016 and 2017, but the shine wore off a bit in 2018, when he earned a 90 wRC+ as a 19-year old in Low-A. He repeated the level in 2019 and looked better, but his mid-season promotion to High-A was subpar. Despite some obvious talent, Sanchez was downgraded as a prospect going into 2021. Now 22, he repeated High-A and flourished (which seems to be a trend for him), posting a 124 wRC+ and showing the skills that many hoped to see years ago. Assuming he reaches Double-A this year, all eyes will be on how well his skills hold up in the upper levels. 

3-for-4

Name

BB%

SwStr% GB%

ISO

Anthony Alford

12%

17% 37%

.239

Jonah Davis

13%

21% 38%

.212

Matt Fraizer

11%

12% 37%

.246

Nick Gonzales

11%

16% 36%

.262

Hudson Head

16%

13% 42%

.181

Juan Jerez

13%

25% 43%

.204

Bligh Madris

11%

13% 43%

.150

Tucupita Marcano

13%

6% 38%

.099

Will Matthiessen

12%

16% 31%

.203

Rodolfo Nolasco

16%

26% 42%

.269

Jack Suwinski

16%

11% 32%

.223

Esmerlyn Valdez

11%

35% 29%

.178

All of these hitters passed the skills test in BB%, GB% and ISO, except Marcano, who had a very impressive 6% swinging strike percentage in 2021. He clearly has an advanced ability to put the bat on the ball, which dovetails with his scouting report. What also matches the scouting report is his lack of pop, with an ISO of just .099. Pirates fans should feel free to encourage Marcano to hit the weight room and get his lower half into his swing. 

Frazier and Gonzales both showed skills that backed up their big 2021 seasons.

Suwinski is very strong in both GB% and ISO. At age 22, he was an above-average hitter in Double-A, so this has the makings of a shrewd acquisition by the Pirates.

Head is a nice addition to this list. He has exceptional plate discipline, and has enough pop in the air to be dangerous, but he needs to work on making more contact if he is going to reach his potential. 

Alford is another surprise. Once a top 100 prospect in the game, he was designated for assignment by both the Blue Jays and the Pirates in the last two years. But something may have clicked for Alford in 2021, when he hit for a 168 wRC+ in 226 plate appearances in Triple-A. He still strikes out too much, but his strike zone judgment, line drive and fly ball numbers, and isolated power were all promising. Now he needs to show those skills in the majors. 

It appears that Jerez, Nolasco and Valdez are all worth keeping an eye on. All are teenagers that spent 2021 in either Complex ball or the DSL, and their skill sets indicate the potential for success at the next levels. 

Other Top Prospects

Name

BB%

SwStr% GB%

ISO

Ji-hwan Bae

10%

9% 48%

.141

Rodolfo Castro

6%

15% 48%

.203

Oneil Cruz

9%

13% 46%

.284

Maikol Escotto

14%

13% 54%

.113

Mason Martin

8%

20% 33%

.246

Cal Mitchell

6%

9% 43%

.144

Liover Peguero

8%

13% 50%

.174

Canaan Smith-Njigba

16%

10% 65%

.121

Bae is near the threshold in all four categories, so there is reason to be optimistic about his overall skill set. 

Cruz’s ISO mirrors his exit velocities, which designate him as one of the rising power hitters in baseball. He could stand to improve his plate discipline, bat-to-ball skills and launch angles, but he isn’t far off in any of those metrics. Some tweaks here and there could unleash a star. 

Martin is one category short of being a three true outcomes hitter. He can hit the ball a country mile and he can swing and miss with the best of them, but he also needs to lay off balls out of the zone and take more free passes. 

Peguero also passes the ISO test, but is further away on the other skill categories. His numbers in Double-A in 2022 will be very telling. 

Smith-Njigba was a Cherington trade acquisition. He excels at laying off bad pitches, and makes decent contact. The key to unlocking Smith-Njigba’s potential is getting the ball in the air more. He was a prolific ground ball hitter in 2021, primarily in Double-A. 

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Williams: Build

Quinn Priester: Fastball Command Key To Unlocking Full Potential

Which Pirates Prospects Displayed the Best Hitting Skills in 2021?

Looking Ahead at the Pirates’ 2022 System: Indianapolis Indians

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Promoting From Double-A to the Majors

Cal Mitchell Hoping to Force His Way Into the Pittsburgh Outfield

Cristopher Cruz Works Through Adjustments During a Rocky First Season

PROSPECT WATCH

DAILY VIDEO RUNDOWN

PIRATES DISCUSSION

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