Jack Suwinski has been impressive this year.
The Pirates’ rookie outfielder has a .230/.296/.486 line with 11 homers in his MLB debut, after a surprise early-season promotion from Altoona. He’s already worked himself into regular playing time, and has exceeded his prospect status.
When a prospect exceeds his status, we run a special Prospect Roundtable, giving a projection of what we think is to come in the future from the MLB player. Below is The Book on Jack Suwinski.
Once Suwinski started the season in Altoona, I believed there was a good chance we wouldn’t see him this season in the majors, especially without expanded September rosters. The Pirates had a lot of outfielders — and infielders playing outfield — ahead of him in Indianapolis. It was reasonable to expect him to get in a decent amount of Triple-A time before he reached the majors. He was off to a great start this year, pushing towards that promotion to Indianapolis. Even when he was called up this year, it seemed like a temporary situation brought on by good timing for him. The general thought was it’s good experience for him to get a taste of the majors. Instead of getting the needed Triple-A time, he’s been learning on the job in the majors. Except for the solid home run rate, the numbers with the Pirates haven’t been pretty, with a low average, low walk totals, below average defense and an increase over his minor league strikeout numbers, which were fairly high last year. That is basically what happens when someone skips Triple-A and gets thrown into a big league starting role.
At this point you might as well stick with him, as long as he’s playing almost every day, so he goes into next year with plenty of experience. He’s 23 years old, with solid numbers over what amounts to a full season of Double-A (124 games), so he was trending towards a big league shot later this year if things went as planned, with a look towards a bigger role in the majors next year. He’s basically on the same path towards 2023, except the Pirates are using up some of his service time before he’s really big league ready. With a top 5-10 prospect in the system that’s a much worse idea because you’re giving up peak performance from them for no reason. With someone like Suwinski, the added big league experience going into next year could be helpful to him and the team if he’s put in a platoon/fourth outfielder role.
The Book on Suwinski depends a lot on the author. FanGraphs’ evaluation has gotten an incredulous response at P2 – FG had him as a bottom-feeding defensive player, largely a power-only guy. Baseball America’s summary wasn’t as harsh, but BA did refer to him as an “average runner.” That “book” should be out-of-print now. The Statcast data shows Suwinski to have near-elite sprint speed, and also shows him getting average jumps in the outfield. By both UZR and OAA, he’s an average defender.
So, dispensing with all that, what’s going to matter the most of course is the bat. Suwinski put up uninteresting numbers in the minors until he reached Double-A in 2021. Then he started getting the ball in the air more and showing significant power to right field. He barrels the ball frequently and puts up good exit velocities, so the power he’s shown in the majors appears very real. The issue going forward is going to be getting on base enough, as his walk and K rates both need to improve. He doesn’t chase very much, so his high K rate may be due to getting into bad counts. LHPs have been a problem, although not nearly to the same extent as, say, Daniel Vogelbach. He does have four longballs against LHPs in the majors. Suwinski still isn’t 24 yet, so the odds of him getting established as a good major league outfielder are promising at this point.
Suwinski has easily been the biggest surprise this year for the Pirates. He went from surprise addition to the 40-man, to now the National League leader in home runs. It’s hard to label him what I think he might be without doing a disservice to what he has accomplished so far. Suwinski did a lot of work in the offseason, fine tuning his swing and it obviously worked. While the low average and rising strikeout rate may mean he may cool off as a hitter overall, the continued power looks legit. With the way he has played defensively, Suwinski feels like someone who has the floor of a fourth outfielder at worst, and if he is able to get the strikeouts under control, something even more.
The most obvious thing that stands out with Suwinski is the power. That hasn’t always been obvious. Suwinski saw a surge in his power production last year with San Diego in Double-A, prior to the Adam Frazier trade. The Pirates banked on that improvement being legit. So far, they’ve been correct. Suwinski has 11 homers and a .257 ISO in the majors so far. He’s hitting for a 40 home run pace over the course of a full season. That’s more to put his current numbers in perspective, rather than a projection. Exceeding projections is becoming a theme here. Suwinski has shown better results with his defense and speed than his previous grades indicate. If anything, Suwinski looks like a massive scouting victory for Ben Cherington’s Pirates.
So far, most of Suwinski’s value has come from the power. He isn’t hitting for average, his strikeouts are up, and his walk rate isn’t high enough to be a three-true-outcomes guy. The power does seem legit, with only 18% soft contact this year, and a 44% pull rate that works well for the lefty in PNC Park. That is something that Suwinski can build upon as he tries to add value from other areas in his game. Suwinski is always going to be a bat-first guy, led by the power. Right now that has him standing above the other rookie outfielders with a spot to lose. He has a chance to be an average starter, or a strong fourth outfielder on a contender, with no improvements. I think, based on what we’ve seen so far, it would be a mistake to assume no further improvements from Suwinski.