One underrated prospect at each level of the Pirates’ minor leagues to watch in 2024

Let's examine one prospect at each level of the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league system to wtach this year.
May 28, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; West Virginia pitcher Carlson Reed (17) pitches against
May 28, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; West Virginia pitcher Carlson Reed (17) pitches against / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
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Pirates Double-A affiliate Altoona
Justin Meis

In 2021, the Pirates took Justin Meis in the 10th round of the draft. Meis wasn't on any draft prospect lists, unlike Woods or Reed, but the Bethel Park product seemed to put things together late last season. The 24-year-old re-opened the season at Double-A, and it looks like he's picking off right where he ended last year. He started his year off with three scoreless innings, one walk, and three strikeouts.

Overall, in 2023, Meis did not have great numbers. In 83 frames, the right-hander had a 4.55 ERA, 5.34 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP. His peripherals weren't great, either. His K% was an unimpressive 20.9%, while he walked 12.7% of the batters he faced and had a HR/9 rate of 1.41. Meis is a flyball pitcher and it's not like he got wholly unlucky with flyballs like some minor league pitchers do.

So, what specifically makes me think that Meis is going to have a breakout? The first is that his second half was great. Meis pitched much more frequently out of Altoona's pen in the second half of the campaign, only making four starts. In total, he pitched 34.2 innings, posting a 2.08 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.04 WHIP. He still struggled to limit walks with a 13.7% BB%, but he struck out a lot more batters with a 28.1% K% and was significantly better at limiting the long ball with a 0.52 HR/9. He did have just a .195 batting average on balls in play, so keep that in mind, but it was an improvement overall nonetheless.

Then, during Spring Training, Meis pitched 4.1, only allowing one earned run. But the most important thing is that he saw a large uptick in velocity. He was sitting at 96.1 MPH and topped out at 97.6 MPH. Meis sat 92-94 MPH last season for Altoona, so sitting 96 is very good. He has always had a decent slurve-like pitch, so hopefully, the uptick in velocity will help his fastball play better off his breaking pitch.

Meis looked better after getting moved to the bullpen more often and his velocity uptick is promising. Hopefully, he can carry this over into the regular season more frequently. If he can do that, maybe he will become a future reliever for the Pirates.