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Pirates Discussion: The Pirates on the Top 100 Prospect Lists

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Every Friday, we’ve been running a Pirates Discussion, aimed at giving a nod to our comment section. The Discussion has been led by Jeff Reed, aka Bucs’N’Pucks in the comment section.

I wanted to change the format for this article a bit, to have more of an actual discussion. We tried something new this week, where Jeff would be joined by a writer from the site, and a member of the comments.

After the Baseball America top 100 rankings came out, we had a discussion about the Pirates’ representation on the list. This discussion came before any other prospect lists were released, although a lot of ground was covered.

Joining the discussion this week is Anthony Murphy from the site and NMR from the comment section.

Tim Williams: Baseball America released their top 100 prospects. The Pirates had four players listed, with Endy Rodriguez ranked highest at 23rd overall. I felt like it was bold to say Endy was the top prospect back in August, but now it seems everyone is on board. What are your thoughts on Endy as the number one prospect?

Jeff Reed: I believe Endy Rodriguez being ranked as the Pittsburgh Pirates number one prospect is completely warranted. Going into his first year of full-season baseball in 2021 – which was also his first as a Pirate – Endy had shown quite a bit of potential, but was considered very raw. Through his year at Bradenton, he was able to put his raw tools on display that piqued a lot of evaluators and fans’ interest. His finished the season with an .892 OPS, in a league that has long been considered pitcher friendly. Then came 2022 where he started in Greensboro, he put his foot on the gas, and never let up throughout the entirety of the season while climbing all the way to Triple-A by season’s end. While displaying a set of tools that showed he could be an asset on both sides of the ball.

NMR: First off, hat tip to Tim for leading with Endy as both top catcher in the system and top prospect overall. Endy along with Luis Ortiz are huge developmental wins from the org this year. Endy’s ascension to the top spot speaks a lot about contemporary prospecting; he’ll never be considered a toolshed and did not carry much of a pedigree accordingly. He followed the old school path of earning it every step of the way and has developed into a guy whose full package outpaces the sum of his parts. Where Oneil will send a ball to Blawnox when he connects, Endy’s hit tool is his path to big league power. Smoke AA like he did, at his age, and the national outlets are happy to shove him up the list.

Anthony Murphy: I love Endy getting the attention as the top prospect in the system, and it’s really a two fold reason why.

First, the website was really the first one to throw that idea out there, and now national outlets are picking up on it.

Second, it’s a big win for the developmental side of things for the organization. The leap Endy has made in his time in the system is amazing, and is a big win for the front office.

Seeing his climb up the ladder was one of the best stories in all the minors and it’s good to see him get the recognition he deserves.

Jeff: I think NMR brings up a good point of Endy not being the customary “toolshed” type of prospect. He carries some of the other scout favorite terms to use such as “athletic” and shows “moxie”. His athletic ability has allowed him to grow his all around game

Both Anthony and NMR mention it being a win for the organization, along with Luis Ortiz, and I think this will help with future perception of the farm system. With giving examples of developing even lesser thought of prospects into potential above average players. Jack Suwinski is another that could be chosen as a strong example of identifying, acquiring, and developing. Of note, Luis Ortiz was signed under Neil Huntington, but aside from one year in short season ball, he was largely developed under Ben Cherington and John Baker.

NMR: One last thought on organizational intent, Endy looks to be the first of the “target hit tool, develop power” style popularized by the Altuve’s and Ramirez’s and Lindor’s of the baseball world. Good company!

Tim: One of the hardest things to qualify in scouting is the impact of the person. I tried to highlight the mind of Endy Rodriguez in that article, along with other intangibles like work ethic and his relationship with teammates. Luis Ortiz seems to have those same intangibles from my limited view. He obviously got everyone on board with his stuff at the end of the year. Are you guys surprised that he jumped over Quinn Priester in the rankings?

NMR: Surprised, no. Rankings love stuff plus performance, and Ortiz has the best stuff in the system backed by an upper level heater to end the year. The fastball-slider combo you saw to end the year smokes the same pairing from Jared Jones, and Ortiz has a sleeper change that according to Baseball Savant shows average movement plus 8 MPH of fastball separation. That’ll play!

