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Which Pirates Prospects Bring the Best Hitting Skills into 2023?

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The full-season minor leagues all got underway this weekend, and since you are reading this article on a site called Pirates Prospects, we will assume that’s welcome news after a long off-season. We can finally peruse box scores, watch video clips and read stories about prospects who will one day play at PNC Park. 

It’s also a good time to remember that prospects can have all the talent in the world, but if they don’t build the baseball skills that allow those talents to flourish, they will struggle to make the majors. 

For hitters, that means spitting on pitches that are out of the strike zone, making contact when swinging at strikes, lifting the ball in the air, and generating power. Those skills are natural to some but require development for most, especially if they want to reach the majors. 

Last year, we looked at key skills and saw that Endy Rodriguez, Jack Suwinski, and Bligh Madris, among others, had positive markers from the previous year. The exercise also whiffed on several prospects, including Diego Castillo, who went .206/.251/.382 in the majors and was dealt to the Diamondbacks in December. 

Nevertheless, let’s look at 2022 skill numbers for top young players (with prospect eligibility and at least 50 plate appearances last year, so no Tony Blanco) as a preview to what they might be in 2023. First, here are the four benchmarks:

Walk Percentage (BB%)

  • Calculation: Walks divided by plate appearances
  • Goal: Above 10%
  • Note: O-Swing% is the preferred metric here, but that’s not available in the minors. O-Swing%, also called Chase Rate, is how often a batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone. But for our purposes, BB% will serve as a fine substitute. 

Swing Strike Percentage (SwStr%)

  • Calculation: Swing and misses divided by total pitches
  • Goal: Below 11% 
  • Note: We used 10% last year, but will use 11% – the MLB average – this year.

Ground Ball Percentage (GB%)

  • Calculation: Ground balls divided by balls in play
  • Goal: Below 45%

Isolated Power (ISO)

  • Calculation: Slugging percentage minus batting average (which gives you how many extra bases a player averages per at bat)
  • Goal: Above .150

There are several young Pirates who fared well in these skills last year, and as you might guess, there are several that did not. While some prospects will get red flagged here, prospect development is not linear, so don’t give up hope. Skills can evolve. 

4-for-4

PLAYER BB% SwStr% GB% ISO
Abrahan Gutierrez 11.8% 10% 44% 0.154
Endy Rodriguez 11.3% 10% 35% 0.266

You might have expected one Pirates catcher to make the top of the list, but how about two? 

Rodriguez had a fantastic 2022 season, with a 166 wRC+ across three levels. He will almost certainly reach the majors this summer and has the skill set to become an impact hitter. 

Gutierrez is a bit unexpected. He had a quietly good 112 wRC+ last year, and the skill numbers back up his slash line of .257/.356/.411 at High-A. He turned 23 in October, so this is a key year in his development. 

3-for-4

PLAYER BB% SwStr% GB% ISO
Bubba Chandler 16.1% 19% 41% 0.186
Nick Gonzales 13.5% 16% 33% 0.171
Jacob Gonzalez 7.5% 10% 43% 0.154
Matt Gorski 10.2% 16% 37% 0.318
Hudson Head 11.2% 14% 43% 0.153
Rodolfo Nolasco 11.5% 17% 42% 0.186
Malcom Nunez 14.0% 10% 47% 0.204
Axiel Plaz 15.1% 24% 33% 0.324
Lolo Sanchez 12.8% 6% 35% 0.091
Jared Triolo 12.7% 8% 35% 0.136

Why is Bubba Chandler not hitting anymore? While he showed a good eye and hit the ball in the air with power, he didn’t make contact nearly enough. That swinging strike rate is a red flag, which is one reason why the Pirates have pushed him exclusively to the mound, where his upside is considerable. 

Jason Gindele
Jason Gindele
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Jason Gindele spent the summer of 1993 as an intern in the Pirates PR department, where a gruff Jim Leyland graciously invited him into his office to talk for half an hour. Jason later covered sports for the Akron Beacon Journal, The Gazette Newspapers (a Washingon Post subsidiary) and other media outlets. After moving to the tech startup sector for 20 years, he transitioned to nonprofit work in 2017, helping at-risk children and families in Austin, TX, where he lives with his family. Jason has contributed occasional articles to Pirates Prospects and the Pittsburgh Baseball Network since 2021.

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