Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Forgotten Prospects Who Could Impact 2022

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates
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RHP Austin Roberts

Austin Roberts is one of the many underrated prospects in the Pirates’ system. Roberts has consistently shown solid talent, even if the bottom-line numbers don’t ultimately reflect his ability. Now, in his age-23 season, Roberts will likely skip Double-A and get things started at Indianapolis. If he’s healthy and keeps improving, he could come up around summer with Bolton.

Roberts spent most of the season at High-A Greensboro. He was mainly used as a long reliever, appearing in 39 games and pitching 65.1 innings. Now on the surface, he struggled with a 4.55 ERA, 5.05 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP. But there were plenty of positives to come out of the season for Roberts.

Roberts had a 34.9% strikeout rate. He wasn’t prone to walks either, with an 8.8% walk rate. His K:BB ratio sat at 3.96. Plus, he had a solid 4.04 xFIP. So, where did it go wrong for Roberts in 2021? Well, it was the home runs.

Roberts gave up 15 long balls, leading to a 2.07 HR/9 rate. He was primarily a flyball pitcher with a 45.2% fly ball rate. That was a significant change from 2019, when he had a 48.1% ground ball rate. He also had a .348 batting average on balls in play, which was a tad high. His 21.4% HR/FB ratio also was higher than average. It’s quite likely that both move in the right direction, especially with Roberts moving out of such a hitter-friendly environment.

The most significant improvement Roberts made was with his fastball. When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him in the 8th round of the 2019 draft, he was only hitting around 90-92 MPH. He was sitting approximately 95 MPH on average this past season and topping out at 98 MPH. Roberts has also taken big steps forward with his curveball. On the downside, his change-up has deteriorated to an average third pitch. At one point, it was arguably the best change-up in the system.

Still, Roberts looks like he could be a quality utility pitcher, seeing time in multiple roles. He works multiple innings at a time and could possibly make spot starts here and there. Roberts has already made his Triple-A debut, albeit just a 1.1 inning debut. The increase in velocity is very promising, and if he’s consistently hitting 94-96 MPH in the majors, he may see a more critical, high-leverage role.