3 things we've learned about Pirates pitching prospects

March 20th, 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.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After Pittsburgh graduated many of its top hitting prospects to the Majors last year, it was expected that the Pirates’ Top 30 Prospects list would be pitcher-heavy in 2024. Their farm system still ranked ninth overall on MLB Pipeline’s most recent rankings and was the only one with four pitchers in the Top 100 (No. 3 Paul Skenes, No. 62 Jared Jones, No. 82 Anthony Solometo and No. 93 Bubba Chandler).

This spring, we got to see many of those top prospects in action between Spring Training and Spring Breakout. Here are three things we learned about the pitchers:

1. Skenes has a full mix
Skenes consistently ramped up his fastball to triple digits, touching 102 mph, but everyone already knew the top pitching prospect in the game had serious heat. What was new in his spring outings was a more complete pitch mix, expanding beyond the four-seamer and slider combo he leaned on in college to incorporate his changeup, curveball and “splinker” (a sinker with some splitter action) more often.

Skenes didn’t shy away from throwing those new pitches in big spots, like starting off his much-anticipated first matchup with No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday with a curveball.

“Pitching is fun,” Skenes said after his first spring outing Feb. 29. “Blowing it by guys is fun. It gets old. Pitching and the art of it, I really love that."

2. Jones looks ready
This might have been hard to believe coming into camp, but Skenes might not be the most Major League-ready pitching prospect in the Pirates’ system. It could be Jones.

Jones dazzled this spring, ramping his fastball up to 101 mph and throwing high-spin sliders over 90 mph. Command issues hampered him at times with Triple-A Indianapolis last season, but he’s attacked the zone more in spring and allowed just two unearned runs over his 11 1/3 innings.

Bucs manager Derek Shelton said earlier this spring that Jones was one of the pitchers in competition for an Opening Day rotation spot. Even if Jones doesn’t get a job out of the gate, he should be one of the first calls the team makes when it needs help.

3. There’s depth
Unsurprisingly, Skenes was named to the All-Spring Breakout first team after he threw a perfect inning. He was joined by another Pirates pitcher who cracked the second team: Patrick Reilly, who struck out the side in his frame. Reilly is the team’s No. 23 prospect per MLB Pipeline and was taken in the fifth round of last year’s MLB Draft, and he left Spring Breakout with some more street cred.

It wasn’t just Reilly. Braxton Ashcraft (the Bucs’ No. 7 prospect) flashed big stuff, and signs point to him getting a chance as a starter. Hunter Barco (No. 14), had two terrific frames in the Spring Breakout game. Thomas Harrington (No. 6) grabbed attention in Big League camp, and Kyle Nicolas (No. 22) will get time in the Majors this season.

None of those pitchers are considered a Top 100 prospect, but each could make an impact in the coming years. They made a good impression in their first taste of MLB Spring Training or on the national stage.