This week we announced our 2022 Minor League Awards, which included naming Matt Gorski the Breakout prospect of the year.
We took an early look ahead at the candidates for next season’s breakout prospect in this week’s Roundtable. I asked everyone to pick the player who stood out to them this year, even if the numbers didn’t indicate top prospect status.
The result is a deep group of sleepers to follow in 2023, which only adds to the depth that the Pirates have built up in their system. Here are the sleepers to follow:
JOHN DREKER: Carlos Jimenez, RHP
2022 Stats: 4.13 ERA, 69.2 IP, 11.4 K/9, 5.8 BB/9
With a 4.13 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Carlos Jimenez is a real sleeper prospect who shouldn’t be overlooked. We talked about him all year because he’s worth talking about. His arsenal starts with a mid-90s fastball, but that’s probably his third best pitch. I did not see another pitcher with a better changeup this year. The pitch is a true swing-and-miss offering that he can throw in any count. It shows excellent movement, good separation from the fastball, and it’s clear that hitters can’t pick it up until it’s too late. He also throws a curveball that gets great results. I watched plenty of his starts in which he mixed all three pitches effectively, using them all as strikeout pitches.
Jimenez has an incredible presence on the mound. He’s all business, whether things are going well or going bad. This report doesn’t sound like I’m describing the pitcher who put up those stats from above, but I saw enough of him to know that his upside is legit. His issue comes down to bouts of wildness, sometimes that’s walks, and sometimes that’s fastballs that get too much of the middle of the zone. The great part about him is that he will be 20 years old for most of the 2023 season, so he’s got time to fix those inconsistencies.
Jimenez is Rule 5 eligible this year. Over the years I’ve become more willing to risk losing players. The Rule 5 draft records show there’s a 50% chance one player in taken from your team and a 33% chance that you actually lose one player. The process is a bit overblown. That’s especially true when you’re a bad team picking third overall. You’re more likely to select someone better than what you lose in those situations. That all being said, I would protect Jimenez because of his upside and because I think he could survive in a limited bullpen role due to his mound presence. He could then return to the minors as a starter in 2024. I do not think the Pirates will protect him — I would even say it seems highly unlikely — but he’s not a risk I’d personally be willing to take.
WILBUR MILLER: Jauri Custodio, OF
2022 Stats: .345/.457/.621, 70 PA, 4 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 6:8 BB:K
Custodio is maybe a bit of a stretch for this topic. His problem isn’t that his numbers haven’t been so good, it’s that there haven’t been enough of them. He originally signed with Colorado, but the Rox voided his contract because they didn’t like his medicals. It’s possible they had the right idea. After he hit .324 in his 2019 DSL debut, he of course missed the plague year. In 2021, he was supposed to open in the FCL, but he was hurt and only surfaced back in the DSL in mid-August. He put up an .845 OPS in limited playing time, then finally made it to the FCL this year. Except he got hurt again and was out until late June. After that, he played only semi-regularly on a team that had too many prospects for its own good. When he played, Custodio hit 345/457/621 in 21 games.
One thing that’s especially noteworthy about Custodio is that he makes a lot of contact — hard contact — an ability that’s not abundant at the lower levels of the Pirates’ system. He fanned in only about a tenth of his ABs in his two DSL seasons, and only eight times in 58 ABs this year in the FCL. And he does have power, although it’s hard to say how much over-the-fence power he’ll have long-term. Given his ability with the bat, he could make it as a high-average outfielder with average power. Custodio runs well. He stole 15 bases in 19 tries in his debut season; he hasn’t run much since then, though. He played mostly center in his first season, but didn’t play there at all this year. Defensively, he probably profiles as a fourth outfielder more than a center fielder.
Custodio will play next season at age 21, which is fine but not great for Single-A. I’m hoping the Pirates will try to challenge him with an assignment to Greensboro. (Well, I’m not hoping too much, because I won’t be able to see him there.) He could potentially have fun with the power alleys there.
