Pirates Prospects Daily: The Strength Of The System Rests In The Lower Levels

Baseball America released their Top 100 prospects recently, and of course it caused a lot of panic all over the place, especially after the Pirates only had four players make the list. Names like Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, and Mike Burrows were all left off.

Of course lists like this aren’t the say-all-be-all when it comes to prospects, but it did get me thinking about the system, and where it currently stands.

There will be more and more Top 100 lists out over the next couple of weeks, where we can really get a good look at the system from the outside looking in. Maybe the system isn’t as top heavy anymore, but there is still something to take note of when talking about the organization.

The strength that the Pirates currently have is mostly in the lower levels, with numerous players that have incredible upside, but are more on the raw side.

Termarr Johnson was the team’s first round pick in 2022, and was ranked as the second best prospect in the draft, thanks to his highly regarded hitting tools. He may have the highest ceiling of any current prospect in the system.

Johnson isn’t the only player in the lower levels around his age range that has a lot of upside.

The Pirates have several high-upside arms that they drafted out of high school, hoping that putting them through their development system will unlock the immense potential they all have.

Two of them were a part of the 2021 draft class that were signed to over slot deals and spent the majority of last year with the Bradenton Marauders.

Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo looked very much like the immensely talented prospects they were expected to be when they were drafted and signed to an over slot deal. Both are among the better players in the system, with Chandler getting acknowledged as someone who could potentially jump into the Top 100 early on this season.

Solometo showed a much more advanced approach on the mound based on his age, and with a velocity jump to go along with an already deceptive delivery could also climb the rankings.

Two other pitchers in the Bradenton rotation last year — Po-Yu Chen and Carlos Jimenez — were international signings that have begun to flash some upside as they start their minor league journeys. 

Chen has posted some of the best spin rate data in the lower levels, and Jimenez is paired with maybe the most lethal changeup in the system. Neither pitcher is talked about much around baseball.

That’s mostly due to the high variance in what they may actually end up as pitchers.

It’s a common theme in the system, and not by accident when you take a look at how they have spent in the International market, as well as the draft. 

They’ve focused on taking players with incredibly high ceilings, but a lot of cloudiness around what kind of floor they will have.

This isn’t even including the hitters (Lonnie White and Braylan Bishop among them). It’s also not including their most recent big International signing in Jun-Seok Shim, who could just as easily step in as one of this group this season.

Putting such a great investment into these kinds of players is a big risk, and they are betting the house on their own development team to push them in the right direction.

The potential payoff is huge, and even if a couple of these players start to show signs of figuring things out, there are several in the lower levels that could easily find their way into national attention.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**In the latest Pirates Winter Report, John Dreker looks at the untouchable season Duane Underwood Jr. had in Puerto Rico.

**Quinn Priester and Bubba Chandler both received mentions as top 100 candidates.

**Sammy Siani is moving up the hitting charts in Australia.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at the second base depth throughout the Pirates’ system.

Song of the Day

Pirates Prospects Weekly

John Dreker looked at the untouchable season in Puerto Rico by Duane Underwood Jr. in his latest Pirates Winter Report.

Pirates Winter Report: Duane Underwood Jr is Untouchable in Puerto Rico

Ethan Hullihen will have his latest Pirates Business update on Sunday at noon.

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.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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steve_zielinski

The next pospect wave and the wave after that will prove to be important. Both have two first round picks, but the second wave will have homegrown IFAs. Both are deep too. It’s a good position to be in.

Last edited 12 days ago by steve_zielinski
docdon385

Prospects, especially lower level ones, are like backup quarterbacks. Everyone loves them and believes they will be the answer until they are given the opportunity to play. Pirate fans have had very little to hold on to recently and wanting each and every minor league prospect to turn into a star with the Pirates has become one of the few things giving us hope. Somehow looking forward to the draft has become more interesting than looking forward to the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, history and reality in general say that at best one in three lower level prospects actually amount to anything in the majors. Maybe history won’t repeat itself here but perhaps the idea of trading some of these prospects for established players sooner rather than later while they still have value might be a consideration? Of course, knowing which ones to trade and which ones to keep is the big question that not even the “so called” experts can answer, and if you acquire decent veteran players you have to pay them what they’re worth. How likely is that to happen?

