While things may not be going too smoothly for the Major League squad, down at low A, pitching doesn’t stand a chance against the top prospect in the Pirates system, second baseman Termarr Johnson.
In July, Johnson has lived up to and then some to the elite comps he received coming out of the draft that led him to being taken fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2022. Hitting .311 with a .483 on base and slugging .672 with six home runs. He hit just one home run in his first 28 games, he’s hit 12 in his last 42 contests.
Including this absolute bomb that hasn’t landed yet.
No that’s not a typo, 111 MPH, 471 feet. It becomes even more impressive when you realize Johnson is only 5’8” 175lbs. Johnson generates that at his size by immaculate use of his lower half in his swing and his tremendous skill at barreling the ball to create the force and contact required for that kind of power.
While very productive from April through June with an OBP of .394 and a WRC+ of 126, he was striking out 32.1 percent of the time. In July, it’s been just 16 percent with a walk rate of a whopping 23.5 percent.
Still just 19 years old, dropping the strikeout rates down may have been his key to a promotion to the next level, which now may be coming soon.
At high A Greensboro, Bubba Chandler hasn’t had the smoothest of years. Owner of a 5.79 ERA across 73 innings pitched. But he impressed in his last two starts, 10 and two-thirds innings pitched, 14 Ks, 4 hits, 0 runs, 4 walks.
His struggles with control this year (5.18 BB/9) and his tendency to get little rattled would be more concerning under different circumstances, but this is Chandler’s first year focusing on a single thing... ever. A two-way, two-sport player in high school, the Pirates lured him away with an over slot signing bonus from a quarterback commitment at Clemson university in the 2021 draft.
The hyper athletic Chandler has easy mid to upper 90s velocity, sharp breaking pitches and a plus off-speed offering with a ton of fade that looks like a fastball until it falls off the table.
He recently made Keith Law’s top 60 prospect list in spite of his overall season line describing his stuff “as impressive as anyone I’ve seen this year”
He has a 2.81 ERA so far in July.
Finally at AAA, earlier this season the Pirates traded reliever Robert Stevenson for Rays AA SS, Alika Williams. A hit over power, plus runner and plus defender at short with plenty of questions about the bat, projections have ranged from late inning defensive replacement to utility player. Hitting an uninspiring .237/.314/.417 at AA with Rays he was immediately sent to AAA Indianapolis upon his acquisition.
The Pirates felt there were some mechanical issues in his lower half to be improved upon, evaluators noted if they were cleaned up could lead to more upside than that of a role player.
It wasn’t long before they made a change to his leg kick, starting it earlier, and shortening it.
And now the after;
It’s paid off, he has improved upon both his AA strikeout and walk numbers while hitting .348/.420/.663 with 6 home runs and 17 RBIs in 24 games since June 22.
It’s not readily apparent whether the increased power is real or simply an illusion against lesser competition, he has not historically posted exit velos indicative of much raw power, but his increased production across the board is certainly encouraging.
With Tucupita Marcano’s year coming to a premature close with injury the team has given Williams the call and opportunity to prove his bat will translate per a team announcement.