The Altoona Curve have had a loaded prospect roster throughout the 2022 season.
The Pirates’ Double-A affiliate has seen most of the top prospects in the system playing at the level. That currently includes 2019 first round pick Quinn Priester, 2020 first rounder Nick Gonzales, and 2021 first rounder Henry Davis on the IL. The Altoona roster this year has also included right-handed starter Mike Burrows and catcher Endy Rodriguez.
With so many of the best prospects in the system, asking which prospect in Altoona was the best is like asking about the number one prospect in the system. If Termarr Johnson were on this team, that’s exactly what this question would be.
Today, we look at who was the best prospect in Altoona this year.
JOHN DREKER: Henry Davis, C
I was preparing to answer this question without knowing it was coming up. I recently put together my top six prospects in the system right now and I have Henry Davis as the top prospect, but it wasn’t an easy choice. What’s interesting about that top six is that five of them played with Altoona this season. Before I explain why I picked Davis, I’ll say that there’s not a big difference between my 1-6, and I’m guessing it’s the closest it has ever been for me. I don’t think any of them are top 20 prospects in the game, but I feel that all six are definitely top 100 prospects, and not really fringe top 100 types, where they squeeze into the 90-100 range. This is just going by feel, but they are all in that 21-89 range, and I can probably make it a smaller range if I put more thought into it. Basically, I can see an argument for the top spot for all six.
Davis got my top spot because of the potential with his bat, plain and simple. He’s the type of player where you stop what you’re doing to make sure you watch his at-bat. I think he’s more of a safe bet to reach his potential, where he doesn’t need much development to reach his peak and he won’t see the type of struggles that we are seeing with every hitting prospect the Pirates have brought up this year. He’s going to hit for power, he’s going to get on base, and if he can stay behind the plate, then you’re getting a top bat at a key position. His big issue is health obviously and avoiding injuries while he’s at the plate. I think part of that issue is being worked on with him moving off of the plate a bit, so we will see if that (or his injury) has any adverse effect on him.
I don’t put any weight into his Altoona numbers, mostly meaning the low average, because he wasn’t healthy when he got there, and I believe he wasn’t healthy during that short time between IL trips. He was also getting used to wearing some extra equipment at the plate. He still showed some power and patience during that time and that’s what really matters. All he really has to show me is that he can stay healthy, maybe head to the Arizona Fall League and make up for missed time, and I’ll feel more confident about him being #1, as opposed to someone who just edged five other top prospects.
WILBUR MILLER: Quinn Priester, RHP
From a prospect standpoint, it’s been quite a year for the Curve. Most of the Pirates’ top prospects have found their way through Altoona. In most cases, though, their stays have been pretty brief.
That’s been especially unfortunate with Henry Davis and Nick Gonzales. Since being drafted, Davis has seldom been on the field. On one hand, you don’t want to downgrade a prospect due to injuries, especially ones that aren’t inherently chronic, like Davis’ wrist fracture. On the other, though, when you draft a college player first overall, by this point you expect him to be in Triple-A or verging on getting there. The fact that we haven’t seen Davis get anywhere close to that point makes it too hard to put him ahead of the other guys who’ve been with the Curve.
Gonzales has missed over half this season, but there’s also his significant swing-and-miss issue, which by itself eliminates him. The same goes for Liover Peguero and his reluctance to take a pitch, which has weighed him down more and more heavily as the season has gone along. Throw in his alarming error problem and there’s good reason to think he might need to return to Double-A next year.
So that leaves three: Mike Burrows, Endy Rodriguez and Quinn Priester. Burrows mostly dominated at Altoona, more so than Priester has. His performance at Indianapolis, though, has been more uneven. It’s not especially concerning. Burrows is just short of 200 innings as a pro, but it’d be nice to see him perform a little more consistently in Triple-A.
Rodriguez is almost unique in the Pirates’ system as a top prospect who’s having an unequivocally outstanding year. I’ve been a big fan since last year, when I saw him play a lot for Bradenton. The Marauders were an aggravating bunch to watch at the plate. Some of their hitters suffered from the same problem we’re seeing with the major league team: taking too many pitches, getting behind in counts and taking called third strikes, lots of checked swings and a general uncertainty in making swing decisions. Others just went up hacking. Rodriguez was the big exception. He swung at good pitches and didn’t chase bad ones. He reminded me of Jason Kendall’s description of his own hitting style: see ball hit ball. That style doesn’t seem in vogue much now. Added to that, Rodriguez is showing more power than scouts expected when the Pirates acquired him. He’s a good defensive catcher who clearly can play the position at the major league level, and he can also play several other positions at least competently. He’s a switch-hitter. And he shows a lot of focus and enthusiasm on the field.