Meanwhile, the Pirate roster is still filled with “stop gap” veterans while we continue to wait for at least some of the upper level prospects to be given the chance to show whether they belong in the major leagues and we hold our collective breaths waiting to find out if the Pirates are going to trade their best player for more prospects. Hope springs eternal I suppose and maybe that’s better than nothing because given the current ownership it looks like it might be all we have.

ArkyWags

I’ve never really bought the idea that the system is stacked at lower levels. It’s just a bunch of highly talented guys who haven’t failed yet. Basically every organization has guys similar to guys like Bishop and White.

Last edited 12 days ago by ArkyWags
PirateRican21

Watching the Jared Jones video reminds me to let everyone that enjoy this videos know that AM has a YouTube channel where all of this videos are posted. Let’s get him some more subscribers and views!

AdministrativeSky236

I added one for ya!

PirateRican21

BTW my favorites videos are those showing a specific pitch, for example, the Justin Meis slider video…..is a CB in my book, but whatever it is, it’s fun to watch.

PirateRican21

I appreciate the videos!

leefieux

Gosh. I’d almost forgotten about Lonnie White and Braylan Bishop

jon6er

What’s the name of your channel Anthony?

PirateRican21
ArkyWags

Easy to forget White cause he’s basically never played due to injury. I doubt he makes it past Altoona.

SouthernBuc

I’ll be honest, the title of this article troubled me. I first thought this article would be somehow implying the Pirates can’t compete until the ‘strength of the system – lower levels’ advances to the majors. I would argue AAA is the strength and hopefully will be helping by 2024 at the very latest.

However, i did enjoy the article and a good reminder of what is on the way.. although still real high risk.

TNBucs

I might say that a strength of the system is the lower levels but if I had to pick the strength, I’d say AAA.

AdministrativeSky236

This is a good distinction to make, especially since the middle levels feel to be fairly devoid of real excitement where we stand today

pantherfan83

I’m thinking after July (draft/call ups) it will surely be the lower levels.

leefieux

As long as their arc is up and not sideways or down. A lot can happen in 2-4 years. I start to get excited when they do well in AA and even then…..they’ll break your heart.

ST1300b

I really don’t want to say it – but look it’s just how I see the facts here. When scouts say hits like Wade Boggs, and I have been 30 feet from Boggs in Fenway and he was a favorite of mine – and then I watch Terrmar… lets just say I see more Kevin Newman than Wade Boggs.

If you are saying Wade Boggs, then I expect to see a young Ken Griffey type of talent show up. Sorry if that offends anyone.

jimmyz

Mostly playing devils advocate here but you got to see perennial all star Wade Boggs and not 17 year old getting his feet wet in pro ball Wade Boggs. I see traits in Termarr’s approach at the plate, primarily his ability to lay off close pitches out of the zone, that give some credence in my mind to the Boggs comps even if the results weren’t overwhelming. I see Robinson Cano as a better comp for Termarr than Boggs personally. I can see Termarr hitting .285-.310 with 20+ homers and about a dozen stolen bases consistently for 5 or more years. It’s crazy to me that I feel comfortable saying that about a guy with less than one season in pro ball but I am.

john.benedict

Just one KID offended, 17yr old Termarr Johnson

and bad comparison Newman bats RH

TNBucs

Comps are fun but they also do a disservice to young players–do we really want to put the expectation of a perennial all-star and batting champ on Johnson (though from what I’ve read he seems to have the personality to handle lofty expectations)?

This also is an example of why I’m skeptical when I read that a team (ours or anyone else’s) has a strong system with the strength being in the lower levels–it’s easy to dream on those kids. The most impressive systems, like the Rays’ and Dodgers’ systems of recent years, have a lot of strength in the upper levels. In fact, I’d argue that our strength is at AAA, especially in terms of pitching: Burrows, Priester, Ortiz, Oviedo (if he’s not in the majors), Nicolas, Flowers, and Bolton. And while our position players aren’t quite as strong, there is plenty of strength there as well: Bae (if he’s not in the majors), Rodriguez, Davis (soon), Peguero, Gonzales, Triolo, CSN, Nunez, and Swaggerty (haven’t quite given up hope on him).

k1rainey

“do we really want to put the expectation of a perennial all-star and batting champ on Johnson?”

