The 2023 minor league season fully kicks off this weekend. To get you prepared to follow the prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, we’ve put together previews for every level.
Pirates 2023 Minor League Previews
Triple-A: Indianapolis Indians
Double-A: Altoona Curve
High-A: Greensboro Grasshoppers
Single-A: Bradenton Marauders
Greensboro has been known to have a hitter friendly environment, due to the park factors that don’t leave a lot of room in the outfield. That will be interesting this year, with top pitching prospects Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo heading to the level.
The principal catchers both spent all of last year in Greensboro. Abrahan Gutierrez put up a .767 OPS last year with 12 home runs, and hit a little better on the road than at home. He also played well defensively. Gutierrez really deserves more of an opportunity than this, even if it’s just backing up Henry Davis. Eli Wilson was crowded out of playing time behind the plate and didn’t see a lot of it generally until later in the year. He may see time at other positions. The third catcher, Luis Hernandez, is an organizational guy who saw only limited playing time last year over several levels.
Tsung-Che Cheng combines a lot of skills: a good eye and contact skills, solid defense at short, speed and stolen base ability. The only thing he gets dinged for is power, but he contributes value in every other area.
After that, there are mostly guys who are returning to the level. Will Matthiessen is actually getting demoted from Altoona, where he played briefly last year before a season-ending shoulder injury. He should be the regular at first. Ernny Ordonez hit 14 home runs for the Hoppers last year, but he had a .250 OBP, with a 13:106 BB:K.
The only infielder besides Cheng who isn’t repeating the level is Brenden Dixon. He hit for a little power at Bradenton last year and drew a lot of walks, but struck out a ton and batted .208. Like Ordonez, he plays mainly first and third.
The other infielders are Maikol Escotto, Jackson Glenn, and Mike Jarvis. Escotto could be the starter at second and see some time at short. He came in the Jameson Taillon trade and has struggled to lay off breaking balls out of the zone. He does have some power, but it tends to disappear once pitchers figure out he’ll chase consistently, which is what got him demoted from Greensboro last year. Glenn struggled at Greensboro last year after a good debut in 2021, his draft year. He could play second or third. Jarvis is a utility guy who played at three levels last year.
The Hoppers’ 2023 outfield should look very familiar. The regulars should be Hudson Head, Sammy Siani and Jase Bowen, all of whom were in Greensboro last year. Head, once considered the most prominent part of the return for Joe Musgrove, struggled for most of the year, but finished very strongly. He’ll be back anyway. Siani really struggled and got sent to Pirate City for a while, but he had a very good winter in Australia. But he’ll be back, too. Bowen played most of the year at Bradenton, but won a promotion to Greensboro for the last month or so. He didn’t hit much there. Bowen is a good defensive player who can play first and second as well as anywhere in the outfield, so he may move around a lot.
The other outfielders are Angel Basabe and Luke Brown. Basabe took four years to reach full season ball, but did fairly well in very brief action with the Marauders last year. He also made an even brief appearance with the Hoppers. Brown was a ninth round pick in 2021 and just hasn’t hit, including in 91 ABs for Greensboro last year.
Neither the infield nor the outfield on this team can be considered a feather in the Pirates’ development cap.
The main interest with the Hoppers, by far, is the rotation. As with Bradenton, the pitchers the team chooses as starters can be unpredictable, but this year there are some obvious ones.
The big names are 2021 overslot guys Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo. Chandler may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization and he’ll be focusing just on the mound this year. He’s still a bit raw, as he’s been able to overwhelm low-level hitters with an explosive, upper-90s fastball. His command and secondary stuff are improving, though, and the homer-haven park at Greensboro will provide a good test. Solometo was very advanced for a prep pitcher, which is why he skipped rookie ball. He features a wild motion and his velocity has been several clicks higher in camp than it was last year.
Po-Yu Chen and Carlos Jimenez are likely to be the other most prominent starters. Chen has a wide arsenal of at least average pitches, although his fastball can be a little fringy. At his best he has very good command, but he was erratic in 2022, so consistency will be a big thing to look for. Jimenez has among the better stuff in the system, especially due to a very good change. He’s still at Pirate City getting stretched out after missing part of spring training, but he should emerge soon.
