Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Projecting Santiago Florez’s 2022

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Santiago Florez started the year off hot, but ended ice cold. So what’s next for the right-hander?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have many different young pitching prospects. We cover the likes of Quinn Priester, Roansy Contreras, and Carmen Mlodzinski here often. But one pitcher that hasn’t gotten much coverage this year is Santiago Florez.

Florez couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2021 season. Florez pitched 59.1 innings with the Low-A Bradenton Marauders. He put up a 1.37 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and 0.85 WHIP. Florez, who entered the year with a low career strikeout rate of just 16.4%.

However, his strikeout rate at Bradenton leaped to 34.6%. Forez had struggled with walks as well but had a 6.8% walk rate with the Marauders. Impressive he allowed zero home runs in his innings pitched with Bradenton.

His extraordinary start to the campaign earned him a promotion to High-A Greensboro, but all of his numbers moved in the wrong direction. Florez ended up putting up a 7.53 ERA, 6.49 FIP, and 1.814 WHIP. Florez’s strikeout rate plunged to 18% while his walk rate rose to 10.5%. Home runs, something that Florez had limited very well up until Greensboro, were a massive weakness. He gave up 9 more in just 43 innings.

While Florez’s flyball rate pretty much stayed the same from 31.3% to 31.4%, his ground ball rate sank, going from 49.1% and 41.6%. His line-drive rate also took a significant step back. It went from 19.6% to 27%. Notably, his 20.9% HR/FB ratio at Greensboro was a career-high 9.5% and his batting average on balls in play was .366. So while he got a bit unlucky, the fact of the matter remains that he heavily struggled.

This could mean a few things for Florez’s future. The right-hander’s struggle at Greensboro could have meant that his two-pitch arsenal was exposed. Florez has a four-seam fastball and slider. Both pitches are considered to have well-above-average potential. FanGraphs sees both as ending up as 60-grade offerings. His four-seamer did see an uptick in velo as he was regularly working in the mid-90’s, compared to the low-90’s in previous seasons. But it clocks in at about 2400 RPM and his slider has about 2800 RPM.

However, it’s the only two offerings he throws. While both pitches could be very good offerings in the future, only two pitches don’t bode well for the right-hander. Florez also needs to clean up his mechanics. According to FanGraphs, his long arm action can get in the way of reaching the full potential of his slider and command. Shorter arm deliveries are becoming more and more common in the game today. Based on footage from this season, he hasn’t changed up his wind-up to fix the issue.

There’s also a chance that the Pittsburgh Pirates lose Florez to the Rule 5 draft. He does fit the archetype of a Rule 5 pitcher. A guy who has the raw talent, but needs to refine it. Long-term he projects as a bullpen arm, but that wouldn’t stray away teams that think he can be a shutdown late-inning reliever.

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Now, granted, Florez is still pretty young. Next year will be his age-22 season. But that doesn’t change the fact that Florez has talent, but lacks the arsenal to be a long-term starting pitcher. He’ll likely make the transition to the bullpen once he reaches the upper minors if he makes it through the Rule 5 Draft. Still, two 60-grade offerings would make a very effective late-inning pitcher.