I’ll take this chance to pump up Priester, though. He came with the Mitch Keller package, a fastball that lacks shape to miss bats and a big, beautiful curve that modern hitters can somehow smoke. He was set up to struggle with his transition to the show, except has already kickstarted his maturation by diversifying his arsenal to sinkers and sliders. Won’t wow crowds on stuff and strikeouts anymore, but still looks like a solid starter.

Jeff: I’m surprised, but at the same time I’m not. It’s a testament to the development of Luis Ortiz, but I believe it’s also an example of how the game is ever changing. Of how scouting and analyzing is ever changing, more than it has to do with Quinn Priester’s performance.

Pitching alone has seen a vast shift in the qualities sought after by scouts. At one point analysts loved pitchers with heavy fastballs and an ability to pitch on a downward plane. Next it was high velocity and ability to move it around the zone, as all other pitches worked off the fastball. With pitchers focusing more than ever on breaking and off speed pitches, evaluators have begun to turn their attention to the shape of the fastball. How the other pitches move in comparison to the fastball for deception through tunneling.

It isn’t so much that Quinn is less thought of now, as it is that Ortiz has displayed an arsenal that better represents future success.

Anthony: I’m a little surprised by Ortiz jumping Quinn, but I can see why from a certain perspective that it did happen. Priester doesn’t seem like the kind of pitcher that’s going to light up the score sheets with his strikeout numbers, but he will always find a way to get outs. In the end that’s all that matters but I can see the concern if a pitcher struggles to get minor league hitters to swing and miss.

I really liked Jeff’s point of how people have changed the way they evaluate prospects and maybe in years prior this wouldn’t even be a discussion. With the way the game has evolved, I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise that they are so high on Ortiz now.

Jeff: Aside from Quinn Priester, we see how within only one professional season, evaluators have softened on Jack Leiter due to the shape of his fastball and whether it will see future success.

Tim: I’ve got Priester ahead of Ortiz, but I can see the argument for Ortiz as the top pitching prospect in the system. I don’t think BA has much of a difference between them. The good thing is the Pirates don’t have to choose. I could see both in Pittsburgh in 2023.

I am going to make you guys choose: Who is your top pitching prospect in the system? Ortiz? Priester? Someone else?

Jeff: For me personally, I still have Quinn Priester above Luis Ortiz. I actually still have Michael Burrows above Ortiz. I love the development of Ortiz, but I believe there’s still high reliever risk with him, even if it’s as a potential shutdown closer. The climb for Luis is heavily influenced by recency bias and his MLB showcase, but to me, Priester and Burrows both have shown signs and track records that they should have mid-rotation potential with higher floors of backend rotation types.

NMR: The top pitching prospect for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates is the first pick in the MLB Draft. Okay, that’s about as spicy as I can rev up the take machine up on this one.

There just seems to be perfectly rational arguments for any one of Ortiz, Priester, and Burrows. I will however strongly contend that much of what seems held against Ortiz stems from either bias or flat-out misses on the pre-2022 scouting front. We’ve fetishized age in prospecting to the point that a slightly older sign like him can largely fly under the radar with a tantalizing package of tools that would have evaluators fawning over a seven-figure bonus baby. He belongs.

Bubba Candler could make these answers look silly in just a few short months but going as far as to say he’s the best at the moment perpetrates the bias I just identified, and lord knows I’d never be a hypocrite. The club has a real chance to nab a true top of rotation starter at 1.1 in this year’s draft, and that elite arm would be the cherry on top of a nice bunch of 2-3 WAR starters making their way to the show. (Quick note of thanks to Tim and the gang for inviting me, and to all my fellow readers for putting up me with.)

Anthony: I still have Priester as the top pitching prospect in the system, although I did slightly debate possibly having Solometo there but want to see if he can get any sort of velocity bump first. Until then I’m going with Priester just because of the combination of ceiling/floor. Don’t think Ortiz ends up much more than a middle of the rotation guy, probably same as Priester but the difference is his floor is much lower as a reliever. Why I would probably have Burrows over Ortiz as well.

NMR brought up a great thing about the age, and that could slightly play a factor into Priester slipping as well. He’s been around longer and recency bias from the outlets want to pump up the new kids from the drafts and who broke out this year, ignoring Priester’s consistent performance moving up the ladder. What it comes down to, Priester is the best guarantee to be a consistent pitcher in the majors right now, and that’s all you really want in the end.

