TDG’S Triple Play: Pittsburgh Pirates!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Ryan Epperson (@ppenayr) and Aaron Cumming (@SABRtoothTigers) follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.
Captain Jack Suwinski, Age: 24, Position: OF
Analysis by: Ryan Epperson
I`ll preface my entry by saying I`m not biased at all on Jack Suwinski, not at all.
Ball. Go. Boom. That sums up Jack Suwinski at the plate very succinctly, however, I need to fill this article with words or Taylor will yell at me.
“If You Were Waiting for the Opportune Moment, That Was It.”
Rewind to the beginning of this year as you were working on draft prep or trying to upgrade your dynasty team through a trade perhaps. Maybe you need some power, so you scoured your league mates’ rosters looking for that hidden gem, “Anthony Santander? He`ll cost more than I want” you think to yourself, but you stumble upon Jack Suwinski, and as your eyes roll into the back of your head trying to recall where you heard that name before you shout “Eureka!!, I remember now, he socked a few dingers for the Pirates last year.”
Your fingers dance across the keyboard as you dash over to Fangraphs to check out just how many dingers he indeed did sock. “Yowzers, he hit 19 but only batted .202 and struck out 30% of the time, I can`t trade for him, maybe I`ll wait until he hits the waiver wire.” *That`s the only thing he`ll probably hit this year* you think, proud of your pun, so you go off and overpay for Santander anyways.
Congratulations, you just played yourself.
“It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.”
What does Suwinski do well? He hits the ball extremely hard with a 95th percentile max EV (114.4mph, up 2mph from last year) with a 96th percentile barrel rate which is more indicative of in-game power than any other fancy Statcast stat.
What has stood out to me the most this year is that he has cut down on his swings outside of the zone by a steep margin, 2022 he was swinging 27.4% of the time on pitches outside of the zone, this year he has dropped it all the way down to 19.4% where he is top three in the league (around guys like Soto, Wade. Jr., Mookie Betts.) This has led to him bumping his walk rate up almost four points (11%-13.9%) which is not unusual for Jack as he has displayed this type of walk rate in the minors so it’s a reasonable assumption it could stick.
Did I mention he also has six steals on the year? You might legitimately be looking at a 30/15 season from him by the end of the year with a .340ish OBP and, when ONeil Cruz comes back and some reinforcements from the minors (HOORAY Henry Davis!) arrive, he should compile more and more runs and RBIs.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
OK, he strikes out a teensy bit but is 32% reallllyy that bad *cue dramatic music* yes, yes, it is. However, unless you play in a league that penalizes strikeouts, who the heck cares? Especially in OBP leagues, he is a top-30 outfielder this year and for dynasty purposes, he might rank even higher. Not everyone is a Pirates fan (a shame, I know) but I don`t think many realize that Suwinski was promoted straight from Double-A, skipping Triple-A entirely until the Pirates sent him down to work on a few things last summer. This is a player that is still learning and is just about to turn 25 years old.
Johan Oviedo, Age: 25, Position: SP
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Johan Oviedo is a paradox. He has flashes of brilliance, but falls flat with regularity. He’s a power pitcher with a great slider, but his command has his strike zone plot looking like it could use a good pair of Spanx – gotta tighten it up a bit. He’s been Pittsburgh’s second best starting pitcher this year behind Mitch Keller, and is projected to hold that same position for the rest of this season. With the upstart Pirates getting gobbled up by the regression monster (eight straight losses as of this writing), rostering their second best starter feels sort of like settling for your safety community college. Let’s dive in and see if he has enough sizzle to make the jump to sustained relevance.
Monkey Ovie-See, Monkey Ovie-Do
Oviedo was signed by the Cardinals in 2016 and worked his way through their organization before making his debut in St. Louis in 2020. So it makes sense that through 2022, he had basically the exact same repertoire as Jack Flaherty, but with the benefit of an extra tick or two of velocity. With Flaherty coming off a 2019 that saw him getting Cy Young and MVP votes, that wasn’t a bad model to follow. A decent fastball paired with a firm and tight slider while mixing in a passable curve. That’s a classic recipe for success, but only the best cooks have the skill needed to take those ingredients and create an amazing dish.
Much the same as we are witnessing with Flaherty’s fall from grace, Oviedo is entirely dependent on having a feel for those pitches. When Johan is locating, he can be dominating. In a matchup against his former team in April of this year, he was hitting the corners and didn’t leave anything out over the middle and had ten strikeouts against just one walk in seven innings. (He took the loss in that game, but that doesn’t fit my narrative, so let’s just breeze by that.) In his most recent outing against the Cubs, he kept his breakers low, but when he ran into trouble, it was due to not hitting his spots with his fastball. Tucker Barnhart sent a middle-middle 4-seamer out of the park for the hardest hit against Oviedo. When he’s erratic, he gives up too many walks and hits and gets into too much trouble for someone who has a control artist’s repertoire without a control artist’s control.
Don’t Mess With The Johan
If control is the key to his success, Oviedo probably wishes he attached an AirTag to that key because he seems unlikely to find it. He has had a double digit walk rate at nearly every stop in his professional career. As a prospect, he never projected to grow into any type of control, and that has borne out. The Pirates and Oviedo have made a switch to feature his slider this year above his subpar fastball, but that isn’t enough to take the next leap. There will be stretches where he will have a feel for his pitches, and you’ll be ecstatic to roster him in those times. And then there will be times when he issues five walks and doesn’t get out of the 5th inning. Still just 25-years-old, it’s perfectly viable to take the exact approach the Pirates are – give him a shot to see if something clicks. Ride the highs and weather the lows. You’ll end up with a decent line across the board, with a chance to catch lightning if he can ever find the strike zone.
Yordany De Los Santos, Age: 18, Position: SS/3B, Level: Rookie
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
All Saints Day
This one goes out to all you deep leaguers out there, with 35+ minor league spots. Born in Guerra, Dominican Republic, De Los Santos was the 12th rated international prospect (by mlb.com) in the 2022 class; the Pirates signed him for $1.2 million, their most expensive signing last year.
The 6’1”, 170-pound right-handed hitter debuted as a professional last season in the Dominican Summer League. As a 17-year-old De Los Santos appeared in 59 games garnering 234 plate appearances, slashing .258/.372/.363 with 14 steals, albeit only one homer. The power may (should) be coming, as FanGraphs gave him a possible future grade of 60 in both Game and Raw Power. His walk rate was a robust 13.7% and a reasonable 19.5% strikeout rate, which are great for such a young hitter.
I want to be in that number
His 2023 season started only a couple weeks ago, playing for the Pirates team in the Florida Complex league. De Los Santos is off to a great start, slashing .333/.390/.444 in 41 plate appearances with nine steals though he has yet to hit a homer yet. His walk rate is 10% and K rate 19.5%, and it is great to see that patient plate approach continue stateside. Defensively, it appears that moving off of shortstop over the third base in the long-term play; thus far this he has split his time between the two positions; while last year he was primarily a shortstop.
O when the Saints go marching in
De Los Santos is pretty low on mlb.com’s current ranking of the Pirates prospects, coming in at #27. On FanGraphs he fares better as the 12th rated Pirates prospect; and they even went so far as to say he compared to “a mid-first high school infield prospect.” Only rostered in 3% of Fantrax leagues, there’s no need to rush to add him to your team immediately. We are talking about him because we need to continue to monitor De Los Santos’ production during 2023. While seeing De Los Santos in the bigs is still years off, if he keeps on hitting like he has the Pirates will have no choice but to promote him up the ladder, and if so, watch him rise up prospect lists as well.