ANTHONY MURPHY: Ricky DeVito, RHP
2022 Stats: 5.40 ERA, 70.0 IP, 11.6 K/9, 5.7 BB/9
I wanted to say Carlos Jimenez, as he seems to still be relatively untalked about almost everywhere that isn’t this website. To me though, he’s already a top prospect in the system, so instead, I went with a pitcher that played for Greensboro last year, Ricky DeVito.
He was one of those weird reverse splits in High-A, pitching better at home than he did on the road and a lot of the numbers weren’t pretty. DeVito looked like he was starting to put some of the pieces together late in the season, especially when they started to stretch him out and he was put in the rotation.
DeVito missed the majority of last season with an injury, so the Pirates eased him back but it looked like they were setting him up at the end of the year to be a potential rotation option going into 2022.
His splitter is a plus pitch, and he can throw a fastball and slider to go with it. According to Fangraphs, all are at least average, giving him a potential starters repertoire.
Control will be the biggest challenge for DeVito, but a lot of that could have been working back from the injury. He walked far less in the Atlanta organization before getting traded.
JEFF REED: TBA…
My Sleeper pick will come as a surprise to most, but not to everyone.
Without giving the name away immediately, I want to run through some rankings among Pittsburgh Pirates minor league pitchers that had at least 70 IP in 2022. This includes 20 qualified pitchers. Here is where my pick ranked.
3.88 xFIP – Just ahead of Quinn Priester at 3rd
25.8% K% – Sandwiched between Kyle Nicolas and Cody Bolton at 7th
8.3% BB% – Falling just behind Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester at 7th
These are very strong numbers and among good company for Pirates 2021 8th round draft pick out of University of California, Sean Sullivan.
JEFF REED: Sean Sullivan, RHP
2022 Stats: 4.68 ERA, 75.0 IP, 10.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
I was initially surprised, as 2022 was Sullivan’s first taste of professional baseball, and he was pushed straight to Greensboro. It’s very well-known at this point that it’s very difficult to watch Grasshoppers games, but of the few times I got to view a live stream of a Sullivan appearance, I came away impressed.
The one main thing that stood out to me was the command and life of his fastball, and his ability to spot the pitch. Anthony Murphy wrote a mid-season update including Sullivan that noted he had seen a slight uptick in his velocity. I believe there might even be room to add a tick or two more, or at least the ability to sit 94-95 MPH.
I had Sean Sullivan on my personal mid-season Top 30 prospects list for the Pirates, and I would not at all be shocked if he saw his stock rise while in Altoona. He should go to the Double-A level next year for his age 22 season.
TIM WILLIAMS: Carlos Jimenez, RHP
2022 Stats: 4.13 ERA, 69.2 IP, 11.4 K/9, 5.8 BB/9
I got to see Jimenez early in the season, and came away really impressed. His numbers haven’t been the best this year, mostly due to control issues. His stuff is fantastic, and the fact that he pitched in Single-A at the age of 19, while holding his own, says a lot about him. The reports I’ve heard on Jimenez since then — whether from within the organization, or in our other views of him this year — have only strengthened the idea that he is primed for a breakout.
Jimenez really stands out due to his changeup, which is advanced for his age. He also throws a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that rounds out his three-pitch mix. Jimenez struggled with his control this year, and that issue got worse as the season went on. What I liked is that he was unhittable. My thought is that Jimenez will learn endurance as he gets more experience pitching later into the season. With that endurance should come the ability to better control his pitches later in the season.
Next year might not produce breakout numbers with Jimenez slated for High-A Greensboro. That park is very hitter friendly, especially early in the season. Jimenez doesn’t allow much contact, with a .234 average against this year, so the park might not be an issue for him. A big thing to watch will be how his control holds up as the season progresses. It’s not impossible to put up strong numbers in Greensboro, and the obvious best way to do it would be to limit hits and walks.
I’ll throw a post-edit honorable mention to Luis Peralta, who was Jimenez’s left-handed teammate. I figured Jimenez might get some attention in this article, but he was my pick and I wanted to stay true to the choice. Peralta, however, is the guy I’d pick if I wanted to give you another player to follow. Also, I am genuinely shocked that Wilbur Miller didn’t pick Javier Rivas. I almost considered Rivas, only because of how much Wilbur talked him up all year. Who is your sleeper? Leave your pick in the comments below!