This is just a quick, two-part rundown of the prospects who’ve had breakout years at the lower levels of the Pirates’ system. By “lower levels,” I mean West Virginia and below. By “breakout prospect,” I mean a guy who didn’t look so good before this year but now looks like an actual prospect. Not very scientific, I guess, but it’ll do. Part one is the pitchers.
Oddy Nunez, LHP (West Virginia): A year ago, Nunez (pictured) looked like low-level bullpen filler. He actually had good stats, but he was a tall lefty who didn’t get much out of the mid-80s. This year, he suddenly started hitting 93 regularly and showed a much better breaking ball. He’s also even taller; he was listed at 6’5” when he signed and now he’s listed at 6’8”. So the Pirates moved him up from the GCL to West Virginia and into the rotation. They’ve had to manage his workload, as he threw only 56.1 IP combined his first two years. This year he’s up to 100 and he’s shown some signs of fatigue lately, but he’s had a good year, with good control, a K/9 not far below 9.0, and a very high groundball rate. He suffered from some really bad infield defense early in the season, resulting in an April ERA of 5.29, but he’s been consistently effective since then. He’s also only 20 years old and, given his size, could still add velocity.
Eduardo Vera, RHP (West Virginia): The Pirates signed Vera out of Mexico back in 2012, but he lost a year and a half to Tommy John surgery. He hadn’t distinguished himself previously, but he came to camp showing a very good curve and velocity in the 93-94 range, which has gotten up as high as 97 during the season. Like Nunez, the Pirates have had to pay attention to his workload, as his previous high was 60 innings and he threw only 38.2 IP total in 2015-16. He’s now over 100. He hasn’t been as consistent as Nunez, mainly because he seems to have worn down to a greater degree as the season has gone along. He seldom walks anybody, though, and has a solid K rate at 7.6. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft this fall.
Ike Schlabach, LHP (Morgantown): In 2015, the Pirates got away from their adherence to prep pitchers, drafting only two. The first of those was Schlabach, a 19th round pick who wasn’t especially touted. (The second was Nate Trevillian, who has never pitched as a pro due to Tommy John surgery.) Schlabach is, however, a 6’5” lefty, which the scouts probably liked. He mostly struggled his first two years, in the GCL and at Bristol, but he’s had a very strong year this year in the Morgantown rotation. He throws in the low-90s and has shown very good control, with a 1.05 WHIP and a K rate that’s up to 6.6 from 4.6 last year. Like Nunez, he’s still only 20.
Pasquale Mazzoccoli, RHP (Morgantown and West Virginia): Maybe I should call Mazzoccoli still a possible prospect, but his stuff is impressive. The Pirates seemingly agree, as they sent him to Morgantown when the New York-Penn League season started, but quickly promoted him to West Virginia. This is after opponents hit .319 against him at Bristol last year. I couldn’t get useful velocity readings the one time I saw him this year, but I’m pretty sure he was at least around the 94-97 mph range, and he has a sharp breaking ball. So far this year, between the two levels he has a WHIP of 0.55, and 24 strikeouts and just four walks in 21.2 IP. He’s already 25; he was 24 when he was drafted, although I’m not sure why. Age/level isn’t as significant with pitchers as it is with hitters, but if Mazzoccoli is really a prospect the Pirates will move him up very quickly.