Our Pirates Winter Report will highlight one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, then give brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week, we feature outfielder Rodolfo Nolasco, who is playing in Colombia.
Our winter league coverage this year was seeing a group of players larger than any year in the past. Then the Pittsburgh Pirates shut down two players, lost three more on waivers, followed by three more losses during the minor league version of the Rule 5 draft, all in the last two weeks. We still have some very interesting follows left, including 21-year-old outfielder Rodolfo Nolasco.
Nolasco was asked by the Pirates to play winter ball in Colombia this year. Based on my research over the years, the league in Colombia is about equal to Low-A baseball. Some guys are better, some are worse, but the average is about Low-A. Nolasco spent the 2022 season with the Bradenton Marauders, playing Low-A baseball.
Nolasco missed time twice this season, limiting him to 77 games. He has a team in the Dominican winter league due to the league’s draft, but there is little chance of a Low-A player seeing time in that league. If he did, it would probably be limited to occasional bench appearances late in games. That wouldn’t do him any good going into 2023.
A month into the season in Colombia, Nolasco has already received 78 plate appearances over 20 games. He has put up decent stats so far, with an average OPS in a league that is seeing a lot off offense. He had a .755 OPS during the regular season, which was 68 points above league average in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. That production doesn’t tell the whole story.
Nolasco’s major issue this season was a huge strikeout rate, with 109 in 321 plate appearances for Bradenton. That’s a 34.0% rate. He has not really improved on that number this winter (32.1%), and those strikeouts could be what holds him back from reaching his peak. He just turned 21 years old at the end of the 2022 season, so youth is on his side, but the strikeouts are trending up as he goes higher in the system.
Nolasco is intriguing because he makes some of the hardest contact in the system. Unfortunately, that’s not going to help if he’s not hitting the ball. This winter experience is just what he needed. He could have been challenged a bit in Australia and possibly Puerto Rico, where the Pirates have working agreements. However, he’s not at the point where he needs more of a challenge.
Nolasco needs to get those strikeouts down while maintaining the hard contact. For him to move up a level, he needs to show a contact rate that won’t lead to worse rates as he continues to move up. He’s already above an acceptable level, even in this day and age of free swingers with no real plate approach. So in this case, Nolasco is exactly where he should be this winter.
Around the World
Oneil Cruz only played once since last week’s winter report. The league was off for four days, and he was out sick another two days. When he did play, he impressed with his second homer.
Rodolfo Castro had a week similar to Cruz. He barely played, but he had one big day early in the week, then another nice day yesterday. His winter has not been the best prior to those two games, with a low average and poor fielding at third base, which is a position he likely won’t play much of in 2023 anyway. His one highlight has been a solid walk rate.
Miguel Andújar has been playing regularly for just over three weeks, and he has put up solid overall results. Going into Friday night, he had a .293/.317/.448 slash line in 14 games.
Yohan Ramirez allowed his first run this week. In eight innings, he has allowed one run on eight hits, one walk and three strikeouts.
Lolo Sanchez debuted two weeks ago, but his only work came as a pinch-runner, and he hasn’t played since.
Enmanuel Mejia was part of the minor league Rule 5 debacle, so he is no longer part of our coverage.
Diego Castillo wrapped up his season over the weekend, which means that nothing went on this past week in Venezuela, because he was the only Pirates player there after Miguel Yajure and Ali Sanchez were lost on waivers. Castillo finished with a .342/.422/.579 slash line in 22 games.
Fabrico Macias and Denny Roman are both around and playing still after surviving the last two weeks. Macias has basically blended in during winter, doing just enough to remain in the lineup on a regular basis, but nothing special. He has a .648 OPS in his first 44 games. Roman has been used in short relief, and he’s been excellent in that role, throwing 6.2 shutout innings over nine appearances.
Jared Oliva was part of the minor league Rule 5 debacle, so he is no longer part of our coverage.
Puerto Rico is seeing strong pitching from Brad Case, Will Kobos, and Jeffrey Passantino. Between them they have allowed four runs in 33.1 innings. Kobos has impressed with 13 strikeouts in 9.2 innings. All three have a WHIP of 1.00 or less.
Tsung-Che Cheng reported this past week, along with Will Matthiessen, who was injured for most of 2022. Cheng has been off to a fast start, while Matthiessen started his first game on Thursday.
The Pirates recently signed Shawn Ross as a minor league free agent. He hit 42 homers and stole 31 bases in 137 games between college and indy ball in 2022. He has struggled badly in Puerto Rico so far, but the league is a huge step in talent (and experience) from anything he’s played before. He lost his starting spot recently due to a .395 OPS and huge strikeout numbers in 22 games.
The Pirates used the minor league draft to bring us 27-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder Josh Palacios. He doesn’t have enough winter league stats to really talk about his performance yet. He started over the weekend, and he has 20 at-bats after Friday night. He’s playing on Mayaguez, where he is teammates with his younger brother Richie Palacios. At some point he will probably get to face one (or more) of the three Pirates pitchers on Gigantes de Carolina.
Sydney has six Pirates players in Sammy Siani, Ernny Ordonez, Jase Bowen, Dylan Shockley, Solomon Maguire and Jesus Castillo. None on them are really standing out. Through Friday’s action, Siani is the only one doing better than league average (.736 OPS) with his .762 OPS. The rest of the players are all in the bottom half of the league leaderboard, though as a spoiler for tomorrow’s article, Ordonez had a nice doubleheader on Saturday that pushed him towards the middle. On the flip side, as a group they are playing strong defense, with a total of four errors over the first 17 games. Bowen hit his first homer on Friday. Maguire has been picking up with the bat in the last few games. Shockley has thrown out five of 12 runners attempting to steal.
The league in Colombia is led so far by the hitting of Andres Alvarez and the aforementioned Rodolfo Nolasco. Alvarez is one of the best hitters in the league and has been since day one. Going into Friday, he was fourth in hitting, second in homers and first in RBIs. He then homered and drove in five runs to grab the lead in both categories. Nolasco got off to a rough start, hit for two weeks, then didn’t do much this past week. Going into Friday, his .837 OPS ranked 19th in the league, which sounds good, except there are only four teams in the league, so he’s average.
On the pitching side, Oliver Mateo continued to rack up strikeouts (19 in 9.1 IP), though his control has been spotty. He’s too advanced for this league, but he needs the extra work after missing most of the 2022 season. Diego Chiquillo and Adrian Florencio have both struggled with control. They are in much different spots, with Chiquillo only having DSL experience, while Florencio had a rough time this year in Greensboro. Francisco Acuna was off to a very rough start, but he has picked things up over the last two weeks. The downside is that he’s going to be suspended for most of the first half of the 2023 season due to a PED violation. This will be the only game action he sees for the better part of a full year, though he will be allowed to play Extended Spring Training games.
Cristian Charle was part of the minor league Rule 5 debacle, so he’s gone from our coverage
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.