BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pittsburgh Pirates will be giving Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez plenty of playing time behind the plate this year.
Rodriguez, the system’s Player of the Year last season, will begin in Triple-A Indianapolis. Other than MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, I don’t think there’s much holding Rodriguez back from the majors.
Davis, the first overall pick in the 2021 draft, will return to Double-A Altoona, where he played 31 games in an injury-shortened season. Davis caught 20 games in Altoona last season, after 13 in Greensboro. He made up for lost time with 14 games behind the plate in the Arizona Fall League.
I wrote in Baseball America last month about all of the things that Davis has learned behind the plate. The Pirates will be giving him about four starts a week behind the plate. Davis will also get time in right field, where he was playing today at Pirate City in a Double-A Spring Training game against the Orioles.
Davis looked good on the field today. His reactions were quick, his instincts were solid, and his arm really plays in the outfield. On one play, Davis made a nice read off the wall on a double. A strong throw to the cutoff man held the runner at second, rather than giving him a chance to advance to third with no outs. The next two at-bats were a fly out and a ground out to the left side. Either one would have scored the runner, who ended up getting stranded at third.
Henry Davis was getting work in right-field in a Double-A game at Pirate City today. He displayed good instincts, including a nice read on a double off the wall, and a strong throw that kept a runner from advancing. That throw ended up preventing a run. pic.twitter.com/ToBzIqCdSM
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsP2) March 29, 2023
The Pirates have a chance to do something special with Davis and Rodriguez. As I wrote at the end of last year, I think Rodriguez is more likely to be the starting catcher in Pittsburgh. He’s already the better defender behind the plate. That doesn’t mean the Pirates need to go with a traditional solo starter.
Rodriguez has worked a lot the last two years at second base, while Davis has had limited time in right. He played two games in Altoona last year, and looked good enough in right field today to be considered a future MLB option there.
The Pirates could get creative and have both players as catchers in the big leagues. Before dreaming about that, Davis will need work behind the plate, which he’s slated to get plenty of in Altoona.
Shim Throws a Side
Jun-Seok Shim threw his first side session today, after signing with the Pirates out of South Korea at the end of January. Shim has been hitting triple-digits and getting a lot of praise for his mid-90s fastball at the age of 18.
While I was talking with Pirates farm director John Baker today, he relayed a popular opinion that has been shared: If Shim was a senior in high school, he’d be a candidate to go first overall in the upcoming draft.
Of course, the Pirates have the first overall pick. They also have Shim. Best of both worlds.
Solometo’s Velocity Increase
Pirates left-handed pitcher Anthony Solometo has been hitting 96 MPH with his fastball in camp, seeing a jump from his low-90s last year.
“We didn’t anticipate it, but that’s been exciting to see him filling up the strike zone,” said Baker of the jump.
Solometo was drafted in the second round of the 2021 draft, as one of the big bonus prep players behind Henry Davis. Making his debut in Bradenton last year, Solometo posted a 2.64 ERA in 47.2 innings, with a 51:19 K/BB ratio.
Greensboro is a very hitter-friendly park, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts a pitcher who has a funky delivery and now increased velocity.
Pirates Pitching Prospects Who Could Take A Big Step Forward In 2023
Carmen Mlodzinski Embraces Bullpen Role
Carmen Mlodzinski is making the move to the bullpen this year, and has looked good in the process.
“I’m really proud of Carmen Mlodzinski,” said Baker. “Moving to a bullpen role and really embracing who he is as a pitcher. He did a lot of work on his own, came back this year, looked great, had a great showing in Major League Spring Training.”
During his time in MLB camp, the 31st overall pick in the 2020 draft had a 2.84 ERA in six appearances, striking out six and walking four. Mlodzinski will go to Indianapolis, where a strong performance will put him a phone call away from the majors.
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.
Saw Endy play some first base during the spring, and he looked very confident and smooth over there. He might be their best first base prospect as well as best catcher. Just get these guys to the majors ASAP.
FYI i was just checking Spring Training results:
#2 OPS of qualified ST MLB batters – Blake Sabol (1.105 OPS!)
Austin Hedges: .297 OPS
Jason Delay: .536 OPS
N Gonzalez: .962 (pounding the table for some respek)
Smith Njigba: .990
Anyone else find it weird that Shelton’s comments about Swaggerty:
“Shelton reasoned that since Swaggerty has missed nearly two full seasons (2020 due to COVID-19 and most of ’21 due to injury), the club’s No. 22 prospect per MLB Pipeline needed consistent at-bats to start the season — and to keep his bat hot — that just weren’t available with Pittsburgh right now.”
