Jack Suwinski has been impressive this year.
The Pirates’ rookie outfielder is slashing .230/.296/.486 with 11 home runs in his MLB debut, following a surprise early-season promotion from Altoona. He has already worked himself into regular playing time and has exceeded his prospect status.
When a prospect exceeds his status, we hold a special Prospecting Roundtable, providing a projection of what we believe lies in the MLB player’s future. Below is The Book About Jack Suwinski.
Once Suwinski started the season in Altoona, I thought there was a good chance we wouldn’t see him this season in the majors, especially without the expanded rosters in September. The Pirates had plenty of outfielders, and infielders playing in the outfield, ahead of him in Indianapolis. It was reasonable to expect him to get a fair amount of time in Triple-A before he made it to the majors. He got off to a great start this year, pushing toward that promotion to Indianapolis. Even when he was called up this year, it seemed like a temporary situation brought about by good timing for him. The general thought was that it’s a good experience for him to try out the major leagues. Instead of getting the necessary time from Triple-A, he has been learning on the job in the majors. Except for the solid home run rate, the numbers with the Pirates have not been good, with a low batting average, low walk totals, below-average defense and an increase over their minor league strikeout numbers, which were quite high last year. That’s basically what happens when someone skips over Triple-A and finds themselves thrust into a starting role in the big leagues.
At this point, you’re better off sticking with him, as long as he plays almost every day, so he comes into next year with plenty of experience. He’s 23 years old, putting up solid numbers in what amounts to a full Double-A season (124 games), so he was leaning toward a major league opportunity later this year if things went according to plan, with the eye on a bigger role in the majors next year. He’s basically on the same path going into 2023, except the Pirates are using some of his service time before he’s really ready for the big leagues. With a 5-10 prospect in the system, it’s a much worse idea because he’s giving up his top performance for no reason. With someone like Suwinski, the additional major league experience for next year could come in handy for him and the team if he is placed in a platoon/fourth outfield role.
The Book on Suwinski depends very much on the author. FanGraphs’ evaluation has received an incredulous response in P2: FG had him as a bottom-feeding defensive player, largely a power-only guy. Baseball America’s summary wasn’t as harsh, but BA referred to him as an “average running back.” That “book” should be out of print by now. Statcast data shows that Suwinski has near-elite sprint speed, and it also shows that he gets average jump shots in the outfield. By both UZR and OAA, he is an average defender.
So, aside from all that, what’s going to matter most of course is the bat. Suwinski put up uninteresting numbers in the minors until he reached Double-A in 2021. He then began throwing the ball more in the air and showing significant power in right field. He throws the ball often and has good exit velocities, so the power he’s displayed in the majors seems very real. The problem going forward will be getting on base enough, as his walk and K rate need to improve. He doesn’t chase much, so his high K rating may be because he doesn’t count well. LHPs have been a problem, though not to the same extent as, say, Daniel Vogelbach. He does have four long drives against LHP in the majors. Suwinski isn’t 24 yet, so the odds of him establishing himself as a major league outfielder are promising right now.
Suwinski has been easily the biggest surprise this year for the Pirates. He went from a surprise 40-man addition to now the NL leader in home runs. It’s hard to label him what I think he could be without detracting from what he’s accomplished so far. Suwinski did a lot of work in the offseason, fine-tuning his swing and obviously it worked. While the low average and rising strikeout rate may mean he can cool off as a hitter overall, the continued power seems legit. With the way he’s played defense, Suwinski feels like someone who has the floor of a fourth outfielder at worst, and if he’s capable of controlling strikeouts, even more so.
The most obvious thing that stands out with Suwinski is power. That has not always been obvious. Suwinski saw an increase in power output from him last year with Double-A San Diego, before the Adam Frazier trade. The Pirates were confident that upgrade was legitimate. So far, they have been correct. Suwinski has 11 home runs and a .257 ISO in the majors thus far. He is hitting at a rate of 40 home runs over the course of a full season. That’s more to put his current numbers into perspective, rather than a projection. Exceeding projections is becoming an issue here. Suwinski has shown better results with his defense and speed than his previous ratings indicate. If anything, Suwinski looks like a great scouting win for Ben Cherington’s Pirates.
So far, most of Suwinski’s value has come from power. He’s not hitting for average, his strikeouts are high and his walk rate isn’t high enough to be a true three-out guy. The power looks legit, with just 18% soft contact this year and a 44% draw rate that works well for the southpaw at PNC Park. That’s something Suwinski can build on as he tries to add value from other areas of his game. Suwinski is always going to be a leadoff hitter, led by power. Right now, that has him above the other rookie outfielders with a spot to lose. He has a chance to be an average starter, or a strong fourth outfielder in a contender, with no upgrades. I think based on what we’ve seen so far, it would be a mistake to assume that Suwinski won’t get any better.