Prospect Roundtable: Pirates Prospects Off to Concerning Early Starts

One month doesn’t break or make a season.

Even the best prospects in the game struggle for a month.

Some players can struggle and show signs that their struggles are bound to continue.

For this week’s Prospect Roundtable, we’re looking at the Good and the Bad for the first month. While the Good focused on players outside of each writer’s top 30 who might be on the rise, the flip side to that article was focusing on players who have struggled inside the top 30.

As Wilbur Miller notes in his pick below, there are a lot of candidates this year. I told everyone to pick a player whose struggles seem to extend beyond a small sample size, and represent a cause for concern. The result was the first week of the roundtable where we had duplicate choices in our blind-submission process.

Below are the Pirates prospects who are drawing some early-season concern.

JOHN DREKER: Matt Fraizer, OF

It’s not just that Matt Fraizer put up a .454 OPS in April, but it is how he got there. He was off to a bit of a slow start last year as well, then turned it on to have a monster season, so I wasn’t concerned for the first 8-10 games. It’s starting to get to that point when you want to see things start to click though. The two things that really draw the concerns outside of the OPS are the fact that he’s repeating the level, and his BB/K rate. I expected Fraizer to move up to Indianapolis, but understand with their crowded outfield situation that Altoona was a possibility. He did well in Double-A last year after being promoted mid-season, so you would expect that to continue. In 77 plate appearances in April, he had three walks (3.9%) and 26 strikeouts (33.8%). Neither of those numbers are near acceptable levels and they show that his .454 OPS isn’t hiding some early season bad luck in his hitting.

WILBUR MILLER: Nick Gonzales, 2B

Unfortunately, there are lots of candidates for this dubious honor. Oneil Cruz, Matt Fraizer, Travis Swaggerty, Rodolfo Nolasco and Dariel Lopez, among others have gotten off to very bad starts. Gonzales, though, has reinforced existing concerns to the extent of reaching an alarming level. Last year, he showed a lot of swing-and-miss for a guy whose carrying tool was supposed to be his hitting ability. He put up a .950 OPS, though, so it seemed OK. This year, his OPS so far is just .707 and he’s batting .203. Much of that OPS is fueled by a 17.5% walk rate, way up from last year’s 10.8%. But his K rate has mushroomed, too, from 27.4% to 33.8%. It’s not easy to imagine a guy riding the hit tool to success in the majors with anywhere near that much swing-and-miss. Gonzales did figure things out in the second half last year and then torched the Arizona Fall League, so the hope has to be that he’s still making adjustments.

ANTHONY MURPHY: Travis Swaggerty, CF

Going into the season, my thought process was that the defense from Travis Swaggerty should be able to make him at least a bench option at the next level. It was a very small sample size, but his brief stint in Triple-A last year seemed very encouraging that the offense could take a step this year. So far that hasn’t happened yet. It’s still early, and the glove alone still may get him to the majors, but if the bat doesn’t take the next step it won’t be for long.

RYAN PALENCER: Travis Swaggerty, CF

After missing nearly all of 2021, Swaggerty has gotten off to an ice cold beginning to this season. He got a delayed start, after being slowed with a shoulder issue in the Spring, and he has just not gotten going. When he started playing the field, Swaggerty took some poor routes in center. Some of that was likely the combination of playing in the miserable St. Paul April weather and some rust with the length of time off. He has been much smoother defensively lately. The biggest concern is his nearly 40 percent strikeout rate.

TIM WILLIAMS: Nick Gonzales, 2B

There have been some lofty projections about Gonzales, primarily derived from his hit tool. The 2020 first round pick has been projected to have a shot at a future batting title by more optimistic scouts. There has been growing cause for concern about Gonzales. His offense has largely come in hitter-friendly environments. He became a top draft pick at New Mexico State. Last year he crushed in the hitter-friendly home park in Greensboro, and had a sub-.800 OPS in High-A on the road. This year in Double-A he is off to a bad start, fueled by a 33.8% strikeout rate and a .203 average. Gonzales is still getting on base at a good .363 rate, and has a .141 ISO. He needs the contact that is the main tool of his game to show up to help elevate his overall numbers. You can ignore the hitter-friendly parks in the past and give Gonzales the benefit of the doubt that he’d have success in a neutral environment. It becomes more difficult to give the benefit of the doubt to a prospect graded so highly on his pure hitting skills, when that prospect is not displaying those skills and striking out at an alarming rate for someone with a highly graded hit tool. Without that part of his game, Gonzales runs the risk of entering the territory currently occupied by former first rounders Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker.

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Williams: Three Observations About the Pirates Farm System After One Month

Prospect Roundtable: Pirates Prospects Who Look Like They’re On the Rise

Prospect Roundtable: Pirates Prospects Off to Concerning Early Starts

Cal Mitchell is fast now

Po-Yu Chen Looks Much Better in His Second Chance with Bradenton

Luis Peralta Showing Promise and Inexperience

Carlos Jimenez: Advanced Off-Speed Pitch Setting Stage In Early Season

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