Williams: The Build Begins in Altoona

I think I get what the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to do.

I think I understand the difference between “Build” and “Rebuild.”

I think the “Build” really begins with that group in Altoona this year.

And I don’t think it matters one bit what we call it if the Pirates can’t turn enough of these guys into productive MLB players.


As we all await the MLB arrivals of Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz this year to give the Pirates a boost, the real part of this build can be found in Altoona. There, you will now find:

**Number one overall pick in 2022, Henry Davis, who is currently dealing with a minor bone bruise in his wrist, though we’ve been told by multiple people it’s not serious.

**Three more of the top 100 prospects in the game in Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, and Quinn Priester, who is currently on the IL with an oblique injury.

**Some of the best breakout potential guys in the mid-range of the system rankings, including Mike Burrows, who might already belong in the above group.

**In fact, this team has an excessive amount of those players: Kyle Nicolas, Matt Fraizer, Connor Scott, and Tucupita Marcano highlight a roster that has at least 15 players who could grade as a 40 Future Value or higher.

If I’m honest, I don’t recall covering a team this loaded in my 14 seasons covering this franchise.

If I’m honest, the Pirates are going to require help from this team in order to win in the future. This is “The Build.”

This team has both of Ben Cherington’s first round picks. It has the first prospect he traded for in Peguero, and the two most recent big prospects he traded for in Nicolas and Scott from the Jacob Stallings deal.

With so much talent at this level, it’s imperative that the Pirates see more good results than bad. So far, it’s been mostly solid results, with a few red flags.

The Pirates have seen some great starts to this season from Liover Peguero (.877 OPS) and Mike Burrows (2.35 ERA, 30.2 IP, 40 K, 9 BB). I profiled each this week as I was picking my top position player and pitcher on the team to feature.

Kyle Nicolas (3.65, 24.2, 27:8) has emerged as a very promising starting prospect, who might be the third best pitcher on the team behind Burrows and Priester. I could even see Nicolas finishing the season on the same tier with Priester, and getting top 100 consideration.

Kyle Nicolas: Pitch-Mix Has Transformed Righty Into Starting Prospect

There has been a lot of success on the pitching side. Omar Cruz (3.67, 27, 32:11) is standing out with a starter workload, while J.C. Flowers (3.63, 22.1, 15:10) and Noe Toribio (2.66, 20.1, 26:8) have looked good in long relief roles.

The offense has seen some struggles.

2020 first round pick Nick Gonzales is hitting for a .212/.341/.308 line, with a 36.5% strikeout rate. Those numbers are a far departure from expectations for a guy graded with elite contact skills.

Last year’s breakout prospect Matt Fraizer has also struggled this year, opening the season with a .176/.212/.278 line. He’s picked up his hitting over the last week, and hopefully that’s a sign that things are turning around.

The Pirates don’t mind if their players struggle early, as long as they learn from those struggles.

“All of these guys work hard,” said Altoona manager Kieran Mattison. “They go and put in the work in the offseason, and put in the work every day. No matter how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Double-A is that level where prospects start getting graded more on their results, and less on their potential. The Pirates have some players whose early numbers haven’t matched their values.

Jared Triolo has a .667 OPS, but has done well to reach base out of the leadoff spot, and can play strong defense at premium positions. Luis Ortiz has a lot of strikeouts, but has struggled with his control against lefties, leading to a 4.85 ERA

You’ll find a lot of those stories at this level right now, with the Pirates hoping some of those players figure things out this year. Kieran Mattison has been the manager of this group for two seasons now, across High-A and Double-A, and elaborated on the different approach between the levels.

“The main thing is the consistency with what goes on between the ears,” said Mattison. “At this level, everyone has talent. Main thing is just a consistent focus. Being able to move on to the next pitch after a mistake happens, or even be able to move on to the next pitch after a good play happens. The guys that do it more consistently have the most success.”

So far, only a few have shown that consistency, though the season is still early. Peguero, Burrows, and Nicolas should be joined by several others who step up by the end of the season.

“For me, it’s all about growth,” said Mattison. “We’re in a game of failure, man. Guys are going to make mistakes. It’s all about failing forward and profiting from those mistakes. That’s what we do as an organization. We fail forward and learn.”

The Pirates have a lot of their Build riding on the success from this group in Altoona. It’s not a problem that any player on this roster is struggling with any aspect of their game to this point. In fact, those struggles from this group will give us our first real view at how effective this new player development system can be.


Williams: The Build Begins in Altoona

With His Bat on Fire, Liover Peguero Looks to Fix Throwing Issues

Mike Burrows Looks Like He’s Taking Another Step Forward This Year

Prospect Roundtable: Which Altoona Prospect Will Have the Best MLB Career?

