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Yesterday’s Results: Pirates Rally Late, But Inability to Hit When It Matters Costs Them
Today, I looked at the roster situations for Quinn Priester and Canaan Smith-Njigba, after both had big games last night for Indianapolis. Wilbur Miller looked at lower level infielder Jhonson Pena.
TIM WILLIAMS: Quinn Priester, RHP, Indianapolis (AAA)
Saturday night may have provided the most hope from Quinn Priester. The 2019 first rounder went six shutout innings for Indianapolis, allowing three hits and two walks. Even more impressive, he struck out 11 batters. This was Priester’s first outing of the year with double-digit strikeouts. It’s the third one where he’s had nine or more strikeouts. The previous such outing came on May 16th, with one run allowed in seven innings.
One of the biggest knocks against Priester is his lack of strikeouts. This was his first double-digit strikeout game since 2021 in High-A Greensboro. He accomplished the feat twice that year, last striking out 13 in six shutout innings on August 27, 2021. His high last year was eight strikeouts, on two different occasions. One was five innings and one was six.
The Pirates have needed rotation help out of Triple-A. They currently have Osvaldo Bido in the MLB rotation, while Priester works out of Indianapolis. Long-term, Priester grades with a higher upside. Right now, the Pirates trust Bido and are letting Priester develop. We’ll see how much added development they feel he needs after this start. It was definitely progress in the right direction to get to the big leagues.
TIM WILLIAMS: Canaan Smith-Njigba, OF, Indianapolis (AAA)
Last night was a nice game for Canaan Smith-Njigba. The outfielder had two hits, including his eighth home run of the year. He also added two stolen bases. He’s got a .757 OPS in Triple-A this month, which isn’t great, but it’s a good base to allow for the power/speed this week to stand upon.
The Pirates recently called up and sent down outfielder Cal Mitchell. They sent down Mitchell to bring up Nick Gonzales. In talking with Derek Shelton after that callup, I was told that the Pirates felt they were shorter on infielders than outfielders.
It would take an injury for Smith-Njigba to come up, and then I’m not sure he’d be the clear choice right now over Mitchell. Hitting for power and providing speed on the bases more consistently will help him make his case, should the opportunity arise again.
WILBUR MILLER: Jhonson Pena, INF, FCL Pirates (Rk)
Pena signed with the Pirates in 2019, which of course meant his first season didn’t happen due to COVID. He wasn’t a prominent signing, but he’s performed well since then. Right now, though, it’s a little hard to get a handle on him, as well as a lot of other guys on the FCL Pirates. The team has enough position players for two teams, with the result that most players are getting squeezed for playing time. Only Yordany De Los Santos, Javier Rivas, and Lonnie White, Jr., are playing more or less regularly.
Pena is listed at 6’0”, 155, but shows wiry strength. He hit well in the Dominican Summer League in 2021. In fact, he hit .321 with as many walks as strikeouts (10). He didn’t play much, though, and the Pirates sent him back in 2022. He hit .248/.415/.376, with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (30). He started showing good gap power, as the .128 ISO shows. This year, he’s started nine of the team’s 14 games. He’s hitting .306/.390/.472, with four walks and seven strikeouts in 41 plate appearances. When I’ve seen him, he’s made hard contact and has shown the ability to drive the ball. He runs well and is effective as a base stealer, 21-for-24 for his career, including 7-for-7 this year.
Although he ostensibly signed as a shortstop, Pena has played only two innings there. In the DSL, he mostly played third, with some time at second. At the lower levels, the Pirates generally have infielders spend at least some time at second, third and short, so they evidently don’t see Pena as a shortstop. This year, he’s played just one game at second and otherwise has played the outfield, mostly center. With White and Braylon Bishop also in the FCL, the fact that Pena is getting about a third of the time there probably shows the Pirates think he can move forward as a center fielder. He had a rough day there a few days ago, struggling to track two long flies that should have been caught (one was not a routine play, the other was) and instead became triples. In the June 24 game, though, he took a good route on a long fly and made a nice catch. His arm looks at least average.
Pena so far has been a productive hitter, mainly out of the leadoff spot. He’ll be worth keeping an eye on as the season goes along.
Prospect Watch Archives
6/24: Nick Gonzales, Jared Triolo, Adolfo Oviedo
6/23: Michael Kennedy, Po-Yu Chen, Wyatt Hendrie
6/22: Braxton Ashcraft, Jase Bowen, Maikol Escotto
6/21: Termarr Johnson, Connor Scott, Enmanuel Terrero
6/20: Cal Mitchell, Travis MacGregor, Alessandro Ercolani
6/19: Henry Davis, Bubba Chandler, Julian Bosnic
6/18: Jared Jones, Matt Gorski, Tony Blanco Jr.
The Prospect Watch runs every day at noon, featuring three players from the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system.