The Pittsburgh Pirates need to add some depth to their pitching rotation this offseason. However, they do have a top pitching prospect who could make his debut in 2021.
One area that the Pittsburgh Pirates faltered under the previous regime was developing their starting pitchers. Whether that was at the minor league level or at the big league level, it seemed like the “top pitching prospects” never put up the results that one would expect. Even the ones who did find success with the Pittsburgh Pirates, like Gerrit Cole, have moved on to find more success else where.
With the new regime comes renewed hope that they will start to find more success in their young pitchers. The Pittsburgh Pirates saw several of their players take steps forward last year. However, with the private minor league camp setup, it was hard to really judge any progress that prospects were making this year.
One pitching prospect who has really worked his way up the prospect rankings is Cody Bolton. Bolton was an over-slot draft pick who from day one showed that he had a lot of potential. Bolton was a sixth round pick back in 2017 out of a high school in California. He apparently had a hard commitment to the University of Michigan, but the Bucs were able to lure him away from the Wolverines with a $300,000 signing bonus.
Bolton was not even ranked in the Pittsburgh Pirates top 30 prospects after the draft. Still, he quickly established himself by out performing the Bucs top picks Shane Baz and Steven Jennings in the Gulf Coast League. This caught attention right away, and since Bolton has steadily climbed prospects rankings, with FanGraphs ranking him as the Pirates 10th best prospect for the 2020 season with the expectation that he would have started the year with Double-A Altoona. Here’s a snippet of Bolton’s report:
"“…his velocity was actually up a tick from the year before. Healthy Bolton touches 97 and will show you a plus slider and average changeup. He sat 86-90 as a rising high school senior but has since altered the timing of his arm swing for the better, and the resulting velo is fairly new, which makes Bolton’s cogent strike-throwing more impressive…”"
How has Bolton climbed the minor league system and rankings so fast? He has been basically dominant over the course of his 2.5 seasons. Over 39 starts and 179.2 innings pitched, Bolton owns a 3.36 ERA while averaging one strikeout per inning pitched. Now these number may not seem overly exciting, but the thing is he keeps improving.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had Bolton start 2019 at High-A Bradenton. He really broke out as a prospect during his time in the Florida State League. Bolton made 12 starts with the Marauders and owned a 1.62 ERA. He also finished his time in High-A with 69 strikeouts in 61.1 innings pitched.
His finish at Double-A could have been a lot better. He made nine starts with the Curve and his ERA was over 5.00. Now this normally would be a read flag, but this was often the case with the previous regime and pitchers in the minors. Even some of the Bucs previous top pitching prospects like Jameson Taillon and Mitch Keller always seemed to get roughed up during their end of the year promotion.
Overall, Cody Bolton has quietly become one of the Pittsburgh Pirates best pitching prospects. Bolton has solid solid command to go along with a projectable 6’3” body making him much more advanced than some of the other prospects. He has multiple plus pitches including a power fastball that plays in today’s MLB. Being he would have made Triple-A during the 2020 season, there is a good chance that Bolton will get a chance with the big league club in 2021.