Pirates Prospects Daily: Upper Level Pitching Staff Faces Another Roster Logjam

The Pittsburgh Pirates have dedicated the last couple of years to pad the minor leagues with as much talent as possible. We saw some of that talent lost in the Rule 5, with 11 players taken in the minor league phase.

While most of those players aren’t considered to be notable prospects, what stands out the most is the need the team really had to clear those players to make room for the traffic jam that is going to become of Altoona and Indianapolis — most notably the pitching staffs.

Nine of the 11 taken were pitchers, five of which played at either Altoona or Indianapolis. There was room that had to be made, and the Pirates took the decision out of their hands and let the rest of the league thin the herd a bit.

The decision making won’t end there, as with more players flooding in from Greensboro, there won’t be enough rotation spots for everyone, and some will have to make the shift to the bullpen.

Indianapolis’ rotation will likely consist of Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Luis Ortiz, and whatever other spillovers come from the 40-man roster. It may also include some sort of minor league free agent for depth (like Jerad Eickhoff in 2022).

That leaves very few spaces available in Altoona to split between who remains and anyone from Greensboro coming up.

There are some players who could benefit from this, and have their stuff play a little better by making the shift to the bullpen.

Kyle Nicolas

The righty acquired in the Jacob Stallings trade has one of the more explosive fastballs in the system, capable of reaching the upper 90s in shorter outings. He mixes that with a slider and curveball, but works the absolute best as a fastball/slider guy, which would seem to work a lot better out of the bullpen.

He also struggled with his control quite a bit throughout the season, especially the final months. A move to the bullpen may have always been in the cards for him, and this upcoming season could be the time to do so.

Carmen Mlodzinski

Mlodzinski was my choice for a bounce back season, and could be so even pitching out the bullpen. The Pirates played around a lot with the best way to utilize Mlodzinski, even throwing an opener out in front of him a couple of times, and that could be something they still do. However, shot out of the bullpen could really help simplify things for him, a lot like it did for Tahnaj Thomas.

Cody Bolton

This one is a little different as Bolton made more appearances out of the bullpen than he did as a starter in 2022. While there is probably still some hope for him to be a starter, he struggled to stay healthy in 2022, and also fought with his control.

Last season, Altoona toyed around with a lot of piggy back situations early on in the season, with most starters only going four innings before being followed up behind another multi-inning reliever.

That was mostly because they were shifting to a five man rotation, after using six all of 2021. They also had the same kind of starting pitcher crunch they are going to be looking at this upcoming season.

Eventually, the starters began to pitch deeper into games, and those left took on relief roles. It’ll be something that’s going to have to happen again this season, with these three some who may really benefit from doing so.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**Rodolfo Nolasco gets the feature this week in John Dreker’s Pirates winter report, which also feature’s a weekly update of what is happening during the offseason. 

**Jase Bowen homered heading into the weekend in the latest winter league update.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at minor league Rule 5 pick Josh Palacios, and how he’s fitting a trend in the system.

Song of the Day

Pirates Prospects Weekly

John Dreker has all of the Pirates winter league updates, including a look at outfield prospect Rodolfo Nolasco.

Pirates Winter Report: Rodolfo Nolasco is Where He Should Be this Winter

Ethan Hullihen’s latest Pirates Business feature will hit the site at noon on Sunday.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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.

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adicesa14

I don’t mind, so much, the Pirates’ ‘service time’ practice. Given their small market reality, this procedure seems necessary because it gives them nearly an extra year before a player reaches free agency. That they don’t admit to this routine is understandable given the apparent (and misplaced, in my opinion) outrage of some fans. As we Pirate fans are now experiencing, the combination of small market and cheap owner forces the loss of very good players, too soon, i.e., Bryan Reynolds. Unless MLB comes to its senses and changes the economic dynamics or Nutting opens his wallet, it’s a sensible way to operate.
 
