The Pirates need rotation help in the majors, as I outlined in today’s article over at No Quarter.
Fortunately, they have some talented pitching prospects in the minors, including two guys with top of the rotation potential who could be in the majors very soon. Beyond Quinn Priester and Roansy Contreras, the Pirates are spread out well, with promising pitchers at every level in the system.
The Pirates don’t have a great history of turning their top pitching prospects into top pitchers in Pittsburgh, so hopefully they fix whatever issue was leading to that before this next group arrives.
This article is part of a series looking at the future of every position in the Pirates’ farm system. Note that this isn’t a full list of the starting pitching prospects, but instead the top options in the system as of our latest rankings.
2021 Stats: 3.04 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 97.2 IP (A+)
If there was one knock against Priester this year, it was his lack of strikeouts. That didn’t seem to be a major issue by the end of the season. He finished the year with an 11.1 K/9 in August and September, which was highly fueled by three dominant starts in August. Priester has the makings of a top of the rotation starter, with a fastball that can hit upper 90s, and a curveball that can be a plus offering, with the potential for plus control. He’s the top pitching prospect in the system, only getting a challenge from Roansy Contreras, which is more about the leaps Contreras made this season.
2021 Stats: 2.64 ERA, 12.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 58.0 IP (AA, AAA)
The Pirates gave Contreras a look in the majors at the end of the year, and his three shutout innings were enough to build anticipation for his eventual full-time stay in the majors. Contreras pitched in Low-A before the pandemic, and made some strides with his game during the time off. He returned to dominate Double-A, with a fastball that sits mid-90s and a slider with a lot of movement that generates good swing and miss. I’d expect Contreras to be in the rotation at some point in 2022, though he probably needs to build up this season to a full MLB starter’s workload, with only 60 innings in 2021 after a forearm injury.
2021 Stats: 3.96 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 52.1 IP (A+, AAA)
Mlodzinski was taken with the 31st overall pick in 2020, and made his debut in Greensboro this year. His fastball can reach upper-90s, and he made the switch to a four-seam this year. That plays better off of his cutter and curveball, which have the potential to be plus offerings. He did deal with a shoulder injury, and struggled after returning at the end of the season. He’s currently pitching in the AFL, and should work in the upper levels next year, with a chance to reach the majors if he looks as good as he did this year before the injury.
2021 Stats: 5.19 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 1.9 HR/9, 60.2 IP (A+)
Thomas can get his fastball up to 101 MPH, and has shown an above-average slider that generates a lot of strikeouts. His control has been an issue this year, after seeing improvements in 2019 in rookie ball. If the control doesn’t bounce back, he’s got the stuff to be a power reliever in the majors. His upside is so strong that the Pirates should keep him in the rotation going forward. His jump from rookie ball to High-A might have been aggressive, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back in A-ball in 2022.
2021 Stats: 2.20 ERA, 12.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 49.0 IP (A+)
Burrows is a strike thrower, getting his fastball up to the mid-90s, with a solid curveball and changeup for his off-speed pitches. He’s got some of the best spin rates in the system, and generated a lot of swing and miss in Greensboro. He dealt with an oblique strain that kept him out for almost two months. The Pirates have him making up for lost time in the AFL. Burrows should make the jump to Double-A next year. He’ll need to build his innings total, as he’s never pitched more than 50 innings during a regular season.
2021 Stats: 3.40 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 47.2 IP (AAA)
Yajure spent some time in the majors this year, showing off a five-pitch mix, led by a low-90s fastball, an upper-80s changeup, and a curveball that generated swing-and-miss. The changeup was actually a better swing-and-miss pitch in his brief time in the majors. He spent more time in Triple-A, showing much better control than his MLB results. Yajure should get another shot at the majors in 2022, this time likely getting a chance to stick in the rotation for the long-term, rather than a few brief appearances.
2021 Stats: No Stats
Bolton missed the season with right knee surgery, which is a blow to a guy who has missed time in the past, and hasn’t pitched in a game since 2019. Prior to the pandemic, his fastball hit upper-90s and his slider got a lot of strikeouts. He’s got the upside to be a starter in the majors, but will be in his age-24 season in 2022. I’d expect the Pirates to be aggressive with him if he’s performing well, possibly even giving him a shot in the majors if his upper level results are strong.
2021 Stats: 8.80 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 7.9 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 29.2 IP (MLB)
Oviedo was a Rule 5 pick this year who spent the season either in the bullpen or on the injured list. While he showed that he isn’t ready for the majors right now, he also showed potential to help in the future. He flashes a fastball that sits 94-95 and gets up to 98-99, along with a curve, slider, and changeup which all generated double-digit swing and miss rates in the majors. His fastball was very hittable, with a 1.132 OPS against. His two breaking pitches, however, saw a sub-.600 OPS. With the Rule 5 eligibility exhausted, the Pirates will now get a chance to develop Oviedo as a starter, giving him more time to improve the fastball to catch up with the breaking pitches.
2021 Stats: 4.64 ERA, 14.0 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 66.0 IP (A)
Jones was given a $2.2 million bonus as a second rounder in 2020. He made the aggressive leap to Low-A in his rookie season, and showed some positive signs. He had a mid-90s fastball that could hit upper-90s, with a slider that looked plus at times. He dealt with control issues that led to a high walk rate, and his stuff wasn’t always consistent. This was his age-19 season, so he’s got plenty of time to develop, currently looking like one of the top guys in the lower levels.
2021 Stats: 2.57 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9, 42.0 IP (Rk, A)
Chen was the top international signing of the 2019-2020 class. He’s got a fastball that gets up to 94 MPH, along with a slider, curve, and changeup. He showed off strong control this year, getting the push from the FCL to Low-A at the age of 19. That strong control included going 28 innings without issuing a walk to start his pro career. He’s a long-term rotation option, but if he continues to show this type of advanced pitching, he’ll be in the majors in his early-20s.
2021 Stats: 5.27 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 66.2 IP (A)
The Pirates acquired Yean in the Josh Bell trade. He’s got a fastball that can reach upper-90s with good potential for swing-and-miss. His control was rough this year in Low-A, and he spent some time in the bullpen as a long reliever. The Pirates should keep him in the rotation for now, maximizing his stuff at a young age. If that fails, he’s got the chance to be a power reliever in the majors.
2021 Stats: No Stats
Solometo was the 37th overall pick this year, receiving a $2.8 million bonus. He’s yet to make his pro debut, and will likely pitch in the lower levels next year. He has the potential for three plus pitches, with good command from his funky delivery that adds deception. Solometo is the best left-handed starting pitching prospect in a system that is very thin on lefties. He’ll be one of the more intriguing guys to watch in the lower levels next year for the long-term rotation.