I spent two weeks on the road covering games at the end of last month. I followed that with another week to myself, recapping where I’ve been and where I want to go with my life and knowledge from this point forward. Followed by another week to get re-acclimated and adjusted to life at home in Florida after three weeks on the road.
There are three weeks remaining in the MLB season following this weekend. I currently have daily player features mapped out from Sunday through the end of the season. My aim is various perspectives of the human behind the stats and skills, but also the nuances of development beyond performance. I’m starting on Monday-Wednesday with Paul Skenes, Tsung-Che Cheng, and Anthony Solometo. I’m most excited to write the article on Cheng, to be honest.
From there, you’ll get a new player each day, until I get to the yearly system breakdown during the final week of the season. My quick spoilers for all of those upcoming articles:
**My opinion on Paul Skenes hasn’t changed. The way he was handled at the end of the season wasn’t ideal for performance, and I’m glad they shut him down, rather than having him prepare for a 2-3 inning outing at the end of a long year, where everyone in baseball will be focusing on the single at-bat with Dylan Crews. I’m looking forward to the first time those two meet when Skenes is used to a five-day schedule, and built up to pitch as a regular starter, facing Crews and the opposing lineup multiple times. That might happen next year sometime. Until then, Skenes has been treated like an MLB player already, both in terms of media coverage and fan attendance, and has responded in an impressive manner. I also like how he threw two shutout with three strikeouts in his second outing in Double-A, after a debut where he had a lot of tough breaks that could have discouraged him.
“They had the three hits, and none of them went over 90 miles an hour,” Skenes told me in Altoona two weeks ago, after the debut outing where he allowed a few hits through the infield. “Those are wins in my book.”
**If I had to pick a pitcher and player of the year right now, it would be tough. On the pitcher side, Anthony Solometo is the clear standout for the season, as a 20-year-old who quickly and quite confidently has risen to the challenge of the MLB-skill level presented at Double-A. Thomas Harrington has been impressive across two levels of A-ball in his first full pro season, after being the 36th overall pick in 2022. If we’re grading second-half performances only, Bubba Chandler would be the clear standout, and he’s making his Double-A debut in Altoona tonight.
On the hitting side, Termarr Johnson has had the most impressive season as a 19-year-old who is mashing High-A pitching in his first year out of high school. Tsung-Che Cheng has put together a lot of extended hitting streaks in Altoona, and Tres Gonzalez has been quietly extremely consistent in Greensboro. For a second-half surge, 2021 64th overall pick Lonnie White Jr. has been fantastic in Bradenton now that he’s finally healthy.
**I like what I’ve seen from the individualized player development system over the last three years. They’ve shifted from a system that could be negative toward some players who were seeking to take their development unto themselves with outside help, into a system that now encourages players to seek help from world class training facilities in addition to their work in the Pirates’ system. The reality is that the Pirates won’t have the answer for every player, even if they continue upgrading their own systems. Their current neutral-positive environment ends up rewarding any player who wants a career in the majors through thick and thin. Some of the early success stories in the majors are guys who largely couldn’t be contained, and who they didn’t try to contain in any way.
Endy Rodriguez looked like a Major Leaguer at this time last year in Altoona, after narrowing his focus to catching, and he’s starting to adjust into being an actual Major Leaguer this year. Two years ago, I was watching Jack Suwinski and Oneil Cruz in Altoona. Suwinski now has 23+ homers in what is at least a right-handed platoon role in the majors at age 25, and we’re all wondering if Cruz can help lead the Pirates in his first full season in the majors in 2024.
The reality is that any expectation for faster results than this ignore how complex of an adjustment the Majors are, especially when you ask the prospects to lead the team. Until this season, the Pirates were trying to build around prospects and young, unproven Major Leaguers. We’re likely watching Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and David Bednar turn into reliable cornerstones of a contending team. Cruz and Suwinski have shown their value.
This time next year, guys like Rodriguez, Henry Davis, Liover Peguero, Jared Triolo, Ji Hwan Bae, Quinn Priester and others will be joining that core group. Skenes could be among those in the majors by this time next year, being mentioned as a 2025 full-season factor. The talent in the system is arriving, and the Pirates will need to add to their core with a big offseason on the trade and free agent market. I don’t think this team is many moves away from a contender in 2024.
I thought the Pirates might start contending in 2023 if things broke right. The fact that few things have broken right, and they’re still looking at 70+ wins is encouraging. This offseason will be crucial, but my quick spoiler review of the system is that they’ve been slowly heading in the right direction, and the plan and the new neutral-positive environment is starting to reach Pittsburgh — allowing the most talented and energetic players to shine. They should start building around that for 2024 and beyond this offseason.
PIRATES (65-75) AT BRAVES (91-48)
The Pirates were off yesterday, as they traveled to Atlanta to take on the Braves for a three game series this weekend. Already three games improved on their 2022 win total, the Pirates send Mitch Keller to the mound tonight, with a 3.93 ERA and 187 strikeouts on the season. Keller has been the emerging leader of the Pirates’ rotation this year. Here is the lineup behind him:
Game 1 from Atlanta.
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 8, 2023
AROUND THE PIRATES SYSTEM
Rather than the normal separate Prospect Watch, I’m combining everything into a daily super article going forward. I like the new format better, myself. Feel free to discuss the live Friday results in the comments.
