Pittsburgh Pirates: Pitching Prospects Having an Underrated Season

BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 16: Kyle Nicolas #95 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a picture during the 2022 Photo Day at LECOM Park on March 16, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 16: Kyle Nicolas #95 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a picture during the 2022 Photo Day at LECOM Park on March 16, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Let’s take a look at three underrated pitching prospects who are performing well in the Pittsburgh Pirates system

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of pitching prospects scattered throughout the minor league system. Many of them are pretty notable arms, like Quinn Priester, Anthony Solometo, and Bubba Chandler. But there have been some underrated seasons from some underrated arms this year. One of the seasons I want to highlight is Kyle Nicolas.

Nicolas was acquired in the Jacob Stallings deal from this past off-season. He’s pitched 40.1 innings with Double-A Altoona, yielding a 3.98 ERA, 4.15 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP. Nicolas has been a strikeout machine, striking out 31.6% of batters faced. He has also significantly improved his walk rate, bringing it down from 11.5% to 9.4%. His HR/9 of 1.33 isn’t great, but all of his numbers are misleading.

The right-hander has allowed 18 earned runs all season, but eight came in one start. He gave up four of the six home runs he has surrendered all year in that same start. Nicolas has a 2.35 ERA and a .47 HR/9 rate outside of that one outing. Given that Nicolas already had time played at the Double-A level entering 2022, he may get the call to Triple-A before the second half of the season starts.

Nick Dombkowski is another pitching prospect we will likely see at Triple-A before the end of the season. The southpaw was an undrafted free agent in 2021. Although most UDFA signings don’t turn out to be much, Dombkowski has done exceptionally well so far to start his professional baseball career.

In 25 innings of work between Bradenton and Greensboro, Dombkowski has a 1.80 ERA, 2.76 FIP, and 1.00 WHIP. Dombkowski has a 38.2% strikeout rate and walk rate just under 8% at 7.8%. He’s also been a ground ball machine. He has a 49% ground ball rate, which has helped him allow just two home runs all year.

Dombkowski is a bit older than most prospects who made their pro debut last year. This is his age-23 campaign, so the Pirates have moved the southpaw through the system with a little more aggression. He was recently promoted to Double-A, meaning he’s played at three different levels of the minor leagues this year. Dombkowski has mostly worked as a multi-inning arm. He has pitched 25 innings but in 13 appearances. Only one of those games has been a start.

The last prospect I want to highlight today is right-hander Justin Meis. Meis was a 10th-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates and made his debut last year with Low-A Bradenton. He only tossed 17.2 innings but allowed just 4 earned runs and struck out 27 batters. The downside is that Meis allowed two home runs and nine walks.

Meis has looked better so far this year. He’s pitched 41 innings to the tune of a 3.51 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and 1.32 WHIP. Although Meis’ strikeout rate dipped to 23.9%, his walk rate has improved to 8%. His HR/9 currently sits at 0.88. Notably, six of the 16 earned runs and two home runs he has surrendered this year all came in his first game of the season. Since then, 2.39 ERA, 3.04 FIP, and 1.22 WHIP. He’s had a much better 25.3% strikeout rate and has allowed two home runs in his last 37.2 innings of work.

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Meis has worked both as a starting pitcher and out of the bullpen. But he has worked out of the rotation much more often as of recently. His last five outings have been starts. Last year, all of his outings were from the bullpen. Meis recently received the promotion to High-A Greensboro, so he has a good chance of reaching Altoona by the end of the season if he keeps up his hot streak.