Makes no sense when comparing to Canaan as he was done for the year after early July. Just strange
CSN played a full season in 2021, Swags hadn’t played but 10 games in 30 months, also he did beat Swags to the BIGS last year as Swags had rough first 25 games slowed by injury and being away from the game. I’m OK with it you should be too, they need CSN to be the real POWER deal. Was not happy about Swags either, big fan, they both should be there and will soon. Its hard to stomach Conner Joe blocking prospects,
We are betting he returns to 2021 form, but for a team supposedly rebuilding, why put roadblocks in front of young, talented players? Joe is the type of player a team with an outside chance to make the playoffs signs to help with AB’s off the bench. And give away a 2020 3rd Round SP to get him?
Very little that Shelton days makes much sense. He’s a company man who does and says what he’s told, which is the primary reason he still has the job.
Might be an indication despite the speculation of many they really do think a lot of Swaggerty.
We just observed a natural experiment last year with a historic number of Top 100 prospects making big league rosters on Opening Day, and that strategy resulted in a massive rate of failure. Only the Mariners and Astros enjoyed any benefit substantial benefit, one with arguably the very best prospect in the game and the other with a 24 yo carrying significant AAA experience.
Six players have been given long term extensions prior to accruing any big league service time in order to be rostered on Opening Day, their clubs lauded each time for the act. Except it turns out that almost every one of them sucks. Only Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert have been productive at all, and they were extended after destroying AAA the season prior to their promotions.
The Pirates themselves just rostered two prospects on Opening Day with little AAA experience, and both of them completely altered who they were as hitters while getting their teeth kicked in by big league pitchers. Neither have shown an ability to bounce back once demoted to AAA.
Might Endy Rodriguez be a historically successful prospect and immediately transition successfully to the show without any AAA experience at the position which typically requires the longest development time? Absolutely!
Do I know for a provable fact that he needs AAA dev time? No!
But the absolute veracity with which some people willfully ignore overwhelming, banal justifications for his developmental path in favor of conspiracy theory is just so incredibly bizarre to me.
I wonder if this steep adjustment curve holds true more for rookie hitters than pitchers. Given how hard it is to hit these days, I would think that rookie arms have an easier adjustment period, but I’m not certain.
Even uber hitting prospects like Vlad and FT Jr had well over 400 plate appearances in AA, AAA or both. Looking at prospect lists from five years ago, guys like Tucker and Bichette had close to 1,000! Endy has barely 150.
I get that everyone wants him up here because hey, we all want to see our best prospects up and successful. But it’s not about quickest to the majors. And as you pointed out, the recent track record of guys who are fast tracked is spotty. At best.
That’s exactly my intuition as well, also that pitchers have an easier time adjusting on the fly.
As long as the game is based on the most difficult act in all of sports – hitting a round ball with a round bat and avoiding capture by nine defenders – pitchers will always have the first leg up.
Could the Pirates only be a few phone calls away from respectability? And even more important, a chance to compete?
Hey Tim! Great coverage, glad you’re dahn there & soaking up the sun
Thanks! It was great seeing some baseball yesterday.
I like Baker – I hope one day he takes over
The concept of having nearly every game caught by legitimately good players is really really appealing.
you can probably catch Endy 60 percent of the time, play him at 1b/2b/rf another 25 pct, and sit him 15 pct
you can probably catch Davis 40 pct, and 1b/DH/RF 50 pct, sit 10 pct.
obviously injuries will happen and you can bump up either player to normal starter loads at C if need be.
here’s hoping for some nice progression by both.
Solo will be a top 3 LHP prospect in the league by the end of this year
Hope so, but my question is: Where is his FB sitting? Hitting 96 is nice, but if he’s still sitting 91-92 is not much of a bump.
I’ve said this before, but yes, hitting 96 is a HUUUUUGE bump for Solo. I didn’t look through every single start, but I didn’t see even a 94 mph fastball from the dude in the savant data I looked at. A three mph improvement to max FB velo would be absolutely tremendous. And looking at the board on fangraphs, you can see him listed as sitting 88-92 and bumping 94. So yeah, both sitting 91-92 and bumping 96 would be seriously huge improvements. Personally, I’d wait for legit reports of him doing that before getting excited, but if it’s true it is a huge, huge deal.