As ‘redwards60’ noted, the Pirates certainly “pursue subpar tried and failed veterans over their own prospects.” I first noticed this inclination practiced to an extreme by Clint Hurdle. It’s better now, but still in vogue on the Pirate and perhaps elsewhere, as I believe it’s a long-time baseball axiom. The 1B situation is a prime example. In 2022, the Pirates attempted all manner of stuffing a round peg into a square hole at 1B. Consequently, 1B candidates, lacking as some of them may be, accumulated in Indianapolis. Would the Pirates have been better off, promoting Mason Martin, in lieu of the the steady flow of incompetence they attempted? I think, yes. Now we would know whether Martin was a true prospect or not and he would be an integral part of the Pirate future or his place in Indianapolis could be taken by someone else and one more upper-level prospect would have been saved from the Rule 5 Draft.
 
The Pirates problems are manifest but can be summarized thus: 1) Understandably, they do not partake in the ‘big-time’ free agent market. 2) They have a glut of long-term prospects (and non-prospects?) over-loading their minor league system, making their management difficult and subject to personnel mistakes. 3) They will not (cannot?) sign their top player to a market contract.

john.benedict

This guarantee’s Endy

10/150M

robertkasperski

If he keeps on his current trajectory, he will get at least that figure no matter what the pirates,do with him promotion wise or paying him.

john.benedict

Julio Rodriguez is a half year younger than Endy
He was added to the 40 last year a year before Endy
Endy following a year behind
Your saying “if he continues his trajectory
he will get at least that regardless”

I feel VERY STRONGLY that Endy is that player
that has a zero ceiling, add switch hitting C
Reminds me how I felt when BC was trying
to pry Julio away for Reynolds

Here is my point
Julio signed a
12yr/ $209M in August 4 months before his 22nd bday
There service time will be no different

LOCK UP ENDY SO

No service time
No 4 years of nasty arbitration
Opening day roster

DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU CAN’T AFFORD HIM LATER

LIKE JULIO

robertkasperski

Endy has to agree to it. Depends on what he thinks that he is worth. Soto supposedly turned down a massive deal from the Nats before he was traded. I would say try but don’t be surprised if Endy and his agent turn such a deal down.

john.benedict

July 2, 2018

Mets gave Endy $10,000 signing bonus for inking
He had 4 HR’s when he arrived 2 yrs ago
now he should be in the BIGs
Thats strong developing

Also people start to take notice when in your firrst two yearsa

Player of the year 2 times
2 post season mvp
2 all star team etc

KID just wants to win, happens evertywhere he goes
He was blocked while in the Met org,
Pirates believed in him and he knows that

redwards60

The log jam exists because the Pirates continually pursue sub par tried and failed veterans over their own prospects. Vasquez and Choi are just the latest. The fact that the Pirates already state that Endy Rodriquez will not make their major league roster this Spring is complete lunacy and incompetence …. especially given their catching situation.Good thing for Julio Rodriquez the Mariners weren’t that foolish last year. Sorry Tim, nothing has changed with the Pirates…more of the same. I am still waiting for them to sign a real free agent.

Last edited 1 month ago by redwards60
Wilbur Miller

Funny, Stumpf did a podcast featuring a discussion of Dumbo’s comment on Endy and Davis going to the minors. Davis, sure, but having the decision already made on Endy shows they just don’t care what happens on the field. Dumbo probably has his pitching changes for May already scheduled.
And contrary to popular belief, the top talents don’t need whole years at every level. They often just rocket to the majors. The one-level-a-year thing is for the borderline guys. But, oh yeah, there’s service time and Bob’s wallet to worry about.

robertkasperski

I would be upset if Endy had more than 38 games under his belt at AA & AAA combined. Since he doesn’t I don’t see a problem with him starting in the minors.

Wilbur Miller

Yeah, it’d be a disaster. Just like Alejandro Kirk.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wilbur Miller
robertkasperski

Can you guarantee that he would be just like Kirk? If you can, yes let him play.

Wilbur Miller

Can you guarantee that he won’t? Are all the teams that have brought guys up after little time in AA and AAA — it’s a long list — idiots because they had no guarantees that it’d work? Or did they just make sound, individualized decisions, which the Pirates evidently aren’t willing to do?

robertkasperski

There are a lot of guys that flamed out too. Not really arguing with you. Just saying that it would not hack me off if Endy spends a month or two in AAA this coming season.

