The Pittsburgh Pirates sent seven prospects to the Arizona Fall League this year and they got a nice all-around showing led by Nick Gonzales, who was among the top hitters in the league. Peoria lost out on making the championship game in a tough fashion after an 0-for-5 start to the season. They went 17-7 (one tie) the rest of the way. They tied for first place and they split the six-game season series with the team (Surprise) that they tied. The second tiebreaker turned out to be run differential head-to-head, which wasn’t even know until the final day of the season because no one knew the rules. It turned out that Surprise scored one more run in the season series and that was the difference. Here’s a recap of the season for all seven Pirates prospects.
We will start with the hitters because Nick Gonzales was easily the best performer of this group. He mostly played second base and DH, but he took some turns at shortstop as well. He finished with a .380/.483/.549 slash line in 19 games. He was third in the league in average, second in OBP and seventh in OPS. He has a 13:14 BB/SO ratio in 87 plate appearances and he went 4-for-4 in steals. He made one error (at second base) in 59 chances.
Ji-hwan Bae was an All-Star selection along with Gonzales and he impressed all of the scouts with his speed during the fall league. He started off strong and one absolutely awful game skewed his overall stats, when he went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts last week. He finished with a .250/.343/.380 slash line in 23 games. He was third in the league in stolen bases (he went 8-for-9) and he finished second with 23 runs scored. Bae split his time in the field evenly, with ten starts at second base and ten in center field. He committed one error in 23 chances in the outfield and he handled all 35 chances at second base.
Canaan Smith-Njigba had a solid fall season, finishing with a .298/.452/.456 slash line in 18 games. He missed a little playing time after initiating the only brawl I can remember in the AFL (I’m willing to bet that there has been another). Smith-Njigba showed a nice walk rate, with 15 to his credit. He mostly played left field, though he was the DH six times. He was added to the 40-man roster just over an hour after the AFL season ended.
On the pitching side, they had a solid group of starters led by Roansy Contreras, who was the only one actually starting. He really impressed scouts with his ability to get swinging strikes and his control of all of his pitches. His work was limited due to a short pitch count at the start and one poor outing. He pitched just 14 innings, posting a 3.21 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, a .196 BAA and 18 strikeouts. Contreras finished 28th in the league in ERA, though his WHIP was tied for seventh. He was 20th in BAA and 26th in strikeouts per nine innings.
Michael Burrows was mostly piggy-backing Contreras until he started during the final week. Burrows finished with a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings, with 16 strikeouts, a 1.17 WHIP and a .236 BAA. Considering that he was a High-A pitcher in a high offense league, those were impressive numbers.
Carmen Mlodzinski pitched strictly in relief and a few were one-inning outings. In seven appearances, he threw 11 innings, finishing with a 4.91 ERA, nine strikeouts, a 1.27 WHIP and a .220 BAA. One of his outings saw him give up three runs in 0.2 IP, so he had a 2.61 ERA in his other games. All three of these pitchers missed significant time during the season, so the fall was their chance to make up for some missed work.
Bear Bellomy was a late addition to this roster when Miguel Yajure pulled out due to a minor back injury that bothered him late in the season. Bellomy pitched 11.2 innings over eight appearances in the fall, posting a 3.86 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, a .227 BAA and nine strikeouts. During the regular season, he had 85 strikeouts in 68 innings, mostly playing for Greensboro.
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.