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.
THIS WEEKEND ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Williams: Here’s What I’m Watching in the Pirates System in the Second Half
Where Will the New Draft Picks Fit in the Pittsburgh Pirates System?
After They Sign, When Will the New Draft Picks Debut?
Prospect Roundtable: After Termarr Johnson, Which 2022 Pirates Draft Pick Stands Out?
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
Curious did anyone see the minute video of QP last start? While the results were outstanding I was concerned about the gun readings on fastballs only being 93. Not sure that plays very well in the majors.
Sorry to msg here on this page, but I haven’t gotten a response anywhere. I’ve been a member since before memberships were a thing. But I’m not able to see content for weeks. It comes out directly from my card so I’m pretty sure it’s paid — I’ve msged Tim, I’ve msged the Facebook page and it’s been seen, I’ve msged the tim account when it said to msg that for subscription issues, and a couple days ago I msged the subscription link for issues. But not one response from anyone. It’s bizarre. I love this site, but I can’t even get an answer from anyone. Over two weeks. Could someone msg me at email@example.com and let me know if it’s a glitch or some weird thing happened with payment. Like. Any info please.
After the trading deadline, I would like to see Cruz/Bae MI, with Castro as UT at all of the IF positions including 1B. No need for Newman, Chavis, ‘sugo, VanMeter, etc.
We need to take a look at our 2 Catchers at GBO and move one or both up to AA. Endy Rodriguez, 22, switchhitter, leads GBO with 21 doubles, 3 triples, and 46 RBI. He is 3rd in HR at 11, and a slash of 276/361/491/852 OPS. He has played 378 innings at Catcher, 27 innings at 1B, 88 innings at 2B, 102 innings in LF, and 5 games as the DH. Came from the Mets in the Musgrove trade in 2021.
Abrahan Gutierrez, 22, has shared the Catching position with ERod, and has also played 18 games,152 innings at 1B, and 29 games as the DH. His slash is 261/353/397/750 OPS. Both are frontline receivers who can play other positions well when they are not Catching. Came from Phils in trade for Braeden Ogle in 2021.
And as for Rodriguez, I’d love to see him promoted for the last month of the season unless Davis comes back and is ready to play everyday. Once Cruz graduates from being a prospect (maybe he already has?), I could see Rodriguez as high as 4th in our system behind Johnson, Peguero, and Davis. Burrows and Priester are very interesting but I’m inclined to go with an up-the-middle player who has hit at every level.
I agree on all of this though would include Castillo as part of the IF rotation. It seems like he’s almost been caught in a no-man’s land–good enough to have made and kept his major league roster spot but not given a chance to show he can be an everyday player. Who is to say whether he’d be putting up numbers similar to Castro’s and Bae’s if he was playing in Indy? I realize he’s a little older than those two but there’s still something that doesn’t feel quite right about leapfrogging Castro or Bae above Castillo in playing time.
I can see your point and it’s a tough call, but I went Castro because he plays the same positions as Castillo, and is a switchhitter. And, Bae has come on strong this year and I mean strong with extra base hits (29) to go with his steady .300 average and less than 2/1 K/BB rate. He puts the ball in play, and that’s my game.
If you looked at the 3 of them, who do you think would have the most market value? I think Bae. And, I know that Castro and Castillo/Park cannot co-exist with Cruz and Bae in the MI – one has to be the UT player and I favor the kids who the Pirates developed – Cruz, Bae, Castro.
I also keep forgetting about Marcano but I’m becoming more of a believer and like him better as an If than an OF.
Is Priester intentionally pitching to contact? He’s always profiled as having above average intelligence and stuff – seems like he should be able to miss bats if he wanted to.
I think Peguero will turn it on in August and get a cup of coffee in AAA in September. weather is really warm here and he’ll heat up.
I hope Gonzales goes back to the AFL. Between the cold early season weather and plantar facitis it’s been a lost year. Get him back where he’s comfortable and ready for AAA next year.
Liover’s my top follow, too.
Reality of upper level pitching has caught up to him, time to buckle down and develop literally any semblance of plate discipline.
He’s exactly league average with the bat. For perspective, Kevin Newman in his age 22 season put up a 108
I’m looking forward to a pruning at the trade deadline to make room for a longer look at Swaggerty and a first look at Bae.
No love for Brubaker in next year’s rotation?
I got Keller, Roasny and Brubaker and 2 FA signings
Brubaker is in there on opening day in my projection. My guess is he’s still there by the end of the year.
Quietly recovered from the nosedive he took last year after the early-season ace hype. Solid #4 , hope he’s got the goods to maintain it for a full season.
Solid 4-5 on a playoff team.
Speaking of things to watch in the 2nd half, he and Keller are up there
What about Thompson?
He has been really good this year, especially after he quit working on changing his delivery early in the year.
I like Thompson. I think he’s in the opening day rotation next year.
He’s probably more depth than anything
Thompson has been pretty bad actually. Huge spike in homers, more walks, fewer K’s. Maybe he can cut it as a swing man.
Bucco’s could be sending a who’s who of Prospects to Arizona this year.
I can’t wait to see the list
don’t think Jones goes this year. He’s had plenty of innings for a young kid. agree with the rest of you. Maybe Bolton as a reliever and/or Nicolas as a starter?
I want Henry Davis to stay healthy, too.
Doesn’t he have to first get healthy before he has a chance to stay healthy?
I’ll throw a Mel Brooks harumph your way, Foo!