A look back at Pirates' Minor League season

October 9th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Justice delos Santos’ Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Pirates’ farm system looks a bit different these days.

Over the summer, a plethora of Pirates prospects, at long last, graduated from prospect status. That list includes catchers Endy Rodríguez and Henry Davis; infielders Liover Peguero, Jared Triolo and Nick Gonzales; and right-handers Quinn Priester, Luis L. Ortiz and Carmen Mlodzinski.

With Davis, Rodríguez and company moved up, Pittsburgh’s prospect rankings are now headlined by right-hander , the first pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, and infielder Termarr Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. Here’s a quick look at the Pirates’ Minor League season, as a whole:

Three players who played their way onto radars

RHP J.P. Massey: During his four years at the University of Minnesota, Massey had a 6.70 ERA across 123 2/3 innings. He could rack up the strikeouts (10.19 K/9), but he could also rack up the walks (7.71 BB/9). Upon joining the organization as a seventh-rounder in the 2022 MLB Draft, Massey found the success as a professional that eluded him as an amateur. In addition to posting a 3.81 ERA across 80 1/3 combined innings with Single-A Bradenton and High-A Greensboro, Massey earned an invitation to the Futures Game, alongside Rodríguez.

OF Lonnie White Jr.: For No. 16 prospect White, this season was more about a reintroduction. Injuries limited White to 11 combined games in 2021 and '22. Healthy again, White showed the talent that enticed the Pirates to select him with the 64th-overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. In 44 games with Bradenton, White slashed .259/.395/.488 with eight home runs and 12 steals. If White qualified, his .883 OPS would’ve been tied for the highest OPS in the Florida State League.

RHP Braxton Ashcraft: No. 12 prospect Ashcraft’s stock fell after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2021 and missing the '22 season. Despite being out of competition for a year and a half, Ashcraft seamlessly rebounded and reclaimed top-prospect status. Across 52 2/3 innings with Bradenton, Greensboro and Double-A Altoona, Ashcraft had a 2.39 ERA with 63 strikeouts to 11 walks.

Two possible breakout candidates

LHP Jaden Woods: During his three years at the University of Georgia, Woods totaled a lot of strikeouts (11.27 K/9), but also a lot of walks (4.74 BB/9). During his first taste with pro ball, by contrast, Woods, selected in the seventh round of the 2023 MLB Draft, had 21 strikeouts (13.19 K/9) and three walks (1.88 BB/9) across 14 1/3 innings with Bradenton. The sample size is very small, but there are worse foundations to build upon than a 1.50 FIP.

LHP Hunter Barco: No. 9 prospect Barco, a second-round selection in the 2022 MLB Draft, made his professional debut in early August after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2022. Barco allowed six earned runs across 10 2/3 innings for Bradenton (5.06 ERA), but the true intrigue lies in the left-hander’s peripherals: 19 strikeouts, four walks and zero home runs allowed, all of which led to a 1.37 FIP.

One big question for next year

Skenes is on the fast track to the Major Leagues. A little over a month after signing for a record $9.2 million, the top pick was making his Double-A debut. Skenes, who hasn’t yet thrown 10 professional innings, likely won’t be in the Pirates’ Opening Day rotation, but he could realistically sprint through the Minors, especially if he lives up to the lofty expectations. The Pirates’ performance could play a role in this as well; many players expect the team to make the postseason next year, and Skenes stands to contribute to that cause. The question, then, is this: Does Skenes make his debut next season? And, if so, how early in the season?