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Priester, Rodriguez pack a punch for Pirates

Future batterymates headline balanced group of All-Star talent
Quinn Priester posted a 3.29 ERA and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning across 19 starts. (Carl Kline/
December 7, 2022

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A Indianapolis: 74-75
Double-A Altoona: 71-66
High-A Greensboro: 58-70
Single-A Bradenton: 67-62
FCL Pirates: 30-25
DSL Pirates Gold: 44-15 (Northeast division winner)
DSL Pirates Black: 26-33
Overall record: 370-346 (.517 winning percentage, 12th among MLB organizations)

Pirates Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Endy Rodriguez

Rodriguez followed up his 2021 MVP campaign by claiming another Most Valuable Player award, this time in the South Atlantic League. But as good as the No. 6 Pirates prospect was for Greensboro, he was even better after his promotion to Altoona.

Rodriguez set career highs across the board in 2022, batting .323/.407/.590 with 68 extra-base hits, 25 homers and 95 RBIs in 125 games, including the last six with Indianapolis. The 22-year-old is no slouch with the glove, either ... regardless which one he is wearing. Primarily a catcher (75 games), Rodriguez also made appearances at second, first and the outfield. Unsurprisingly, the Pirates added Rodriguez to the 40-man roster last month.

"Leaving hitter-friendly [First National Bank Field in] Greensboro and hitting as well as he did [.356 with a 1.120 OPS in 31 Double-A games] really opened our eyes," said Pirates director of coaching and player development John Baker. "Everything he's done so far suggests he's the real deal. Consecutive MVP awards and a track record of success and improvement in all areas showed us he's getting very close."

First baseman: Jacob Gonzalez

It took several seasons, but Gonzalez seems to have found his footing. After several nondescript years in the Giants' organization, the Pirates selected the Arizona native during last year's Minor League Rule 5 Draft and reaped the rewards in 2022.

Gonzalez began the season with Bradenton before earning a promotion to Greensboro where he finished out the year. All told, he put together a .305/.377/.459 slash line, 38 extra-base hits and 61 RBIs in 112 games. Not only did Gonzalez reduce his strikeout rate from 19.2 percent to 13.1 percent, but his BABIP increased from .283 to .330. Both were key components of his breakout year.

Second baseman: Nick Gonzales

At first glance, Gonzales' injury-plagued 2022 could be classified as a "down" year. Beginning the year in Double-A, the No. 5 Pirates prospect got off to a slow start, perhaps due in part to the plantar fasciitis that ultimately sidelined him for more than two months. Upon his return to Altoona on Aug. 12, the 23-year-old more closely resembled the player who posted a .950 OPS in his professional debut in 2021.

Gonzales batted .294/.413/.520 with 16 of his 28 extra-base hits and 18 of his 33 RBIs for Altoona over his final 27 games and participated in the Arizona Fall League for a second consecutive year.

"The really exciting thing about Nick, even in an injury-plagued year, is that he came on strong down the stretch," Baker said. "He got on base at a remarkable clip from the start and when he was healthy, we saw everything else fall into place. We're excited to see him fully healthy in 2023."

Third baseman: Jared Triolo

Through three professional seasons, Triolo has proven to be a steady player in all phases. Pittsburgh's 24th-ranked prospect spent the entire year in Double-A and hit .282 with a solid .795 OPS -- buoyed by a .375 OBP -- and a 121 wRC+ in 112 games. Although his overall production dipped compared to his breakout 2021 (.304/.369/.480), Triolo found a home at the top of Altoona's lineup and swiped 24 bases in 29 attempts.

Although no one particular offensive trait sticks out, the 24-year-old was a Gold Glove winner at third base in 2021 with a strong arm and the versatility to play multiple positions.

"He can play all over, has a knack for finding his way to the ball and makes hard plays look easy," Baker said. "Offensively, we moved Jared into the leadoff spot, which he really took to. He's learning to hit the ball harder with more consistency and impressed us with his growth. He understands the game and sets a great example for his teammates."

Shortstop: Tsung-Che Cheng

Listed at 5-foot-7 and 154 pounds, Cheng harkens back to a bygone era of smaller shortstops. However, the 21-year-old plays far bigger than his physical stature. Making the jump to full-season competition, Cheng produced a strong .794 OPS and 38 extra-base hits across 104 games for Bradenton. The Taiwan native led the Florida State League with seven triples, scored 79 runs and stole 33 bases in 39 attempts.