Having made the case for Rodriguez, I’m still going to go with Priester. He’s putting together a very strong season, with good numbers across the board, and he’s doing it at age 21 in Double-A. The knock on him among analytical types has been the shape of his fastball, but if it was a significant problem, you’d expect to see some gopher ball issues. Instead, he’s allowed just three in 55 innings this year. The Pirates desperately need to graduate from their rotation being nothing but an endless parade of fifth-starter-hopefuls. Priester may or may not project as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he should be at least a #3, which would be a big step forward for the Pirates.
ANTHONY MURPHY: Endy Rodriguez, C/2B
The amount of talent that has come and gone through Altoona this year has been quite impressive. Outside of Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras, who played on the team last year, the majority of the team’s top prospects have crossed paths with Altoona in some way or fashion.
With that being the case, the best prospect I’ve seen come through Altoona this season has been Endy Rodriguez. Maybe some of it’s recency-bias, because it hasn’t been a large sample size we’ve seen from him there, and I’m sure there will be a stretch he struggles a bit.
Regardless, he’s done nothing but hit at every level he’s played, and I’m not sure there is a better all-around prospect in the system when looking at his defense.
His progress behind the plate is the main reason, at least in my books, for his rapid ascension towards being potentially the top prospect in the system.
Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester have been impressive in their time in Altoona, Henry Davis has shown flashes in his brief time and Nick Gonzales shows the tools that made him a top 10 pick, but none have shown the complete well-rounded game like Rodriguez has.
TIM WILLIAMS: Endy Rodriguez, C/2B
I guess it’s not a mystery where I land on this one.
I went into Altoona last week expecting to be impressed with Rodriguez enough to put him in this conversation. What I saw was the clear number one prospect in the system.
Rodriguez can hit. He tracks the ball better than anyone I’ve seen, and his swing decisions are outstanding. His bat path is clean to the ball, and he’s got some power in addition to the contact skills. I haven’t seen much of Henry Davis behind the plate, but based on the reports I’ve received, and based on watching Rodriguez, I have Endy as the catcher in the future in Pittsburgh. This isn’t to say that the Pirates can’t find a way to split time between the catchers. Rodriguez can also play second base, and looks good at the position. This is only to say that Rodriguez is the better catcher of the two, and that might always be the case.
The only reason I think Rodriguez might be controversial as the number one guy in this group is because he doesn’t have a clear standout tool. Davis has power. Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows have power fastballs and elite breaking stuff. I’m a huge fan of the mindset from Priester and the way he’s a natural student of the game. I like the attitude and confidence from Burrows, and his drive to continue improving his stuff. I am downgrading both, due to the risk that comes from pitchers.
That’s a key here. There is risk involved with the other top prospects. We’re projecting Davis to be a power hitting starting catcher, but we don’t know if he can stick at catcher yet, or if he can hit for power and average. We’re projecting Priester and Burrows to be in a Major League rotation, but Burrows is still adjusting to Triple-A guys, and Priester barely has much time above A-ball. All of these guys have the potential for impact, but it’s still idealism to project them to their ceilings.
I think that Endy Rodriguez is starting to enter the realm of realism, to where we can start to accurately project out the type of player he’s going to become. That player? Just as impactful as the guys above, but not in the same obvious way. What stands out for me with Rodriguez is the energy. He never takes a play off. He can hit, he can field, he can run, and he’s one of the hardest workers on the field. He’s confident off the field, but not cocky enough to think he doesn’t have anything to learn. He’s a great teammate, and he’s very coachable.
You can dream about more upside from the other guys, and you’d be right. In reality, Endy Rodriguez looks like he’s going to be a starting catcher who can hit for average, add some power, and provide solid defense and leadership behind the plate. If he was drafted first overall, I think he’d be getting way more hype right now. But his introduction to the Pirates was the fifth player in the Joe Musgrove trade, in a swap for an older lefty relief prospect. That might end up being the best move Ben Cherington made during the rebuild of this system, because the value of Rodriguez has gone way up since that point. That’s a huge credit to Rodriguez for the strides he’s made in his game.
After watching him over the last week, and talking with him a few times this year, I can tell you that those strides were probably what Cherington and the Pirates were expecting when they made that trade.
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.