The Pirates need pitching. The future has arrived for their offense, and the rest of the year will see that future adjust to the present. Their pitching staff lacks 50+ potential.
Quinn Priester had a rough debut last night, giving up three runs through five innings, then four more runs in the sixth inning. Despite that start, Priester profiles as a guy who can stick in the rotation. Right now he looks like a back of the rotation guy, with his advanced learning ability giving him a chance to develop higher.
Priester is joined by Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo as current fixtures in the Pirates’ rotation. They’re going to need more help to contend. The present-day options are thin, but the Pirates have a few pitchers who could help in Pittsburgh by next summer.
After the debut of Quinn Priester, the biggest remaining boost in the farm system for 2023 is Jared Jones. He was promoted to Triple-A last month, and has a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings, despite a 29.1% strikeout rate and a 7.8% walk rate. His FIP is 2.76, due to an unsustainable .349 BABIP. I wrote in Baseball America this month about how Jones made an adjustment to throw more strikes from a comfortable starting spot. On Sunday, he gave up three runs in five innings, with no walks and six strikeouts. The runs all came in a single inning from a two out, three run homer. At this point, Jones is the sleeper prospect to join the current group in 2023. He would also give the Pirates their first three draft picks under Cherington in the majors, joining Nick Gonzales and Carmen Mlodzinski from the 2020 draft.
Burrows was going to be one of the top pitching prospects to arrive this year, but went down with Tommy John surgery. He could be in line to join the rotation by the end of next year, giving a guy who could develop into a middle of the rotation option, while providing depth the final few months of 2024.
It’s hard to say what his upside is, after missing time with Tommy John. Braxton Ashcraft has pitched well in his return this year, with a 3.76 ERA in 26.1 innings for Greensboro. Prior to the injury, he was a higher rated draft prospect than Burrows, and rated similar in pro ball, despite Ashcraft having a bigger frame. He had a 26.4% strikeout rate and a low 4.5% walk rate in High-A this year. That has carried over to Double-A through nine innings. The Pirates will continue to keep a reduced workload as he returns. He could enter the depth picture next year.
The 37th overall pick out of high school is already pitching in Double-A in his age 20 season. Solometo features a deceptive delivery from the left side, complete with a 5.4% walk rate so far in Altoona. He’s striking out 28.4% of batters in 19 innings, with a 2.37 ERA. If the Pirates hadn’t just drafted Paul Skenes, there would be a serious debate as to who is the best pitching prospect between Solometo and Jared Jones.
Not long after publishing this article, Skenes was officially signed to the Pirates system. There has been talk about building Skenes up to pitch in 2023. With the way the Pirates are playing right now, that wouldn’t make much sense. He spoke about what he needs to work on in pro ball, highlighting the need to adjust to a five-day pitching schedule over a longer season. Skenes could also work on further improvements to his pitches. His stuff is already MLB-quality, and the Pirates won’t have to develop him far to get to MLB-starter quality. Once he’s in the majors as a starter, he still has more upside to reach than anyone else on this list.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.