Our Pirates Winter Report will highlight one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, then give brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week, we feature right-handed pitcher Brad Case, who wrapped up his season in Puerto Rico.
Brad Case had a bit of an odd 2022 season, where one game really skewed his overall results.
He opened the year in Triple-A Indianapolis, where he gave up nine runs in 8.2 innings. He went to Double-A Altoona for the rest of the season, where he had a 3.92 ERA in 62 innings.
A combined 4.58 ERA in 70.2 innings isn’t the worst, but an April 21st blowout in Indianapolis really changed his overall season look. Subtract that game and he had a 3.76 ERA. Among Pirates pitchers who threw 50 innings in the minors in 2022, his 4.58 ERA ranks 26th out of 44 qualified pitchers. That “adjusted” 3.76 mark would have ranked him 12th.
Case had 65 strikeouts in 70.2 innings this year, giving him a rate of 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s a solid percentage, which is also the best of his career. He debuted in 2018 after being drafted in the 17th round. He had a 6.6 K/9 rate that season. That mark went up to 7.3 in 2019, then to 7.7 last year in Altoona.
He has been missing more bats each year, but the Pirates felt he could be doing better.
“During the season I talked to our [pitching] coordinator Josh Hopper about what I could improve on, and he said that my breaking ball swing-and-miss wasn’t great, and that could be an area we could improve on”, Case said.
Case went to Puerto Rico this offseason, where he worked on developing a new pitch aimed at getting that swing and miss.
“I was going with a traditional knuckle curve, and it wasn’t too consistent,” said Case. “I tried reverting to an old slider grip that I had success with in the past and immediately saw results.”
The work on the new pitch started during the regular season, but the real test came during the winter when he used it more often in games.
While in Puerto Rico, Case allowed two runs in 11 innings, with a 1.00 WHIP. His new pitch got better in the league, thanks to help from the coaching staff.
“While I was down in Puerto Rico, I just kept throwing it everyday”, Case said. “After working with Iche Santiago and Ricky Rivera (the pitching coach and bullpen coach for Gigantes de Carolina), we found some drills that really helped me improve the shape and action.”
A new set of eyes can always help. That especially true with Jose “Iche” Santiago, who pitched eight seasons in the majors and has become a respected pitching coach in Puerto Rico. Case had other help with his pitch, and it came in the form of one of his teammates from Altoona, who also spent the winter with him in Puerto Rico.
“The final piece of the puzzle was my throwing partner, Jeff Passantino“, Case said. “He’s incredibly deceptive and excels at spinning the ball. After talking with him about how to feel it leaving my hand, it was all about executing after that. After a lot of trial and error I got to a good spot where I could feel the ball come out of my hand the way I wanted, and land it low away with good movement.”
We saw the Pirates lose a lot of pitching during the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this year, creating a bit of an opening for all of the remaining pitchers. Case is one of those pitchers who could take advantage of that opportunity.
As we saw, he was one game away from having a solid season at the upper levels in 2022. He’s also been steadily improving his strikeout rate each year. Adding a new swing-and-miss pitch could be what pushes him over the top.
Around the World
The Dominican got quiet in a hurry, so there’s nothing new to report other than there won’t be anything new to report.
Yohan Ramirez is on the playoff roster for his team, but has not pitched since the season ended.
Fabrico Macias and Denny Roman are the only two players from the Pirates in Mexico. I could basically write the same thing I did last week for them because Roman played a game in which he allowed two hits without an out or run, so he still has an impressive 0.66 ERA. I said last week that Macias was league average and that hasn’t changed. He keeps plugging along in the middle of the pack since early in the year without high points or low points, though he did have two walk-off hits in the last week.
Young infielder Tsung-Che Cheng has been struggling at the plate with the jump in quality/age/experience from Single-A to Puerto Rico. It’s a nice challenge for him, but this league would probably be better for him next off-season after he gets a season in Greensboro (and possibly Altoona time).
Will Matthiessen joined the league for what amounted to 12 plate appearances in four games over two weeks. His winter is over.
Josh Palacios was a minor league Rule 5 pick earlier this month. He started playing winter ball around the same time. He has put up solid stats, but nothing special for a player with MLB experience playing in a league that is similar to Double-A in competition.
Shawn Ross was a minor league free agent signing. He has had huge strikeouts numbers and not much offense this winter, which has landed him on the bench. He was a starter for about the first 20 games of the season, but has seen sporadic action over the last two weeks.
Duane Underwood Jr. will be playing in Puerto Rico soon. He has played there once before, joining the league late last time as well.
Australia is on a 12-day break for Christmas, so nothing happened since last week, and we won’t have anything new to report in next week’s Winter Report either.
The league in Colombia is led by Andres Alvarez, who is making a run at the Triple Crown. He was first in hitting, second in homers and first in RBIs going into last night’s game. There are just ten games left before the playoffs.
Rodolfo Nolasco had a slow start, a nice one-week run, and then not much since. He’s basically been league average over the course of the year. This is a good level for him to be at, as he needs to work on his contact skills. He already makes hard contact, just not enough of it.
Francisco Acuna got off to a slow start, but he has been a little better than league average over the last three weeks or so. This league is important for him because his 2023 season starts with a suspension that began late last year. He will be able to play Extended Spring Training games until the suspension is over, but he will be facing inferior competition compared to where he should be.
None of the Pirates pitchers in the league saw work recently, so it’s just been those three hitters getting all of the attention.
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.