Pittsburgh Pirates

After researching and writing over 2000 words, I’m unsure how to summarize the Pirates system.  They have several Top 100 prospects, including Termarr Johnson, Quinn Priester, Endy Rodriguez, and Henry Davis.  Plus, some elite athletes could become something with proper development and luck.  But, I guess, in the end, I don’t trust the Pirates enough to pull it all together.  Perhaps they will, and the past is, well, the past.  But, until proven otherwise, I remain skeptical.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Termarr Johnson
  • Biggest Mover: Endy Rodriguez
  • Emerging Prospect: Rodolfo Nolasco

1. Termarr Johnson (SS/2B)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: He has a plus hit tool with modest speed and power potential that gives him a high floor but not the highest ceiling.

The Pirates selected Termarr Johnson as the number four overall pick last July.  If you talk to anyone who saw him play in high school, they all exclaimed how much they liked his approach and ability to make contact.  He did just that in his limited professional exposure, walking nearly as much as he struck out and grinding out at-bats.  He’s a solid runner with enough bat speed to hit double-digit home runs at the highest level.  While that skillset could give him a long career in the big leagues, it might be light for fantasy managers.  Yes, he could hit .300 annually, but it might come with 15 home runs and 8 to 10 stolen bases (at least early in his career).  Is that enough?  Does that warrant a high selection in rookie drafts next spring?  Know your parameters before drafting Johnson, as the floor is very high, but the ceiling isn’t.

2. Quinn Priester (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Continues solid progress with a number two starter ceiling.

Quinn Priester started the year on the IL after suffering an oblique injury in spring training.  Once he saw game action, he pitched well.  In 17 games across Low, High, and Double-A, he pitched to a 3.22 ERA, striking out nearly a batter an inning and only walking 2.6 per nine.  He has a four-pitch arsenal, with his fastball touching 98 MPH but sitting 94 to 96 MPH.  His slider is his best secondary pitch, with his change-up lagging.  If it all comes together, he has the upside of a number two starter.

3. Endy Rodriguez (C)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: He made noticeable improvements in his offensive game in 2022, where he showed power and the ability to control the strike zone.

While he might not have been taken 1:1 in the draft, I’ve talked to several evaluators who like Endy Rodriguez as much as Henry Davis. He started the season in High-A, where he slashed .302/.395/.544 while controlling the strike zone (21% K-Rate, 11% BB-Rate).  The performance got him an August promotion to Double-A, where he continued to hit for both average and power.  In addition to his offensive development, the defensive chops are also there.  It’s the recipe for a full-time regular catcher and a potential top 15 catcher at his peak.

4. Henry Davis (C)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Wrist injuries cost him time and production.  Assuming he’s healthy, he should hit for average and power.

A wrist injury cost Henry Davis playing time last season; consequently, he only played in 59 games (mainly in High and Double-A).  He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, especially the .379 SLG in Double-A, but given his wrist problems that required two IL stints, it’s understandable.  Assuming health, he’s a strong and durable player that should hit for average and power.  However, with the rise of Endy Rodriguez, Davis could be pushed to first base or even the outfield (he played some right field last season). 

5. Liover Peguero (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary: He has fantasy-friendly tools but needs to become more patient at the plate to reach his ceiling.

Despite his aggressive approach, I project Liover Peguero as a full-time regular with all-star potential.  He spent most of his time in Double-A last season but did play one game in the Major League, going one for three with a walk (of course).   There’s plenty of bat speed to project 15+ home runs at the highest level, and his speed could easily allow him to steal 20+ bases.  It’s going to come down to how much he hits.  The 5.6% walk rate he posted in Double-A will not cut it, but he’s played the entire year as a 21-year-old.  I think there is time, and the tools and contact rate give me a reason to be optimistic about his upside.

6. Michael Burrows (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: His improved control has raised his stock.

Michael Burrows improved his control last season, and when you combine that with his double-plus curveball, he has a chance to be at least a number four starter at the highest level.  He split his time between Double and Triple-A, striking out over 10 per nine while walking less than three per nine.  In addition to his excellent curveball, his change-up has also improved, allowing him to keep left-handed in check.

7. Jared Jones (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP with risk or a Closer
  • Tools Summary: He has top-of-the-rotation stuff, but his size and control might point to a bullpen role.

While he’s far from a finished product, Jared Jones has a lot to like.  He has an excellent arsenal with a fastball that will touch the upper 90s with plenty of spin, a wipeout slider, and a good change-up.  With his stuff, it’s surprising that he gets hit as hard as he does.  He gave up a hit an inning and 1.4 home runs per nine.  Plus, the control can be spotty (3.7 BB/9).  However, the pure arsenal is what aces are made from, or more likely, a closer.  Given his arsenal and potential ceiling, he would be a player I’d consider rostering.

8. Jared Triolo (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B or Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: He has an excellent approach at the plate with plus speed and enough power to get full-time playing time.