Wilbur Miller

It wouldn’t bug me if he spends time in AAA, it’d bug me if they gave no consideration to him making the team, which is what Shelton is plainly implying. That’s the point here.

robertkasperski

I dunno. They never made it known that Cruz was going to go down to start the season, in essence giving him consideration and that turned into a fiasco. If he knows that the the plan is to start in AAA and if he continues to do what he has been doing and then be brought up after a month or two, then I have no issues. To be better than to give consideration per se and send him down and he thinks he did enough and has a month of regression as a result than letting him know what the club plans..

Wilbur Miller

I’d rather they make baseball decisions than psychiatry decisions.
And they only pretended to consider Cruz. He got a whopping 15 ABs, put up an OPS of 1.066, and got sent down. The problem wasn’t that they weren’t honest about the plan. The problem was that the plan was never based on baseball, which is exactly what they’re doing with Endy. You can expect players to understand baseball decisions. Cost-cutting decisions masquerading as baseball decisions, not so much.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wilbur Miller
robertkasperski

At least they are somewhat honest this time. Again, I am not really arguing whether or not it is the right decision on Endy. I have not gotten to see him play, No idea of how he looks on a daily basis. Get to see highlights here which is great but not getting to see how he looks when he does not make the great play or does not crush the ball gives me no context. I can’t say what the real baseball decision should be in his case. I am simply saying no matter what they do, I can’t get that worked up about it. Me getting wound up is not gonna change a thing

emjayinTN

You mean guys can get to the majors before age 23 – and that’s a “Pirate 23” where you cannot earn a year of MLB Service. Why?

Well, the Pirates adhere to a theory that players max return years occur between 26 and 28. If you hold them in the minors till their first Service year is at age 24, you can realize all of their prime years and then unload them in their 5th year, when there is only 2 months left of their age 28 season.

BTW, BEN – take a look at what the Mets gave Nimmo and let that be your road map for a contract with Bryan Reynolds

leefieux

This article is why I wasn’t too concerned with losing the pitchers we DID lose in that minor league draft.

skliesen

The key is can Player Development make enough of these arms into good MLB Starting Pitchers, and Relievers? Would it be too much to ask if a couple or more of them become “great” MLB Pitchers?

AdministrativeSky236

A team like the stros makes 1-2 of these guys into at least mid rotation MLB starters with upside, if we become that team thats a huge boon for our future

roberto

It probably would be to much to ask. But don’t worry. Be happy.

emjayinTN

My Rotation at AAA would be Burrows, Ortiz, Priester, Kranick, and Bolton. I am hoping Kranick will be ready to start rehab. Cody Bolton was our No.6 by P2 after 2019, and did well at the alternate site in 2020, but was injured and missed all of 2021. His work in 2022 was a test to see if he was able to come back after missing almost 2 years. IMO, he was out of gas the last few months of 2022, but fought his way through the whole season.

AA is a real crap shoot with Nick Garcia, Jared Jones, Carmen Mlodzinski, Justin Meis, Kyle Nicolas, Aaron Shortridge, guys returning from injuries like Travis MacGregor and Braxton Ashcraft, and then what will show up from Santiago Florez, Valentin Linarez, and Carlos Jimenez.

Not mentioned are guys like Osvaldo Bido, Noe Toribio, JC Flowers and Tahnaj Thomas – will they be SP’s or RP’s?

The Pirates System is absolutely loaded with pitching!

ArkyWags

Loaded? Gimme a break. We’re still trying to make MacGregor and Ashcraft a thing? Every org has guys like that.
If they stopped mucking about with guys trying to make relievers into starters, they may be able to build an organic bullpen. Put guys like Mlod, Bolton, Nicolas, Thomas, etc. in the pen so you can at least get something out of them.

skliesen

I thought Kranick was going to start year on 60-day IL?

Wilbur Miller

He had the TJ last June, so at best he might get back this year for a few rehab games.

emjayinTN

Thank you for that info – 15 months has been normal, so maybe not until Sep.

leefieux

Could be. I lose track after a while.

leefieux

The fact that neither Bolton or Kranick were taken in RuleV says a lot about their potential, no?

