Pirates' No. 3 prospect wows in spring debut

February 24th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- insists that his breaking pitch is a slider, not a cutter, regardless of how it was classified online. It certainly spins like a slider, consistently hitting over 2,500 rpm in the Pirates’ Grapefruit League-opening 5-3 loss Saturday against the Twins at the Lee Health Sports Complex.

Mix in a fastball that was consistently hitting 98 mph and a curveball with 58 inches of vertical break, and Jones’ stuff looked like it was in midseason form, not like he was pitching his first inning of the spring season.

“I guess I’ve got only one mode,” Jones said afterwards with a smile.

That stuff has elevated Jones to being the Pirates’ No. 3 prospect (No. 62 overall), according to MLB Pipeline. While there is much excitement around Paul Skenes’ eventual Major League debut, Jones could also get the call at some point this year.

Like many young pitchers, there can be some control issues at times, as evidenced by a 9.7 percent walk rate with Triple-A Indianapolis last season. However, when he’s on, like he was Saturday, he’s sharp. And when he gets off track?

“It’s the easiest mound visit,” said , who caught him the past two years in the Minors. “You just have to get him angry and walk away.”

Jones doesn’t exactly have great odds of making the Opening Day roster, as the team is already looking at a handful of pitchers with Major League experience competing for rotation spots, including Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester and Bailey Falter. But his opportunity is coming soon, and he’s aiming to remain on the attack this spring.

“It’s just going out and doing me, doing what I do best and keeping it consistent,” Jones said. “Doesn’t really matter where I’m at. I kind of go into every game with the same mindset, go out there and compete.”

Davis gets back behind the plate
The Pirates are giving Davis a chance to earn playing time behind the plate, and he got the nod in their first game action of the spring. Don’t necessarily read a lot into that. Fort Myers is a 101-mile drive from LECOM Park, and veterans like Yasmani Grandal are almost always scheduled off on those longer spring trips.

Offensively, Davis looked solid, picking up two hits and flying out to the warning track. Defensively, he was more of a mixed bag. Pirate pitchers had three wild pitches in his five innings, though the onus does not completely fall on him. He only caught Falter once in a bullpen this camp, and Josh Fleming had signed last week.

He also made an impressive catch on a foul ball that seemed destined to land in the stands before the wind blew it back into play.

“Oh, I couldn’t believe it came back,” Davis said with a smile. “I thought it was way out. That’s like a courtesy run over there.”

Receiving wise, Jones sees noticeable improvement, which could translate into games soon.

“It’s getting a lot better,” Jones said. “He used to drop the low pitches, lot of the low pitches would be called balls, but now he’s just sticking it and framing it. You’ll start to see a lot more strikes being called with that offspeed down.”

Falter looking for his breaking ball
As previously mentioned, Falter is one of several pitchers in the mix for a rotation spot this spring, but given that he pitched in a variety of roles in his two months with the Pirates last year and that he is out of Minor League options, he could be deployed a variety of ways.

“Start, long guy, closer -- I know that’s not gonna happen with the guys we got this offseason -- but it doesn’t matter to me,” Falter said. “I just wanna go out there and do my job, execute and hopefully be one of those 26 guys.”

Don’t be mistaken, though. Falter is aiming for a rotation spot. Most of his stuff in his two innings looked sharp Saturday, but the Twins did pounce on two sliders for exit velocities of 103.2 mph and 106.6 mph.

“Probably just perfecting the slider a little bit more,” Falter said. “I think I only threw one splitter, too, and it had really good action on it. Those two pitches are ones I’m gonna really crack down on this Spring Training.”