Yeah? $7 million reasons why those expectations are already on him

ArkyWags

I hate comps like that. It’s incredibly unfair to the player. And the lower level stuff hype doesn’t help either.

john.benedict

At 5’7″ I would go with Joe Morgan and if Termarr knew of him he would be flattered.

Whats incredibly unfair to the player is using
COLE TUCKER

ArkyWags

So you think using one of the top 3 second basemen of all time is a good comp? That’s…wild.

NMR

I’m not here to speak for anyone but it seems John thinks of comps in aesthetic terms, which is probably the norm…for better or worse.

leefieux

Newman? I doubt that he would’ve been called the best hitter in the class. New,an never came close to that. Termarr is special. Newman NEVER was.

bradlej31

He has a freakishly low K%. He just can’t walk and can’t hit for power.

Catch_22

Kevin Newman played 2 years in the Cape Cod League. Won the batting title both seasons and MVP in 2014.

He could flat out hit. He had one of the best hit tools in his draft, scouts feared his glove and arm wouldn’t hold up at SS.

Glove as we know is plus, but the Pirates changed his hitting approach in the minors to be strictly contact oriented.

Watch him pop a 2.5-3 fWAR with the Reds this season.

PirateRican21

He’ll hit 10-12 homers, I could see 2-3 WAR.

ArkyWags

He won’t get halfway to those homers.

PirateRican21

In that ballpark, without looking it up I will say that he has hit half of his homeruns in Cincy.

ArkyWags

I don’t think he’ll do that well (average regular) but I think Pgh would have been better served to hang onto him. He’s a solid bench bat and he’s a good safety net at short if Cruz struggles.
As for Newman’s lack of thump, I don’t think Pgh had much to do with it. Some guys just have zero power. Newman hit two homers in almost 800 PA college and one in over 300 at the Cape. Look up banjo hitter in the SABR dictionary and it has a picture of Newman next to it.

ArkyWags

I think a lot of draft folks at the time loved Newmans hit tool. Keith Law, to name one, did. Think he had him like second in the class.

NMR

His 12 dingers in ‘19 are the “Barry Bonds forehead growth” smoking gun equivalent of the rabbit ball era. Just bonkers, completely out of nowhere and never to be seen again.

I was a huge fan in the draft, but if we knew then what we know now about exit velo he’d never have been a first round pick. Exceptionally difficult to hit for either plus average or any game power at all with like 30 raw.

Last edited 12 days ago by NMR
bianco599

My hope is that this same headline doesn’t become the trend because they never develop these youngsters past potential. Either way I will keep on reading and following.

Last edited 12 days ago by bianco599
NMR

Less a trend of failed development than one of scouting bias towards the youngest prospects. It’s easy to dream on a teenager who hasn’t faced anything in terms of actual competition. The overwhelming majority will fail regardless of where they’re being developed.

Last edited 12 days ago by NMR
bianco599

Agree. No way a dude that could still be in high school if he had trouble with math in 4th grade should be rated as top at his position. I find it amazing that someone compares his bat to Wade Boggs. I can’t imagine the pressure these kids feel on a daily basis. The only thing in the past 20 years I feel people judged me on is my beer bonging skills and more recently how well I do as a father. Obviously one is way more important that the other. But I def could rock a bong of beer and whatever you packed in my day.

emjayinTN

Another kid to watch is Nick Dombkowski, 23, 6’2″ 210, an undrafted FA LHRP who started 2022 in A, promoted to A+, and promoted again to AA. At AA he pitched 41 innings, 3.92 ERA, 9.8/2.4 K/BB/9. Be nice to see him in AAA in 2023 along with Tyler Samaniego, 6’4″ 205, another LHRP drafted in the 15th round of the 2021 draft.

Added together the Pirates probably have less than 50K invested. Great scouting and development!

