Usually, undrafted free agents have meager expectations. It’s sort of like a Rule 5 Draft pick. Teams pick them up, hoping to find a diamond in the rough, knowing that it’s far from a guarantee that they will become a successful big leaguer. After their exciting 2021 draft, the Pirates signed Nick Dombkowski as a UDFA out of the University of Hartford, a program that recently moved from Division 1 to Division 3 NCAA.
The college senior didn’t have any over-the-top numbers to highlight. He had a 3.47 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, which were decent, but nothing to write home about. He had a 0.7 HR/9 rate and 7.6% walk rate, and a 22.5% strikeout rate. All those numbers are far from bad, but nothing stands out as a potential strength.
Dombkowski got his first full look of professional ball this year, and he’s been outright dominant. The southpaw has flown through the Pirates’ system, starting the year with Bradenton and currently pitching for Altoona. He may even see Triple-A this year, given the Double-A season ends about two weeks before the Triple-A campaign does.
All told, Dombkowski has a 2.52 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.05 WHIP. Both his ERA and WHIP are the best among all Pirates’ minor leaguers this year, and his FIP is surpassed by only Mike Burrows, who has a 3.12 mark (min. 60 IP). Dombkowski also leads all Pirate farmhands in strikeout rate with a 32.9% rate, and his walk rate of 6.9% is second to Quinn Priester’s 6.6% walk rate. The only downside is his 1.04 HR/9 is below average.
Regardless, Dombkowski leads all Pirates minor leaguers in ERA, WHIP, and K% and is second in FIP and BB%. In total, he’s pitched 60.2 innings, mostly working as a long-relief arm. In his 32 total outings, he’s pitched more than one inning 19 times. In nine of those games, he went 3+ IP.
Dombkowski could be a really underrated name to watch next season. The Pittsburgh Pirates could see him make a name for himself in their bullpen next season. They have some high-leverage guys like David Bednar, Yerry De Los Santos, the aforementioned Thomas, Wil Crowe, and Colin Holderman, but Dombkowski could fill multiple roles, sort of like a super-utility pitcher; see some high-leverage moments, pitch multiple innings at a time, and maybe make a start here and there.