Although Pittsburgh Pirates' pitching prospct Ricky DeVito struggled at Greensboro last year, could the right-hander improve next year at Altoona?
Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Ricky DeVito is coming off a poor 2022 campaign. He pitched all his innings at Greensboro, working to a sub-par 5.40 ERA, 4.69 FIP, and 1.53 WHIP across 70 frames. But could the right-hander breakout with Double-A this season?
There are a few statistical reasons that will work in his favor. DeVito had a strong 27.7% strikeout rate and HR/9 of just 0.77. The right-hander had an impressive 54.7% ground ball rate, which was the fourth best among Pirates' farm hands with 60+ frames in 2022. Despite inducing a ton of ground balls, he had a batting average on balls in play of just .333 compared to his 2019-2021 average BAbip of just .304 (it's better to compare a player's BAbip to the rest of their career and previous seasons than the career average). DeVito also clocked in with a 15% HR/FB ratio. The average is typically around 10% for comparison. There's no doubt, given that Greensboro is a hitter's paradise, some of the fly balls that left their park wouldn't leave Altoona's park.
Aside from that, DeVito has an impressive arsenal. He has one of the better off-speed pitches in the Pirates' system, that being his splitter. It's an elite offering, but he also throws an above-average fastball and slider. He also tosses a curveball, and while it's behind his primary three pitches, he still can mix and match his offerings. But where DeVito struggles is limiting walks.
DeVito's 13.5% walk rate was the fifth worst among Pirates' minor league relievers with 50+ innings pitched last year. While DeVito ran into some poor luck when it came to batted balls and fly balls, his inability to prevent free passes made every bloop single or seeing-eye ground ball or every home run that much more damaging. More often than not, his inability to stop free passes from leaking got in his way.
The TLDR on DeVito is simply the pitcher with the stuff but no command. Does that sound familiar? Well, it was a similar story with Tahnaj Thomas last year. Thomas, who throws an upper-90s fastball that can touch triple-digits and decent slider, ended 2021 with a 12.5% walk rate at Greensboro. Then in 2022, he cut that down to just 9.4%. It took a while for Thomas to fully settle into his new role as a reliever, but by June, he was fully acclimated. From the start of June through the end of the season, Thomas had a walk rate of just 6.9%.
But unlike Thomas, DeVito isn't a two-pitch pitcher. He has a wide arsenal of pitches. It's all going to boil down to his ability to command and locate. It's a high-risk/high-reward profile. There are dozens upon dozens of pitchers like DeVito, who has excellent stuff but no location, who flameout and never appear in the big leagues or make a few appearances before going back to toiling in the minor leagues. But there are certainly a fair amount of success stories of pitchers figuring out their command and making something of themselves.
DeVito's profile is as old as baseball itself. Next year will be a make-or-break season for the talented but unrefined right-hander. Double-A is the real test for many prospects, and while a recent Pirates' relief prospect discovered the strike zone at Altoona last year, that's no guarantee DeVito will. However, if he does find that command, he could have a big breakout campaign.