Pittsburgh Pirates: 2021 An Important Season For Cody Bolton

Mar 2, 2021; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates Cody Bolton (78) poses during media day at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carlson-USA TODAY NETWORK
Mar 2, 2021; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates Cody Bolton (78) poses during media day at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carlson-USA TODAY NETWORK /

Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Cody Bolton will need to prove himself in 2021 to potentially become one of their long term rotation arms.

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted right-handed pitcher Cody Bolton with their 6th round pick in 2017. Since being selected out of Tracy High School, he’s developed into one of the team’s top dozen prospects. However, 2021 will be an important season in his development.

During the 2019 season Bolton pitched 101.2 innings between the Pirates’ High-A and Double-A affiliates, which is so far, the most innings he’s pitched in a single season. With High-A Bradenton, the right-hander tossed 61.2 innings and had a fantastic 1.61 ERA, 1.96 FIP and 0.85 WHIP. Bolton struck out 28.9% of all the batters he faced with the Marauders while only having a 5.9% walk rate. However, what was more impressive was his ability to limit home runs. He allowed just a single home run while having a 46.7% ground ball rate. Overall, he had a strong 2.46 xFIP.

When Bolton was promoted to Double-A Altoona he struggled. In 40 innings, the Pirate prospect saw his numbers rise to a 5.85 ERA, 4.67 FIP and 1.32 WHIP. While he surrendered just a single home run at Bradenton, he allowed six with Altoona.

Bolton’s strikeout rate also dropped below 20% to 19.8% and his walk rate rose just south of 10% at 9.6%. However, he did have a much better 4.02 xFIP and missed some time due to an injury, but overall, he struggled massively at Altoona compared to Bradenton.

Bolton has a three-pitch mix. He isn’t a flamethrower with his fastball only averaging out in the 92-95 MPH range. He tops out at 97 MPH and has well above average spin with 2450 RPM. FanGraphs grades it as a 50-grade offering, however, it’s also seen as a 60-grade pitch by MLB Pipeline.

His primary breaking ball is a slider which is considered his best offering by FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline at a 55-grade pitch. According to Pipeline, he developed it much more in 2019 to more of a power slider. It also has decent spin with 2600 RPM. His third offering is a change-up which is seen as at least a third average offering with FanGraphs and Pipeline as a 50-grade pitch.

In the next few seasons, there’s going to be a lot of competition for the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation. Mitch Keller, Miguel Yajure, Tahnaj Thomas, Eddy Yean, Roasny Contreras, JT Brubaker and WIl Crowe could all be vying for rotation spots between the next two seasons.

Then in 2023 and 2024, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a wave of former first-round picks in Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone and Carmen Mlodzinski all ready to take a spot in the rotation. Not to mention what they could do in the draft this year. They’ll likely select a pitcher with the number one pick as Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker and Jaden Hill making up three of the draft classes’ best prospects available.

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Bolton has the stuff to be a good pitcher, but he currently is only seen as a mid-rotation arm. The Pittsburgh Pirates could have a handful of better, more talented arms coming up through the system in the next year or so. If Bolton wants to make himself a known presence, he’ll need to show that his first half of 2019 is his real self, rather than his second half of the season.