Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects in Position to Make Their MLB Debut in 2023
Pittsburgh's top pitching prospect Quinn Priester is set to take over a regular starting rotation role sometime this year. The former first-rounder worked to a 3.09 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP. Priester has never been a big strikeout pitcher, but he still managed a respectable 23.6% strikeout rate. He also had a solid 8.0% walk rate, but his biggest strength is inducing ground balls and preventing home runs. Priester had a 50.6% ground ball rate and a 0.60 HR/9. But two of the six home runs he allowed came in two of his final three starts. Priester allowed 11 earned runs in his 17th and 19th start of the season. Despite these two outings making up just 8.9% of his innings pitched, the number of runs he allowed totaled a third of the total earned runs he let in all year. Outside of these two outings, Priester's ERA drops from 3.09 to 2.40.
Preister throws in the mid-to-high-90s, working with both a fastball and sinker. His curveball is one of the best of its kind in the minor leagues. Priester has also developed his slider to an above-average degree. Although most evaluators aren't very bullish on Priester, it's mostly because he doesn't miss bats. But he still posts an average to slightly above average strikeout rate and gets a ton of ground balls.
Mike Burrows is also set to become a regular starting pitcher in the major leagues sometime this year. Burrows worked to a 4.01 ERA but 3.29 FIP and 1.21 WHIP. Unlike Priester, Burrows gets a ton of strikeouts. His 28.2% strikeout rate is the second year in a row he's had a strikeout rate above 28%. He also had a walk rate of just 7.9%, making his K:BB ratio 3.58. Despite not being a ground ball pitcher, he still had a quality 0.76 HR/9. The final start of the season also saw Burrows a ton of earned runs. He only pitched two-thirds of an inning but allowed six earned runs, making up 14.3% of his total ER allowed but less than 1% of the total innings he pitched. Burrows entered that game with a 3.46 ERA/3.11 FIP/1.15 WHIP.
Burrows has always been known for his devastating fastball/curveball. The right-hander is a spin-rate darling, consistently working with above 2500 RPM on his fastball and 3000 RPM with his curveball. But his change-up has always been considered a distant third pitch. However, over the past two seasons, Burrows has made major strides with his third offering to the point it's an extremely usable pitch.
One of the Pirates' biggest additions from the 2021-2022 off-season, Kyle Nicolas, is coming off a quality 2022 campaign. He could end up being the most overlooked Pirates pitching prospect going into 2023. Nicolas had a 3.97 ERA, 4.30 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP in 90.2 innings of work. Nicolas had a strong 25.9% strikeout rate to go with a decent .89 HR/9, though he also dished out a free pass to 12.1% of opponents faced. His overall numbers were not very impressive, but there is one start you can trace back to inflating his season numbers. During his third start of the year, Nicolas allowed eight earned runs on four home runs in just two innings. Outside of that, he had a 3.25 ERA, and his HR/9 dropped to 0.51.
Nicolas is a hard-throwing right-hander, typically working in the mid-to-upper 90s. He also has a plus-plus slider. However, his curveball is average at best, and his change-up is barely considered a fourth offering. That leads many to believe he ends up in the bullpen long term. But if he can show even just slight improvement with his curveball next year and show he can handle Triple-A batters, that outlook may change.
Former first-round competitive balance pick Carmen Mlodzinski is also on track for a 2023 debut. Mlodzinski had an up-and-down 2022. The right-hander owned a poor 4.78 ERA and 1.41 WHIP but also had a solid 3.77 FIP, 24.1% strikeout rate, 8.7% walk rate, and 0.85 HR/9. Mlodzinski showed the talent to be a decent pitcher, though it came in spurts rather than consistency.
Mlodzinski sits in the mid-90s while also throwing a slider and change-up. He has a high ceiling, though a low floor. Next year will be a make-or-break season for Mlodzinski, but at 24 and starting the season at Indy, there's a decent chance he at least makes his major league debut in some role.