Two other possible starters are Braxton Ashcraft and Valentin Linarez. Ashcraft was one of the Pirates’ better pitching prospects a few years ago, but he’s pitched very little since 2019 and missed 2022 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s probably not going to be throwing a ton of innings this year. Linarez was in the Bradenton rotation last year and recovered very well after an awful first month.
The Pirates signed a dozen college pitchers out of the 2022 draft, not including Jack Brannigan, but only two of them are going to open 2023 with the Hoppers: Cy Nielson (round 8) and Jaycob Deese (17). Nielson, a lefty, probably profiles as a reliever. He pitched a little for Bradenton last year and had trouble throwing strikes. (I saw him once in March and he wasn’t throwing a lot of strikes then, either.) Deese is a finesse righty who doesn’t miss a lot of bats.
Two college pitchers from the 2021 draft — Jack Carey (round 11) and Drew Irvine (19) — will be with the Hoppers. Carey will be making his third try at this level. He pitched well on the road last year but got obliterated at home. It wasn’t the usual Greensboro gopher ball problem, he just got hammered. Irvine split last year between the FCL and Bradenton. He generally pitched well, but he had control problems at the higher level.
The Hoppers will also have a graduate of independent ball, Mitchell Miller. A 6’5″ lefty, Miller pitched sparingly in a disjointed college career, then surfaced in independent ball in 2021 at age 24. He pitched at three levels for the Pirates last year, the highest being Greensboro, and did well in relief.
The rest of the Greensboro staff is an assortment of pitchers who are trying to get established or re-established, and is especially heavy on pitchers with big arms and poor command. (The big velocity/no control combo is common in the Pirates’ system. I could make a much longer list than the one below of pitchers who appear headed for the FCL this year. Maybe it’s common throughout baseball.)
Will Kobos and Grant Ford, drafted in 2018 and 2019, respectively, have been hampered by injuries. Kobos dominated in relief at Greensboro in 2021, then went to Altoona last year and missed much of the season. Ford struggled with the Hoppers in 2021, then pitched only a little last year on rehab assignments. Dante Mendoza, obtained way back in the Jordan Luplow trade, has also struggled with injuries, but finally, in his sixth pro season, reached full season ball last year. He was very effective for Bradenton.
The struggling arms:
Featuring a 95-97 mph fastball, Santiago Florez appeared to be a good prospect a couple years ago, but hit a serious wall at Greensboro after a mid-2021 promotion and didn’t improve last year. He’s back for a third try.
Eddy Yean was supposedly the main return for Josh Bell, but he was bad with Bradenton in 2021 and very bad with the Hoppers last year.
Michell Miliano came in the Adam Frazier trade. He tried High A in 2021 and 2022 and fanned a ton of hitters, but couldn’t throw strikes. The control problems got him sent to the FCL for part of last year. Now he’ll try this level for a third time.
Oliver Mateo features triple-digit velocity and a devastating curve. He had a very strong second half for Bradenton in 2021, but couldn’t throw strikes for the Hoppers last year. He didn’t pitch very much because he got hurt, spent time on the development list, and missed the last two months due to a suspension for unknown reasons.
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.
Probably means next to nothing, but I think Deese was the only 2022 draftee to totally skip the FCL and Bradenton.
So Deez is starting in greensboro this year then?
I am interested who has the better season between Head and Siani. Both around the same age. Would be nice if both do well but have a feeling it may be neither.
are there any player comp´s for Bubba Chandler?
You mean besides Shohei Ohtani?
My top guys to watch (in no particular order, but Bubba and Solometo would be at the top).
All of the rest ,like the OFers, draft picks, etc, are between hopefuls and doubtful but those Top 4 are the ones I am expecting the most from.
Solometo isn’t a top guy in your eyes?
I KNEW I missed someone. Thx! I will edit.