I like the sounds of that
“The Pirates could get creative and have both players as catchers in the big leagues”
Tim you’re right this is exciting to think about. Catcher is an automatic out for the bulk of major league lineups, obviously including ours right now – it’s almost like the new national league pitcher slot. The idea of a solid backstop bat in the lineup every day (Even sundays!) is something fun to cross fingers for
I’m not sure Pirate fans have ever experienced a bottomless lineup / except maybe when Rick Rhoden , don Robinson were in the lineup
and Ken Brett
This basically frees up a roster spot.
Two starters who’s primary position is C, but can also play 1B, 2B, RF and DH between them? I’m not sure I ever remember a team having two guys like that…
Years ago I thought the Pirates should have done this with Jason Kendall and Craig Wilson. Kendall basically played every day and once in the lineup was not coming out for pinch hitter/runner. The only detriment was when Wilson started (regularly against lefties but was not a straight platoon) he could not come out of the game. That seemed like a reasonable risk to free up a roster spot (Keith Osik). Of course Wilson was not considered a good defensive catcher, but he would have likely started 30 games max.
It would be awesome if this could be done with these two with hopefully less of a defensive drop off. I prefer they DH on their non-catching days but their ability to play elsewhere is a bonus.
Thank you Tim
It’s always great to read your work.
Re “While I was talking with Pirates farm director John Baker today, he relayed a popular opinion that has been shared: If Shim was a senior in high school, he’d be a candidate to go first overall in the upcoming draft.”
That’s pretty impressive
Does that imply the LSU players (Crews and Skenes) are not the generational talents?
Here’s a Shim video that might have been shared earlier
I took it as Shim is a guy who would be in the conversation.
Aka, John Dreker would have a draft profile on him, and Pirates fans would be debating in every article whether it should be him or Crews or someone else for the pick.
john baker is a cheerleader and we can’t take anything he says at face value.
i am sure that he’s good at his job, but *of course* he’s going to be pimping his own players with his public comments.
“candidate” doin a loooooot of work in this quote, lol
I’ve yet to hear anywhere that Crews, Skenes or anybody else is considered generational. I hear excitement (like every year) over the top talents but no comparisons to Harper/Strasburg.
Something I’ve been thinking about with college play this year is how much can we trust results. There are polls and stats that show the popularity and participation in baseball in the US is dropping off, so you would have to assume that is affecting college play, especially when the best high school players don’t make it to college most of the time.
I don’t watch much college ball (besides highlight videos), but I noticed that the play I’ve seen from major schools reminds me a lot of the same play you see in the GCL/FCL for inexperienced players. I don’t remember so many players looking so bad. LSU is a powerhouse, Skenes, Crews and other players on their team are legit draft prospects, but I’m wondering how much of what they do is just because of how much the play in college ball has dropped off.
I also haven’t heard anyone say they are future superstars like you heard with Harper/Strasburg/Cole, but the stats they are putting up sure make people want to believe that.
I’ve played in & watched a good bit of college baseball. I can tell you without a doubt, College players now are better than ever before, the floor has risen considerably. There’s more training & year round baseball than ever before these guys get into college baseball. There’s finally technology readily available that is being used to increase strength & mechanics, where as 10 – 15 years ago it was all results based. You won’t see any SEC games with guys throwing in the 80’s. LSU’s 3rd & 4th pitchers are sitting mid 90’s.
Without a doubt.
The quality of coaching today vs even ten years ago is extremely difficult to comprehend unless you’re a real college baseball nut. That’s the differentiator for me. Big league clubs are now poaching college coaches instead of fearing them. There seems to be less and less incentive – IMO – to skipping college when you can get nearly the same quality of development at major programs.
This is specific to this year, but I’d add that the college class this year is especially good because these are the college juniors who were largely pushed to school because of the five round 2020 draft. Lots of guys likely would have been drafted and signed by MLB teams if that was a normal draft.
The level of competition should also be higher in college than in recent years as there are a number of guys using the COVID year playing as 5th year (or 6th if they had a red-shirt season) seniors. Those guys aren’t your high-end draft prospects, but they add depth to teams.
Great point, forgot about that
How Bubba and Solometo, and to a lesser extent, the other SP’s from Bradenton last year, handle Greensboro is definitely one of the stories to watch this season.
Mlodzinski and Bolton will both be high leverage arms in Pittsburgh later this summer. And both will be better than anyone not named Bednar, too.
As for Tank, just focus on crushing baseballs and there will be a place for you in the lineup. Guaranteed! Bats always play.
PS – it’s a bit disingenuous to say MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement is only thing holding back Endy. Cards and Yanks aren’t letting the CBA hold them back from starting Walker and Volpe on OD.
Why do you think Endy is in Triple-A?
