Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Underrated Players in Greensboro
Many Pittsburgh Pirates prospects who played at High-A Greensboro are underrated. Why are they ignored in the rankings?
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ High-A affiliate is the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Last season, the Grasshoppers had a packed roster. Their lineup once housed Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Matt Fraizer, Lolo Sanchez and Jared Triolo. During that time, they had a rotation with Quinn Priester, Carmen Mlodzinski, Michael Burrows, JC Flowers and Tahnaj Thomas on the pitching side.
It’s a solid cast of characters on a roster. Between these players are several top 100 prospects. But one thing I’ve noticed is that some of the players are seriously underrated, more at Greensboro than at other minor league levels of the Pirates.
To look at Nick Gonzales, for example. You’d think a guy posting a 150 wRC+, even in a hitting-friendly environment, with a well-rounded toolset would be a consensus top-50 prospect. Baseball America barely has him in its top 50 at no. 49. Baseball Prospectus places it at a respectable non. 29, but Athletic’s Keith Law had it at no. 93. Currently, FanGraphs has it at No. 35 before half the teams had even received lists of top prospects. It will likely drop more once they provide ratings for teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, and LA Dodgers.
I’ve gone into more detail on how Gonzales is underrated here, but that expands beyond Gonzo. Last year, Quinn Priest posted a low-3 ERA and low-4 FIP in a hitting-friendly environment. You would think that with his improvement and a great second half, it would give him a rise in the standings and earn him more appreciation. Did I mention he did all of this when he was about three years older than his competition?
Priester fell in Baseball America‘s eyes on the no. 88. Priester ranks just above Gonzales at no. 34 in the current FanGraphs ranking and comes in at no. 57 according to Keith Law. FanGraphs was the hardest on Priester, stating that he “follows like a mid-rotation starter”, which I totally disagree with.
Now not every prospect who played in Greensboro was knocked down the leaderboard, and Liover Peguero remains relatively the same since its end-of-season standings, as does Jared Triolo. Boosted FanGraphs Michael Burrows and even put Matt Fraiser on the top 100 (admittedly, the latter played Double-A Altoona). But the perspective I want to bring up that no one else seems to pay much attention to is Carmen Mlodzinsky.
Mlodzinski hasn’t had a bad year in Greensboro. In 50.1 innings, the right-hander had a 3.93 ERA, 4.34 FIP and 1.29 WHIP. He hit 30% of batters on the run while having a 9.4% walk rate. His 1.25 HR/9 may not have been great, but you need more context than that.
He was average in terms of homers, with the average being 1.23. Mlodzinski was excellent in every other aspect by the norm. The right-hander pitched in a league where the average ERA was 5.10, the average strikeout rate was just 26.8 percent, and the average walk rate was 9.6 percent. In all aspects, Mlodzinski was average or better.
Mlodzinski dropped in the FanGraphs rankings from a FV of 40+ down to just 40. It might not be a significant drop, but you couldn’t tell. according to their wording. Their 2021 statement on Mlodzinski says he’s a “mid-rotation starter who could come in the first round,” but in their most recent summary they say he could be pushed into a “mid-innings role.” “.
They also go on to state in their 2022 article on the right-hander that while he saw an increase in speed in the Arizona Fall League, the field was “affected more than expected given the difficulty. ” They downgraded his fastball from a pitch with 60 upside to just 50 upside. But that’s also in a small sample (11 innings) in a more batter-friendly environment than High-A East, the Grasshopper league. The average ERA in the AZFL was approaching 6, at 5.66. On average, over six runs were scored per 9 innings. So while the pitch was hit hard in the AZFL, every pitcher was giving up his fair share of hard-hit balls.
Jared Triolo was praised for his excellent glove work at third base and his underrated prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system. Additionally, he had a league-adjusted .849 OPS, .371 wOBA, and 128 wRC+. It didn’t even get a boost in fielding quality. Lolo Sanchez had a career year, posting a .826 OPS, .365 wOBA and 124 wRC+. His 17 home runs were four more than he hit between 2016 and 2019. What happened to his FV? He fell from 40 to 35+.
I’m not here to pretend that Mlodzinski will be an under-3.00 ERA ace, Triolo will be the next Nolan Arenado, or Sanchez will be their next Andrew McCutchen. Everyone has their flaws. Mlodzinski needs to refine his command. Triolo’s overall hit skill doesn’t scream consistently over the long term. Sanchez has very low outing speeds which don’t play well for a guy who had a fly ball rate above 40%. But everyone has improved in one way or another.
Mlodzinski’s fastball was showing more life in the Arizona Fall League. Triolo was hitting for more power. Sanchez increased his line drive rate from under 20% to 25% and lowered his ground ball rate by about 50%. Yet for all of them, they have dropped in some way in the lead rankings.
Injuries may have played a role in Mlodzinski’s demotion, as they could also have played a role in Priester’s and Gonzales’ demotions. But if you ask me, many prospects who have spent quite a bit of time in High-A Greensboro are underappreciated by many outlets. Why is it? There must be a reason that many Pittsburgh Pirates prospects who performed well in Greensboro aren’t gaining traction or, in some cases, losing traction.
I think it’s a case of bias in favor of the batter. It happens all over baseball. Ask anyone if they think Trevor Story is overrated. If they say yes, they will because he has huge home/away splits. Why did it take Larry Walker until his 10th try to enter the Hall of Fame and need the help of the general baseball community to increase his popularity? Because Coors. Why did Todd Helton finally hit the 50% mark in the Hall of Fame ballot? He played with the Colorado Rockies.
Now, that doesn’t mean completely glancing at a guy playing in a batter-friendly environment or completely ignoring the massive home/away splits. But batters’ abilities are often overlooked due to their supportive environment. Small sample sizes, as in the case of Mlodzinski and in an environment that heavily favors hitters, will make any pitch look bad.
Overall, many 2021 Greensboro Grasshoppers aren’t getting the love they deserve. We have already passed Priester and Gonzales, but guys like Triolo, Sanchez and especially Mlodzinski need more attention.