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
Indianapolis is set to provide depth for the Pirates with a lot of the system’s top prospects. The Pirates have a few young players already getting their shots in the majors this year. They will hopefully be joined by top prospects Endy Rodriguez, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, and others.
The prospect and overall depth at Indianapolis is deep. Here is how that breaks down, with an obvious tendency here for focusing on the prospect depth.
The Pirates will see the top prospect in their system getting everyday playing time behind the plate. Endy Rodriguez had a breakout season in 2022, and will look to break into the majors this year. As of this writing, the Pirates have already seen an injury at the MLB level, with Tyler Heineman getting the early season call. Rodriguez will get experience in the upper levels, and if all goes well, he should be in the majors by summer.
Aside from Heineman, Grant Koch is in Indianapolis as a backup, with both of the backup catchers standing out for their defense.
The standout here is Nick Gonzales, who the Pirates drafted with their first pick in 2020. Gonzales was drafted for his pure hitting skills, but has shown contact issues in the upper levels. He’s been making adjustments over the last year to adjust his bat path and allow it to fill up the zone more.
Gonzales has a good eye, quick hands, and that combo gives him a tendency to try and meet the ball at the point of contact with a direct bat path swing to that point. The Pirates have been working on getting him to be less direct to the ball, and instead, swinging with the forgiveness to allow him to hit multiple pitches. He showed some good results at the end of last year, but I don’t think the adjustment has consistently taken hold. When it does, Gonzales probably will be a more rounded player, rather than just a high contact guy.
Malcom Nunez and Aaron Shackelford both have a shot to stand out in the first base race. The Pirates have Carlos Santana, Ji-Man Choi, and Connor Joe as options in Pittsburgh, so there’s no rush to get help from the minors at that position. Nunez was acquired last year at the deadline for Jose Quintana, and is the lead candidate to emerge as a first base option in Pittsburgh. Shackelford emerged with a decent offensive season in Altoona, and is a sleeper to follow.
Tucupita Marcano is in his age 23 season, and has shown flashes of success at the plate. He can play all over the field, and is on the 40-man roster, so expect him to get a lot of looks for depth this year. His upside in the majors looks to be a super utility player with the chance to develop into an average starter.
Jared Triolo has some of the best potential on the team, with Gold Glove defense at third base, an ability to play all over the field, and power potential at the plate. However, he will miss a lot of time this year after hamate surgery, which will also impact his power production in the short-term.
Indianapolis has veterans Mark Mathias and Chris Owings to provide MLB depth. Mathias was acquired in a small trade during Spring Training, and will likely be one of the early-season options the Pirates turn to in a pinch.
The Pirates have a lot of young outfielders between the majors and Triple-A. Jack Suwinski and Canaan Smith-Njigba are getting a shot in the majors this year, but they’ve got competition in Indianapolis.
Travis Swaggerty is the standout of this group. The 2019 first rounder is the best defensive center fielder between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, but has yet to hit consistently, due to lost development time from injuries. He had a big spring, and will get a shot to stay healthy and hit his way into the big leagues this year.
Cal Mitchell has seen time in the majors, but has yet to stick at the level. He’s got power potential and a good approach at the plate. Mitchell is on the 40-man roster, and could be an early season depth option for the Pirates, if Swaggerty isn’t hitting.
The Pirates have a few older players for depth, led by Miguel Andujar, who will likely be the main short-term option if one of the 1B/DH/RF options goes down. Ryan Vilade and Chavez Young will also give Indianapolis some veteran presence in the outfield.
The biggest boost to the Pirates this year will come from the Triple-A battery. Endy Rodriguez will be one to watch behind the plate when he eventually arrives. The other standouts on this roster are top pitching prospects Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows.
Priester is making his debut at the Triple-A level, and will need to show his ability to dominate upper level hitting. He’s got the stuff, the work ethic, and the competitive attitude to be a top of the rotation guy. The knock against him is that his numbers haven’t been dominant, although that’s never been a concern for me. Priester reminds me a lot of Jameson Taillon, due to his mature approach. I’m sure that he could have gone for more strikeouts to date, but that’s not really development. This is the level where we should start to see him focus on putting it all together.
