Not long ago, Blake Sabol’s season would have made him the best catching prospect in the system.
But that is no longer the case after Endy Rodriguez hit his way to Triple-A and made the overall BA Minor League All-Star Team. He will one day compete for the job in Pittsburgh with 2021 first overall pick Henry Davis.
Sabol was drafted an outfielder out of Southern California in the seventh round in 2019, but he spent most of 2022 behind the plate in Double-A Altoona. A student of the game and hard worker, Sabol showed improvements to keep him behind the plate all year.
Sabol moved back to left field more often once he joined Triple-A Indianapolis. With Davis and Rodriguez behind him, it’s more likely that Sabol ends up in a corner outfield spot. He’s also taken grounders at first base.
Sabol has the bat to play either corner position. In 123 games this season, he hit .284/.363/.497 with 19 home runs, 55 walks and 129 strikeouts for Altoona and Indianapolis.
A lot of the season was spent working with Altoona hitting coach Jon Nunnally, who along with development coach Blake Butler, were encouraging Sabol to find chances to be aggressive at the plate.
“I’m lucky enough where if I take my chance, it might go over the batter’s eye,” Sabol said. “They want me to take those chances.”
Sabol took his chances and reached a new career high for homers and also with 26 doubles. This power boost came with a drop in strikeout rate from 29% in 2021 to 25% this season. The 24-year-old had one of the best all-around hitting seasons in the organization.
The Pirates sent Sabol to the Arizona Fall League, where he will get more work behind the plate with Davis. His catching has improved to the point where he could back up either Davis or Rodriguez in the majors one day.
At the very least, Sabol’s lefthanded bat should put him in line for a role somewhere on the field.
— Blake Sabol worked with Pirates top pitching prospect Quinn Priester this year in Double-A Altoona. Priester had a 2.87 ERA in 15 starts with Altoona, with 75 strikeouts in 75 innings. Sabol highlighted the work ethic that stands out from the 2019 first-round pick: “I love catching Priester,” Sabol said. “He’s just such a student of the game already. Every off day for him, he has his notebook out, charting every player for (the opposing team). He comes in the day of and says, ‘Here’s what I’ve got, what do you have?’ ”
— Double-A Altoona second baseman Nick Gonzales spent the 2022 season making an adjustment to his swing, aimed at keeping his bat path through the zone longer. He started showing improvements before a plantar fascia injury in May. Gonzales returned for the final six weeks of the season, hitting .287/.404/.513, and showing for the first extended stretch the hitter the Pirates were hoping to get when they drafted him seventh overall in 2020.