2023 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects Chat
- So how good could Endy Rodriguez really be, what might the Pirates be getting in him, and how does this fit into their plans along with Henry Davis?
Mark Chiarelli: Hi all. Thanks for the questions. I'm excited to answer them. This is my second year with the Pirates system for BA and it's a fun one to dig through every year. We'll start with one of Pittsburgh's biggest success stories in 2022, Endy Rodriguez. The short answer, Jonas, is that he could be very good. You're getting someone with advanced barrel ability, emerging power and above-average athleticism. That's a fun mix of ingredients. I'm buying the second half improvements he made (to answer another question in this queue). His catching ability still needs work, especially receiving velo, but most folks I talked to believe he can be a big league catcher with more experience. As far as how he fits with Davis? It's not hard to envision a really potent catching combination between the two, but I give Rodriguez the edge right now.
- The write-up on Luis Ortiz sounds pretty exciting, as did all of his September starts (besides that one I'm not going to acknowledge). What do you think the chances are he opens the season in the Pirates rotation, and what would major league success look like for him in the near future?
Mark Chiarelli: Let's go with the other big riser this year for the Pirates, Luis Ortiz. Yes, Jack, I am bullish on Ortiz, and I'm still kicking myself for not finding a spot for him in the 30 last year (although if it's any consolation, we did designate him their sleeper to watch entering 2022). There are some command concerns, sure, but it's a loud three-pitch mix and considerable upside. I'd imagine Ortiz gets every chance to win a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation coming out of ST.
Ray (Burlington, NJ):
- Nick Gonzales seems to be falling in the Pirates top 10 rankings, and has struggled due to injuries the last 2 years. Can he turn things around and is he the Pirates future 2bman?
Mark Chiarelli: Thanks for the question, Ray. Gonzales has dropped a bit. He needs to find the right balance in his approach between accentuating his contact ability and chasing power. Losing chunks of developmental time each of the last two seasons hasn't helped. There are still stretches where Gonzales looks very good. But the amount of swing and miss in the strike zone, especially on offspeed pitches, remains a concern for me. And when you consider his defensive limitations, there's already strain on the bat, so the struggles are a red flag. He's still a top-10 prospect in one of baseball's deepest farm systems, so it's not as if he's been a disaster so far, but evaluators have walked away wanting a little more. He will get a shot to win Pittsburgh's 2B job, although Termarr Johnson is now in the rearview mirror.
- There has been much buzz about Bubba Chandler after a solid 2022 season with flashes of dominance. When do you believe the Pirates will pull the plug on him playing the field and would you say he has the highest ceiling of any of the pitching prospects?
Mark Chiarelli: Hi James. A couple of Bubba Chandler questions in the queue. You're right, there's a lot of buzz about Bubba Chandler. His pitch data is a ton of fun. The party line from the Pirates is that they'll continue to allow him to try both, although almost every evaluator I spoke with thinks of him as a pitcher first. It's worth noting Chandler didn't play shortstop at all in 2022 -- it was pitching/DH. He does have pretty considerable raw power and he's a freak athlete, so it doesn't hurt to explore the hitting thing, but it's really hard to try and do both at his age. And yes. His ceiling is as high as any pitcher in their system right now.
- Liover Peguero seems to be stuck in some weird spot in prospect-land where there aren't really clear sign of advancement but he also doesn't seem to be falling off a cliff (though 7th in the org seems like losing some faith when he has been around 70th overall for a couple years). What do we need to see from him that would make his stock rise (perhaps to the MLB level) or else for people to lose faith in a future big league role. The second half of the season wasn't promising...
Mark Chiarelli: It's interesting. It's easy to forget how young Peguero is. He turns 22 later this month. His approach and consistency needs to take a step forward. He struggled at times with spin in 2022 and that's been a concern for him over the years. He also makes too many mistakes defensively for a player with his skillset. Cleaning that up might speed up the timeline a bit, but he'll get there regardless. There's a lot of talent there.
