From Skenes to Reed, Bucs’ farm teeming with talent

April 13th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf's Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The regular season is upon us, and with it also comes another new season of Minor League baseball.

One can’t overvalue the farm system’s importance to the Pirates, and even after graduating several top prospects to the Majors, they still entered the season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 9 system in baseball.

So to commemorate the start of a new season for the four affiliates, this newsletter will focus on a player we have learned more about, either from Spring Training or this first taste of a new year. Because while some of the top pitchers are in the upper levels of the system, there is talent throughout.

Triple-A Indianapolis: Skenes is answering pro ball questions

obviously has the stuff to be an elite pitcher, but there’s always a bit of a question of how a collegiate pitcher will handle pitching on five days' rest instead of going once a week. Skenes hasn’t missed a beat so far, keeping that great velocity and breaking ball shape while striking out 19 over 9 1/3 innings in his three starts.

“He’s been really good,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said recently. “We’re just continuing to take steps forward in getting him through the progression. I think those are the hurdles that we’re having to do, making sure that he gets used to pitching on regular rest and that he gets the regular workload.”

The only thing left to see is when Skenes will be ready for Pittsburgh.

“I’ll be able to get away with a little bit more [in Triple-A] than I will in the big leagues,” Skenes said after his last start. “I’ll have to execute a little bit differently when I get to the Majors, because you can scout hitters as much as you want, but until you step in against them, there’s no way to really know how your stuff is, and the hitters are gonna tell you everything.”

Double-A Altoona: Ashcraft is a starter

There was some debate in Spring Training of what the future held for , the Pirates’ No. 7 prospect. After several years of injuries, the right-hander enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, but he rarely pitched more than an inning or two, raising questions of whether he would be a starter or reliever in 2024.

Nothing is a done deal, but putting Ashcraft in Altoona indicates that he’ll get a chance to start first. Indianapolis is more for players the Pirates feel can help their Major League team now, and while Ashcraft’s stuff could definitely do that out of the bullpen, Pittsburgh isn’t rushing him.

Having Ashcraft start in Altoona also means that the Curve boasts one of the best rotations in baseball, featuring Top 100 Prospects Anthony Solometo (No. 76) and Bubba Chandler (No. 86). That’s worth tuning in to see.

High-A Greensboro: White Jr. has got pop

This might not quite be a make-or-break season for , but after he missed significant time the past two seasons due to injury, he needed to show something. So far, all the 2021 second-round pick has done is hit, homering four times in his first seven games.

Almost all of the major Draft picks in that class are at a more advanced level, and White played just 63 games the past two years, but he finished strong last season and has carried that momentum.

“I learned a ton in the second half of the season last year just by playing every day,” White said back in Spring Training. “I’m hoping to be learning more and more. One of my goals this year is to finish in Double-A, or somewhere around there.”

Single-A Bradenton: Reed is worth watching

Plenty of young pitchers in Bradenton will get their first full turn as a professional, including Hunter Barco and Michael Kennedy, the team’s No. 14 and 15 prospects. might not be on the Top 30 list, but last year’s fourth-round Draft pick has made an impressive jump out of the gate, striking out 10 over seven innings in his first two outings of the season.

Reed was one of West Virginia University’s top relievers last year, but the Pirates want to try him out as a starter. His sinker can ramp up to 96 mph and his slider can get to the 2,800 rpm range, so he has a good combination of velo and movement. He’s not on the Major League radar now, but he’s off to a very strong start.