The Pirates are off to a 4-2 start at the MLB level, and their minor league system gets underway this weekend with openers from the A-ball teams.
To prepare for the minor league season, check out our previews for each level:
Triple-A: Indianapolis Indians
Double-A: Altoona Curve
High-A: Greensboro Grasshoppers
Single-A: Bradenton Marauders
In this week’s Roundtable, we’re picking our sleepers to follow for the 2023 season.
Who is Your Sleeper Prospect in the Pirates System?
JOHN DREKER: JP Massey, RHP
I have to go with JP Massey as my breakout player. I was steered towards Tsung-Che Cheng in 2021 and Javier Rivas in 2022 by the same person who told me about Massey. Both of those worked out well. That same person was pushing hard for Massey as a potential sleeper this spring. The story on Massey is that he has always flashed potential, but his control has held him back throughout college. Despite being a senior with poor overall stats, the Pirates were willing to use a seventh round pick on him and give him a $150,000 signing bonus. For a senior sign in the seventh round, that’s a high number. Throw in the results and it seemed like a real head-scratcher.
It appears that Massey has quickly made the adjustments to turn that potential into results. The direct quote I received was that “he was electric in his last live BP, with an unhittable fastball/slider/curveball pitch-mix”. That report was given to me before the video was taken that was shared recently on the site, where Massey was pumping strikes with his fastball and breaking pitches against prospects from the Baltimore Orioles. Massey will definitely be a pitcher to watch with Bradenton this year.
WILBUR MILLER: Jared Jones, RHP
There are a lot of candidates here, because the Pirates have a lot of highly touted prospects who haven’t performed as hoped. Jared Jones, though, has consistently shown the stuff that got him the above-slot bonus, as shown by his high K rates. He holds his velocity well into games and his slider misses plenty of bats. His command is gradually improving and, with him being an exceptional athlete, there’s no reason to think it won’t continue to do so.
His main issue has been gopher balls, which result from the fact that he works up a lot. There are pitchers who succeed with that approach, though — Eric Longenhagen, in his writeup of Jones, refers to Gerrit Cole, who led the AL in home runs allowed last year — and Jones’ upper-90s velocity gives him a chance to make it work. It also will help him to exchange Greensboro, where he allowed 11 longballs, for dinger-suppressing Altoona, although admittedly that’ll probably just make his stats look better without exactly making him better. Jones looked very good in camp this year, so he’s a guy to watch, to see whether he takes a step forward.
ANTHONY MURPHY: Jared Jones, RHP
There are so many options in the system to have a breakout type season. If you are looking for someone to breakout on the national stage, Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo are just as good choices as any.
The Altoona rotation itself has quite a few names when looking at who may really take a step forward within the organization.
There still might not be a pitcher with better ‘pure stuff’ than Jared Jones. The numbers weren’t always there last year in Greensboro, but the fact remains, he doubled his innings pitched while leading the system in strikeouts — all while spending the majority of the season at 20-years-old in High-A.
Jones has explosive stuff that could reach triple digits should they even cut him back to reliever type outings. His very first pitch at the professional level was 99 MPH, and has been throwing gas since.
Control was a little bit of an issue in 2021 with Bradenton, and while it didn’t take a big jump last year, he did show improvements on it.
The stuff is there for a Top-100 type impact, it’s just about refining it more and taking the next step.
RYAN PALENCER: Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP
Carmen Mlodzinski is already in the top 30 prospects, but I expect him to claim a spot in the Pirates bullpen this summer and not look back. He has improved each year, and good reason, due to his outlook, which I’ll be writing about this weekend on the site.
There’s not much more breakout than forcing your way into leverage situations in a big league bullpen after a handful of Triple-A months, which Mlodzinski has a chance to do now as a full-time reliever.
JEFF REED: Jared Jones, RHP
The easy answer for a sleeper candidate from me would be to say Sean Sullivan. I feel I’ve talked about him enough at this point, he’s among my personal Top 30, and recently mentioned in John Dreker’s Altoona Roster preview as a ”player to watch”. So I don’t want it to seem as though I’m beating a dead horse. Yet.
I’m going to go in another direction and choose another projected Altoona Curve starter in Jared Jones. Full disclosure that I was considering an extremely spicy take of Sammy Siani, but settled on Jones.
By now, most who follow the Pirates prospects in-depth obviously know Jones, but I think he starts gaining national attention in terms of drawing Top 100 consideration. The 2020 second round pick enters the season at Double-A at only 21 and won’t see 22 till August.
In his age-20 season spent entirely in Greensboro, he threw 122.2 innings, that fell 1.2 IP shy of Luis Ortiz for most innings thrown in the minors (not including MLB IP). He led all Pirates minor leaguers in strikeouts with 142 K’s across the campaign. That actually falls just shy of JT Brubaker’s team leading 147 strikeouts in the majors in 2022.
He began 2023 by getting a non-roster invite to big league camp. Jones made it into two spring games and flashed the potential in his one inning against the New York Yankees. It was very early in camp – March 6th – but he faced a quality group of Yankees hitters that included Jasson Dominguez and Everson Pereira, while also including Micael Hermosillo who has MLB experience. Jones didn’t look unphased, and reached up to 99 MPH with his fastball. He showcased his slider along with a curveball and one changeup.