Alex (Bay Area):
- Thanks for chatting with us today Mark. Is Lonnie White Jr. Gpinng to be healthy by the start of the year? He looks to have some serious upside but just hasn't been able to stay healthy so far. Was he in the #11-15 range?
Mark Chiarelli: You got it Alex. The expectation is that White will be ready to go in spring training. I won't give away the full 30 (and encourage everyone to buy the book) but he's more toward the back of the list right now.
Lonnie White Jr. (Pittsburgh):
- I have a set of tantalizing skills but unfortunately been off the field far more than on. I was supposed to skip the FCL and go directly to A ball so I must've impressed during extended spring training. What do scouts inside and outside the org think my ceiling is? Do I have a chance to shoot my way up this list next year if I'm able to stay healthy?
Mark Chiarelli: Another Lonnie White question! I'd say the perception of White hasn't changed much, but that's mostly because scouts really didn't see him. Losing a year of development as a cold-weather, northeast prep bat is a concern. It's certainly plausible that if White returns healthy, shows his dynamic athleticism and cuts down on the swing and miss, his stock will rebound.
Frank (Chicago, IL):
- How far off the top 10 was Solometo, and what's his ceiling? Thanks for the chat.
Mark Chiarelli: Not far. The Pirates system is deep. For reference, I turned in the same "BA Grade' on players ranked 7-14 in Pittsburgh's system, so there's not a lot of separation. Solometo has a mid-rotation ceiling. His stuff isn't as overpowering as some of the other pitchers ahead of him on Pittsburgh's list, but he gets the most out of it. The sinker is real. The Pirates are taking a hard look at potentially tweaking his breaking ball -- there's some concern on how it will play against more advanced hitters. But the three-pitch mix and ability to throw strikes provides a pretty good foundation.
- Is Jack Brannigan being developed as a pitcher at all right now? His bat wasn't overly impressive in 2022. I'm curious what the Pirate's plan for him is.
Mark Chiarelli: I don't think the Pirates have closed the door on it. Strikeouts are a concern there at the plate, but the Pirates are very high internally on his infield defense at third base.
Harry (Miami, FL):
- What do the Pirates have in Hunter Barco, and do you see any signs a shift to the pen is at all imminent?
Mark Chiarelli: Hi Harry. The topic of moving Barco to the bullpen did not come up in any conversations this winter. If anything, the industry viewed him as a relatively safe bet to reach the majors as a starter because of his polish, experience and pitch mix.
- My question relates to Termarr Johnson's hitting grade. How difficult is it to project if a hit tool will continue to play considering the lesser competition he's faced so far? Separate question, what percentage chance would you put on him staying at SS rather than moving to 2B?
Mark Chiarelli: That's a good question Noah. In Termarr's case, he had a long track record of performing well on the showcase circuit against high-level pitchers which quelled a lot of those concerns. He's been a dude in amateur scouting circles for years. I'd say it's far more likely he ends up at 2B.
Evan (New York):
- Tahnaj Thomas shifted to the bullpen in 2022 and looked to be a lot more dominant at AA. Assuming he stays in the pen going forward, what do you think his realistic time frame is to make it to the big leagues? Does he project to be a middle relief arm or have the stuff to close games?
Mark Chiarelli: Hey Evan. You're right. It was better for Thomas in 2022. I think it's a safe assumption at this point he's a reliever long-term. Thomas still needs to refine his secondary and maintain the modest strike-throwing gains he made this year before the Pirates feel comfortable elevating him to the big leagues.
- In 2025, do you think both Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis will have 40+ games at catcher? Or do you think one or both will get moved off the positon? And hypothetically, if nobody were in their way, which position do you suppose would be the best fit for each?
Mark Chiarelli: These are a lot of hypotheticals, DH! The stock answer here is, well, are automated balls and strikes a thing in 2025? If so, then I'll say sure, we could see both Davis and Rodriguez catch 40+ games. If framing matters in 2025 then the odds of both of them sticking behind the plate drops. I'll give Rodriguez the slight edge in terms of sticking behind the dish long-term. Scouts didn't love what they saw from Davis in his limited reps in 2022.
