Underrated Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects to Protect From Rule 5 Draft

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Pittsburgh Pirates
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Blake Sabol

When you think of catching prospects in the Pirate system, you probably think of Endy Rodriguez or Henry Davis. Both are great players, but Blake Sabol has hit well throughout his professional career and had a fantastic 2022 season. Even if he isn’t the best defender, the Pirates could find somewhere to play him, whether that be designated hitter, first base, or a corner outfield spot.

Last season, Sabol batted .284/.363/.497. Through 513 plate appearances, Sabol smacked 19 home runs while having a .213 isolated slugging percentage. Sabol’s 25.1% strikeout rate wasn’t great, but he had just a 21.8% strikeout rate with Triple-A Indy and a 22.5% strikeout percentage after the All-Star break. Overall, Sabol had a .373 wOBA and 131 wRC+ between Altoona and Indy.

The promotion to Triple-A did not phase the catching prospect. In his final 101 plate appearances of the season, Sabol posted a .969 OPS, .424 wOBA, and 158 wRC+. Although it was a much larger sample size, he only had a .833 OPS, .361 wOBA, and 124 wRC+ for Altoona. Along with cutting down his strikeout rate, he also upped his walk rate from an already healthy 9.2% at Altoona to 16.8% with the Pirate Triple-A affiliate team.

Sabol mostly spent his time behind the dish, but he also played a fair amount of designated hitter and in the corner outfield spots. Sabol’s future is likely not behind the dish. He’s a mediocre defender with a weak arm. He’s also just a 30-grade runner, so the outfield isn’t a preferable destination either.

Sabol saw a lot of games at first base in college, but would need to re-familiarize himself with the position. The last time he played the infield dirt was in 2018 and the last time he played semi-consistently was 2017. The best option would likely be designated hitter with occasional games in left field to best maximize his value and limit the amount of times his defense could be an issue.

With 2023 being Sabol’s age-25 campaign, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the opportunity to let him take the reins at designated hitter to start the year. The team does not have very many other options unless they view Rodolfo Castro as the answer there, but he could open the year at second base instead, so they have options with him. Since the Pirates need an option at DH to start 2023, they should add Sabol to the 40-man roster and let him start the year with the major league team.