Could Hunter Barco get promoted to Double-A soon?

Pirates' left-handed pitching prospect Hunter Barco is off to an outstanding start to his 2024 season at Greensboro, but given his age and performance, could he soon get promoted to Altoona?
Florida pitcher Hunter Barco (12) fields a bunt and throws to first to record an out against
Florida pitcher Hunter Barco (12) fields a bunt and throws to first to record an out against / Gary Cosby Jr. via Imagn Content

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ many talented pitching prospects in their system is southpaw Hunter Barco. The Bucs picked Barco out of the University of Florida in 2022 and opened this season at High-A Greensboro after an impressive debut in 2023. But with his scorching hot start to the year, could Barco soon get the promotion to Double-A Altoona?

Barco missed the entirety of the first half of 2023 due to recovering from Tommy John surgery he had during his final college season. When he returned, the Pirates were fairly cautious with his workload, slowly easing him back into action. He only pitched 18.1 innings in nine appearances and eight starts but worked to the tune of a 3.44 ERA, 1.79 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP in the small sample size.

Barco also had some impressive peripherals. He stuck out well over a third of the opponents he faced with a 35.9% strikeout rate, but he also was outstanding at limiting free passes with a 7.7% BB%. He allowed more than one walk in just one of his outings. The lefty didn’t allow a single home run and had the 16th-best ground ball rate among Pirates’ minor league pitchers with at least ten innings pitched, clocking in at 53.5%.

So far this year for Greensboro, Barco has pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out ten batters and only allowing two walks. He’s been nearly untouchable in his two starts, allowing just two hits, both of which were only singles. Barco may have reached eight or nine innings, but his second outing was cut short by rain.

Barco was sitting 89-90 MPH in his Bradenton debut in 2023 but was throwing a lot harder in his Spring Breakout debut. Granted, he only pitched one inning but was sitting 94-95 with his sinker. He also tosses a change-up and slider, both of which project as above-average offerings. His low arm slot adds some deception to his stuff, and he also locates his stuff well. He may have been throwing harder than usual because it was a short outing, but he typically sits 92-94 MPH, according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Unfortunately, there is no publicly available data on his pitch speeds or spin at Greensboro.

Aside from such a good start to his career, why else should Barco already get the bump to Altoona? Well, for one, he’s already 23. He’s slightly older than the average pitcher in the South Atlantic League. Another reason is that he’d probably already be at Altoona had he not started his career off on the injured list. Take fellow 2022 draft pick Thomas Harrington as an example. He was selected only eight picks before Barco but is already at Double-A (albeit on the injured list). But Harrington was fully healthy last year and pitched 127.1 innings, and made 26 starts. Barco probably would have had a regular workload had he not been injured to start with.

As of right now, if Barco continues to pitch well, he’ll be at the Pirates Double-A affiliate Altoona by the start of June.

That would also be similar to Harrington, who started ‘23 at Bradenton but made the jump from A-Ball to High-A in the first week of June. With his current age and performance, I definitely think he won’t stay at Greensboro for long.