Jared Triolo needs to get more press in prospect circles.  He controls the strike zone very well, walking nearly as much as he strikes out with excellent contact, plus speed and enough power to hit plenty of doubles with the occasional home run.  He’s also a terrific defender, with the Pirates playing him primarily at third.  While fantasy managers would rather see this profile at second, there’s more defensive value at third, and that is likely where he’ll stay until he’s blocked.  Given the Pirates’ investment in Hayes, that could be in 2023.  If you’re looking for a sleeper, well…here you go.

9. Bubba Chandler (RHP/DH)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He’s currently a two-way player but will likely focus on pitching as he progresses through the system.  He’s athletic with a 70-grade fastball and will flash a plus curveball.

Bubba Chandler is a great athlete who was going to play quarterback at Clemson before the Pirates paid him $3 million to try baseball.  He’s been a two-way player since signing, and while the tools are evident, he’s struggling on both sides of the ball.  In 46 games, he hit .196, and in 14 games, he pitched to a 2.16 ERA but walked six per nine.  It’s unclear whether he’ll remain a two-way player, but the upside as a pitcher is higher.  He can run his fastball into the upper nineties and will flash a plus curveball, but the delivery is inconsistent.  He has all the tools you want to be a front-line pitcher; at 19, he has plenty of time to develop.  He’s the definition of a high-risk, high-reward player.

10. Thomas Harrington (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has a solid arsenal with plus control.

Last July, Thomas Harrington was selected in the supplemental first-round after an impressive junior season at Campbell University.  He has a four-pitch mix that plays up because he throws strikes.  The delivery is simple and clean, but there are concerns that hitters pick up his pitches too easily, resulting in too many hard-hit balls.  After pitching 92.2 innings in college, the Pirates did not assign him to an affiliate last year; therefore, he’ll make his professional debut in 2023.  The ceiling is a number three starter, and with some tweaks to his delivery, there’s a chance he exceeds that.

11. Nick Gonzales (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B with risk
  • Tools Summary: If he can stop trying to be a power-hitter, I think he can be a solid full-time regular.

I’ve been low-man on Nick Gonzales since the Pirates drafted him seventh in the 2020 Draft.  In college, he was a hitter-first, but in the short 2020 season, he fell in love with trying to hit home runs, which continued in 2021.  While he hit 18, it came with a 27% strikeout rate.  Once he got to better pitching in Double-A, he hit seven with a .429 SLG but struck out 28.5% of the time.  If the Pirates can get him to become a doubles-hitter again, which should improve his contact rate, I think he has a chance to be a full-time regular who can help fantasy managers.  He’s got good speed, so he could steal double-digit bases and will likely hit 8 to 10 home runs annually.  But the way it looks now, I’m concerned.

12. Carmen Mlodzinski (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  High-Leveraged Reliever
  • Tools Summary: The delivery and arsenal point to a bullpen arm.

Carmen Mlodzinski had a solid season in 2022, pitching to a 4.78 ERA in 22 starts.  He has good stuff but throws from a lower three-quarters delivery with effort. Usually, pitchers with that profile wind up as relievers, and I believe that’s where Mlodzinski will land.  His fastball and slider will play up in shorter bursts, making him more effective

13. Lonnie White (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with 70-grade speed and bat speed.  However, we don’t know whether he can hit enough to let those tools play, as he missed the 2022 season with an elbow injury.

Like Bubba Chandler, Lonnie White is another project.  He’s a former football player trying to ply his athleticism to the diamond and unfortunately missed the 2022 season (all but two games) with a UCL elbow sprain.  So, there’s really no update.  He’s athletic with 70-grade speed and intriguing bat speed that could translate into plus power.  However, we still don’t know if he can hit, and missing an entire season did not help.

14. Canaan Smith-Njigba (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 75 OF or bench player
  • Tools Summary: Average speed and below-average power likely puts his ceiling as a bench player.

Initially signed by the Yankees in 2017, Cannan Smith-Njigba got the call to the Major Leagues in June, but three days later, he fractured his wrist and missed the rest of the season.  After a breakout season in 2019, he became a “hot” prospect but was never able to repeat that success once he faced better pitching.  He’s patient at the plate and keeps his strikeouts in check but has below-average power.  This likely makes him a fourth outfielder in the big leagues with a chance to be a bit more with some tweaks to his swing.

15. Rodolfo Nolasco (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: The 70-grade raw power is intriguing, but he needs to cut down on his swing and miss

Nolasco is one of the more exciting players in the Pirates organization.  He’s a physically imposing player with double-plus raw power and solid speed.  He strikes out too much but also is showing patience at the plate.  From a physical comparison, he reminds me of Adolis Garcia – that guy you want on your team when he steps off the bus.  As with Garcia, some things need work.  Most notably is cutting down his strikeout rates.  I would be trumpeting him as a sleeper if he were on another team.  However, my confidence is low that the Pirates will be able to help him find his ultimate ceiling as a power-hitting corner outfielder.

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