- Regarding a name who hasn't been mentioned in a while, I believe Jared Oliva was removed from the 40 man but remains in the system. Is there any chance he finds a role for himself at the major league level, or is he just an org guy now?
Mark Chiarelli: I suppose there's a chance. The Pirates outfield situation is wide open and Oliva has speed/defense on his side. But you're right, he's been passed by others.
Logan (Pittsburgh, PA):
- I was surprised to not see Anthony Solometo on this list. What kept him out of your top 10? Also, what is your outlook on Jared Jones? He seems to have a lot of raw potential but has some trouble throwing strikes and avoiding hard contact.
Mark Chiarelli: Hey Logan. I touched on Solometo a bit earlier, but the two of them are just outside the top 10 even though they're very different pitchers. Jones' stuff is really, really loud. The Pirates are high on him. The command wavers a bit and he struggled putting hitters away despite his stuff. Some folks are skeptical he can start just based on his size, although he's pretty athletic. If Jones does ultimately push to a relief role, I think he has the mentality + the stuff to fit in at the back of a bullpen.
Casey Judson (Bothell, Wa):
- Good morning Mark! Thanks for chattin'. Hey, Endy Rodriguez might be good, eh? Have you senn him play? Do you think there is any chance he could be relatively underrated? (certainly not on your list).I mean, A catcher, with pop, batting-title level hit-ability, and good defense. Am I overrating him?
Mark Chiarelli: You got it, Casey. I am not part of Baseball America's Top 100 process. But I'd be shocked if he isn't much higher on that list come January.
Brandon (New Jersey):
- In the projected lineup and rotation, Quinn Priester is the number 4. Is this because you don't see him as a top of the rotation starter or are the three before him better than he is?
Mark Chiarelli: Either No. 3 or No. 4 in a rotation feels right for Priester right now.
- Is it time to move on from Travis Swaggerty? Any encouraging signs?
Mark Chiarelli: Hey Zac. Swaggerty should get a chance to compete for a role in spring training. That said, the fact the Pirates opted to keep him in Triple-A late in the season isn't a great sign.
Mike (Sacramento, CA):
- I know he’s no longer a prospect, but what did you see from Oneil Cruz at the pro level and what’s your opinion on his 2023 outlook?
Mark Chiarelli: Mike, I hope he hits. The whiffs were a concern, but the impact is obvious. Guys with long levers like him sometimes take a bit longer to adjust to a new level. I'm still optimistic. He's the type of player fans pay money to see.
- Is the projected move of Davis to first in the 2026 lineup a slight on his catching ability or simply the belief that Endy will be the superior defensive player?
Mark Chiarelli: More of a belief in Rodriguez's glove.
Old Prospector (Parts Unknown):
- How much concern is there of the batting stance setup of Henry Davis and how often he gets hit by pitches and, as a result, injured?
Mark Chiarelli: It's a concern. One scout I talked to said it looks like Davis' hands hang out over the plate. It directly led to lost development in 2022. Here's hoping he can stay healthy in 2023.
- How many of these guys do you think can make the BA top 100?
Mark Chiarelli: Hey Chris. I'm not involved in BA's Top 100 process. That said, if you told me the top six or seven were all in contention, I wouldn't blink.
- In the 2021 draft, the Pirates went with Davis and then signed what seemed like an amazing prep class. A year in, how has that strategy played for them beyond Bubba Chandler?
Mark Chiarelli: It'll be several years before we draw any sweeping conclusions. You'd certainly like to see Davis on the field more, but the early returns on Chandler and Solometo are quite promising.
Cork (Richmond, VA):
- Why would the Pirates not protect Malcolm Nunez?
Mark Chiarelli: Nunez's profile is a bit of a tough one. It's pretty good power but likely 1B-only or DH type. There's a lot of those out there. The Pirates are gambling that other teams won't want to tie up a roster spot all season for a player like that who might not even be ready for the big leagues yet.
