The second half of the minor league season begins today.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to need their minor league system to provide a boost in the short-term, in order to get the MLB team into contending range. They will also need some help via trades and free agency to make a serious attempt at contending — though the farm system is important.
We spent a lot of time this week breaking down the 2022 MLB draft, and every other article in today’s article drop is focused on that topic. That mostly focuses on the lower levels. I wanted to change gears and give a look at the upper levels by highlighting three things I’m watching in the second half of the season.
Upper Level Pitching Approaching the Majors
The Pirates need pitching in the majors, and the good news is that some of their best pitching prospects are knocking on the door.
Mike Burrows has been one of the biggest standouts this year. After a 2.94 ERA in 12 Altoona starts, he was promoted to Indianapolis, where he’s faced more of a challenge. The stuff from Burrows, and his current place in the minors, could put him in position to make his MLB debut by the end of this year if he can adjust to Triple-A.
Quinn Priester joined Altoona when Burrows was promoted to Bradenton. He doesn’t have much time in the upper levels, but hasn’t had much of an issue. In seven starts, Priester has a 3.33 ERA in 27 innings, with 25 strikeouts. The biggest thing I’d focus on would be the strikeouts, as those have been low in today’s high strikeout era. As long as he’s generating weak contact and getting overall results, it’s not a huge concern now.
Three sleepers to make the majors as starters are Kyle Nicolas, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Luis Ortiz. All three have ERAs in the 4.50 range, with needs to work on various aspects to remain a starting candidate. All three could make the majors as a reliever if they don’t work as starters. Cody Bolton and Miguel Yajure have a similar profile in Triple-A.
We’re all watching to see if Burrows and Priester can emerge to join Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras in 2023. The Pirates need a few of those other guys to emerge as big league starters. I realize that Contreras is currently in Indianapolis, but I expect that to be temporary.
The Middle Infield in Influx
The middle infield situation in Pittsburgh is far from certain. There’s no reason to move Oneil Cruz off the shortstop position — whether speaking from his current performance, or the alternative options. At this point, a lot of players are fighting for second base.
We’ve seen Rodolfo Castro, Tucupita Marcano, and Hoy Park in the majors. All three have a chance at being bench players, but only an outside shot at being a starter. The best chance at a starter from Indianapolis is Ji-Hwan Bae, who has an .814 OPS this year, and could be an option for 2023.
The one player who could move Cruz off the position is Liover Peguero. He has shown talent all over the field. The 21-year-old in Double-A has also shown inconsistency all over the field. He might be the player I’m watching the most in the second half, since his consistency would mean big things immediately for the Pirates.
This might sound like pandering, but my hope is that everyone stays healthy — for many reasons, but also for the sake of their development paths.
Nick Gonzales looked bad this year from a contact perspective. You could make an argument he was turning things around. Then, he was injured before a large enough sample could have confirmed that.
Matt Gorski had a breakout in Greensboro this year, which comes with the necessary skepticism from a hitter-friendly A-ball park and a 24-year-old former college hitter. Gorski went to the more neutral Eastern League and put up the same numbers, with reasonable but excellent power numbers. Then, he was injured.
We probably won’t see much of Gonzales or Gorski the rest of the year. We won’t get a chance to see if either were trending in a positive direction. It doesn’t matter what we see, though. What matters is that they both have the chance to develop their game in a positive direction. It’s unlikely either will have much of a chance the rest of this year.
The Pirates don’t have a lot of guys who are emerging as sure starters on a specific timeline.
What they have are a lot of guys who need development time in order to develop into the starter they are expected to be, or to surprise everyone and exceed their projections. The Pirates need outfielders and middle infielders. The Gonzales and Gorski injuries didn’t remove them from the long-term race, but it froze their progress.
The Pirates have a lot of needs. They can only afford so much freezing in the minors. That’s what depth is for, and they fortunately have a lot of it.