Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing 2022 Triple-A Roster

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 03: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates takes the field for the first inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on October 3, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 03: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates takes the field for the first inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on October 3, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Indianapolis centerfielder Travis Swaggerty hit a leadoff home run to start the game against Iowa at Principal Park in Des Moines on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.20210504 Iowacubs /

Outfield

One of the Pirates’ more underrated prospects, Travis Swaggerty will likely try and get his feet back under him after missing most of the 2021 season at Triple-A. Swaggerty’s 2019 season saw him display some good plate discipline and put up a 120 wRC+. He just didn’t hit for any power. The power seemed to come around this year though. While he only was able to collect 48 plate appearances, Swaggerty showed a good amount of promise in those plate appearances. He batted .220/.333/.439 with a .343 wOBA, and 108 wRC+. He continued to draw walks at a strong 12.5% rate and only went down on strikes 16.7% of the time. Plus with 3 home runs and a .220 ISO, the raw power many saw in Swaggerty started to be translated into game power.

Don’t let the batting average fool you. Swaggerty got very unlucky in his first games at Triple-A. The left-handed outfielder had a 26.7% line drive rate. Plus he had a ground ball rate identical to his flyball rate, sitting at 36.7%. Despite his outstanding batted ball rates, he only had a .200 batting average on balls in play, lower than his actual BA (likely because he had 3 home runs). That’s a very similar batted ball profile to Toronto Blue Jays’ all-star slugger, Teoscar Hernandez (25.6% line drive rate, 38.2% ground ball rate, 36.2% fly ball rate), yet he has a .351 BABIP. It’s also similar to Nick Castellanos (26.7% line drive rate, 37.7% ground ball rate, 35.5% fly ball rate, .344 BAbip), and Jeimer Candelario (26.4% line drive rate, 39.3% ground ball rate, 34.3% fly ball rate, .344 BAbip). Needless to say that considering how Swaggerty put the ball in play, he should have been a .280+ hitter rather than sitting near the Mendoza line.

Swaggerty also has a plus glove, strong arm, and good speed. He’s more than capable of manning center field with gold glove level defense at the position. There’s a ton of talent many overlook simply because his batting average, a very poor measurement of a player’s offensive contributions and especially so on its own, isn’t sparkling. He’s a potential borderline five-tool player and should have already been in the major leagues. Still, the talent is there and the Pirates have no reason to promote him immediately as the 2022 season starts. He should get warmed up at Triple-A before hitting the majors.

Canaan Smith-Njigba will be to Swaggerty’s right in left field. Acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade, he could be the 3rd player of that trade to make the major leagues. The left-handed batter was one of the more notable prospects at Double-A Altoona. He stepped to the plate a total of 266 times posting a 274/.398/.408 line, .364 wOBA, and 127 wRC+

Smith-Njigba, despite not putting on display, has good power potential. He has 60-grade raw power but hasn’t fully translated that into game power. Still, he has the plate discipline part of his game down. He walked at a strong 16.9% pace, albeit with a tad high 24.8% strikeout rate. Smith-Njigba’s batted ball rates were poor, having a 10.9% line drive rate and 65.3% ground ball rate. Despite that, he had a .365 BAbip.

Smith-Njigba will likely be limited to just leftfield and designated hitter. He doesn’t project as very fast, nor as an outstanding fielder. But he has the offensive potential to be a good left fielder. The left-hander was promoted, along with Cruz, Castro, Martin, and another outfielder I’m about to bring up. Smith-Njigba hasn’t done all that well, but he, like many of the new promotions, only has a small sample size to his name, 18 plate appearances to be exact. He may also see time at DH given that there is a handful of outfield capable players on the roster.

If protected in the Rule 5 Draft, Cal Mitchell will man right field for the Indians. Mitchell had a solid season at Altoona. He posted a .280/.336/.429 line with a .332 wOBA, and 106 wRC+. Mitchell blasted 12 home runs as well. He did have a poor 5.7% walk rate, but his strikeout rate of 16.9% was, by far, a career-best. Plus he swiped six bags, another career-best mark.

Mitchell mainly played right field for Altoona, so that’s likely going to be where he plays for Indianapolis. He’s on the slower side and only projects as an average glove. He also has about average projected power (both game and raw), and a 45-projected hit tool. Though it’s suggested that he has more power than he’s shown so far. Mitchell may not be one of the Pirates’ most exciting prospects, but if he becomes a solid bench power bat, it’s more than enough.

If Smith-Njigba spends most of his time at DH, or Mithcell is not protected by the 40-man and is selcted, then Matthew Fraizer will end up in one of the two corner outfield spots. Fraizer had a massive breakout season at High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona. Fraizer had one of the best offensive seasons among the Pirates’ minor leaguers. Throughout 499 plate appearances, the outfielder hit .306/.388/.552 with a .402 wOBA, and 149 wRC+. He smacked 23 long balls while showing good plate discipline. Fraizer posted an 11.2% walk rate and solid 21.6% strikeout rate.

While a lot of Fraizer’s production was at High-A, he was still good overall at Double-A. In 149 plate appearances, Fraizer batted .288/.356/.492 with a .366 wOBA, and 129 wRC+. Fraizer still showed good pop with a .205 ISO, as well as an 8.7% BB% and 22.8% K%. Fraizer may not be the highest ceiling prospect, but he could easily be one of the Pirates’ starting outfielders if his breakout wasn’t just a fluke.

There’s also a chance that Fraizer starts the year out at Double-A since he didn’t get all that much time there. Though based on how aggressive the Pirates have been with some of their prospects (granted, their better prospects), there’s a good chance he starts at Triple-A. Plus 2022 will be his age-24 season, old enough that starting at Triple-A is warranted.

One last outfielder that may get the call to start 2022 at Indy is Jack Suwinski, the other part of the Frazier trade. The outfielder got off to an outstanding start to the season, batting .269/.398/.551 with 15 home runs in 267 PA’s, a .412 wOBA, and 150 wRC+ with the Padre Double-A team. While he was still quite solid with the Pirate Double-A affiliate, the problem was he wasn’t showing much power. He still hit .252/.359/.391 with a .337 wOBA, and 110 wRC+, but he saw his isolated slugging drop from .282 pre-trade to just .139 post-trade.

Suwinski drew plenty of walks, posting an outstanding 15.6% walk rate. Though that came at the cost of a 27.8% strikeout rate. Suwinski does have some sneaky speed as well. He swiped 11 bases and is considered an average runner. He also has a strong arm and is a good glove out in the corner spots. Like many other names we’ve talked about, Suwinski will be in his age-23 season. If he can hit for power while continuing to draw walks at the rate he has while showing off some good fielding, he may end up as a pretty solid outfield option for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the near future.

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