SBRO

Kranick was on the 40-man already, so he couldn’t have been taken in R5. I think he certainly would have been selected had he not been protected – guy with major league experience who can be stashed on the IL for most of the season? No brainer.

leefieux

My bad. I could’ve sworn he got DFA’d to clear a spot.

emjayinTN

Not really. He was great in 2019 at A+, but then at the end of the year his 9 starts at AA were not anywhere near how he did at A+. Then ’20 and ’21 nothing and then straight to AAA in 2022.

He was excellent at AAA, but he was coming back from serious knee surgery, and that took a lot out of him. He was tentative in April then in May & June he dropped his OPS against .150 points; his BABIP in April was .370, then .290 in May, .200 in June. Only 1 appearance in July, and pretty much out of gas in Aug and Sep.

I think we will see a much better version of him in 2023. More confidence.

ArkyWags

If your argument is “Bolton was good 3-4 years ago,” it’s not a good argument.

leefieux

Then why didn’t any team take him if he a good 2022 in AAA? Seems like the perfect candidate to be taken.

I think that he is, at best, a AAAA pitcher.

emjayinTN

A 3.09 ERA in 75 AAA IP, 14 Starts, and 16 other appearances where it looked like he was on a pitch count. For comparison sake, Contreras was a 3.15 ERA for the same AAA team – go figure why other teams did not bite.

emjayinTN

Some additional info – At AAA in the International League in 2022, there were 75 pitchers who pitched 70 or more innings – Cody Bolton’s 3.09 ERA is 4th on the list.

Anthony

Personally, I thought Bolton and/or Thomas had a higher probability of being selected over any of our position players.

RAS TN

Yes…every team has a Bolton or Kranick…

RAS TN

Update on Mets penalty tax they are at 76 mil or so…Win now baby…now the only question is will they double up the Pirate’s actual salaries etc…TWT

Cobra

The worst part of the Huntington Legacy is not the Archer trade, and it’s not the failure of player development with Cole/Glasnow/Morton et al.

It’s that he successfully put together a team with duct tape & super glue, good core young talent with inexpensive misfit island free agents who magically revived their careers in Pittsburgh. He showed Nutting you can succeed without ever needing a $100 million payroll , or ever being in the top 20 in spending of any MLB team, or without ever adding a real multi-year impact MLB free agent to your roster. Nutting continues to cling onto this dream to this very day. The current, God-awful structural problems with MLB are of no moment to Bob. Replicating the 2013-15 run in Pittsburgh is actually Cherington’s assignment in Bob’s head.

sewer2001

For luxury tax purposes, NH went over $100M 4 consecutive years. The actual payroll was over $90M those same 4 years. That was 2015 through 2019.

Don’t get me wrong, 100M is still 25% of what the Mets will spend but it was literally what Huntington was allowed to spend, almost exactly. In 2016 pirates spent $ 99,866,170/$116M CB. See this link of year by year:

https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/national-league-central/pittsburgh-pirates/

NH Peaked at $116M for tax purposes. The larger question now is whether BC will be allowed to return to that level when the window opens. I fear he may not based on this off-season. I don’t know how he and his team can look at the talent they have percolating up and not think they might steal a wild card in 2023 if they double their payroll. Maybe they will do it at the deadline if they are winning early. When the time comes, though, if BC doesn’t spend fast and furiously I will become despondent.

It can be done. The Rays and Brewers are doing it. Also, believe it or not, the opening day average MLB payroll was $115M. Only 12 teams were higher than that. In 2023 it will be similar in that a handful of teams are tripling the average and a handful are tanking, but the Blue Jays were at $135M opening day. A star salary above average, yes, but It isn’t necessary to spend $200M to compete.

If BC is allowed to get to the average and the investments in player development work, we can create a player factory like the Rays and compete for real. NH had the right idea. He just failed for whatever reason. The military mindset, the pitching philosophy, whatever it was, they couldn’t create enough MLB players to follow in the Rays footsteps. The talent pipeline wasn’t there. BC will try the same thing. That is the plan.

Will it work? I’m not going to say yes, but it could. BC is frustrating to no end. He seems smart one day and clueless the next. Does he really have a handle on the pipeline?

We can only wait and see, but I think they should have gone for it this year. The extra playoff slots change everything.

