The next generation of Pittsburgh Pirates continues to turn heads with four prospects landing on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 list (subscription needed)
Right-hander Paul Skenes landed at No. 9 on the list. BA notes that Skenes “has one of the highest ceilings of any pitching prospect in the sport.” After being drafted No. 1 overall out of LSU, Skenes logged just 6.2 innings in pro ball. He moved up to Double-A Altoona for a couple of starts, wowing 10,000+ fans with his triple-digit fastball and devastating slider. BA gave those two pitches a grade of 70 with Skenes’s changeup and control graded as 60.
Skenes has been garnering praise left and right this offseason. Baseball Prospectus also ranked him as the No. 9 prospect in baseball, and MLB.com listed him as the No. 1 right-handed pitching prospect. He won’t be a prospect for long, though. Most believe he will rise quickly through the Minors and suit up for Pittsburgh this summer.
Fellow right-hander Bubba Chandler ranked 59th. Baseball America also listed Chandler as one of the most likely breakout candidates for 2024 among their top 100 prospects. Chandler tried to make his mark as a two-way player after being drafted in the third round of the 2021 Draft, but he opted to focus solely on pitching in 2023. The singular focus paid off as he improved control, reducing his walks per nine innings from 6.1 to 4.1. He made one start at Double-A, tossing five innings of one-hit ball with eight strikeouts. He should return to Altoona as he continues to work on his command and offspeed offerings.
Jared Jones, another righty, came in at No. 74. His greatest weapon, his fastball, earned high praise with a grade of 70. Of his offspeed pitches, Jones’s slider gets most of the praise, but he can effectively use his curveball and changeup to complement his heater. Don’t be fooled by his Minor League record (13-22). Jones’s stuff has played well at each level, topping out in Triple-A. He will most likely make his MLB debut in 2024 and could, with improved command, slot into the rotation or fill a bullpen role.
First-round pick Termarr Johnson, the sole representative among Pirates position players, landed at No. 77, slightly above the ranking he received from Baseball Prospectus (90th). The hype around Johnson has cooled; he debuted on BA’s list at No. 49 in 2023.
High schoolers can be a gamble, and the Pirates are still waiting to see if this one will pay off. BA praises his “elite bat speed and gifted hands.” Johnson has shown an ability to set the table, posting a .422 on-base percentage across two levels in 2023, but his average hasn’t lived up to expectations. That said, Johnson has time to develop as he doesn’t even turn 20 until June. He finished the season at High-A Greensboro and will likely continue his development for the early parts of 2024.