Kyle Nicolas: Pitch-Mix Has Transformed Righty Into Starting Prospect

Jared Triolo: Leadoff Spot Allowing Hitting Skills To Shine Through

Despite His Recent Success, Noe Toribio Isn’t Done Making Changes

+ posts

Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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Definitely the first big wave of guys are coming!! However most of the guys from last yr draft and international guys represent another wave especially if you add this next draft class coming as well. We can only hope this off-season is when BC will ask for some cash too add a solid free agent or two. Preferably in the starting staff. I also anticipate some roster reshuffle deals this trade season too balance the 40 man out. Hopefully this is the last yr of dread.


Oh for fucks sake…


Is this Personal? Maybe you need to take a deep breath.

The Cobra

This is exactly correct. Many of these guys make the big club in mid-2023 and are the young guns to a nice window starting in 2024. With so many guys being paid the minimum, we’ll see whether ownership follows through and adds several 8 digit vets to supplement our “build.” All I can say Tim, is if he doesn’t spend, you may as well close shop. Even the most steadfast Pirate supporter will have to jump ship at that point. The apathy will grow to the point that most won’t care who the prospects are anymore. In that regard, I hope he does the right thing and spends, but doubts do linger.


Need to hope at least 3-4 can make it but no matter how good they are, if they don’t spend money and add needed pieces they’ll never be able to compete. Start spending money, now! Start acquiring valuable players that add value as they add to the payroll and fill in the holes with prospects. That’s how respectable MLB organizations operate. Bob Nutting is neither respectable or honest. Payroll goes in his pocket, not on the field.


What needle moving player do you honestly think would have been willing to sign for this years iteration of the Bucs? Key and Reynolds are pretty much the only guys on the roster that will be around when (if?) the team is good again. To get the guys we want in the door, it’s going to take the top guys at Indy and ‘toona to graduate by mid-season 2023 and show signs of a winner. Otherwise we will only ever see bottom feeders or overpriced and over-the-hill guys signed on. I don’t want them to spend just to spend. Bring back the AJ days and supplement it with a farm system that, IMO, is better than the one NH put together by a large margin. That is a recipe for success and maybe Ben can do what Tampa has been working towards for decades.


Even though he hasn’t shown it, if the ol owner will shell out the money for established solid vets more of them will come play on any team. Some will stick to their guns and only want to play for a winner, but I think more than most now a days are the “Show me the money” players.


The build rebuild or whatever you want to call it s/b at all levels, and for my money, the Pirates still lack the determination to succeed. They are an organization that takes the money and runs…


Oh No, You don’t get to do this to me again.
I have been reading this blog since it started and have read about ALL the great prospects who some how seem to slip into oblivion after awhile and are never heard from again. Just get ready for the next Yoshi’s and Vogey’s and all the rest of the dumpster dives that this Pirate team is famous for. As long as they come cheap enough. These so called prospects are nothing but a distraction while the real Pirates continue to be the cast offs that fill the team every year.


The depth of top and decent prospects stands out to me, and some good performances by the listed pitching is hopeful. Besides the struggles by Nick G., which is tough to see, others are holding there own for the most part. Stay healthy, please, young men🙏


Agree with you and Tim that this group of players at AA will be the backbone of any future improvements of the Pirates. That is taking nothing from Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Mason Martin, and Rodolfo Castro, but this AA team is extremely deep with upper level prospects on both sides of the ball – pitching and position players.


If we’re honest, Indy has one SP in Roansy and one starting position player in Cruz. I’m a stan for Bae and Mitchell, but aside from the outside chance Bae develops some Josh Harrison-type upside, neither one is going to be a 2-win guy. Nice bench pieces – which you need – but not difference makers. Beyond them, I’m not holding my breath that anyone else at Indy will contribute positive WAR toward a competitive future Pirates team. Would be thrilled if any of them did – Martin, Bolton, CSN, Swaggerty, Yerry – but measure them up against the Altoona group coming up behind and you get a sense of the relative impact pretty quick.


I’m old enough to remember…checks notes…12 months ago when *that* prospect group in Indy was talked about in the exact same way *this* prospect group in Indy is being talked about.

bucket of jim bibby sweat

I just can’t take these comments.
NO MILB team of the PBC has been close to having this much talent in about 2 decades, if ever. This isn’t a secret. This isn’t subjective fanboys saying it; its literally every legitimate evaluative service making this painfully obvious observation.

Besides the Top 100 prospects that most have heard of, The Curve staff is both talented and deep. Those dozen or so prospects are the reason Dewey Robinson decided to jump on board. It’s time you do too. Or find another team to follow.


jimmy, if you get off falling for prospect fluff then don’t let me rain on your parade but you can fuck right off if you base fandom on propaganda.


7 years ago, the Pirates had the best farm in the sport.

You’re being a revisionist.


Anybody wanna remind jimmy and Tim that a 40 FV prospect is a bench player?

Look man I get that he owns a prospect site and this shit is his wet dream, but I’m absolutely sick of media slobbering all over cherington’s balls for what is the most milquetoast tank and rebuild one could imagine.

Can we please just fucking enjoy a talented club without embellishing with this absurd narrative? Too much to aks?

Last edited 1 year ago by NMR
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