Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Three Surprising Seasons Thus Far

Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day
Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages
1 of 3

The Pittsburgh Pirates have had some prospects get off to strong starts that not many expected them to do

Going into the 2023 season, many expected Pittsburgh Pirates prospects like Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, Thomas Harrington, and others to succeed. Afterall, they are some of the best prospects in the organization. But like in most years, there’s been a handful of unexpected performances from minor leaguers and prospects.

The focus of today will be the surprise performances of the 2023 season thus far in the minor leagues. That's not to say that these players were expected to perform poorly, but they've far exceeded anything anyone expected them to do so far this year.

Mason Martin

If you had Mason Martin as one of the most productive minor league hitters by June on your Pirates' prospects bingo card, you're either lying or took a shot in the dark. Martinhad zero expectations going into the 2023 season. The first baseman limped to a 79 wRC+ in 2022 while striking out over a third of the time (35.9%). Martin’s end to the 2022 season was so poor, the Pirates opted to send him to Altoona instead of giving him more reps at Triple-A, as Malcom Nunez had since overtaken him.

He’s slashing a strong .209/.416/.527, coming out to an OPS well above .900 at .943. Martin has a walk rate of 24.8%, but he still has struck out at a high rate of 28.8%. That is an improvement to when he struck out in over a third of his plate appearances and walk rate below 10% last year. Martin currently holds a .425 wOBA, and 157 wRC+, making him one of Double-A’s most productive batters. Among Double-A hitters with 120+ PAs, Martin ranks top ten in OPS (9th), wOBA (10th), wRC+ (7th), and isolated slugging percentage (4th), while ranking 11th in BB:K ratio (0.86).

Martin, who’s calling card is power, is putting on a phenomenal show of strength at the dish this year. The first baseman has slugged eight home runs in just 125 plate appearances. His isolated slugging percentage is also well into elite territory at .319. Martin is on pace for nearly 40 home runs in 600 plate appearances. He’s also over 40% of the way to his 2022 home run total despite having less than a fourth of the amount of plate appearances.

There’s been no player who has fully embraced the three-true-outcomes strategy than Martin. He’s the only minor leaguer to have a walk rate over 20%, a strikeout rate over 25%, and ISO over .300 in at least 120 PAs. He’s also embraced the flyball-or-bust strategy at the plate, as his 58.2% fly ball rate is a 17.3% uptick from 2022. Martin has changed much of his swing mechanics from last year, holding the bat more upright in his stance, and going for more of a toe-tap than a leg-kick.

Now it’s totally reasonable to still be skeptical of Martin. He’s still striking out a lot, and he’s doing well at a level he already spent a full season at. But there’s never been a question about his ability to obliterate a baseball. Plus while he is repeating Double-A, there are a lot of cases where Double-A has better quality of competition than Triple-A. Martin probably still has the best raw power in the system. The change in approach to the plate is also interesting. Martin has completely sold out for the fly ball, and it seems to be helping him.