Burrows got to this level last year, after having success in Altoona, and struggled a bit maintaining consistency. He’s got everything to be a middle of the rotation guy or higher, and has an advantage over Priester in that he’s on the 40-man roster. Both pitchers could be in the big leagues by the end of the season, although the early look of the MLB rotation doesn’t show an urgent need for either prospect.
If there is an urgent need, Luis Ortiz would probably be the guy to get the call. Ortiz spent some time in the majors last year, and has that sort of fringe profile where he could settle for being a power reliever, or push for a little bit more and try to be an average or better starter. The Pirates are keeping him in the rotation, and I’d expect him to join Johan Oviedo as early-season rotation depth.
The bullpen depth is interesting. The Pirates are starting to convert some of their former starting depth to the bullpen, with Carmen Mlodzinski and Cody Bolton leading the way. They had 32-year-old Caleb Smith making a start, so it’s not like either of these guys are being forced out by other prospects. This is a departure from previous approaches, where the Pirates would keep prospects in the rotation until they were pushed out by other prospects. Mlodzinski and Bolton both have a better path to the big leagues focusing primarily as relievers now.
Blake Cederlind will be returning from injury, and should eventually pitch as depth on this roster. Yerry De Los Santos is a hard throwing reliever who has pitched in the majors, and one of the more intriguing depth options. Colin Selby is a hard thrower who is on the 40-man roster. Yohan Ramirez got a look in the majors last year, and posted results good enough to be turned to again for depth. J.C. Flowers is a guy to watch coming up from Altoona last year. He pitched in a swingman role in Double-A last year, and had a 2.88 ERA in 68.2 innings, with a 62:24 K/BB.
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.
Have missed a little of Indy game but what I did see.. Ortiz has looked damn good.
Why did they not let him finish the 5th? His stat line looked like he was cruising.
Stephenson hasn’t looked good, I guess we don’t need him this very minute.
Aaaand Endy leaves game with groin injury. Took a foul ball in a bad place.
EDIT: No, he’s not out. Lameday said he left with a groin injury. Play was stopped for a bit, but he’s batting now.
Okay that was scary for a second.
Shackleford is easy to root for.
While I prefer Burrows over Priester, I wouldn’t be unhappy if BOTH make it.😁
I hope Nicky G finds that consistency. I just wouldn’t put money on it. 😕😕
I think Ortiz will still end up in the pen.
I am hoping Mitchell isn’t a AAAA player. I love his bat, but…..
I think we have some potentially good bullpen guys at Indy.
WE WANT ENDY!!!
Keston Hiura DFA’d and outrighted by the Brewers, Jeter Downs DFA’d and claimed by the Nats.
How the Pirates try to fix Nick in the face of failure from other orgs will be one of the bigger development stories in the system this year.
Nick looked very good this spring. He is a guy I am pulling for.
We’re all pulling for him, but NMR listed two very cautionary tales of High K prospects.
And in this specific case, not just high-k prospects – neither broke a 20% k-rate until AAA! – but prospects who have been the closest comps to Gonzales in size, tools, and mechanics. Add to them Carter Kieboom, who himself was on the path to busting before undergoing TJS.
Yea, you can find comps who failed. But there are comps who succeeded too. Kyle Schwarber Ked 30% last season. Didn’t K over 20% in minors until AAA.
Matt Chapman. 27% last year. First time over 22% was AA.
I could look for more but the fact is, each player is unique and will succeed or fail on their own merits, not due to their “profile”.
Except neither of those players have any semblance of comparison to Nick Gonzales.
This whole idea that every player is a special lil snowflake is such complete BS.
Successful player development is all about identifying patterns and applying proven techniques, not recreating the wheel from scratch on each individual dude.
Mitch Keller is only now succeeding after altering his repertoire away from the flat fastball and big looping curve that doomed his early career and busted previous top prospects like Aaron Sanchez. Quinn Priester drastically altered his repertoire before even reaching AAA because of the learned experience of Keller, Sanchez, and others that came before him.
That is what successful player dev looks like, not random experimentation with each individual dude in hopes some shit they throw at the wall sticks.
The prospects who Gonzales most-closely tracks against have all failed to translate similar – if not better – tools and mechanics to the show. We have the roadmap for what *doesn’t* work if we care enough to pay attention.
Figuring out how to address those failures will determine whether or not Gonzales follows them.
Nice summary. Agree 109%.