3 Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospects who could be elite closers in the future

The Pirates have some pitching prospects in their system that could eventually develop into elite late inning arms.
Vanderbilt pitcher Patrick Reilly (88) pitches against Arkansas during the first inning at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, May 18, 2023.
Vanderbilt pitcher Patrick Reilly (88) pitches against Arkansas during the first inning at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, May 18, 2023. / Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA

Most relief pitchers started out their careers as starting pitchers, whether that be while they were in school, before they signed internationally, or early in their minor-league tenures. Many move to the bullpen because they lack a good third or fourth offering or the command to stick as a starting pitcher. Regardless of the case, there are already some pitching prospects in Pittsburgh's system who can comfortably be projected as future relievers -- and that's okay! The world needs relievers, after all.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have some pitching prospects down on the farm who maintain a lot of potential, even if they don’t project as starting pitchers right now. They have good stuff and could end up as very good late-inning closer/set-up man-type options in the near future. 

Pirates Prospects Who Could Be Future Closers: David Matoma

The Pirates appear to have found a very talented pitcher in a part of the world where you typically don’t discover high-end baseball talent. In the 2022-2023 offseason, they signed right-hander David Matoma out of Uganda, making him just the third prospect to ever sign with an affiliated team out of that country. Not only could Matoma be the most talented Ugandan player ever, but he has the chance to be a flamethrowing closer in the near future.

Matoma has been nothing short of impressive through his 2024 season. He’s pitched 18.1 innings, working to a 0.98 ERA, 31.2% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate, and 0.49 HR/9 rate. Even though it’s the FCL, he is still the youngest pitcher at that level with at least ten appearances. The right-hander is just 18 and won’t turn 19 until next Groundhog Day.

He’s mowing down batters at the FCL, but his stuff might play at any level. His four-seamer can already hit triple-digits. That’s at 18 years old, with a wiry 6'0", 155-pound frame. He might not have a large frame, but he can build up the velo because of his arm speed. His slider is a mid-80s offering with above average potential, but will definitely play well off his four-seamer. He’ll occasionally mix in a changeup and curveball, but so far he’s mostly been a fastball/slider guy.

The control is ahead of the command right now. He can hit the strike zone, but can have trouble being precise. That said, there are also very few teenagers with the high-octane stuff Matoma has. Matoma is only 18, so it’s not completely out of the question he can be a starting pitcher. But even if his changeup never develops beyond a get-me-over pitch, the potential is there for an elite late-inning arm. 

Patrick Reilly

Patrick Reilly won’t be the last 2023 draft pick we’ll talk about today. The Pirates took the hard-throwing righty out of Vanderbilt with their fifth-round selection. Reilly split his 2023 season between Vandy’s bullpen and rotation, pitching much better in shorter stints out of their pen. But so far, Reilly hasn’t looked bad as a starting pitcher for Greensboro, either.

He’s pitched 56.2 innings for Greensboro with a 3.81 ERA, 4.26 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP. He’s holding opponents to a batting average just under the Mendoza line at .197 and is striking them out 31.5% of the time, but he has been susceptible to the long ball with a 1.11 HR/9, and command isn’t his specialty. He’s walked 13.2% of the batters he’s faced. He’s pitched well, especially over his last five games, where he’s only allowed four earned runs, struck out 30, and surrendered one homer in 25.1 innings pitched.

While Reilly has been solid as a starting pitcher, there are questions about his long-term ability to stick in the rotation. He only possesses two above-average offerings with his fastball and slider, both of which could be plus pitches. Reilly can sit mid-90s as a starter. His cutter is average, and he rarely uses his changeup. His command is the weakest part of his game, which could be the difference between whether he can stick as a starter or not.

But if Reilly must move to the bullpen long-term, he could be a future closing candidate. His stuff as a starter is already great. It would only play up out of the bullpen. Plus, some of his issues with his command might be hidden in shortened stints. 

Khristian Curtis

The Pirates’ later-round picks from the 2023 draft are showing some promise. Of course, there’s Charles McAdoo, but there’s also right-handed pitcher Khristian Curtis. While his numbers are so-so, he can throw hard with good movement on his four-seam fastball and slider. Like Reilly, he’s been used as a starting pitcher so far this year, but could eventually settle nicely into a bullpen role.

Curtis has pitched 54 innings in 11 starts/12 appearances. In that time, he has a 4.33 ERA, 4.95 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP. He’s struck out a decent amount of opponents with a 26.2% K%, but has also handed out his fair share of walks with a 12.2% BB%. Home runs have also given him some issues, with a poor 1.33 HR/9 rate. But Curtis does have a 20.5% HR/FB ratio, which is a tad unlucky. His xFIP of 3.78 suggests he’s getting unlucky on fly balls.

Curtis sits 96 MPH as a starter with a ton of ride and arm-side break. His slider has gotten swings and misses 51.4% of the time while sitting mid-80s, with more average horizontal break than the average slider at the MLB level. While his changeup has good horizontal break, but below-average vertical drop, and his curveball isn’t anything to write home about, both have induced a whiff rate over 40%. Curtis’ cutter has around average movement, but sports the second-highest whiff rate behind his slider at 47.2%. 

Like Reilly, Curtis’ stuff would definitely play well out of the bullpen. He is already a hard-throwing pitcher as a starter, so he’d likely see an uptick in velo if he were moved to the pen full-time. He has a great slider, which has played well off his fastball. His numbers as a starter haven’t been great, so an eventual move to the bullpen could be in the cards for Curtis if he can’t figure it out in the early innings.