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Prospect Roundtable: Second Half Surges We’re Buying Heading Into 2023


The minor league season is about development.

You want to see a player perform well, but if he isn’t performing well, you want to see him at least trending in the right direction. You want to see hope that better results will come with a larger sample size of that trend.

This week, we’re taking a look at players who struggled in the first half, and surged in the second half. Not all players who have strong second half results are primed to continue those results in the following season. Here are the players we are buying to repeat their success, and why we like them going forward.

JOHN DREKER: Jared Triolo, 3B

Jared Triolo was a name that I heard mentioned a lot during the spring as someone who could have a potential big year with Altoona. Between his defense, offense and speed, there was a chance for him to have a special season. Then the season started and he had an average April, finishing with a strong .292 average, but low power numbers led to a .725 OPS. That OPS dropped down to a .613 mark in May, and he had zero homers through the first two months of the season. June started off well, but it didn’t end that way. On July 1st, 68 games into his season, Triolo had a .259/.361/.331 slash line. Things really turned around after that point.

In his final 44 games of the season, before suffering a knee injury in late August, Triolo put up a .316/.398/.546 slash line, with 23 extra-base hits, ten stolen bases, and a 17.5% strikeout rate. That was while continuing a strong season on defense that earned him the Pirates minor league award for their best defensive player. Lost in the early season struggles is that he showed nice improvements in his walk rate and strikeout rate, while moving up a level. That’s with him building on BB/SO numbers that were both decent last year in Greensboro. He showed a nice speed/power combo late this year, which is something we should see more of during the 2023 season in Indianapolis. The adjustment period to Double-A took longer than expected, but over the final two months, we saw what had people with the Pirates excited about his potential future. He might not have a big league future in Pittsburgh at third base, but he’s an athletic enough player to put up solid defense anywhere on the infield or in the outfield.

WILBUR MILLER: Nick Gonzales, 2B

I’m saying Gonzales here with considerable trepidation. I’ve been concerned all along with the swing-and-miss. That’s all the more true because, when I’ve seen him, he’s swung through a lot of pitches over the center of the plate.

On the plus side, in 2021 he finished with monster showings in August and September, although the whiffing (25% of PAs) remained very high. This year, he had an OPS of .748 and .738 in April and May, respectively, but after returning from injury posted numbers of .862 and .981 in August and September. Maybe more importantly, he cut his K rate from 33% before the injury to 23% after. Then he put up an .851 OPS in the AFL, with a 17% K rate.

So it’s a consistent pattern of making adjustments, or upping his game, or . . . something. It’s just not possible for a guy to rake the way he does in extended stretches without the talent being real . . . right?

ANTHONY MURPHY: Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP

One player I will always hold out hope on will be Carmen Mlodzinski. I could find multiple small sample sizes throughout the season that try to prove my point, but that’s kind of the deal with Mlodzinski.

He show’s flashes here and there, but really what it comes down to is consistency. The Pirates played around with how best to utilize him, even using an opener in front of him as well as starting him out of the rotation. Mlodzinski may end up in the bullpen, but there probably isn’t a rush to move him there just yet.

Mlodzinski did finish strong down the stretch, posting a 2.57 ERA (1.91 FIP) in his three September outings, striking out 15 batters in 14 innings pitched (just three walks). Zooming out a little bit more, He struck out 24.3% of the batters he faced, walking 6.5%, and posted a 3.16 FIP in nine games from August on.

He seems on the verge of figuring things out, and if the Pirates find the right role for him, he could start translating more on the field consistently.

TIM WILLIAMS: Nick Gonzales, 2B

I was never really sold on the draft profile from Nick Gonzales. He was lauded for his contact skills, but I really think there’s a widespread lack of understanding of what this translates toward. My concern with Gonzales was that he would always rely on those contact skills, leading to an outcome not unlike we’ve seen with Kevin Newman — who was also lauded as a first rounder for his contact skills in college.

This wouldn’t be a bad outcome for Gonzales. Newman has looked like an MLB starter for a few seasons, and could be a reliable bench option going forward for a contender. Right now, you want more from Gonzales, if possible. You’d like to see him develop into an above-average or better second baseman, giving the Pirates someone who can be an MLB starter for a contender.

Gonzales seems to be heading in that direction. Over the final six weeks of the 2022 season, he hit for a .287/.404/.513 line, with a 22.7% strikeout rate and a 13.5% walk rate. The easiest way to describe what the Pirates have been working on with Gonzales is using his contact skills — fueled by elite hand/eye coordination and quick hands — in a more aggressive way. Gonzales can make contact with a lot of pitches. It’s not always going to be good contact. The Pirates are teaching him how to attack the pitches that will lead to the best results. Looking at the small sample from the end of the season, Gonzales is getting the results you’d want to see from such an approach.

One of the hardest workers in the system, Gonzales has seen his playing time limited by injuries. I was impressed by the work he put in this year, even through recovery from a torn plantar fascia in his heel, to get to those end result numbers. He went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .279/.351/.500, repeating his success in a showcase setting. I think that Gonzales has made the adjustment that will make him the second baseman of the future in Pittsburgh. He might not be a batting champion, but he will be a well-rounded hitter who can be a core member of a future contender.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
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.

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