Pittsburgh Pirates: The Unluckiest Prospects of 2023

Who have been the unluckiest Pirate prospects of 2023?
Jul 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;   Termarr Johnson the Pittsburgh Pirates first round
Jul 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Termarr Johnson the Pittsburgh Pirates first round / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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One of Johnson’s teammates and fellow 2022 draft picks, Thomas Harrington, has also faced his fair share of bad luck at Greensboro. Harrington has  a 4.48 ERA, but a 3.94 FIP. Since getting promoted, his strikeout rate has gone up to 28.4% while his walk rate has decreased to 6.6% (compared to 26.7% and 8% at Bradenton). The only number that’s moved in the wrong direction is his HR/9 from 0.69 to 1.16. However, Greensboro’s park is more home run friendly compared to Bradenton, so an uptick in home runs was slightly expected.

But Harrington has a .382 batting average on balls in play. That’s the second-highest BAbip at the High-A level among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched. Harrington’s 25.6% line drive rate isn’t great, but it’s only a 0.3% uptick from Bradenton where he had a .298 BAbip. Considering that his strikeout rate, walk rate, FIP, and xFIP have all remained relatively the same since getting promoted, I’d guess there’s some bad luck playing a hand here.

Jared Jones is another top pitching prospect whose batted ball luck hasn’t gone in his favor. Jones has a 5.40 ERA at Triple-A. But despite that, he has struck out 30% of his opponents, has a walk rate clocking in at 10%, and an 0.74 HR/9 rate. He has a .364 BAbip, but a 26.4% line drive rate. Even if his .266 BAbip from Double-A is a tad lucky, over one-hundred points higher since getting moved to Indy indicates something might not be going his way, and it’s out of his control. 

Tyler Samaniego might be the epitome of this article. The lefty relief prospect’s strikeout rate (25.5% to 27.8%) and walk rate (10.9% to 8.3%) have both improved from 2022 while maintaining an outstanding 52.9% ground ball rate and 0.46 HR/9. But despite those massive improvements, Samaniego’s BAbip has gone from .142 to .398, two drastic ends of the BABIP spectrum. Sure, I seriously doubt that he’d be able to keep up a .142 BAbip, but a mark approaching .400 is also unsustainable.

He has a 5.49 ERA this year, but a strong 2.84 FIP and 3.28 xFIP. Again, both are major improvements from last year at 3.46 and 3.98, respectively. Double-A Altoona hasn’t had a good season with fielding. They have the fifth most errors of any Eastern League team.

Of course, errors aren’t completely reflective of how good/bad a team is defensively. But Altoona doesn’t have any prospects who are considered good defensive players. Samaneigo is reliant on his team to some degree because of such a high ground ball rate, and his .398 BAbip is the 4th highest at Double-A right now (minimum 30 innings pitched).

Most of the players we have looked at today have mostly small sample sizes, so luck will easily sway numbers in scenarios like that. In more, extended number of innings or plate appearances, much of this luck could likely be evened out. However, that doesn’t mean what these Pirates prospects haven’t went through recently isn’t bad luck either.

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