Bucs' pitchers star in Spring Breakout showcase

March 15th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the home clubhouse at LECOM Park started to fill up with Pirates prospects, there was a buzz in the room. These young players have been practicing together in the Minor League Spring Training camp, but tonight, they were teammates.

And if Thursday night’s Spring Breakout game was a sign of things to come, it should be a bright future they share together.

“It’s gonna be fun,” said. “There are a lot of cool guys around the league that you’re going to see tonight and throughout the weekend. They’re going to be big leaguers for many years. I can’t wait to watch everyone. We’re not really treating it like a showcase. We’re treating it like a regular game. I want to go out there and win and have that intention, show the world what we can do.”

Chandler ended up sealing the Pirates’ 3-1 win over the Orioles on Thursday night, tossing a scoreless seventh for the save. It was a matchup of MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked farm system (the Orioles) and the only team with four pitchers in the top 100 (the Pirates). And in this game, it was the pitchers who wowed.

Here are some of the most memorable moments of the first showcase.

Skenes comes out firing

The -Jackson Holliday rematch was one of the most anticipated at-bats of any Spring Breakout game, but the top pitching prospect was ready to go out of the gate. Leadoff hitter Enrique Bradfield Jr. saw nothing but heat from Skenes, who struck him out on three pitches that were 101, 101 and 102 mph on the gun.

Skenes went on to strike out Holliday on six pitches and got Connor Norby to ground out to end a 1-2-3 first inning, but that first at-bat was a showcase of his 80-grade fastball.

Johnson shortens up

, the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect and 2022 first-round pick, has been touted for having one of the prettiest swings in the system. So, of course, his first hit Thursday was a half-swing.

An aerial angle showed that it wasn’t an off-balance swing, but Johnson shortening up to drop a ball down the third-base line for a base hit. Third baseman Coby Mayo was playing off the line, and Johnson took advantage of it.

Johnson on the mic

Skenes and No. 4 prospect Anthony Solometo did interviews with SportsNet Pittsburgh’s Hannah Mears in-game, but Johnson’s interview with the Pirates booth happened on the field and the dugout. In the conversation, we got a viewpoint of what it’s like on the field, and then later gained insight about the origins of Johnson’s love of the game.

Barco returns

was the Pirates’ second-round pick in 2022, but since he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, he hasn’t pitched much in his professional career yet, totaling just 10 2/3 innings with Single-A Bradenton last season.

Pittsburgh's No. 14 prospect tossed two scoreless innings Thursday, capping his outing with a 94.6 mph fastball for a swinging strike three.

Reilly strikes out the side

, the Pirates’ fifth-round pick in last year’s Draft and their No. 23 prospect, barely got a chance to pitch in pro ball in 2023. The Vanderbilt product will get a proper look in 2024, and he started that campaign by striking out the side in the sixth inning. Yes, the third was a pitch timer violation on the batter, but the 96-97 mph, high-spin fastballs could be a harbinger of things to come.

Skenes caps the night

When Skenes was 11, he went to an Arizona Fall League game where he got autographs from Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The experience meant a lot to a young fan who would grow into one of the top young pitchers in the game.

After the game Thursday, he paid it forward, staying late to sign autographs and take pictures for a flood of fans. He heard the calls from kids while warming up, and while he couldn’t sign them pregame, half an hour after the final pitch, he was still signing.

“I feel like I owe it a little bit to stay there as long as I could after,” Skenes said.

Bonus: Postgame

When the game was over, players were greeted with two tables of postgame gifts: one with cookies of the Pirates and MLB logos in icing, and another of T-shirts that said Major League Baseball.

It was a night for the prospects, but the end goal remains very much in sight.