Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Arms at Triple-A That Can Help the Big League Club

While the upper levels of the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system aren't nearly abundant in pitching talent compared to the lower levels, the Triple-A team has some arms who could help the big league club
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It's time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to call in reinforcements from Triple-A for their pitching staff

Pitching depth at the Major League level for the Pittsburgh Pirates is an issue right now. The Pirates are bare bones, thin on depth, with zero room for error. However, while the upper levels of their minor leagues aren’t the strongest regarding top pitching prospects, Triple-A could help provide the Pirates with some much needed help.

One of the most recent promotions to Triple-A is right-hander Kyle Nicolas. Nicolas’ numbers on the season aren’t all that impressive. He owns a 4.36 ERA, 4.39 FIP, and 1.47 WHIP. However, he does have some solid peripherals. This includes a 26.4% strikeout rate and an 8.9% walk rate, both of which are marketable improvements from 2022. But he has a 1.38 HR/9 rate, which, combined with his .338 batting average on balls in play (compared to just .283 in 2021-2022), has led to some unlucky results.

On the plus side, Nicolas has been a lot better over his last handful of starts. His last 27 innings has yielded a 3.00 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and 1.22 WHIP. He’s still carrying a quality 28.6% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate, but his HR/9 is down to just 0.67. BAbip luck still hasn’t been entirely on his side, though .313 is closer to his career norm.

A second reinforcement that should come as no surprise here is Quinn Priester. Like Nicolas, Priester’s numbers aren’t wowing anyone. His bottom line is very similar to Nicolas, working to a 4.29 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 1.44 WHIP. His 22.5% strikeout rate and 10.5% walk rate are a tad high than what is typically seen from Preister, though he still has an outstanding 0.57 HR/9. He is still a ground ball master with a 52.7% ground ball rate.

Priester also had a rough April that was marred by a .404 batting average on balls in play. However, Priester has a 2.70 ERA, 4.15 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP since the start of May. His strikeout rate and walk rate are still down at 20.4% and 11%, respectively, but he’s allowed just three home runs over his last 43.1 innings.

Priester’s overall numbers on the season are a tad inflated, and that’s because of one start where he went just 1.2 innings, allowing five earned runs and six walks. If you take this one game out of his season, Priester has worked to a 3.67 ERA, 3.70 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP. His May to present-day stats, minus this one start, comes out to a 1.72 ERA, 3.86 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP. His seasonal ERA outside of this outing is 8.8%, while his May-present day walk rate without this start is 8.5%. You also have to consider that Priester has been working with two new offerings, including a sinker and cutter.

Priester would certainly help the starting rotation, and while Nicolas just got to Triple-A, his recent hot streak makes him a name to watch. However, one bullpen arm that the Pirates should seriously consider promoting is right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski.

A former first-round competitive balance pick, Mlodzinski currently has a 3.16 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP. His peripherals are also decent, with a 27.2% strikeout rate, 9.6% walk rate, and 0.70 HR/9. However, like the pitchers mentioned before him, Mlodzinski’s numbers are much better than they look because of a few bad games.

Mlodzinski ended the first two weeks of April, allowing three earned runs with five walks in 5.2 innings. However, since then, he’s been a lights out bullpen arm for Indy. Over his last 20 innings, Mlodzinski owns a 2.70 ERA, 3.17 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP. His strikeout rate rises to 29.9% while his walk rate takes a steep dive to just 6.9%. He’s also allowed two home runs in this time.

In one of Mlodzinski’s most recent outings, specifically June 8th, when he struck out five batters in two innings, Mlodzinski topped out at 97.9 MPH and threw 13 of his 14 fastballs over 96 MPH. This isn’t a one-game thing, either. Mlodzinski has consistently been sitting around 96-97 MPH for over a month now. That major uptick in pitch velocity is highly promising, as he was sitting 92-95 MPH last season as a starting pitcher for Altoona.

While the upper levels of the minor leagues for the Pirates aren’t nearly as abundant with talent compared to what is below Double-A, there are still a couple of notable names to keep an eye on at Triple-A. Hopefully, one of these pitchers can step it up. The Pirates desperately need help with pitching at the big league level, and seeing a prospect succeed would both massively help the team win and potentially be a big confidence booster.

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