Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking at Current Bullpen Options for 2023

Apr 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Left-Handed Prospects

The next prospect I want to go in-depth with is J.C. Flowers. Flowers is an interesting case. After transitioning from the outfield to the mound in his final year at Florida State, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. Flowers worked in a long relief role last year, and there’s still a chance he will become a starter. Like Thomas, Flowers had a mediocre start to the season. But from June through the end of the campaign, Flowers had a 2.61 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and 1.03 WHIP. He struck out over a quarter of opponents with a 27.3% rate with a 9.1% walk rate. However, home run suppression was his strong suit, with a 0.47 HR/9.

Flowers throws in the mid-90s, mixing in a four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball. Both have distinct movement, but his slider is the real prize here. It’s arguably the best slider in the minor leagues. With wicked fall-off-the-table break, his slider could be his key to success. He’ll also throw a show-me-type change-up. It’s a work in progress, but given his athleticism and potential pitch mix, there’s still hope he can become a starting pitcher. However, Flowers is also Rule 5 eligible, and the Pirates opted to leave him exposed.

One of the left-handed relief prospects the Pirates have is Tyler Samaniego. Samaniego was a 14th-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2021. Last season, Samaniego worked to a 2.45 ERA, 3.46 FIP, and 0.80 WHIP in 47.2 innings between Greensboro and Altoona. Samaniego had a 25.5% K% and 10.9% walk rate. But he was one of the best ground ball pitchers for the Pirates’ system. He got batters to hit a grounder 56.6% of the time, leading to a .38 HR/9.

One thing worth noting is that Samaneigo’s strikeout rate went from 35.3% at Greensboro to just 19.8% at Altoona; however, his walk rate also significantly dropped from 16.2% to 7.8% between the two levels. Which version appears in 2023 is up for debate, but with so few left-handed bullpen options for next season, he might make an early season appearance.

Last but certainly not least is Nick Dombkowski. Domkowski was an undrafted free agent after the 2021 draft. In 67.1 innings, Dombkowski pitched to the tune of a 3.07 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 1.10 WHIP. The left-hander struck out just over 30% of opponents with a 30.7% mark, along with a quality 6.8% walk rate. On top of that, he had an HR/9 below 1.0 at 0.94. For an undrafted free agent, Dombkowski performed extremely well.

While Domkowski had big strikeout numbers, he only averaged out in the 88-92 MPH range. But he does throw a decent slider and changeup. With good command and a quick arm, Dombkowski could become a key left-handed bullpen option for the Pirates long term. His role is still undecided as he pitched as a long reliever in 2022, but he could start 2023 in the major leagues, given it will be his age-24 campaign, and he pitched well at Double-A.

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