Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Additional Thoughts on New FanGraphs Rankings
By Noah Wright
FanGraphs recently released their top Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list, including some interesting rankings worth discussing.
FanGraphs recently released their top Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list. So far, they’ve made lists for 12 total teams (including the Bucs). It’s an interesting list. There are some things I agree with, and others I highly disagree with. I have a strong opinion of it, and I want to share my thoughts on the updated list. Before we begin, you can see the entire list here.
Things I agree with
Seeing Matt Fraizer and Endy Rodriguez reach borderline top-100 status is great. They were two of the best hitters in the Pirate farm system last season and made massive strides in 2021. I highly agree with their current ranking. So long as Rodriguez’s production doesn’t take a nosedive in production, he should be a top 100 prospect by season’s end.
I understand why Fraizer isn’t a top 100 prospect. He’s a bit older and a fringy center fielder. I don’t think he’ll ever reach top 100 prospect status as I believe he’ll graduate before an updated list gets posted. He’s 24-years-old and will start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. He’s a guy we could see with the Pittsburgh Pirates by late May/early June.
Michael Burrows’s uptick in rankings is deserved as well. He pitched great at Greensboro and got bumped up to the Pittsburgh Pirates top 15 prospects. The addition of J.C. Flowers is another great thing to see. He’s one of the organization’s more underrated arms who provides a devastating slider and the best athleticism on the mound among all Pirate prospects. Another new addition in Luis Ortiz was nice to see, and he was arguably the better than teammate and Low-A pitcher of the year, Adrian Florencio.
Things I disagree with
Let’s get this one out of the way first. How does FanGraphs only see Quinn Priester’s outlook as a mid-rotation starting pitcher? Priester had a great year at High-A Greensboro, including a phenomenal second half. They downgraded his change-up from a projected 50-grade offering to a 35-grade pitch. Meanwhile, his fastball and curveball went from 60 and 80 to 55 and 70, respectively.
Another one I highly disagree with is Carmen Mlodzinski falling from a no. 3 starter outlook to a middle inning outlook. The right-hander’s fastball fell from a projected-60 to a projected-50 because it got hit hard in the Arizona Fall League, the same league that averaged six runs per 9 innings, despite showing more velocity and life in the zone in the Fall League. They also removed his cutter grade, leaving him with a slider grade. Mlodzinski is slowly becoming the most underrated arm in the system.
Another highly suspicious grade is Tahnaj Thomas projected-60 grade command. The right-hander finally fell a few pegs from top 100 prospect with a 50-FV to a 35+ FV. But his command projection still sits with Anthony Solomon, the second-best command pitcher from the 2021 draft, and Miguel Yajure, a known high-skilled command arm.
If you want to talk about an odd grade, let’s bring up Jack Suwinski. Acquired as part of the Adam Frazier trade, Suwinski is known for his power potential. But FanGraphs gives him just a 20-grade for his fielding. Keep in mind this is a lower grade than Josh Bell had and Colin Moran had as prospects. According to a report from Baseball America from when Suwinski was 21-years-old, he was an above-average 55-grade defender. One of three things is true here; FanGraphs is very wrong, Baseball Prospectus is very wrong, or Suwinski forgot how to field a ball in 2 years.
A prospect that I was surprised to see on the list was Jared Oliva. While Oliva did well in 2018 and 2019, he’s going into his age-26 season after an 86 wRC+ in an injury-marred 2021. FanGraphs even states that the general consensus is that he’ll become a borderline 5th outfielder. Yet he is ranked above guys, including Lolo Sanchez, Rodolfo Castro, Cal Mitchell, Shalin Polanco, Sammy Siani, and Connor Scott.
Now I understand that prospect rankings are subjective. Every list has things fans agree and disagree with. FanGraphs values things such as raw power and athletic ability a lot, which is why Jared Oliva is still on the list and Tahnaj Thomas still has a projected 60-grade for his command. Performance isnt everything when looking at a prospect, but still holding Thomas and Oliva in such high regard, even given their raw ability, seems a bit much. I’m also not a pro scout or pro analyst, so I might not be seeing something FanGraphs is. They have plenty of more data, video, and resources than you or I. But it really seems like they missed the mark with a handful of players here. Usually, FanGraphs is solid in their rankings and analysis. In my opinion, they’ve been excellent in previous years. But with their most recent list, I found myself disagreeing with it more than agreeing.