Ask yourself if you thought the Rays could exist before they did. I would have said no way. But they do and while the margin for error is slim, the Pirates could do the same. Open the window and keep it open with talent development.

We will see. I will say this, John Baker is the crux. He is brilliant, no doubt. But will he be able to build a training staff just as smart and capable? If so, our odds increase.

Last edited 1 month ago by sewer2001
leefieux

Their payroll is 6 to 7 times higher than ours. This is what is wrong with baseball.

postal911

Mlb dropped the ball by not forcing a hard cap/ hard floor. There is no way teams can legitimately compete with teams that have 3x, 4x etc payroll. Sure once in awhile a low payroll team makes the playoffs(especially now with the extra wildcard) but when they go head to head with the big boys the difference shows. Mlb is killing the fanbases of small market teams.

Cobra

At the end of the 99-day MLB lockout, the owners vote was 30-0. Bob Nutting does not care about parity, competitiveness, the ability to retain players who put on the same uniform worn by Clemente, Stargell & Wagner and — most especially — does not care about us.

If you’re a kid living in concentrated poverty with neither adequate income nor a support system, sure of course you have a chance to succeed and sometimes those kids do. Most do not.

RAS TN

Though the Rays are also looking to add offense and particularly a left-handed hitting first base option…how about that, kinda says it all about Choi and Tampa’s attitude toward him…and yet he is being thought of by Pirate fans as a fine addition…

EightMenOut

His wRC+ has been above 100 for each of the last 5 years, his WAR has been 1 or more for 4 of the last 5 years, and his overall fielding stats are slightly above average, and at 31 there should not be much age decline. So yes, he is a fine addition, not a great addition, but fine. We do need some more-than-fine additions at starting pitching.

Wabbit_Season

8 Men!

I’m not sure you have this right. The difference between “great” and “fine.”

The difference is miniscule but important.

I don’t know how to quite get to this… I think it was Ice Cube in one of the Barbershop films that might have got it best.

And I’m not quite paraphrasing here, but certainly not getting the quote right. It is a bit chauvenistic and so I apologize in advance.

The difference between great and fine is a mathematical equation based on the curvature of a feminine hip. 5 to 3 is great. 5 to 2 is fine.

I sincerely cannot make the translation to baseball players. But I think the difference is “x”… a small, but important factor. I think “fine” is better than “great.”

“Mechanical. … So it’s mechanical!!!”
-Wabbit

Anthony

I mean, the Rays went into the off-season with multiple 1B options, and we had zero. I think we should be evaluating any trade on our needs, not theirs.

RAS TN

OK…if they had those multiple options at 1st base then why are looking to fill the position and they are looking for a lefthanded option…isn’t that what Choi provided them…

I will go out on a limb and say he wasn’t getting the job done for them and they dumped him…

Anthony

You may not like him, but Choi IS a productive player. He makes the Pirates better at the position and that’s all that really matters. They obviously had roster crunch issues. Why are we now speculating on what the Rays need/want?

Last edited 1 month ago by Anthony
roberto

The Rays need was to cut payroll. Their revenue stream is pathetic.

RAS TN

I will refer you to Wander Franco’s contract maybe not so pathetic…

skliesen

Maybe it isn’t a case of TB not thinking Choi is worth the money, but instead a desire to invest more into the position?

I don’t think anyone believes Choi by himself is a difference maker, but he could be a positive addition to the club. Especially if he sees a return of his power after recovering from his elbow surgery this winter.

Anthony

I don’t think the Rays will invest more in 1B unless it’s a trade; they currently have three guys that could play there. In reality, the Rays have about five guys for three IF positions, so it would definitely need to be addition by subtraction for them.

leefieux

Low bar, but he and Santana are an upgrade at DH/1b. At least I hope so.

RAS TN

Anyone was an upgrade…even a so-called prospect that was playing in AAA

leefieux

Don’t forget JVM!

bianco599

Any one have any idea how popular baseball is in Australia? That’s where I would want to play my winter ball as the back up bullpen catcher.

Zack

With the logjam, it feels like the Pirates might be on the verge of having an excellent bullpen. One that has very few 1 inning reliever types. That would be great to see!

roberto

I appreciate your optimism.

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