Pittsburgh Pirates: Prospects Pushing for Promotion to Triple-A

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) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate is filled with talent, but who are some names we could see get promoted to Triple-A in the second half of 2022?

The Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate, the Altoona Curve, was seen by most outlets as one of, if not the strongest minor league roster in baseball. Now that we’re about halfway into the 2022 season, some of the names that started the year at Altoona have made their way to the majors. Liover Peguero made his MLB debut, Jack Suwinski is one of the National League’s best rookie position players, and Tucupita Marcano made his Pirate debut earlier this year.

Altoona still has a strong roster, but many more prospects from the Double-A level could make their way to Triple-A Indianapolis in the second half of the season. The All-Star Break is quickly approaching, which means the second half of 2022 is also quickly approaching. So what prospects from Altoona may we see get the bump to Triple-A?

Although the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted Mike Burrows to Indy, their Double-A pitching staff is still good. Carmen Mlodzinski is definitely a name to watch in the second half of 2022. After a brutal three-game start to the season, Mlodzinski has seemed to figure things out since then.

In his last 11 starts, the right-hander has a quality 3.40 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP. He’s struck out precisely a quarter of batters faced while having a solid 8.8% walk rate. However, Mlodzinski’s biggest strength has been limiting the long ball. He’s given up just three in 47.2 innings of work, leading to a .57 HR/9 rate. One outing in which he gave up two earned runs on a home run in just two-third of an inning of work has hurt his overall line. Outside of that one start, he has a 0.38 HR/9, 8.6% walk rate, 24.5% strikeout rate, and 3.06 ERA.

Mlodzinski’s rotation mate Kyle Nicolas is another arm that should soon get promoted to Triple-A. Although Nicolas’s 4.14 ERA, 4.25 FIP, and 1.32 WHIP might not scream promotion candidate, nearly all the damage done to Nicolas this season came in one start where he gave up eight earned runs on four home runs and nine total hits in just two innings. That one start accounts for a third of the total ERs he has given up in 2022.

Outside of that one start, Nicolas has a quality 3.00 ERA, 2.95 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP. Despite that one outing, he still has a strikeout rate above 30%, clocking in at 31.3%. His walk rate of 10.6% isn’t anything to write home about, but still an improvement from last year’s 11.5% rate. The most impressive progress is his HR/9. He’s given up seven home runs all year, and speaking that he gave up four in just that one start alone, his HR/9 goes from 1.26 to just 0.56. Home runs were also a massive red flag for him going into this year with a 1.45 HR/9 in 2021.

Altoona’s current closer may also get the call to Triple-A. That’s lefty Tyler Samaniego. The 15th-round southpaw has been flat-out dominant this year. In 32 innings with Altoona and Greensboro, Samaniego has a 1.69 ERA, 2.96 FIP, and 0.78 WHIP. He has the deadly skills of strikeouts and ground balls. Samaniego has a 31.7% strikeout rate and 60.3% ground ball rate. That’s led to him giving up just one homer this year. The only downside is that his walk rate stands at 11.4%.

Samaniego has been great since his promotion to Altoona. He still has a healthy 27.3% strikeout rate but cut his walk rate from 16.2% at Greensboro to just 5.5% so far with Altoona. Quite the dropoff. His ground ball rate also sits at an even 50%. Five of the six total earned runs Samaniego has given up all season came in one outing. Since that June 8th clunker, he’s reeled off 11.1 straight scoreless innings, allowing just two walks (5.1% walk rate) and racking up 10 strikeouts (25.6% strikeout rate). That’s not his only dominant streak from this season. From April 20th through June 4th, he fired off 16.1 no-hit innings.

While Peguero is the obvious answer to get promoted to Indy, he has fallen into a slump since being sent back. While that doesn’t mean he’s not someone to watch, Altoona has some really underrated position players who are making an impact. One of them is infielder Andres Alvarez, who took over at the keystone when Nick Gonzales went down with an injury. He’s done more than enough to fill those large shoes.

Alvarez wasn’t seen as anything more than a depth infielder going into this year. However, in 236 plate appearances, he’s putting on a powerful display, batting for an extraordinary .250/.383/.495 line, including a .384 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Alvarez has hit 11 home runs while having a .245 isolated slugging percentage. He’s drawing nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Alvarez has a 17.4% walk rate and a strikeout rate of just 21.6%. He’s a top 30 hitter at his level, ranking 22nd in wRC+, 31st in wOBA, and 29th in OPS. However, he’s 7th in ISO and 12th in BB:K ratio (.80).

Another surprising performer in Altoona is infielder Aaron Shackelford. Like Alvarez, Shackelford really isn’t a prospect, but that hasn’t stopped him from providing Altoona with a big power bat. Shackelford is batting for a solid .236/.304/.488 line. He has 13 home runs in just 224 plate appearances and an isolated slugging percentage of .251. While his 8.5% walk rate is decent, he’s struck out at a 29% rate. However, he still has a well above average .343 wOBA and 112 wRC+. Shackelford has mostly played first base, but has also logged 119.1 innings at second base.

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With Mason Martin struggling after since his red hot April and May, it could be an opportunity for Shackelford to get promoted to Triple-A. If Tucupita Marcano gets recalled or the Pittsburgh Pirates finally give Ji-Hwan Bae his overdue promotion, Andres Alvarez will likely see some time at Triple-A. They would provide Indy with two power bats for the line-up.