THURSDAY’S HOME RUNS
- Chris Owings, SS, Indianapolis (13)
- Jackson Glenn, 3B, Altoona (6)
- Luke Brown, CF, Greensboro x2 (8)
- Sammy Siani, LF, Greensboro (9)
- Shawn Ross, C, Greensboro (12)
- Rodolfo Nolasco, DH, Bradenton (20)
QUINN PRIESTER STRIKES OUT TEN
Indianapolis won 4-1 last night, with Quinn Priester allowing one run in 5.2 innings, striking out ten. The Triple-A affiliate went with lefty Braeden Ogle as an opener for a scoreless inning, before turning the ball over to Priester. Since returning to the minors, Priester has looked like a completely different pitcher. He’s combined for a 2.66 ERA in 20.1 innings, with a 32:12 K/BB ratio and no home runs allowed. The most encouraging thing is his consistent level of strikeouts from start-to-start. He struck out 11 in six innings with Indianapolis on June 24th. Those strikeouts were sandwiched in between eight strikeouts in 12 innings in his two starts on either side of the season-high mark. By comparison, Priester has more than a strikeout per inning in each of his starts since returning to the minors.
SULLIVAN SHUTS DOWN THE SENATORS
I had a chance to watch Sean Sullivan two weeks ago in Altoona, pitching in extended work out of the bullpen. The right-hander has some deception to his delivery, with loose arm action that is deceptively quick to the plate. He’s also a crafty pitcher with good movement on his stuff. On Thursday, Sullivan went seven innings against Harrisburg, allowing one unearned run on four hits. He didn’t allow a walk and struck out nine, leading Altoona to a 9-3 win. The offense came during a seven run sixth inning, capped off by a Jackson Glenn three run home run, his sixth of the year.
BROWN DELIVERS GREENSBORO EIGHT RBIS
Luke Brown is a pure, always-on ballplayer. Watching him for a week in Greensboro last month, he’s active on both sides of the ball, with good defensive abilities in the outfield, including the range to play center. His offense leads to some bad swing decisions at times, but he’s aggressive with good contact skills and a line drive stroke with double-digit home run power. Last night, he went 4-for-6 with two home runs, knocking in eight runs in a 19-10 Greensboro slugfest victory over Bowling Green. Brown now has eight homers in 191 at-bats with Greensboro, with a .359 OBP and a .471 slugging. Sammy Siani (9) and Shawn Ross (12) also homered. Combined, the trio had 25 total bases, with Siani adding his 16th stolen base.
RODOLFO NOLASCO’S 20TH IS A GRAND SLAM
On Tuesday night, Rodolfo Nolasco hit his 18th homer of the year. His 19th of the year came on Wednesday night, with eight combined RBIs between the two games in the midst of a late Bradenton playoff push. Late Thursday night, with Bradenton tied 5-5 in a game that was delayed for two hours at the start, Nolasco stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Just like the previous two nights, he connected for a home run, driving in everyone and giving the Marauders a 9-5 victory. The 20th of the year for Nolasco kept the Marauders 2.5 games back, with an elimination number of two between the High-A squad and first place Lakeland.
FRIDAY NIGHT ACTION
Jared Jones (5.74 ERA) is on the mound tonight for Indianapolis at 7:05 PM EST. The right-hander, taken in the second round of the 2020 draft, is one of the best arms in the system. He’s inconsistent at this stage of his time in Triple-A, after a promotion in mid-June for the 22-year-old in early August. Two starts ago, Jones allowed one run on two hits, with four walks and ten strikeouts in an outing very similar to the one Priester put up last night.
Bubba Chandler will be making his Double-A debut in Altoona.
DAILY VIDEO RUNDOWN: Thursday’s Best
Matt Gorski played in his first game with Indianapolis since the promotion, hitting a pair of doubles. His approach in Altoona throughout this season was one of the best power approaches on the team. He also displays good range and routes in center field, plus the arm to stick at the position. What I love about the doubles below is that he hit line drives to both alleys, including getting ahead of the relief pitcher late in a game that had a one hour and 27 minute delay.
It's good to be back home.
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) September 8, 2023
Priester looks much more confident on the mound, working ahead a lot in the video below, and landing off-speed stuff where no one can hit it, but where hitters have to offer.
Q tonight: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/qQZKONFjUj
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) September 8, 2023
What I like about Jackson Glenn is that he stays casually locked in on the opposing pitcher from the start of his at-bat, with a quick bat-to-ball line drive stroke that can launch double-digit homers. Glenn has 12 homers on the year between two levels, with six homers in Altoona.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) September 7, 2023
Here’s a look at that loose arm action from Sullivan on his seventh strikeout last night.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) September 7, 2023
Luke Brown adjusted on an off-speed 1-2 pitch and went downstairs for a golf club home run for his first of the night. The second was an 0-1 fastball crushed to his pull side in left field for a line drive homer that quickly left the park. I saw him hit a similar home run in Greensboro a few weeks ago, doing a good job of staying ahead of the fastball.
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) September 8, 2023
DAILY ROSTER MOVES
- LHP Rob Zastryzny elected free agency, after clearing waivers and being sent outright to Indianapolis. He had a 4.79 ERA in 20.2 innings with the Pirates in the majors this year.
SONG OF THE DAY
The most challenging thing about being a hitter in any advanced level of baseball is that its akin to tracking the speed from your brain to your fingertips. All while trying to express your true self, in the form of energy, trying to overcome opposing energy from the pitcher, who deals with the same brain-to-extremity neuron race we all face. I’d imagine a home run is the same feeling in your chest as an artist breaking into a live guitar solo. Locking into whatever position needed to hit that one note that you’ll only get a chance to hit at that one moment in time. At least, that’s my final thought of the day, from someone who quit baseball at 13 and never had the patient dexterity to learn the spectrum of the guitar.
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.