- I noticed the Pirates picked up Ryan Vilade. He isn't a prospect anymore at this point, is he? Do you think he will have a role on the big club in 2023?
Mark Chiarelli: Hi Kate. Vilade is still prospect eligible, but he didn't make the Pirates 30. The Pirates' OF situation is such that I think he could get a shot. It's more likely he's Triple-A depth. Vilade was a top-10 guy in Colorado's system not too long ago. He's a swing change candidate -- he needs to get the ball in the air more -- so perhaps the Pirates feel like they can work with him to unlock some more impact.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Thinking that Ji Hwan Bae will pop up in the 10 to 15 range of the Pirate prospects when the Handbook come out. True or false?
Mark Chiarelli: True!
Toy (New York):
- Which late round pick or picks in recent years do you see climbing the organization's rankings? Could Braylon Bishop from the 2021 draft be such a player?
Mark Chiarelli: Bishop has plenty of talent. I'll give you a couple that you'll likely see sooner. Some folks in the Pirates org think LHP Tyler Samaniego (15th round 2021) could be a big league reliever. SS Andres Alvarez (22nd round 2019) hit 20 homers and stole 20 bases. Both of them slotted in at the very end of the top 30 at midseason.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Will Mason Martin's power bat get him to the majors in 2023? Will the power be such that he can be a big league regular with the Pirates or some other team?
Mark Chiarelli: Martin's ongoing strikeout issues preclude him from being a big league regular, at least in my eyes. That said, it is monster power and he's still just 23.
- Is it time to give up on Brennan Malone? How much upside is left considering he's barely pitched.
Mark Chiarelli: Malone has fallen considerably off the prospect radar at this point.
Ken (Lakewood CA):
- He is no longer a prospect, but I am wondering how the Pirates feel about their long term situation of K. Hayes? Thinking he has fallen short of what they hoped they had in him at 3B? And how they regard him for the future?
Mark Chiarelli: As you point out, Hayes isn't a prospect anymore, so he wasn't a focus in the conversations I had for the book. That said, the debut in 2020 was never sustainable. He's still a very useful player right now. You'd like to see the power take a bit of a step. I'd still say he's regarded as the long-term 3B of the future.
- I know they're both very young with miles to go, but were either of Rodolfo Nolasco or Tony Blanco Jr. particularly close to the top 10? Did either even make the top 30? Is there reason to believe in either player long term?
Mark Chiarelli: Neither were close to the top 10, but you will see Nolasco's name at the back of the 30 in the book. The immense power potential is enough reason to believe in both. For Nolasco, he simply needs to stay on the field. Then he needs to cut down on the swing-and-miss in the zone. Blanco is an even more extreme version because of the likely pressure on the bat, although he's still just 17.
- Is Maikel Escotto still a prospect worth watching? Is he still on the top 30 list? What's his ceiling look like these days?
Mark Chiarelli: Still worth watching, but he fell off the list for me. It was a rough year for Escotto. He probably wasn't ready to start the year at High-A. He has age, power and athleticism on his side. His approach + maturity need tightening. His ceiling is still an offensive-minded big league second baseman, but there's a long way to go to get there.
Rafa (San Francisco):
- What can you tell us about Carlos Tirado debut. Biggest signing out of Mexico, Big power bat
Mark Chiarelli: His name didn't come up much in my conversations. He didn't seem to miss many pitches in the strike zone, though, which is encouraging.
- What prospect outside of the top ten can you see making the biggest jump next year?
Mark Chiarelli: We'll end on this question, which is always a fun one. Anthony Solometo is one, and I swear I'm not just saying that because we got half a dozen Solometo questions today. A name the Pirates think could take a leap next year is RHP Kyle Nicolas if he can iron out his delivery. Two names further down the list that I like? 3B Dariel Lopez, who has an intriguing feel to hit and power potential. He's fun to watch. I'd also suggest keeping an eye on C Axiel Plaz. There's some buzz within the Pirates org about Plaz after the season he had.