These under-the-radar Pittsburgh Pirates prospects are off to notable strong starts this season
The Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten some good early looks at some of their best prospects. Quinn Priester and Luis Ortiz have flashed their stuff at Triple-A. So have Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo at Greensboro. On the hitter side of things, Henry Davis is starting to turn the heat up, as has Nick Gonzales. But there are plenty more prospects the Pirates have, lesser talked about, underrated ones who are also performing well.
One is catcher Abrahan Gutierrez. Gutierrez is overshadowed by the likes of Davis and Endy Rodriguez, which forced him to start the year at Greensboro. However, based on how Davis is hitting right now, both he and Gutierrez will likely get moved up to the next level whenever Endy is promoted to the big leagues. Gutierrez had a solid 2022 at Greensboro, where he slashed .257/.356/.411 with a 112 wRC+ and 11.8% walk rate, but his strikeout rate was just a touch over 25% at 25.4%.
So far this year, Gutierrez is slashing .303/.410/.455 with a .408 wOBA and 138 wRC+. Gutierrez, who was known for his ability to avoid striking out prior to 2022, has cut his strikeout rate down below 18% once again, sitting at 15.4%. His walk rate is also up by 1% at 12.8%, plus his ISO of .152 is almost identical to his 2022 mark. Now sure, it’s a small sample size of just 39 plate appearances, but this is the kind of production many expected out of him. High contact with a low K%/high BB% but below-average power.
Another player who fits a similar bill and is off to a great start is Tres Gonzalez. The organization's fifth-round pick from last year’s draft. Gonzalez slashed .339/.458/.474 at Georgia Tech with an impressive 45:27 BB:K ratio (averaged 1.67 walks for every strikeout). In Gonzalez’s brief professional appearance late last year, he hit .317/.411/.390 with a .384 wOBA and 137 wRC+. Gonzalez continued to walk at an above-average rate with an elite strikeout rate, clocking in with a 9.5% walk rate and 12.6% strikeout rate.
Gonzalez has hit .375/.479/.450 through his first 48 plate appearances this season. So far, the outfielder has walked as often as he has struck out with a 16.7% walk rate and a 12.5% strikeout rate (8:6 BB:K ratio). Gonzalez has yet to hit a home run. Currently, his ISO is below .100 at .075. However, he has hustled out three doubles so far this year. Plus, he’s three-for-three in stolen base attempts. All told, Gonzalez has a .456 wOBA and 180 wRC+. The 22-year-old certainly could find his way to Greensboro based on how well the start of his professional career has gone.
Derek Diamond is also from the same draft class as Gonzalez, who came into 2023 as one of the Pirates’ more underrated arms. Diamond, a sixth-round draft pick, didn’t have all that impressive of numbers at Ole Miss. In 65.1 innings, Diamond had a subpar 6.89 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, struck out less than 20% of the batters he faced (19.3% strikeout rate), and allowed nearly two home runs every nine innings on average (1.93 HR/9). Diamond did have a strong 4.4% walk rate in his final college season and struck out four batters in four scoreless innings during his brief professional debut last season, but that’s about where the positives end for Diamond.
Now granted, Diamond has only pitched nine innings, allowing four earned runs. However, he currently has a 7:1 K:BB ratio and a healthy 44.4% ground ball rate. Both FIP and xFIP paint him in a positive light at 2.76 and 3.24 each, respectively. His stuff also looked good as he was averaging out around 92-95 MPH with his four-seam fastball. Although Diamond has run into some poor luck so far in the early stages of 2023, he’s certainly someone who could move up the ladder rather fast.
Braxton Ashcraft is a name many have completely forgotten about. A second-round pick back in 2018, posting a 4.58 ERA and 5.77 ERA in his first two looks against professional batters. But Ashcraft would only pitch 38.2 innings from 2020 through 2022, missing time because of injuries and because of the canceled 2020 COVID season. But Ashcraft has returned to action this year and has looked better than ever.
In 6.1 innings, Ashcraft has yet to allow an earned run. Now sure, it’s only 10.1 innings, but he’s also recorded 17 strikeouts while issuing just one walk. He’s been generating a large amount of swing-and-miss through his first three starts as well with 14 total. Not only has Ashcraft been getting swings and misses, but he’s also sitting mid-90s. That’s one of the biggest developments for the right-hander.
It’s nice to see some of these more under-the-radar prospects getting off to a good start to the year. That’s especially true for Ashcraft after barely pitching over the past three years. The only one of the four talked about today that are on either FanGraphs or MLB Pipeline’s lists is Gutierrez, and he only ranks 31st. It’s not out of the question all four are on a top Pirates prospect list from a reputable source by the end of the year.