A few transactions and ranking changes have taken place in the last couple of days, so let’s review them as well as take a look at how several of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top 15 prospects are faring at the minor leagues’ two highest levels – Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.
First, MLB Pipeline released its updated Top 100 prospects list, which features six Pirates farmhands. Second baseman Nick Gonzales maintained his hold on the No. 18 spot while catcher Henry Davis moved up one spot to No. 20. Shortstop Oneil Cruz also advanced one notch to No. 22 while right-handed pitcher Quinn Priester dropped one spot to No. 51.
Shortstop Liover Peguero made the biggest jump, moving 13 spots to No. 62, while recently promoted right-hander Roansy Contreras held steady at No. 67.
Contreras, who is scheduled to start tonight against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park, is rejoining the Pirates after being sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis on April 21. Since then, the 22-year-old right-hander has made five starts and pitched a total of 20 1/3 innings, giving up 13 hits, six earned runs and 11 walks while striking out 24. In his most recent start, which came Thursday, Contreras went 5 2/3 innings and gave up six hits and two earned runs, walked one and struck out four while throwing 84 pitches.
Also promoted Tuesday from Triple-A Indianapolis was outfielder Cal Mitchell; Bucs Dugout writer Austin Bechtold covered that in a separate post.
Gonzales scuffled during the first month of the season, batting just .217 with a .748 OPS in 18 games in April for Double-A Altoona. But he has been better in May; in 18 games he’s hitting .279 with a .781 OPS, although he’s been helped by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play. He’s still striking out at a 33% clip for the month. Overall on the season, Gonzales is hitting .250 with a .766 OPS. He’s homered four times and driven in 13 runs in 155 plate appearances and his strikeout rate is virtually the same as it’s been this month – 33%.
Davis, meanwhile, was placed on the injured list last week, and general manager Ben Cherington said on his weekly Sunday radio show on 93.7 The Fan that last year’s number one overall draft pick has a small non-displaced wrist fracture that occurred before he was promoted from High-A Greensboro to Double-A Altoona. He sustained the injury after being hit with a pitch. Cherington did not go into specifics as to the length of time Davis figures to be sidelined, saying only that he’s expected to return to baseball activities “before too long.”
Davis appeared in 22 games at Greensboro and hit .342 with a 1.035 OPS to earn his promotion to Altoona, where he had two hits in eight plate appearances, including a home run, and twice was hit by pitches.
Cruz, like Gonzales, has seen his fortunes take a turn for the better in May. Overall on the season, Cruz remains below the .200 mark at .197 with four home runs, 22 RBIs and a .667 OPS in 161 plate appearances at Triple-A Indianapolis. But in 16 May games, Cruz is batting .222 with a .784 OPS, three home runs and 14 RBIs. More encouraging, Cruz has walked as many times as he’s struck out – 12 – during that stretch, which takes in 76 plate appearances. During his 19 games in April, Cruz struggled to a .176 batting average and a .566 OPS with just one homer and eight RBIs.
Defensively, Cruz has committed seven errors in 28 games – and 107 chances – at shortstop.
Priester, the Pirates’ top pick in the 2019 draft and the No. 18 selection overall, has been sidelined all season by an oblique injury. Several outlets reported last week that he figured to start throwing live batting practice within a week or two.
Peguero, meanwhile, has been perhaps the most impressive of all the Pirates’ top tier prospects, at least offensively, as he’s batting .317 with an .864 OPS, three home runs and 27 RBIs in his first 153 plate appearances at the Double-A level.
In 78 May plate appearances, Peguero is hitting .311 with a .793 OPS, no home runs and 11 RBIs. He’s struck out 18 times and walked just twice during that stretch. This came after a .324/.938 run in 75 plate appearances in April.
Defensively, Peguero has committed 10 errors in 31 games, so it’s clear he has some work to do with the glove.
Although unranked among the Pirates’ Top 30, no prospect has had a hotter start to his season than 24-year-old Matt Gorski. The 6’4”, 198-pound right-handed hitting outfielder was drafted in the second round in 2019 out of Indiana University, but his first pro experience wasn’t exactly memorable, as he hit .224 with a .643 OPS in 202 plate appearances in the old New York-Penn League that summer.
After missing his 2020 season due to the pandemic shutdown, Gorksi was assigned to High-A Greensboro last season, where he batted .224 with a .711 OPS in 95 games. He did show some power, hitting 17 home runs and driving 56 to go with 18 stolen bases.
The Pirates returned Gorski to Greensboro for the start of the 2022 season, and all he’s done is rake. In his first 37 games (146 plate appearances), Gorski has equaled his home run output for all of last season and has driven in 37 runs. He’s batting .294 with a 1.131 OPS and is striking out at a 27 percent rate so far.
His hot start, which included being named the South Atlantic League player of the week last week, has earned him a promotion to Double-A Altoona.
Matt Fraizer, the next highest-ranked Pirate prospect (No. 10) playing at the upper two Minor League levels, is batting .194 with a .543 OPS in 137 plate appearances at Altoona. He is striking out at a 30% clip and walking at about a 3.5% rate. He’s picking up the pace a bit in May, batting .232 with a .658 OPS in 60 plate appearances.
Mike Burrows, the Pirates’ No. 11 prospect, continues to pitch well at Altoona, where he is
2-0 with a 2.27 ERA in eight starts covering 35 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander has given up just 23 hits and walked 11 while striking out 46 for a 0.953 WHIP.
No. 13 Travis Swaggerty, who was activated off the injured list May 11 after missing a week due to a mild concussion, has been on fire since his return, batting .391 with a 1.070 OPS in 26 plate appearances over seven games at Indianapolis. Swaggerty has a home run and four RBIs during that time. Overall on the season, Swaggerty is at .247/.686 in 97 plate appearances.
No. 14 Carmen Mlodzinski is 0-2 with a 4.56 ERA in seven starts at Altoona. The 23-year-old right-hander has allowed 22 hits and 13 earned runs along with 15 walks in 25 2/3 innings. He has struck out 27.
In his most recent start, which came Thursday following a weeklong stay on the injured list with a shoulder issue, Mlodzinski threw 52 pitches over 2 1/3 innings, giving up three hits and an earned run while walking four and striking out two.
Several of the Pirates’ top prospects – No. 8 Anthony Solometo, No. 9 Bubba Chandler and No. 15 Lonnie White Jr. – have yet to appear in a game, but that could change soon. The Pirates’ team in the Florida Complex (Rookie) League is scheduled to begin play June 6, and there’s a chance all three could see action there, although White was assigned to Bradenton of the Class A Florida State League earlier this month before being placed on the injured list with elbow and hamstring soreness, according to published reports.