Jeff: NMR mentions a good point about age as a factor. It just goes to show development isn’t linear. Brett Baty got knocked for being an old high school senior, while Travis Swaggerty got boosted for being a young college junior.

Tim: Endy Rodriguez, Termarr Johnson, Henry Davis, and Luis Ortiz made the BA top 100 list. I expect Priester to make a few lists. Is there anyone else in this system who you see as top 100 prospects? (Note: This question was asked and answered before any other lists were released.)

Anthony: This one is interesting, as I feel like there could be two parts in answering this question. Right now, Mike Burrows, Nick Gonzales, and Liover Peguero all made cases to be Top 100 prospects, or have been before. Burrows struggled a bit in Triple-A but missed time with an injury that could have been impacting his play. Peguero struggled in Double-A but is still young enough to bounce back.

Gonzales would probably be the next name that would/should be in consideration for a Top 100 spot. I do think the strength in the system right now is the upside a lot of players have, and if some of them hit the field running this year they could have three more names immediately in the picture, but for now, just Gonzales.

NMR: I won’t claim to know the other 29 systems enough to make comparative arguments, so let’s say for argument sake that “Top 100 prospect” equates to a grade-50 future value. The prospecting pros seem to generally equate a grade-50 prospect with a big league average, 2 WAR player. So do I see any other 2 WAR players in the system?

Quinn Priester, absolutely. Mike Burrows would not surprise me a bit, while general pitcher risk stops me short of buying in fully. Liover needs to earn it, way too much risk coming to fruition right now. The other contender, Nick Gonzales, is in the danger zone for me. His struggles as a pro align directly with the greatest areas of known risk as a prospect, which were quality of competition and hitting environment. His swing profile also aligns with some significant recent busts, with close comps of Keston Hiura and Carter Keiboom both ascending to greater prospect heights before massively struggling against big league stuff. Scouts just might not have the correct read on how this swing plays in the show, as it seems they’ve been wrong more than right about these guys with tight loop, lifting and pull swings parlaying to plus hit tools. Bubba’s my pick to show up on the midseason updates, but patience for now.

Jeff: That one feels a little tough to answer. My short answer, I think a case could be made for Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Nick Gonzales, and even Bubba Chandler to a degree (who was on Baseball America’s list of poised to make the Top 100). I think Liover Peguero falling off makes sense. This ties back to something I’ve mentioned a few times in the comment threads: that the Pirates have a collection of interesting prospects that didn’t exceed expectations, but also didn’t necessarily fall short of them. It’s a collection of prospects that could be considered for the backend of lists, where it mostly will come down to evaluator’s personal preference. I believe come the mid-season updates, we will likely see a much better perception of the Pirates farm system, and could see a handful of prospects like Bubba Candler and even Anthony Solometo.

Tim: I’m going to close out with a question for our guest, and a thanks to NMR for joining us! Termarr Johnson and Henry Davis made the list. What are your thoughts on where the two recent first rounders fit into this team long-term?

NMR: I couldn’t muster a negative word about Termarr if I had to; Anthony has put together the best video on him yet, and my goodness is he fun to watch hit. His loose, fluid swing is flat-out fun to watch and you old school types will love seeing him sting balls in every part of the zone to every part of the field. While he’s your no-doubt second baseman of the future, the club has made an interesting policy decision with Oneil Cruz.

If Cruz is considered in their eyes a viable shortstop, there’s absolutely zero reason to relegate players like Johnson off the position in the future. I’ll leave whether that’s a good or bad thing to your own opinion. Hank Davis has lost some sizzle, as the pro game has shown his defensive chops to be short of what were hoped for and injuries have kept him from the reps needed in long catcher development paths. With that said there’s still a goldilocks development track where he ends up as the guy the Cubs thought they were getting with Kyle Schwarber, a 30-homer slugger who can cover time behind the plate and on the grass.

Jeff: This was a lot of fun. Thanks to Anthony and NMR for joining us for this discussion. Then thanks to Tim for moderating. I really look forward to seeing where the farm system is at by mid-season.

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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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