When looking at the potential Altoona Curve rotation for the upcoming season, the name that maybe stood out the most to watch was going to be Nick Garcia.
He put up a really strong season in Greensboro, no easy task, and threw more than 100 innings in his first full season as a starting pitcher.
Of course, Garcia was traded to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for outfielder Connor Joe, so that ended that thought.
Looking at the remaining players who could make the jump to Altoona, there may be no player that benefits more than getting out of First National Bank Field than Sean Sullivan.
Sullivan was the team’s eighth round pick back in 2021 out of Cal, and was seen as a good value pick for the Pirates at the time due to his four-pitch mix.
He played the entire 2022 season with the Grasshoppers, posting some intriguing numbers — an 3.88 xFIP, plus a 25.8 K% compared to a 8.3 BB% — but was hit hard at home and suffered to an 4.68 ERA overall.
The thing that popped out the most for Sullivan was his home run to fly ball rate, which was an insane 26.7%. He allowed 60 fly balls all season (29.9 FB%) but still allowed 16 home runs overall.
This is Sean Sullivan throwing some of his breaking balls, mostly against righties. His ability to place his fastball down in the zone allows him to set up the breaking ball to get a lot of weak contact. #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/7YkrJF3DXv
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) June 13, 2022
According to Fangraphs, 10-12% is the average HR/FB%, meaning Sullivan was allowing home runs at double the rate as usual. If you take the amount of fly balls he allowed, and pushed the home runs down to average, that would be around seven allowed — eight fewer than what he actually gave up.
Just to keep things simple, if those eight home runs were all just solo shots, and you subtract those earned runs from his ledger, that would drop his ERA down to 3.84 — nearly a full run less than his actual mark.
Sullivan has the diverse pitch mix, and with his slight bump in velocity late in the season, could be a backend starter at some point in the future.
Greensboro doesn’t do pitchers any favors on the stat sheet, but there is still an opportunity to come out on the better side of things if you use the experience properly.
If Sullivan comes out and keeps things on the ground like he did last year (41.3 GB%), he should see a noticeable difference in results, and potentially serve as a bridge prospect between two waves of pitching prospects the Pirates have.
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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.