The biggest hurdle for Jones to clear will be whether he can find sustained control throughout his starts. There isn’t much to go off of, but some clips can lead one to believe that they have tweaked his delivery a bit, that hopefully stops him from opening his front-side as much. I’m very much looking forward to how he looks in Altoona – and by extension the Altoona pitching staff in general (Sean Sullivan) – and think he could shoot up prospect boards if he comes out blowing hitters away.
TIM WILLIAMS: Carlos Jimenez, RHP
I really liked what I saw from Carlos Jimenez in Bradenton last year. The 19-year-old put up a 4.13 ERA in 69.2 innings as a starter in full season ball. He featured a fastball that averaged 94 MPH, one of the best changeups in the system, and a curveball that grade as above-average or better.
The flaw last year was a lack of control, but I really think that comes from age and lack of experience. Jimenez wore down at the end of his first full season, and his control suffered as a result. Prior to last season, Jimenez had only pitched 39 innings in 2019, and 34 in 2021.
Jimenez has the potential to flash high effort with his delivery, taking him out of his game. That’s common for young players, but it hasn’t stopped the Pirates from pushing the young right-hander. It also hasn’t prevented him from having decent results. He will go to Greensboro this year, where the results may be a little harder to come by in the hitter friendly park.
What I like most about Jimenez is his work ethic. Everything I’ve seen from him on the mound, combined with the stories I’ve heard, say that he’s a guy who will always be working to improve himself. He’s ahead of his peers, entering High-A in his age 20 season. He will have a difficult assignment this year, but I like the stuff and I like the person behind the stuff to improve on his weaknesses.
All of the pitching attention will go to Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler, who I absolutely will be watching in Greensboro this year. I’ve also written about a few deep sleepers, which include Maikol Escotto at that level. If I had to pick one sleeper to follow this year, it would definitely be Jimenez.
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.
I like Harrington and excited to see Kennedy, hearing good things about Massey and Rivas, also intrigued by YDLS.
I’d go with Shim. Seems like he can make maybe the biggest splash this season if he shows well in FCL/Bradenton.
This might be the pick.
Jase Bowen is this years Matt Gorski. I swear I made this pick before last nights game.
Tres Gonzalez, Shalin Polonco, Julian Bosnic and Drew Irvine. Book it!!
How would Jones be a sleeper?? He’s on the radar.
Mlod isn’t a sleeper unless he turns into a strikeout guy.
I’m with John and Massey!
I would’ve loved JR to get spicy on Siani AND have him break out.
What no Frazier?
We traded him a couple of years ago. :😁😁😁
This question always leads me to thinking about younger guys who can start getting a little national attention with big years. So I’m going with Shalin Polanco and Alessandro Ercolani.
Talk about unicorn, the power, speed CF! Gorski?
not a prospect but i have a feeling Kent Emanuel will toss some nice innings for them this year… and/or beyond
unless he’s already hurt for the season
Blanco Jr going yard often this season
Would’ve said Canaan but hard to tag a guy as a sleeper when he makes the OD roster.
Oneil in the lineup today. Must be OK after getting kicked in the face. I was having nightmares of Owings at SS.
hmmm, i’ll toss out a few different flavors here
JC Flowers, Jack Brannigan, Ryan Vilade, Axiel Plaz, Connor Scott
Is Jones really a sleeper? He seems to be too highly thought of to be considered to me.
Based upon what John wrote, I think Massey has the potential to go from, unknown to known by everyone, this season.
Hope John’s insider is right for the 3rd straight year.
Massey is the only true sleeper in the list.
Fangraphs has Jones ranked 11th, Jimenez 17th, and Mlodzinski 29th while Massey doesn’t appear in our top 43, so John clearly has a more rigorous definition of sleeper. 🙂
I maintain ownership of the Carlos Jimenez bandwagon, though I do welcome FanGraphs aboard, despite them having a slightly lower ranking.
OTOH, all Massey needs to do is end up in our top 30 or so for that pick to look good while someone like Jones would need to end up in the top 100 or so nationally, so maybe that pick is going farther out on a limb. I.e., Jones isn’t a sleeper for us but he is nationally, so for him to no longer be a “sleeper” he has to be ranked nationally and that is a bigger step to take.
That’s fair and accurate.
I’d just like to SEE Massey. Marauders have three at home this weekend. 🤞
took the words outta my mouth RE Jones
BnP, Siani would have been an unbelievably spicy pick! Wondering what made you consider him
The hope that the swing changes I wrote about were what helped him see a strong winter league, and parlay into a breakout year
Australia winter league!
Funny, I started thinking about this a few months back ( I know, I have issues!) and my first picks were Jimenez on the pitching side and Escotto on the hitting. Then I decided that I should avoid Greensboro all together and went with DeVito and a bounce back from Swaggerty then DeVito got traded and Swaggerty is now too trendy!?!?! Marcano and Jones, final answer!