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Po-Yu Chen Has Some of the Best Spin in the Pirates System

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There are few pitchers in the Pirates deep lower levels who can match the spin rates of Po-Yu Chen.

The right-hander spent the 2022 season in Single-A Bradenton, pitching 98.1 innings, more than doubling his total workload from the year prior.

He got off to a strong start in April, posting a 3.24 ERA (3.04 FIP) while striking out 19 in 16.2 innings pitched. It was more of a struggle afterwards, as Chen posted a 4.85 ERA (3.91 FIP) the rest of the way.

Somewhere in between, he was getting hit more than you’d expect with his stuff.

Chen has plenty of ways to attack hitters — using a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, splitter, and a slider/cutter hybrid that he can manipulate the amount of break.

He was playing around with his grips during the season, which could have had something to do with the differential in the amount of break, and velocity.

Fastball

When Chen made his Single-A debut in 2021, the velocity wasn’t overly impressive, staying in the upper-80s to low-90s. Part of that could have been because it was late in the season, but it was certainly something to watch going into 2022. 

While we saw him get as high as 94/95 this past season, he still just averaged 91.7 (sinker) and 91.2 (four-seam), respectively, on his fastballs. 

They aren’t bad pitches, and he does generate some swing and misses with them (10/10.2 SwStr%), but overall he did get beat up on the pitch, allowing five of his eight total home runs on them.

Overall, with the limited velocity and command issues at times, Chen’s fastball is probably a fringe-average pitch.

Two Potential Plus Pitches

Chen throws a big, loopy, curveball in the low-to-mid 70s. It has good break on it, and has seen spin rate readings on it at 3,000 rpm. Despite the break, he only registered a 10.4 SwStr% on the pitch, barely better than either of his fastballs.

He has some slip ups with his control of it, but when he is on, he has no problem throwing it multiple times in a single at-bat. In the video below you can see a batter he struck out throwing nothing but curveballs.

His best pitch is his splitter, as you can make the case that it’s the best offspeed pitch in the system right now. It’s his primary swing and miss pitch (29.1 SwStr%), and while the fastball may be below average, the splitter does help it play up a little more, as long as he’s locating them.

In the second half of the video above you can see him throwing the pitch, and how when he has it going, it looks like it completely falls off a table.

Mixing His Pitches

The last video shows Chen facing multiple hitters through two different starts, mixing all of his pitches together.

You can see him incorporating the slider/cutter in some of the at-bats, usually against righties. He’s able to take a little off of the pitch to add movement, and when he does, it breaks quite a bit horizontally. 

Against the first batter of the clip, he threw a cutter, fastball, and curve in that order. They all had nearly the same release point, but broke in different directions. He got the batter to swing and miss on the curve to get the strikeout.

Facing Emmanuel Rodriguez (starting at :39), Chen throws a nasty splitter for a swing and miss strike one, followed by a fastball and slider inside back-to-back to make the count 1-2. He gets the hitter looking on a 95 mph fastball on the outer corner for a called strike three.

Final Analysis

Chen had the normal up and downs you’d expect from a 20-year-old in his first full season of baseball. The command of the fastball will have to get better, and will have to be more consistent with the curveball to fully unleash it’s potential. 

Regardless of the final numbers, it shouldn’t be discounted the fact he finished just shy of 100 innings despite his age. He has an usually high line drive rate that could spell disaster in Greensboro, but still generates more ground balls than anything else.

It’d be nice to see the fastball play up a little more, but with three other very strong pitches in his arsenal, he will remain an intriguing player to follow.

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Anthony Murphy
Anthony Murphy
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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