The Pittsburgh Pirates had a handful of position player prospects make improvements in 2022, but who made the biggest leaps forward?
The Pittsburgh Pirates saw many top prospects turn a corner in 2022. There were a handful of breakout campaigns from the Pirates’ minor league system this year, giving a strong system another reason to look forward to the future. The best way to compare players from different seasons and levels is wRC+, so that is the main tool I’ll be using to examine the most improved campaigns.
Matt Gorksi had a massive 64% increase in wRC+ from 2021 to 2022. Last year, Gorski had a pretty mediocre season. In 401 plate appearances, Gorski had a .223/.294/.416 with a .309 wOBA and 89 wRC+. While he showed off decent speed and power with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases, it was one of the few good things of note.
This year, Gorski went from Greensboro to Indianapolis, slashing .280/.358/.598 with a .411 wOBA and 153 wRC+. Gorski’s power was the biggest reason he saw such a dramatic increase in wRC+. After having just a .189 isolated slugging percentage in 2021, he saw that skyrocket to .318. Gorski has smacked 23 home runs, six more home runs than in ‘21 but in nearly 75 fewer plate appearances.
A 64% increase in wRC+ is insane, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have another outfielder who made a significant jump in performance. That’s Cal Mitchell. Mitchell had a solid, albeit unimpressive, 2021 season. He was a league-average bat, hitting .279/.328/.429 with a .329 wOBA and 104 wRC+. Mitchell didn’t hit for much power, but his .144 ISO could be worse. He didn’t get on base too often, but a .328 OBP was playable. His strongest suit was his 17.7% K-rate.
This year, Mitchell has taken a big step forward. At Triple-A, Mitchell batted .339/.391/.547. After having an ISO below .150 in ‘21, he put up a .208 ISO this season. Mitchell only struck out 14.6% of the time, a 3.1% improvement from 2021. While his 6.5% walk rate isn’t anything to write home about, it’s still a 1% increase. But his wRC+ went from just slightly above average to 146, a 42% increase. Mitchell is no longer a prospect, however he is still a rookie who made great strides at Triple-A and is continuing to imrpove even at the major league level.
As good as Endy Rodriguez was in 2021, he saw massive improvements in 2022. The switch-hitting backstop slashed .294/.380/.512 with a .414 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Overall, his 2021 season helped him jump prospect lists and made him one of the best-performing Pirates prospects. But Rodriguez dramatically improved in 2022.
Rodriguez’s 2022 has been nothing short of one of the best in the minors. Like Gorski, Rodriguez went from High-A Greensboro to Triple-A Indy. Rodriguez is batting .323/.409/.587 with a .434 wOBA and 167 wRC+. Rodriguez also saw a massive increase in power, seeing his ISO go from .218 to .264. However, his 167 wRC+ was a 27% improvement from 2021.
Many more prospects took a step forward this year, especially on the pitching side of things. But overall, these were some of the largest leaps forward. It’s wild the difference each made. Gorski was well below average in 2021, Mitchell was about an average batter, and Rodriguez was one of the best, if not the best minor league hitter for the Bucs last year, yet all three made big strides in what they did at the plate.