Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Cody Bolton had a nice bounce back season after losing two campaigns, but where does he go from here?
At the end of the 2019 season, one of the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospects was Cody Bolton. When updated prospect lists were released for the 2020 campaign, Bolton ranked top ten on both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline’s Pirate prospect lists. Bolton didn’t seem long for the major leagues, given he reached Double-A by the end of 2019.
But after the canceled 2020 minor league season and then missing the subsequent 2021 season because of a torn meniscus, there were plenty of questions as to what would be next for Bolton and how he would perform in 2022.
Despite not taking the mound in two seasons, Bolton turned in a pretty solid season. He pitched a total of 75.2 innings, working to the tune of a 3.09 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 1.33 WHIP. He allowed just four home runs while striking out 25.4% of the batters he faced. It was a nice bounce back season for the right-hander.
But there were a few flaws in his season. Bolton dished out walks to 12.4% of the batters he faced, which was 5% higher than he put up in 2019. Despite his low home run rate, he had just a 40.6% ground ball rate. Bolton had a 4.85 xFIP, which is adjusted for his extremely low 5.1% HR/FB ratio.
Still, Bolton was working back around 93-94 MPH with a solid slider. He’s never been an overpowering arm, even before his injury, but he has decent stuff and makes it work. But the increase in walks is concerning. Bolton never walked more than 7.5% of the batters he faced in his previous seasons, so seeing him with a walk rate above 12% is a bit jarring. It could be a side effect from taking the mound regularly after two seasons off, or it could be a side effect from the injury, but either way, it would be nice to see him get that below 10% next season.
What role Bolton could fill for the Pittsburgh Pirates is up for debate. Bolton worked solely as a starting pitcher in his first three seasons but worked as a swing man this season. He started 14 of the 30 total games he appeared in and worked fewer than two innings in just six of his total appearances.
I wouldn’t be opposed to starting Bolton in the major league bullpen next season. The Pirates need all the help they can get in the pen, and if Bolton can be a two-inning relief pitcher, he could be a valuable member of the relief corps. But I do understand if the Pirates would rather keep him stretched out as a starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Either way, Bolton should make his Major League debut sometime early next season for the Bucs. He is going into his age-25 season, and the Pirates have very little security in the bullpen, especially past the likes of David Bednar, Yerry De Los Santos, and Colin Holderman.