The Pittsburgh Pirates are turning to 24-year-old right-handed pitcher Dario Agrazal on Saturday in a start against the Miami Marlins. This very well could be a one-and-done start, with Agrazal returning to the minors afterwards. The Pirates have off on Monday and Thursday next week, as well as Trevor Williams set to return, and Jordan Lyles supposedly not far behind. We know Agrazal is getting today’s start though, so with that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the Book on Dario Agrazal
Where He Came From
The Pirates signed Agrazal at age 17 out of Panama. His father is a famous former player and pitching coach in his country, so you would expect him to raise a fairly polished pitcher. That was true from the start with the younger Agrazal. He had an outstanding debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, posting a 2.40 ERA in 60 innings. It was probably a bit of an easy assignment because Agrazal had already played winter ball in Panama at the highest level, which easily exceeds the competition in the DSL.
Our First Look
The Pirates moved him up to the U.S. in 2013 during the Fall Instructional League and then he pitched in the GCL in 2014. We got our first live looks at him during this time. He matched the reports we received from the DSL. Agrazal was a pitch-to-contact guy, who kept the ball low in the zone, threw a lot of strikes and didn’t mind using the inner half of the plate. He didn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but he was an efficient ground ball pitcher, which was basically what the Pirates were looking for at the time.
The thing that really stood out about Agrazal during that time was that even though we saw him sitting 87-91 MPH with his fastball, he would occasionally dial it up to 93 and we even heard a report of 94 MPH. His delivery was so clean and easy that even when he was pitching in the game, it looked like a normal pitcher just starting his first throws in the bullpen to get loose. If he was getting about 89 MPH on average like that, then you could easily see the room for more velocity. That was especially true at the time because he was still filling out.
He Becomes a Legit Prospect
Agrazal did well at Morgantown in 2015, but he was still the same “all potential” pitcher we saw. He got great results, mixing his fastball with an excellent changeup and a hard curve, but he still wouldn’t miss any bats and the velocity was still the same. Predicting success for a high-80s right-hander, who is in short-season ball and pitches to contract, would be a bold statement. He was someone to watch, not a true prospect though.
During the 2016 season, Agrazal had 88 strikeouts in 150 innings with the West Virginia Power. That doesn’t sound like anything changed, but it did. I saw him live late season and this guy who was normally sitting 87-91 for his first three years, was now hitting 93-94 MPH on his first few pitches. I did a quick check of the stadium radar against a scout’s readings and they were true. It didn’t stop there though. He started sitting 94-95 MPH and doing it later in the game, with a 96 popping up once or twice. He ended up with one run over six innings that day and he was now firmly planted on our radar.
The move to Bradenton in 2017 is where everything went right. Agrazal really hit his stride on May 8th when he picked up seven strikeouts. That was a high total for him, but not unexpected because he was now hitting 97 MPH in starts and that also helped make his breaking ball and changeup better pitches. At some point, his curve became a slider, though the pitches were similar in action and velocity. He added about six MPH, but didn’t lose any of his command in the process. From then on, we saw someone who could miss bats. He had six or more strikeouts in five of his last six starts with Bradenton. On June 21st, he was in Altoona and that’s when things took a turn in the other direction.
The Injury Phase
Agrazal made one start for the Curve. He left with a pectoral strain and didn’t pitch again for the rest of the season. He got in some off-season work in the Dominican and the Pirates felt confident to add him to the 40-man roster. Unfortunately for Agrazal, the injuries didn’t stop there.
During the 2018 season in Altoona, Agrazal started off strong, posting a 1.30 ERA through May 13th. That was followed by two poor outings, then a trip to the disabled list. Agrazal had a right shoulder strain and missed nearly two full months. He returned to Altoona in August and put together a few nice starts before things fell off the cliff at the end of the year, including an ugly playoff outing.
Agrazal went to the Fall Instructional League and then the Arizona Fall League to make up for some lost innings. After just one game, his AFL season was done.
We later found out that he had been dealing with a back injury since the end of the season and it just kept getting worse until he needed to be shut down. So the back problems not only hampered his work during the season/AFL, it also cost him some of his off-season training.
From June 2017 until October 2018, he dealt with three major injuries, so what happened next wasn’t a surprise. Agrazal was dropped from the 40-man roster this past winter when the Pirates picked up Aaron Slegers. Predictably, he cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minors.
Getting Back on Track
Making it back from three significant injuries, all different body parts, as well as all of that lost time, didn’t seem like something Agrazal could do in a short time. I say it was short because he was looking at minor league free agency at the end of this season. He didn’t really stand out during Spring Training and his first two starts with Altoona were pretty bad this year. Cut to two months later and we are talking about someone who earned a trip to the majors.
Agrazal is not the same pitcher we saw at his peak in 2017 with Bradenton. If he hits 97 tonight in the majors, it might be from adrenaline, but he’s mostly been 90-92 MPH, with a few 93’s and even fewer 94’s, which would be outnumbered by the occasional 88-89 MPH pitches. He has command of his fastball and it shows nice sinking action. His changeup is a very strong pitch and one we should see used a lot. It shows terrific separation from his fastball. He now has a slider as his out pitch, changing slightly from the hard curve. When his command is on, he is very successful. When it’s off, he can get hit around because he isn’t overpowering hitters and he then throws a lot of hittable strikes.
So there you have it. The Pirates first homegrown international amateur pitcher in 21 years will take the mound tonight in fairly ideal situations for an MLB debut. If there’s a team and park you could pick for a debut, it would be Miami at this time. He’s not going to be Mitch Keller in Cincinnati, where the people in the outfield stands can almost reach out and touch the infielders. Agrazal will throw strikes and mix his pitches and you hope for the best. As a side note, he’s going to be the first player from Panama for the Pirates since Omar Moreno in 1982.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.