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Pirates Prospect Watch: Paul Skenes, Pitching Depth, and Power Bats

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The second week of the 2024 minor league season brought the start of the campaigns in Double-A and both A-ball levels. This gave a full slate of action over the weekend, which resulted in the first loaded Pirates Prospect Watch of the season.

Every week, I’ll be recapping the best performers from the previous week in this free Monday feature. If you’re looking for the nightly minor league results, you can find those in Pirates Prospects Daily, which is a free daily newsletter.

All of this free work is made possible by subscriptions to the site’s premium content. There is one player from last week’s standouts who I’ll be writing about in this week’s article drop tomorrow, which can only be accessed by subscribers.

Shameless plug aside, here are the top prospect performers throughout the Pittsburgh Pirates system during the week of April 1-7, 2024.

Pitchers

Jared Jones, RHP, Pittsburgh – He’s technically a prospect, although with the way he’s pitching, that will only continue for about eight more starts. At this point, Jones has moved up to the number two prospect in the system, and if you want to get excited about his start, I think you could start asking how much actually separates him and Skenes. Baseball America recently bumped Jones up over 50 spots to number 26, with Skenes ranking 7th. This came after Jones allowed two earned runs on six hits and no walks in six innings, striking out seven. He had 21 whiffs, giving him 43 through his first two starts of the season. Jones has quickly become appointment viewing when he’s on the mound.

Paul Skenes, RHP, Indianapolis – Skenes was once again limited to three innings of work and between 40-50 pitches. He made his second start on Friday, throwing three shutout frames, with a walk and a hit allowed. He struck out six batters, including all three in the first inning. Skenes averaged 99.9 MPH with his fastball, picking up eight whiffs on 17 swings with the pitch. He threw 13 pitches that were triple-digits, including all but one of his strikeout pitches. The lone straggler was a 99.7 MPH fastball which went for a swinging strike three on a three pitch strikeout. The Pirates are slow playing Skenes early in the season, which could allow him to have meaningful innings late in the season.

Anthony Solometo, LHP, Altoona – Solometo made his 2024 debut on Sunday, throwing four shutout innings. He allowed one hit, walked three, and struck out two. Last year, Solometo made 12 starts in Altoona, putting up a 4.35 ERA across 51.2 innings. He struck out 50 and walked 14, with his walk rate improving from his time in High-A. He was efficient in his first start, needing 57 pitches in his four innings. I wouldn’t expect the control issues to continue.

Hunter Barco, LHP, Greensboro – The Pirates drafted Barco in the second round of the 2022 draft, despite the Florida lefty being out with Tommy John at the time. He was seen as a potential first rounder prior to the injury, and finally made his pro debut in limited innings at the end of 2023. Barco made his first start of the 2024 season over the weekend, throwing three shutout innings in High-A. He struck out six batters, didn’t allow a hit, and walked two. In his first full-season of pitching since going down in 2022, expect Barco to have his innings controlled. Also, expect to see why the Pirates invested a high pick on him, despite knowing they’d have to wait for the now 23-year-old starter.

Patrick Reilly, RHP, Greensboro – Reilly is emerging as a sleeper from the 2024 draft. Taken in the fifth round, he’s shown steady mid-to-upper 90s velocity, along with an above-average slider. The first start of the year for Reilly led to three runs, two earned, in 3.1 innings. He stood out for two reasons. First, he struck out eight batters, continuing an elite ability to generate strikeouts which began last year with 19 in 10.2 innings. Reilly also walked just one batter, cutting down on his rate from the 2023 debut. If he can maintain that rate of control, his plus fastball and slider will lead to good results this year.

Carlson Reed, RHP, Bradenton – The Pirates drafted Reed in the fourth round last year, sending the West Virginia right-hander to the Complex level for seven innings of work. He made his first start in Single-A on Friday, throwing four shutout innings. Reed allowed two hits, two walks, and struck out six. He worked off a sinker/slider combo, with the sinker sitting 92.5 MPH and touching 95, while the slider sat 82. Reed picked up two whiffs each on the pitches, while also getting two more whiffs from his 83 MPH changeup. The changeup was his most effective pitch, followed by the slider. Reed has the potential for three above-average pitches in the slider, change, and fastball, with control being his main concern.

Khristian Curtis, RHP, Bradenton – Curtis was drafted in the 12th round last year, but paid an above-slot bonus to sign, equal to 4th-5th round money. He made his pro debut on Sunday, and looked advanced with a six pitch mix across three shutout innings. Curtis throws a four seam and a sinker, which both average around 95, touching 96-97. The four-seam is his primary fastball, and he worked in a cutter (89.7) and a curveball (80.0) most frequently. Curtis also throws a changeup (85.9) and a slider (84.5). All of his pitches move, with the lowest spin rate being his changeup at 2214 average RPMs. He’s unlikely to be at Bradenton for long this year with that mix of pitches, especially if he continues pitching as well as he did in his debut.

