All the Pittsburgh kids are in the pool.
The Pirates are calling up two Top 100 prospects this week in No. 35 Endy Rodríguez and No. 53 Quinn Priester, MLB.com’s Justice delos Santos reported over the weekend. Both will make their Major League debuts with Priester slated to start on the mound for the Bucs on Monday against the Guardians at PNC Park. With No. 27 Henry Davis also in the bigs, three of Pittsburgh’s five Top 100 representatives will be in The Show as of this week.
Acquired as a minor piece from the Mets in a three-team deal involving Joe Musgrove and David Bednar in 2021, Rodríguez has represented one of the Pirates’ biggest development success stories over the past two-and-a-half seasons. After a strong Single-A season in 2021, the switch-hitting catcher had his true breakout last year, when he hit .323/.407/.590 with 25 homers over 125 games across the High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels. Rodríguez returned to Indianapolis this season and saw his slash line dip to .268/.356/.415 in his first 67 contests, but he had been hot of late, picking multiple hits in four of his last five games and going 22-for-59 (.373), with more extra-base hits (eight) than strikeouts (seven) since June 23.
The 23-year-old has still shown a solid approach that prioritizes contact, highlighted by a 14.9 percent strikeout rate that ranks 11th lowest among 112 Triple-A qualifiers in 2023. Rodríguez will generally take his walks too -- skills that should ease his transition to the Majors.
Rodríguez’s power has dropped with only seven homers so far in 2023, and his 31.6 percent hard-hit rate (i.e. percentage of batted balls with exit velocities above 95 mph) would rank last among Pirates qualifiers. With a 108.9 mph max exit velocity, Rodríguez does show some raw power though, so tapping more into that could be a priority in The Show.
The Pirates have been big fans of the Dominican Republic native’s general athleticism since picking him up two years ago, and the organization has given him looks at first, second and left field in the recent past. His non-catching duties have been limited to first base this season, however, and even then, he’s only moved from behind the plate eight times in 59 defensive starts in 2023.
With Henry Davis a full-time right fielder, Pittsburgh's catching corps could certainly use Rodríguez’s improving bat; entering Sunday, Pirates catchers sat last in the Majors with a collective 47 wRC+. And on the other side of the coin, Rodríguez -- who has thrown out only seven of 50 attempted basestealers this summer -- could use being around veteran defensive star Austin Hedges, the Majors’ best framer in 2023.
That’s one side of the new battery. Priester’s arrival, which was announced first over the weekend, brings as much excitement for what he can bring to the Bucs' rotation.
The 22-year-old right-hander has long flashed potential since Pittsburgh selected him 18th overall out of an Illinois high school in 2019. Priester reached Indianapolis for a brief cameo last season and returned to the International League with a 4.31 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 84 strikeouts in 87 2/3 innings this year.
Like Rodríguez, Priester made a solid final push to The Show with a season-high 11 strikeouts over six scoreless innings on June 24 and a 2023-best 7 1/3 frames (featuring 94 pitches and no walks) on July 6. Notably, he was the second-youngest qualified pitcher at the Minors’ highest level behind D-backs southpaw Blake Walston, also 22.
Priester works with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball that run around 91-94 mph. The sinking two-seamer has been particularly helpful at generating weak wormburners with Priester ranking second in Triple-A with a 53.8 percent ground-ball rate. His 83-86 mph slider has been his primary breaking pitch and will generate swing-and-misses with two-plane action. A more vertical-dropping upper-70s curveball can get whiffs too, and some evaluators prefer it as his best secondary. Priester uses an upper-80s changeup almost exclusively against lefties, but it doesn’t have quite enough separation to be truly effective.
The 6-foot-3 hurler possesses just average control, but walks shouldn’t be a major concern at the top level. Varying the five-pitch mix enough to keep hitters off-balance and continuing to keep the ball on the ground when they do make contact will be the keys to Priester continuing his run of recent success in the bigs.
A pleasant surprise early in the season, Pittsburgh has fallen 10 1/2 games back in both the NL Central and Wild Card races. The arrivals of Rodríguez and Priester alone are highly unlikely to help overcome such big playoff-spot deficits, but they can bring boosts of energy as the organization attempts to turn the corner for 2024 and beyond with homegrown prospects leading the charge.