Anthony

And these three guys who didn’t even throw a pitch last year:

Harrington
Barco
Kennedy

emjayinTN

These are the pitchers we hope will have successful beginnings and that they will carry that forward to MLB. When we can develop two like what I mentioned before, we know we have the right developmental people in place to build a winner.

BC has some excellent qualities, but the day-to-day play has not been something where he has identified himself as a winner. That takes looking folks in the eye and firing them in order to bring in a winning Manager. To quote the Godfather – a wartime consigliere! In baseball, you should be committed to going to war every day! Win each pitch, each inning, each game.

leefieux

I’m a big Kennedy fan.

b mcferren

OT: spring training battles

Which of three of these relievers are going to get cut?

Bednar
Crowe
Holderman
Hernandez
*Gracias
Underwood
Stephenson
De Jong
Yerry
Moreta
Selby

which three of these players is going to get cut?

Suwinski
*Joe
Mitchell
Triolo
Canaan
Tucupito
Bae

Last edited 12 days ago by b mcferren
ST1300b

Just one more name – Andres Alvarez was 20/20 last year and doesn’t seem to want to hear he isn’t in the conversation. Sometimes a guy just proves everyone wrong and he seems to be that guy so far. I wouldn’t put it past him, just sayin.

ST1300b

By cut that means they have no more options… is that the case with all of these players?
The Pen…
Bednar, Crowe, Underwood, and Stephenson are the locks.
I’m thinking Holderman, Hernandez, Garcia, DeJong.
So Yerry, Moreta, Selby, Ramirez, are out.
Wild Card is that Oviedo or Ortiz make it in the Pen if they don’t make rotation.
Suwinski and Joe are the locks and they may platoon.
I think Mitchell and Bae are ready to seize their opportunities meaning Triolo, Canaan, and Tuco are out.

skliesen

Isn’t that what Spring Training is for?

Seriously, who makes the team out of ST isn’t more than just a snap shot in time. Chances are good all of the players you listed will be counted on this year.

PirateRican21

It depends, if I like the player and he struggles I’ll say that ST stats don’t matter.

SouthernBuc

Spot on. Available options will definitely play into decisions particularly in the bullpen. And that is not a bad way to do it as even playoff type teams do a lot of rotating in their bullpens.

Aurorus

A team needs more than 13 pitchers to get through a season. There is no other way to maintain consistent quality through the season than use the options on the guys who have them. That often means starting the season with less than your best 13, but that is how it is if you want to make it through 162 games without throwing junk pitchers for hundreds of innings.

joebaseball

1 of the 2 Crowes for sure……

b mcferren

meh – those lists are bullshit

what list was Reynolds on? Bednar was ranked where? Neil Walker

so much hype there in that list

the only thing its good for is ripping off small teams to acquire MLB ringers

Last edited 12 days ago by b mcferren
skliesen

Lists are good for starting discussions. Only thing that counts is player development once the players are chosen.

Tools are great, but are of no value if they aren’t used effectively against other guys with great tools. Figure out how to get more guys to believe in themselves and we’ll have us a winning organization again.

jimmyz

In addition to those players, two guys in the lower levels that definitely caught my attention and look forward to seeing how this season plays out for them are Alessandro Ercolani and Axiel Plaz. Nobody knew anything about Ercolani when he signed and Plaz is really, really young but both had great debut seasons to begin their careers.

Aurorus

In my previous Out of the Park Baseball game, I took over the Pirates in 2027 (after a string managing in Rangers minor-league system). By 2028, Plaz was my starting C. He remained so for 10 years. Out of the Park uses Fangraphs info, and and at least according to the data they are using, it seems this guy has some quality tools

emjayinTN

I had to look hard, but Plaz (Ven) caught 26 games as a 16 year old in the DOSL. He hit very well and defensively had only 5 E’s, 5 PB’s, and a 35% CS rate – excellent numbers for a very young Catcher at that level.

Maybe Ercolani flew under the radar being from San Marino. I want to put that on my to do list in retirement – be the chief scout covering Italy and San Marino!

Wilbur Miller

Erc is a big guy, big frame. Just looks like a pitcher.

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