Sometimes, a depth player can rise to the occasion and become a noteworthy prospect, but are there any minor leaguers in the Pittsburgh Pirates system who could do that next year?
Not every Major League Baseball player was an early-round selection, high-end international prospect, or top 100 prospects. There are many guys who were never considered top prospects, even in their organization. Even in last summer's All-Star Game, Garrett Cooper, Joe Mantiply, and Nestor Cortes were closer to depth than prospect status throughout a good portion of their minor league career.
But is there a prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system who could make strides next season and become a noteworthy prospect? It’s not unheard of for the Pirates. Even just last season, Colin Selby went from a late-round selection a few years ago with a few middling minor-league seasons to landing a 40-man roster spot. Aaron Shackelford made his Triple-A debut.
If there’s one pitcher who can take the step from ‘organizational depth’ to ‘prospect,’ my money would be on Sean Sullivan. On the surface, Sullivan’s season wasn’t good. The right-hander had a 4.68 ERA, 5.47 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP at High-A Greensboro. But he was decent at getting strikeouts with a 25.3% strikeout rate and only allowed a free pass to 8.3% of opponents faced. His 3.11 K:BB ratio ranked top 10 among Pirate minor league arms with 50+ innings. Where Sullivan struggled was keeping the ball in the park, allowing home runs at a 1.92-per-9 rate.
But Sullivan managed a workable 41.3% ground ball rate with a sub-30% flyball rate. Sullivan had a 26.7% HR/FB ratio, which points to some better flyball luck in the future. xFIP, which tries to adjust for HR/FB ratio, had him at 3.88. That’s not to say that the 8th-round pick will suddenly become a future ace, but he could be a viable prospect and one that could slowly climb the rankings.
It is worth noting that Greensboro is a very hitter-friendly park. Not only is Greensboro hitter-friendly, but the league as a whole is. The league average ERA was 4.48, and the league average WHIP was 1.38. Sure, Sullivan’s numbers weren’t too impressive overall, but in the context of the rest of the league, he was very close to the average.
Sullivan isn’t a flame thrower and tops out at 95 MPH. According to Prospects Live, he displayed two breaking balls at the Cape Cod League, where he performed very well. Sullivan has been praised for his command and will need it moving forward. His stuff isn’t overpowering and will need to use his command to get outs. But he did get his fair share of K’s last year.
Give Sullivan an environment where home runs are harder to hit, and he’s a guy who could succeed. His HR/FB ratio was fueled by the park he played at. In terms of HR/9, he gave up 0.64 more of a homer at home than on the road. If he gets better flyball luck in a more pitcher-friendly environment, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him take a step forward next year.
Sullivan might be the guy who could step from organizational depth to prospect status, but is there a position player who could do the same? While it might be unfair to call Josiah Sightler organizational depth already, before even making his pro debut, how many 15th-round college picks who are first basemen are considered more prospect than depth? Regardless, Sightler finished off his time with the University of South Carolina.
In 201 plate appearances, Sighter was a .300/.408/.629 batter. Sightler hit for a ton of pop, hitting 15 home runs, and was on pace for about 45 in 600 plate appearances. Sightler had a .329 isolated slugging percentage as well. Although he had a solid 9.4% walk rate, he struck out a little more often than you like to see, with a 20.9% strikeout rate. That’s not terrible and about average for SEC batters last season. But he has struck out more often in the past. This was a career-best strikeout rate, so hopefully, he is improving.
Sightler is mostly a first baseman but can play both corner outfield spots. He certainly has the arm to play left or right field, given he also pitched a handful of times in college. But given his mediocre speed and range, first base is more than likely the long-term home.
Neither might be top prospects right now, but both Sullivan and Sightler are players fans should keep tabs on. They have the tools to become better parts to the organization, and both should be put in a position where they can take advantage of their strengths next season.