Magdiel Cotto, LHP, Bradenton – Cotto was the 11th round pick last year, paid slightly over-slot to sign out of college. The lefty threw two perfect innings with two strikeouts in his 2024 debut, following the start from Curtis on Sunday. Cotto threw a four-seam and sinker combo, with both averaging around 94-95 MPH. He threw the four-seam the most, while also mixing in a slider (84.9) and a changeup (88.7). Cotto made a brief appearance last year in Bradenton, giving up two runs in 3.1 innings. He will be an interesting guy to watch as a lefty with the ability to get his fastball up to mid-90s.

Landon Tomkins, RHP, Bradenton – Tomkins was a 10th round pick last year, and a college senior. That means his bonus was much less than Curtis and Cotto, due to the older age and reduced negotiating power. He impressed in his debut, closing out Sunday’s game with two perfect innings, striking out four. Tomkins picked up six whiffs on the day, with five of them coming off six swings against his slider. He threw the slider 11 times, and had a called or swinging strike 73% of the time. The pitch averaged 83.6 MPH with an average 2603 RPM spin rate. His fastballs were both around 93.6 MPH. He threw eight four-seams and eight sinkers, getting better results from the four-seam.

Position Players

Nick Gonzales, 2B/SS, Indianapolis – Gonzales is doing everything he should be doing to get back to the big leagues. The middle infielder has a hit in eight of his nine games this year, and has reached base safely in every game. This past week he went 9-for-22 with two doubles and four walks, reaching base in 50% of his plate appearances. The most encouraging thing from Gonzales is that he’s reduced his strikeout numbers. He’s got seven strikeouts on the year for a 17% rate, with only three strikeouts in the last week. Gonzales has hit before in Triple-A, but never at this rate and never with this plate patience.

Malcom Nunez, 3B/1B, Indianapolis – Nunez is a stocky corner infielder at 6′ 0″, 205 pounds. He’s starting to tap into his power this year in Triple-A, finishing last week with a home run, before opening this week on the same note. Nunez homered in Tuesday’s game, followed by two doubles on Wednesday. He had a hit in all but one of his games last week, while reaching base safely in that contest. In 16 at-bats, Nunez batted .313/.368/.625 with the homer and two doubles.

Matt Gorski, OF, Indianapolis – Gorski hit his first homer of the year on Saturday, going 2-for-3 and adding a double in the same game. He batted .286 this past week, with Saturday’s game helping him to a .571 slugging percentage. He struck out three times in his first two games of the season, but cut down on that rate last week, striking out twice. Gorski has also provided consistent hard contact, even with his outs. He’s yet to draw a walk this season. Gorski is a solid defender in center field, with the potential for power at the plate and speed on the bases. His plate patience will be something to watch this year.

Carter Bins, C, Indianapolis – Bins has been hitting the ball hard this year, and picked up hits in three of his four games last week. He went 2-for-4 on Thursday, 1-for-3 with a double on Saturday, and 1-for-3 with a walk on Sunday. Bins also reached base safely in his game on Tuesday. He’s a good defensive catcher who works well to handle a pitching staff. His ability to get on base and make hard contact in addition to the catching skills makes him a depth option who could help if things get bad in Pittsburgh.

Lonnie White Jr., OF, Greensboro – White only has two hits in his first three games, but both were three run homers. The outfielder has displayed some early swing and miss, striking out 7 times in 12 at-bats. He’s got easy plus power, enough to hit home runs away from Greensboro’s hitter friendly home park. He’ll need to throttle back his aggression at the plate going forward, working on putting the ball in play more often. The early power numbers are still good to see, even with the strikeouts.

Hudson Head, OF, Greensboro – Head got one hit this weekend, but it was a big one. The outfielder walked it off with a home run on Saturday, giving Greensboro the victory. He went 1-for-6 with four strikeouts and two walks in the opening weekend. This is the third season that Head will spend in High-A. He first played at the level in 2022 across a full season. Last year he missed time with an injury, and hit .237/.309/.396. Today is his 23rd birthday, so he’s still got time to work on things at this level.

Jack Brannigan, 3B/SS, Greensboro – Brannigan had an amazing weekend at the plate for Greensboro. The infielder went 4-for-9 with a homer and four walks, while also adding a stolen base. He picked up hits in all three games, and didn’t strike out once. Brannigan is a plus defender at third base and shortstop, with easy plus raw power that has translated into games. He’s dealt with swing and miss issues in the past from his aggressiveness. If he can cut back on the strikeouts and maintain the hard contact, he’ll be one of the most valuable position player prospects in the system.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
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.

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