This week on Pirates Prospects we released our Top 30 prospects for the 2022 Pittsburgh Pirates system. You can also check out our new Rankings page, which has our individual top 30 prospect lists, as well as the consensus rankings from every major outlet online.
Our individual rankings provide an opportunity for each writer to expand on a player they liked more than anyone else. We’ll be doing such features throughout the year. Today, we’re kicking that off with a combined group effort looking at players to follow inside and outside the top 30 this year.
Each writer was given one player to write about, based on their rankings, along with two bonus sleeper prospects that they had rated higher than anyone else. In total, there are four players highlighted inside our top 30, as well as 11 additional sleepers to follow outside of that group.
Breakout Candidates Inside the Top 30
Tim Williams: Matt Fraizer, OF (Rank: 10)
Fraizer is definitely not a sleeper, and already had his breakout season, but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. The Pirates have a lot of candidates to jump into the top 100 prospect mix, and if I had to pick one guy to make that jump this year, it would be Fraizer. His swing changes last year translated over to the stat line, and don’t seem to provide cause for concern in the upper levels. He now features a shortened, hair-trigger swing that still maintains a lot of power, while giving extra time to recognize the more difficult breaking stuff he will face more often going forward. Fraizer set his goal to a 20/20 season this year, which seems easy to obtain considering his 23/17 season the year prior. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him reach the majors by the end of this season, and he’s my pick for the top 100 by the end of the 2022 season.
Sleepers to Watch: I doubt we’re going to see him until the FCL starts up, but I loved outfielder Braylon Bishop’s swing and his easy power potential, and can’t wait for his pro debut. Carter Bins could be a backup catcher in the majors one day, and after working on his swing over the offseason, is a guy to watch to see if he can hit his way into a bigger role.
Cody Potanko: Jared Triolo, 3B (Rank: 22)
There aren’t many bad things to say about Jared Triolo; the guy plays tremendous defense; he’s versatile, and he hits for average. 2021 was a huge year for the former 2nd round pick having a slash line of .304/.369/.480, along with an OPS of .849. One of the more impressive things was his home and away splits. Triolo hit better on the road from a notoriously hitter-friendly home ballpark, and it is not even close. Triolo’s home slash line reads .262/.335/.418, and his away slash line reads .336/.398/.517. I expect Triolo to continue his success in Double-A against a tick-up in competition; in the words of Kieran Mattison, “Triolo is a baller!”
Sleepers to Watch: There isn’t much to say about Diego Castillo (Rank: 16) other than HOLY COW! The guy has proven himself in spring and showed a lot more pop than expected; whether that pop remains during the regular season remains to be seen. Nick Garcia showed a tremendous fastball/offspeed combo when he was dealing. Garcia showed some wildness and will be tested in High-A not only with the home ballpark but with more advanced bats. Garcia should advance up the ladder if he cuts down on the walk rate and maintains a good K/9 clip.
Anthony Murphy: J.C. Flowers, RHP (Rank: 26)
Flowers is one of my favorite players in the system. He’s one of the most athletic players in the organization, and I don’t believe we have seen the best of him yet. Despite being projected as a reliever long-term, his aggressiveness going after hitters speaks to a confidence in his stuff that you don’t see in players with his limited experience pitching. The slider isn’t just one of the best of its kind in the system, it may be one of the better overall. I expect him to remain in some sort of multi-inning role, whether it be starting or coming in as a piggyback but isn’t too far off from being able to pitch in the majors out the bullpen.
Sleepers to Watch: I tend to lean towards the control we saw in the FCL, as opposed to Bradenton but Po-Yu Chen has the pitch-mix that screams a back of the rotation starter, with that splitter leading the way. If Double-A is a prospects biggest test, Cal Mitchell passed with flying colors. He cut the strikeouts down, and while the power is fringe average, he can hit enough to be at the very least a productive MLB bench player.
Sleepers Outside the Top 30
Wilbur Miller: Owen Kellington, RHP
It was tough leaving Owen Kellington out of the top 30. I say that partly because I’ve been impressed, in the limited sample size we have, by this front office’s ability to find pitching upside. Carmen Mlodzinski, Jared Jones, Logan Hofmann, Justin Meis, and Tyler Samaniego look like good picks, and we haven’t seen the 2021 prep pitchers yet. I’m also impressed by a guy who can attract significant scouting attention to a rural Vermont school, which apparently was literally unheard of. Kellington has good size and projection, already throws in the low-90s, and has a good breaking ball. I’m willing to give the front office some benefit of the doubt even though we haven’t seen him in game action yet.
Sleepers to Watch: Hudson Head and Jack Suwinski were also hard to leave out. I saw a lot of the former in 2021; the tools are obvious and I’m not ready to ditch a guy who was very highly regarded a year ago. Suwinski didn’t show the power after the trade that he did before, but he was hitting in a pitchers park at San Antonio and the batted ball data for him has impressed analysts.
John Dreker: Tsung-Che Cheng, SS
Tsung-Che Cheng received a lot of high praise from scouts of the Pirates and opposing teams during Extended Spring Training last year. Right before the FCL season started, he got hit in the face with a pitch, so he missed the start of the season. Once he returned, all he did was hit well. There were some reports that said that the small (5’7″) Cheng didn’t drive the ball well, but we saw videos, have exit velocities, and first-hand looks that say otherwise. He played winter ball in Colombia against better competition than he saw in the FCL and put up strong stats, helping his team to the Caribbean Series title in a major upset. Cheng has looked strong this spring as well, with the Pirates getting him into four games late, which included a double and homer in five at-bats. He has an advanced approach at the plate, solid defensive skills in the middle of the diamond and above average speed, all of which makes him a very intriguing prospect.
Sleepers to Watch: Abrahan Gutierrez joined the Pirates mid-season in 2021, coming to the team with some strong stats in Low-A. He continued to hit while with Bradenton, helping them to a league title. His approach at the plate is advanced, and he has excellent contact skills, as well as some untapped power potential and decent skills behind the plate. Juan Jerez was considered to be the top DSL prospect from a very strong 2019 group, and he put up big stats in the FCL, with an .894 OPS in 43 games. He drastically improved his walk rate in 2021, while also adding to his slugging. He would rate higher if strikeouts weren’t a key concern.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.