The Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of highly hyped names in their farm system, but these more under-the-radar prospects will likely make their debut sometime this season
There’s not a single Pittsburgh Pirates fan who knows who Endy Rodriguez is and isn’t excited for his debut. Plenty of others are looking forward to Quinn Priester’s arrival, as well as Nick Gonzales, Henry Davis, and Mike Burrows. However, there are some under-the-radar names that fans should still be excited about as they could make their debut this year.
Carmen Mlodzinski certainly is one of those names. A former first-round competitive balance pick, Mlodzinski had a promising rookie season in 2021. However, he followed that up with a disappointing 2022, in which he had a 4.78 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Although it was an underwhelming year, there were a few positives, such as a 3.77 FIP, 8.7% walk rate, HR/9 of just 0.85, and a 24.1% strikeout rate.
Mlodzinski showed some improved stuff in Spring Training, sitting 95-97 MPH, which was an uptick from 93-95 MPH he was averaging out at in Spring 2022. He also throws a curveball and change-up and has mostly worked as a starting pitcher in past seasons. This year, however, he’s opened the campaign in Triple-A’s bullpen.
He’s only tossed 2.1 innings and allowed an earned run but has walked just one and struck out three in the microscopic sample size. But if he continues to work well in the pen and shows his velocity increase from Spring wasn’t just a fluke, you could definitely see him in a major league role sometime this season.
The Pirates’ best first base prospect, Malcom Nunez, had such a promising 2022 that MLB Pipeline identified him as a player who could make his way on their top 100 list. Last season, Nunez batted .265/.365/.453 with a .379 wOBA, and 117 wRC+. The corner infielder crushed 23 home runs and had a .203 isolated slugging percentage. He was also red hot in the second half of the season. From June onward, Nunez slashed .294/.380/.533 with a .396 wOBA, and 150 wRC+.
Nunez has raw power and plate discipline, walking at a 14% rate, striking out only 20.9% of the time, and having above-average strength. He’s struggled to lift the ball in previous seasons. However, he made an adjustment in his swing and was rewarded with more extra-base hits. Most project him as a 1B/DH only, though he has shown some improvement with the leather over the past year. He definitely could be a viable first base option, given how much his defense has improved. Currently, Nunez has had 14 plate appearances, striking out just once but also has only three singles.
Another infield prospect worth mentioning as underrated is Jared Triolo. Triolo had a great 2022 campaign at Altoona, batting 282/.376/.419 with a .356 wOBA and 121 wRC+. He also had a strong 12.7% walk rate and 17.6% strikeout rate, though, like Nunez, he did outstanding after June. In his final 263 plate appearances of the season, Triolo was a .293/.391/.487 batter who walked nearly as much as he struck out (14.1% and 15.7% BB% and K%, respectively), and hit for decent power (.194 ISO).
Triolo’s calling card is his defensive ability, as he is considered the Pirates’ best defensive prospect. He can also swipe some bases, taking 25 and 24 in the last two seasons. Triolo has started to play other positions on the diamond, seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He’s also been willing to play both second base and third base. Although he is 25, he lost his first chance at a full season in 2020 and will likely not see the big leagues until at least the second half of the season. Triolo recently underwent hamate surgery and likely will miss the next four to six weeks.
There are certainly a handful of guys who could bolster the team later on down the line. Nunez could bring a middle-of-the-order power bat, while Triolo brings versatility and a track record of solid hitting. The bullpen was a question mark entering the season, and given Mlodzinski’s resume as a starting pitcher, he could be a multi-inning higher leverage arm if he can prove to handle late and close games.