Pittsburgh Pirates: What to do With Blake Sabol in 2023

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Blake Sabol has hit well this season in the upper levels of the minor leagues, but what role could he undertake in 2023?

When you look at the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, Blake Sabol usually isn’t the first catching prospect that comes to mind. With Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez demolishing pitching, it’s easy to overlook Sabol. But the backstop prospect has consistently hit well and recently got promoted to Triple-A. At 24 years old, Sabol will see the major leagues sooner rather than later. So what kind of role could Sabol fill for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates?

Sabol has been decent this year for the Altoona Curve and now the Indianapolis Indians. Through 424 plate appearances, Sabol is slashing .282/.349/.489 with a .386 wOBA and 134 wRC+. Sabol is hitting for some power with a .207 isolated slugging percentage and 15 home runs, and he also has a healthy 9.2% walk rate. On the downside, he’s struck out 25.5% of the time.

Since getting promoted to Triple-A, Sabol has had three hits in just 12 plate appearances. On top of that, he has one walk and one strikeout. Of his three hits, one was a home run he hit on Friday afternoon.

Some might point to Sabol’s .351 batting average on balls in play this season as another red flag, but it’s not like this is the first time he’s managed a high BAbip. Between 2019 and 2021, Sabol had a .364 BAbip in 534 trips to the plate. Players who consistently have a high batting average on balls in play year-in-year-out can maintain a higher BAbip easier than those who do not. BAbip is more indicative of the player’s average than the league’s average.

The Pirates have utilized Sabol at multiple positions. He’s split his time between catcher and designated hitter. But he has ten starts in left field. Last season the Pittsburgh Pirates played Sabol in the outfield for 109 innings and behind the dish 237.2 innings. He also played a decent bit of corner infield throughout college, so the Pirates aren’t limited in where they can play Sabol.

That’s good, as Sabol isn’t much of a defender behind the dish. While he can play the position, he’s far outpaced by Endy Rodriguez and Jason Delay and has a much weaker arm than Henry Davis. At best, Sabol is an average defensive catcher but has just a 19% caught stealing rate with 12 passed balls in less than 800 innings.

The Pirates could always move Sabol around between left field, first base, and designated hitter. The Pirates don’t have a solid answer for designated hitter next season, so that could always be an option. Though Pirates might use the DH option as a rotation for Davis and Rodriguez. Plus, Malcom Nuñez may also see time there and first base.

Sabol’s usage could depend on how the Pittsburgh Pirates utilize Rodriguez, Davis, and Nuñez. But the Pirates could find time for Sabol at designated hitter and left field to open the 2023 campaign. The best thing for him, if he continues to hit at Triple-A down the stretch, is to let him see what he can do at the major league level early in the year before the arrival of Davis, Nunez, and Rodriguez.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates should get Sabol regular plate appearances early in the season before their top prospects start arriving to the major leagues. Let him regularly take over DH/1B/LF duties starting in 2023. If he hits well, the Pirates could have a good problem on their hands. If he struggles, they can always option him and call up one of the top prospects.