Because there isn’t a single logical baseball justification for starting him in the show.
The probability of him providing a substantial benefit to the big club from Day 1 are infinitesimally small, and there is absolutely zero evidence that skipping AAA has any developmental benefit.
I swear these guys want Francisco Mejia and not the fully baked version.
Even if I go out on a limb and say Endy in his rookie year (total best case scenario) was a 4 WAR player and we would lose 2 WAR (once again an extreme stretch) by him staying in the minors for 2.5 months, that would increase the Pirates from what, 74 wins to 76 AND we lose a year of control? Let him pick up where he left off and he will be here soon enough.
The real test for the Pirates is when a scenario (maybe something more likely using my WAR example) plays out where 1 or 2 wins could make a playoff or division winner difference.
Along with the obvious spending abilities of the Cardinals and Yankees, they are both clearly pennant contenders and if they feel Volpe and Walker (and as documented they have much more above A+ experience than Endy) can provide them even 1 WAR more than the alternative, that may be worth the loss of a year of control. I look forward to the day when that is the core of our debate.
Because Pirates are risk adverse to a fault.
It’s all good. It didn’t look right as I was looking at it, but I figured the message I was trying to send was clear enough.
Endy had only 140 AB above A+. The two guys everybody is seizing on – Walker and Volpe have well over 400 AB above A+, regardless of their ages. Endy will turn 23 in late May – there’s always the possibility he could be up before he turns 23 depending upon Hedges and Delay.
My opinion is get him all of the reps he can get at AAA in April and May and then bring him up in early June to parlay with Hedges at C and get some valuable one-on-one time with Hedges. Hedges could be gone by the trading deadline, or he will become the backup to Rodriguez for the remainder of the season. Batting 9th, Hedges could be limited to two or less AB’s/game.
Instead of concern with why Endy is at AAA, how about some input as to whether the Pirates are going to try to sign Oneil Cruz early in 2023, and hopefully be able to secure at least one year of FA. They could wait to see how he starts the season, but waiting could eliminate any chance of getting an extra year. If Roansy works out, he could also be a possibility.
How much time did Zelinski put in AAA?
The Cards and Yanks also have the revenue streams to deal with losing a year of control, as well as paying the millions of dollars extra in arbitration awards that are likely to result from the ensuing super 2 status.
The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t guarantee a draft pick if your player comes in high in ROY it only provides a chance. And it doesn’t guarantee your player will get a year of service time in only gives the player a chance. And it still is the thing that grants super 2 status. So yea, the cardinals and Yankees willingness to take the chance doesn’t mean the CBA isn’t why Endy is down. This is the pirates and that’s why he is down.
Pirates are risk adverse. And that’s reflected the most in Owners willingness to open his wallet. This isn’t disputable.
Man I love your populist turn but I can’t get over this as your hill to die on!
It is almost safe for us to think the Pirates will pursue a true “rebuild” year in 2023. The Veterans on the club are all “contributors” – Reynolds, ”Cutch, Choi, Santana, Hedges, Hill, Keller, BRU, Bednar, DUJ, etc.
Good chance we have 5 starting position players with less than a year (.172 days) of MLB Service with Castro .127 MLB, Suwinski .118 MLB, CSN .115 MLB, Cruz .110 MLB, and Bae .013 MLB. Everything goes well, and Endy Rodriguez and Travis Swaggerty will join the team before the trading deadline.
The pitching side is not that young, but we still have Youth in SP’s Oviedo 1.079 MLB, Contreras .112 MLB, and Ortiz .019 MLB and RP’s YDLS .136 MLB, Holderman .130 MLB, Moreta .120 MLB, Zastryzny .118 MLB, and Hernandez .000 MLB.
It’s odd but I don’t recall people being concerned about the Greensboro stadium when they were a Marlins franchise
Luis Castillo and others were fine there
Of course those teams were usually pretty bad
I first visited the Greensboro park two years ago and there was a large new apartment complex that had gone up beyond the OF wall and I wonder if that changed the hitting environment. Does anyone have park factors from 4-5 years ago? It’s a poor substitution for park factors, but the runs scored and allowed by Greensboro did seem to increase a few years ago. But that coincides with Greensboro moving to A+ and with the franchise changing affiliations.
The apartments and hotel are rather new
However, I believe the apartments were there in the Mike Stanton / Marlins days
Hotel and some of the stuff on the RF-side is more recent
Bro Greensboro was known throughout the prospect community as a bandbox.
I do recall that was still how people discussed the stadium in Greensboro and that stop was Castillo’s highest ERA in the minors.