The Pittsburgh Pirates originally planned to send nine players to the 2022 Arizona Fall League. That became eight when Matt Gorski got injured in his first game with Indianapolis at the end of the 2022 season. He’s still doing rehab work, but the other eight players put in a full AFL season and helped the Surprise Saguaros to a league title on Saturday. Here’s a look at how each of those players performed during the league.
Henry Davis played 17 games for Surprise. No one on the team played more than 21 of the 29 games. The league favored hitters, with a league-wide .771 OPS and a 5.49 ERA for pitchers. Davis put up a .260/.435/.440 slash line in 69 plate appearances. He ranked 18th in OPS among the 61 hitters with at least 60 plate appearances. He went to the league to make up for lost time.
Davis finished the full year (minors/AFL) with 324 plate appearances. The AFL work allowed him to catch 14 more games, after going behind the plate just 44 times total between his 2021-22 minor league seasons. He’s had issues with hit-by-pitches and that continued into the league. He had 20 during the regular season, and he led the AFL by getting hit seven times.
Nick Gonzales might be a little sad that the season ended because he reached base eight times between the final game of the season and Saturday’s championship game. Like Davis, he also went to the AFL to make up for lost time. Gonzales played all around the infield, while finishing with a .279/.350/.500 slash line in 77 plate appearances. His stats show you how small of a sample size this league really is compared to a full season of stats.
A .279 average isn’t bad, especially in 2022, but if you add in his Saturday stats, he put up a .301 average in the league. That one game would add 48 points to an already strong slugging percentage. He finished with a 21.9% strikeout rate, a nice improvement on the 28.4% mark from the regular season.
Blake Sabol saw time in the outfield and behind the plate this fall. I’d expect that type of split to continue, as he likely doesn’t have a future behind the plate, but the versatility could get him to the majors faster. He struggled a bit in the fall league, batting .234/.346/.340, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the strong overall season he put up between Altoona and Indianapolis this year.
Sabol has put up strong stats at all four levels of full-season ball during the last two seasons. He could possibly be an early season option for the Pirates in 2023.
Jacob Gonzalez received limited playing time this fall, and his numbers were pretty bad until a strong final game of the season. Even with that game and a small sample size, he still finished with a .212/.250/.364 slash line in 36 plate appearances. Gonzalez didn’t need to make up for some missed time, but he did really fall off once the calendar hit June this year, even while playing in the hitter-friendly Greensboro park.
The AFL mostly has Double-A/Triple-A players, so it was a bit advanced for Gonzalez, but it was also hitter-friendly. It will be interesting to see if he gets pushed to Altoona to start next year. A .683 OPS over the final 70 games of the season from a 24-year-old corner infielder playing in Greensboro, says he will probably have to at least start 2023 back there, especially when you factor in the AFL time.
On the pitching side, Quinn Priester was the big name for the Pirates. He led Surprise with six starts, 23 innings pitched and 22 strikeouts. However, he had a 6.26 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP, so things didn’t go smoothly in the league. The important part here is the innings. It allows him to go a full season without any limits.
On the combined season, Priester ended up recording two more outs than last year for Greensboro, facing nine more hitters than in 2021. That doesn’t even include the rehab work in Extended Spring Training that allowed him to go three innings in his season debut. Priester will begin the 2023 season with Indianapolis, and there’s a good chance we see the Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year in Pittsburgh mid-season.
Tahnaj Thomas finished very strong over the last 3+ months of the regular season, but that didn’t carry over into the AFL. He had a 1.98 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 36.1 innings from June 1st until the end of the season with Altoona.
In the AFL, he pitched 9.1 innings over nine appearances, allowing ten earned runs on seven hits, nine walks and 11 strikeouts. Not what you want to see obviously, but that stretch with Altoona was 4x more work and he put up outstanding stats.
Colin Selby probably isn’t flying under the radar as much as he has been, which was partially due to all of his missed time due to his Tommy John surgery in 2020, with his rehab spilling into 2021. He was limited last year and missed some time this year. He was often the hardest throwing pitcher in games that he appeared in this fall, and he showed off a nice slider.
Selby picked up the win in the championship game, while striking out three batters in his lone inning of work. He gave up two runs over nine innings during the AFL regular season, striking out nine batters. The added AFL experience allowed him to throw 45.2 innings for the season.
Omar Cruz was one of the crafty pitchers in the league, which is a nice way of saying he’s a lefty with average at best velocity. He didn’t do too bad, with his 5.25 ERA being under the league average, along with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings, but he was definitely wild at times and clean outings were tough to come by, even in short-relief work.
Cruz finished with a 1.92 WHIP, partially due to ten walks. Even with the AFL time, he pitched 24.2 innings more last year.
EXTRA WORK IN THE AFL
As you can see from the recaps, five of the eight players here missed time during the regular season and they used the AFL to get extra work. They had mixed overall results, but the added experience will help them next year, especially with the pitchers.
As a full group, the results were also mixed.
You like to see the performances from Gonzales and Davis of course, two of the top hitting prospects in the system. Selby also did an outstanding job.
You would obviously like to see better results from Priester, Thomas and Sabol, but their full-season performances hold much more weight.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.