At the conclusion of each minor league season, clubs often name their best position
player and pitcher in their system. It can be a glimpse into a promising future, a surprise, or an
indictment on a system’s dearth. Players so honored can have long and successful, if not
spectacular, career. They can also end up the answer to a trivia question. One year’s top player
can become next season’s head scratcher. Look no further than the Pirates 2021 minor league
player and pitcher of the year. Matt Frazier and Adrian Florencio, respectively, had seasons that
can only be categorized as disappointments. Frazier, at AA Altoona, played in 116 games with
439 at bats that produced a slash line of .219 BA and .616 OPS. He had 6 HR and 44 RBI while
stealing 18 bases. He had an All-Star campaign compared to Florencio, at Hi A Greensboro.
Avert your eyes if you are easily frightened. In 21 appearances, including 15 starts, he went 1-10
with a ghastly ERA of 8.07 and a WHIP of 2.02 covering 58.0 IP. He was eventually removed
from the active roster and returned to rookie level Bradenton. Despite his struggles, Frazier
remains the Pirates 16th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
2021 demonstrated that extrapolating any definitive assessment of an organization’s
future is futile. Most years do. There have been promising players, 2016’s group was Josh Bell
and Mitch Keller, 2018 was Ke’Bryan Hayes and J.T. Brubaker. But some years you end up with
the likes of Max Moroff and Yeudy Garcia in 2015, or Mason Martin and James Marvel in 2019.
The latter of whom was out of the organization after one season of his selection. Previous
winners were, with apologies to Dennis Eckersley, a hodgepodge of nothingness. Some of these
luminaries were Jim Negrych, Jeff Sues, Rudy Owens, Kyle McPherson, Andrew Lambo and the
infamous John Van Benschoten.
With past as prologue, the minor league player and pitcher of the year appears to be much
closer to the Bell and Keller variety than of the Moroff and Garcia class. General Manager Ben
Cherington’s effort to revitalize the moribund farm system has provided several outstanding
prospects across all levels that could be considered for this designation. Identifying the system’s
top prospects requires actual analysis, comparison, and projection.
The players chosen for the 2022 Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year span the
spectrum from, did not see that coming, to bona fide, blue-chip prospect putting all the tools
together. Many players had breakout seasons, increasing their rankings, and offering long term
hope to even longer suffering Pirate fans, Players considered were both imported and home
For the Player of the Year, there was no debate. Endy Rodriguez, acquired from the
Mets as part of the Joe Musgrove trade, stormed through three levels of the Pirates system. A
rarity for the Pirates, Rodriguez left them no choice. He started the season at Hi A Greensboro,
playing 88 games, batting .302 with an OPS of .936. He clubbed 16 HR and drove in 55. That
earned him a mid-season promotion to AA Altoona. All he did there was continuing to destroy
opposing pitchers’ psyches by hitting .356 with an absurd OPS of 1.120. He added an additional
8 HR and 32 RBI in only 31 games. He wasn’t finished making the minors his personal
playground. Having nothing left to prove at AA, he was promoted to AAA Indianapolis, the last
stop before Pittsburgh. In 10 games, he dwarfed his AA numbers. Terrorizing the International
League by batting .455, having an OPS of 1.208 with another one home run and 8 more RBI. He
displayed great positional flexibility and improved defense in addition to his greatly improved
offensive profile. Where he begins 2023, and how long he stays there, will generate significant,
and passionate, debate amongst fans.
The Pitcher of the Year was not so clear cut. From AA down to the Florida Complex
League, several young arms put themselves on the map. From youngsters like Anthony Solometo
and Bubba Chandler’s dominating the rookie ranks, to a pair of 2020 draft picks, Nick Garcia
and Jared Jones at Greensboro, there are pitchers that if the stars align, could rival some of the
great young staffs that have previously burst upon the majors at one time. However, for 2022, the
choice came down to two starters closer to the majors in 2018 11th round selection, Michael
Burrows and 2019 1st rounder, Quinn Priester, with Priester winning by a nose.
Both started at AA Altoona and ended up at AAA Indianapolis. Both spent time on the
shelf and both displayed dominating stuff. Priester started 15 games and threw 76.0 innings. The
result was an ERA of 2.84 and a corresponding WHIP 1.184. He struck out 75 and walked 22.
The 9.0 K per 9 inning is a stat you want to see from a front of the rotation arm. He stated two
games with Indianapolis, going 1-1with a 3.16 ERA over 9.1 IP. More encouragingly, he struck
out 10 and did not walk a batter. Considering the Pirates overly cautious approach and Priester’s
late start to 2022, not to mention his value, expect him to spend the bulk of 2023 at AAA where
his workload will be closely monitored.
2022 is in the books. As stated earlier, this year’s production can be an indicator of the
future, but far from a guarantee. Like Rodriguez, players will make huge strides forward. Like
Frazier and Florencio, there is the danger of a plateau, or worse. For now, one can allow
themselves some optimism and hope. Spring training begins Friday, February 24, 2023, with
games starting the next day. We will start to get a better idea at that time.
Notable Performances from across the Pirates four full season affiliates:
Ji-hwan Bae .289/.792 OPS, 8 HR, 53 RBI, 30 SB
Osvaldo Bido 32 G, 111.1 IP, 3-8, 4.53 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 122 K, 64 BB
Michael Burrows 12 G, 42.1 IP, 1-4, 5.31 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 42 K, 12 BB
Jared Triolo .282/.795 OPS, 9 HR, 39 RBI
Matt Gorski .277/,844 OPS, 8 HR, 32 RBI
Michael Burrows 12 G, 52.0 IP, 4-2, 2.94 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 69 K, 19 BB (Promoted
Greensboro Hi A:
Dariel Lopez .286/.805 OPS, 19 HR, 58 RBI
Nick Garcia 25 G, 113.0 IP, 4-4, 3.66 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 109 K, 46 BB
Jared Jones 26 G, 122.2 IP, 5-7, 4.62 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 142 K, 51 BB
Bradenton Low A:
Jace Bowen .256/.805 OPS, 14 HR, 66 RBI, 20 SB (Promoted to Hi A)
Tsung-Che Cheng .270/.794 OPS, 6 HR, 52 RBI, 33 SB
Pu Yu Chen 22 G, 98.1 IP, 4-8, 4.58 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 103 K, 36 BB
Joelvis Del Rosario 20 G, 93.0 IP, 7-4, 3.40 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 76 K, 25 BB