After splitting team between second, third and short in 2021, 84 of his 97 appearances came at shortstop in 2022. Despite his small build, Cheng has a good arm and shows a good first step at the position, giving Pittsburgh hope he can stick there.

Outfield: Matt Gorski

The Pirates have had no shortage of productive outfielders at the big league level. Gorski may soon join that list after putting together his best year to date, despite missing two months with a quad injury. After showing flashes in 2021, the 24-year-old put everything together this past season, batting .280/.358/.598 with a career-high 24 homers, 66 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 81 games.

"What an incredible athlete he is," Baker said of the Pirates' 22nd-ranked prospect. "Compare his 2021 and 2022 seasons and you'll see how much work he put in, particularly offensively. To call him a complete package wouldn't be overstating things. He can run, play great defense and has a strong and accurate arm. One of the things we are most proud of with Matt is that he understands what the level of work it takes to get himself to be the player he wants to be. It showed last year."

Cal Mitchell

Three consecutive seasons of double-digit home runs totals and overall improvement combined with a scorching start to 2022 landed Mitchell in the big leagues this past season. The 23-year-old carried an .862 OPS into mid-May before making his Major League debut, and although he shuttled up and down several times, he never stopped hitting in the Minors.

Mitchell batted. 339/.391/.547 in 63 games for Indianapolis, and despite a rough introduction to The Show, he finished the year with 66 RBIs, 45 extra-base hits and 14 homers across 123 combined games with the Indians and Pirates. He'll have an opportunity to begin 2023 in Pittsburgh.

Bligh Madris

Madris was a steady presence in the Indianapolis lineup and outfield before Tampa Bay claimed him off waivers in September. The 26-year-old was in the midst of his best pro season prior to switching organizations, hitting .294 with an .848 OPS and a wRC+ of 124 in 71 games.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Quinn Priester

If not for an oblique injury suffered on the final day of Spring Training, Priester might very well have found himself in the Majors in 2022. When he returned to the mound, baseball's No. 44 overall prospect picked up where he'd left off a year earlier, handcuffing Double-A competition before making a pair of late-season starts in Triple-A.

Priester headlines a four-pitch repertoire with a mid-90s fastball that sinks, plus an equally impressive four-seamer he uses up in the zone. Discounting his two rehab appearances, the 22-year-old surrendered two or fewer earned runs in 13 of his 17 starts en route to a 2.55 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings.

"Quinn is still so young, I don't think people realize all that he's accomplished," Baker said. "He's got an advanced feel for the spin on his off-speed stuff, which he throws with multiple breaks, plus a strong changeup. Even more impressive to us was how he responded to his injury. He took that time on the sideline to really improve his body and workout regimens. He got better without pitching, which is a great sign for any hurler, especially one so young."

Left-handed starting pitcher: Anthony Solometo

The wait to see Solometo's debut was more than worth it for the Pirates, who drafted the New Jersey native 37th overall in 2021. The No. 9 Pirates prospect made his debut this past season and was impressive, posting a 2.64 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in 13 appearances, including eight starts, for Bradenton. An unorthodox delivery makes Solometo's already strong fastball-slider combo look even better and helped him hold opposing batters to a .188 average while striking out 51 in 47 2/3 innings.

"This kid is something else ... one of the most mature players I've seen in some time," Baker said. "He already sees his weaknesses very clearly and quickly attacks them. That's an uncommon trait for a player as young as he is, but he's proven to be a quick learner who wants to beat you in everything from baseball to ping pong. We already love what we see and are excited about a bright future."

Reliever: Tyler Samanieggo

Two poor outings put a minor ding in what was otherwise a dominant year for Samanieggo. The 23-year-old wasn't particularly overpowering, striking out 47 in 47 2/3 innings, but he was almost impossible to hit. Samanieggo yielded just 18 hits and limited the opposition to a miniscule .114 average over 38 appearances for Bradenton and Altoona.

The Alabama native was unscored upon in 33 outings and, of the 13 earned runs he allowed, nine came in two appearances spanning 2 1/3 innings. Take away those pair of blips and his ERA would have dropped to 0.80 in 36 outings.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.