We all know prospect development isn’t linear. That’s why, every year, we see prospects get assigned to unexpected levels, either higher or lower. Of course, most of the time the assignments are unremarkable. There was no question Nick Gonzales was going to Altoona or Adrian Florencio was going to Greensboro. But let’s look at some of the prospects whose assignments were higher or lower than expected, or interesting for some other reason.
Cody Bolton, RHP: Not much drama with the Indy roster, except maybe for a couple players who aren’t there. It’s good to see Bolton make it. Before he went out for knee surgery a year ago, some reports had him slated to go back to Altoona. Now he’s missed two years, depending on how you count the 2020 alternate training facility, so it probably wasn’t a given that he’d open this season in AAA.
Brad Case, RHP: The 6’7″ Case has already gone farther than the norm for a 17th round draft pick. He had a rough year at Altoona last year, so it was a little surprising to see him in the Indy bullpen. He’s had two scoreless outings so far.
Matt Fraizer, Jack Suwinski, OF: I guess you can point to the logjam of outfielders who could be at Indy, but this is still odd in some ways. Suwinski had a better year in AA last year than Cal Mitchell, and the Pirates protected Suwinski and not Mitchell from the Rule 5 draft, yet it’s Mitchell who’s in AAA. At least Fraizer spent only a third of last year in AA. Then again, he was so good in High-A that he was named MVP despite playing only two-thirds of the season there, and he was the Pirates’ minor league player of the year. But it’s hard to avoid a logjam when you’ve got luminaries like Josh VanMeter and Jake Marisnick in Pittsburgh.
Tucupita Marcano, UT: This is probably the Pirates deciding Marcano, who’s still only 22, was rushed to AAA. It’s not a great situation, though, as second, short and third have very firm claimants in Altoona.
Luis Ortiz, RHP: This front office, so far, doesn’t seem fond of skipping players over levels, so it’s probably a very good sign for Ortiz that he’s skipping High-A. He’s got swing-and-miss stuff, and his command improved sharply over the course of last season. It’s not surprising that Bradenton won a title last year; they were a beast going into the playoffs with Ortiz, Jared Jones and Florencio fronting their rotation.
Kyle Nicolas, RHP, Zach Matson, LHP: These guys are new to the organization and it was just going to be interesting to see where they landed. Nicolas came in the Stallings trade and mostly pitched well in eight AA starts with Miami. The decision to keep him in AA may indicate the Pirates will try him as a starter, but it’s not clear yet. Matson was a minor league Rule 5 selection who fanned 15.5 per nine innings in AA last year. He had a bad ERA, but his xFIP was very good. It’s odd that Matson was available in the minor league phase, but he came from the Rockies, who have MLB’s most clueless front office.
Travis MacGregor, RHP, Omar Cruz, LHP: They’re both returning to the level. Cruz came in the Musgrove trade. He spent most of last year with the Curve and had a 3.44 ERA, but more ordinary peripherals. He also has the world’s most fidgety delivery. It’s probably not a step forward for him to return. Between Tommy John and the pandemic, MacGregor went nearly three years without pitching. The Pirates then skipped him over a level and sent him to Altoona. He had a good month, two horrific ones, and another good ones. All things considered, it was a pretty good season, but he’ll be back. He hasn’t made an appearance yet this year but is on the active roster.
Henry Davis, Endy Rodriguez, Abrahan Gutierrez, C: We knew this was coming, but it’s still wild to see three legit catching prospects on one team. The Pirates are seriously trying to get them all on the field most days, between the DH, Gutierrez playing first and Rodriguez playing all over. The team also is openly hoping somebody forces a promotion soon.
Eli Wilson, C: I thought Wilson might go to AA or AAA as a backup, but instead he’s in a very difficult situation. He’s probably rooting even more than the Pirates for somebody to force a promotion.
Maikol Escotto, SS, Hudson Head, Sammy Siani, OF: Hitting numbers all over the Florida State League (to use the once and future name) were bizarre last year. It’s not that much of a surprise to see these guys move up; maybe Escotto is the closest to a surprise. You wonder whether the Pirates were using some kind of equivalency measures to interpret the loony stats. Anyway, Head (barely) and Siani are 21, and Escotto is still only 19, so it’s good to see the Pirates wanting to challenge them.
Matt Gorski, OF: Gorski didn’t have a terrible year at Greensboro in 2021, and he has a lot of value in the field and on the bases. He needs to make more contact, though, so he’s back.
Eddy Yean, RHP: Supposedly the main return for Josh Bell, Yean wasn’t good last year at Bradenton but moved up anyway. I guess the Pirates still believe in him, but his first outing for Greensboro didn’t go well.
Ricky DeVito, RHP: Part of the Richard Rodriguez return, DeVito made just five starts in 2021 before getting hit with an ulnar nerve problem. He made his first appearance for the Pirates a couple days ago. He’s only thrown 37 innings in full season ball, so it’s not surprising he’s returning to High-A.
Jase Bowen, 2B/OF, Alexander Mojica, 3B: Unlike Escotto, Head and Siani, these two didn’t make it out of Bradenton. They both have obvious flaws, Bowen in chasing too much and Mojica being too passive. There has to be some pressure for them to take a step forward while repeating Low-A.
Jakob Goldfarb, C/OF: Goldfarb signed out of independent ball and is already 25. He tore up indy ball last year, so I thought he might get assigned higher. He was a catcher in his brief time with the White Sox and an outfielder in indy ball. He caught the other day, so the Pirates maybe are going to try him at both spots. Their willingness to play prospects both behind the plate and at other positions (besides just first base) is an interesting change from the past.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.