With the addition of Jarlín García, the Pirates have upped the number of left-handed pitchers on their 40-man roster to . . . one.
Lefties have been a rare commodity on the Pirates for years, rare enough that you can’t help wondering why. Especially with PNC Park, which cries out for lefties. Of course, when you think about it, the situation isn’t that mysterious. The Pirates have been short on pitchers of all sorts for years. Also hitters. And fielders. And baserunners. So it’s not that puzzling.
Still, the lower levels of the system should have quite a few lefties in 2023. These guys are nearly all unproven, so we’re mainly talking about numbers, and it’s hard to say in most cases how a pitcher may move forward. Just one statistical indicator: I was glancing at the FCL team stats from 2022 and noticed that there were three teams, based on walks and WPs, whose staffs were noticeably wilder than the rest. Those were the Pirates, Orioles and Tigers. Sure enough, the Pirates had the league’s youngest pitchers at 19.8 years, weighted average. The O’s were second-youngest at 20.3. League average was 21.0. (Considering the low level, where pretty much everybody is at the exact same stage of their careers, the gap between the Pirates and both the league and the second-youngest team was large.) The Tigers were barely under league average, so maybe they just sucked, but overall it seems unlikely to be a coincidence. At such young ages, a year or so matters.
Anyway . . .
Anthony Solometo is the obvious headliner here. He has the best chance of anybody in the system at giving the Pirates a legitimate left-handed starter. He dominated much of the time at Bradenton this year. What trouble he had was generally command, which for a prep draftee making his pro debut is hardly concerning. He even made progress in holding runners, which with his delivery is impressive.
The other starting possibility here would be Luis Peralta, although the Pirates could very well decide he needs to return to Bradenton. He gets as much swing and miss as anybody in the system, but his ability to find the plate is so fleeting that the single-inning pitch limit is a concern nearly every inning.
The Hoppers could have a couple of longshot relief types — it’s easy to dismiss guys like this until you see how quickly Nick Dombkowski moved up through the system. Jake Sweeney is a 6’7″ JC draftee, taken back in 2019. It took him until 2022 to get out of the FCL, but he got on a very good run around mid-season until an injury interrupted.
Mitchell Miller is a 6’5″ reliever who signed this year out of indy ball. He pitched very well at three levels. That included Greensboro, so I suppose the Pirates could send him to Altoona. Miller was very tough on left-handed hitters, which is still a thing despite the three-batter minimum.
This is where the possibility of left-handed depth will probably live or die. There could be a bunch of pitchers there from the 2022 draft, most of whom haven’t pitched for the Pirates yet. Some of them could impress the Pirates enough in Spring Training that they head to Greensboro; naturally, that’s what we should hope for. Of course, some could end up in the FCL.
One draftee did pitch for Bradenton this year: 8th rounder Cy Nielson. That didn’t go well. He gave up seven hits and eight walks in 7.2 IP. A pitcher from a four-year university shouldn’t have so much trouble at that level.
A couple others, probably the most likely college lefties from that draft to become starting prospects, may not pitch for a while longer.
Hunter Barco, a 6’4″ lefty who was the 46th overall pick, throws from about the same angle as Solometo, although his motion isn’t as wild. He put up impressive numbers in college, but he had Tommy John surgery in May, so we won’t see him until late this year at best.
Julian Bosnic missed the 2022 college season due to a flexor strain that led to surgery in April. It’s probably why he lasted until round 14. Before he got hurt, he got a lot of whiffs with four pitches. I don’t know the timetable, but hopefully he’ll be available early in the season.
Two other draftees are also unknown quantities at this point. Eleventh-rounder Dominic Perachi and 13th-rounder Miguel Fulgencio certainly look interesting, but that doesn’t always translate to pro ball. Perachi, who hails from Australia, went to Salve Regina University, which sounds like a seminary. He throws two different, high-spin curves, which seems promising, and was a starter as a junior. Fulgencio was a closer in JC ball and missed a lot of bats with a mid-90s fastball and a slider.
One other lefty I want to mention here is Yojeiry Osoria. He signed for $600K in 2019, which is a big bonus for a Dominican pitcher. Osoria pitched for the second time in the DSL last year and, obviously, also missed the plague year. Given how long it’s been since he signed, I’m guessing the Pirates might look at him for Bradenton in 2023, although that’s probably a bit of a longshot. It’d help if he’d throw some strikes, as he walked about a batter an inning in 2022. He also fanned 15.6 per nine innings, so the stuff is there. Osoria missed a lot of time in 2022, working only 12.2 IP, so that’s another reason he might need to go to the FCL.
It’s all crapshoot at this level. At least the numbers are there; by my count there could be around ten lefties with this team.
The one definite prospect here could be Michael Kennedy, a prep lefty whom the Pirates drafted in the fourth round and paid a bonus that was almost double the slot. Kennedy is what used to be called a “pitchability” lefty. He doesn’t have great velocity or a lot of projection, but he has a good slider and advanced command. That could get him moved up to Bradenton a month or two into the season, skipping the FCL. The Pirates did that with Solometo, whom they considered very advanced.
Beyond Kennedy, the FCL team could have a bunch of lottery tickets. The most recognizable would be Inmer Lobo, whom the Pirates acquired for Hoy Park. Lobo had very impressive numbers in the DSL in 2022, but his stuff, to the extent we have any reports, seems very ordinary, so it’s not clear how much of a prospect Lobo might be.
To the extent any of the other lefties stick out, it may be Hader Blanco, Isaias Uribe, and Angel Camacho. Blanco is a smaller, finesse lefty who signed out of Colombia. He got pretty good results in the DSL this year despite control problems. Uribe at last report was reaching 93 mph and had very good numbers in the DSL this year, which was his second season in the league. Camacho, who’s from Mexico, pitched in the independent Pioneer League in 2021 and probably would have been in the FCL this year, but he was hurt and missed the season.
Other lefties who could be in the FCL are Yoldin De La Paz, Yoerys Gonzalez, Luis C. Gonzalez, Victor Cabreja, and Diego Chiquillo. The last four all had some degree of success in the DSL this year. De La Paz had a very good season there in 2021, but he got hurt after throwing only two innings in the FCL this year.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.