Pittsburgh Pirates: Long-Term Outlook at the Organization's Pitching Situation

Has Ben Cherington built a potential pitching staff for the Pittsburgh Pirates to use for the coming future?
Jul 9, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; A monitor displays an image of Paul Skenes, the first-round
Jul 9, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; A monitor displays an image of Paul Skenes, the first-round / Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates may have built themselves a potential strong future pitching core for years to come

The Pittsburgh Pirates took a pitcher with the first overall pick in the 2023 draft, breaking Ben Cherington’s three-season streak of taking a position player with the first overall pick, at least as the Pirates’ GM. Adding Paul Skenes brings in one of the most talented college pitchers the draft has ever seen, but now looking at the system, the Pirates may have built pitching depth for years to come.

Looking at the young talent who is approaching major league readiness, there’s a handful of notable names. The first two and best are Anthony Solometo and Jared Jones. Both were former second-round high school draft picks who the Pirates gave a lot of money to. Jones is having a breakout year and is already at Triple-A at just 21. Meanwhile, Solometo is now at Double-A Altoona and is a year younger than Jones. The third name worth mentioning is Quinn Priester, the Pirates’ 2019 first-round pick. He’s had his ups and downs in 2023, but the talent is there.

The Major League team already has a handful of potential long-term arms. Mitch Keller is in the midst of an all-star campaign while striking out a ton of batters. While he has the least amount of team control of any player we’ll discuss today, both sides are interested in an extension. Could we see the Pirates go for a long-term extension in April for a third year in a row in 2024? Possibly. Aside from Keller, you have Johan Oviedo. Oviedo is getting his first extended look in the bigs. He’s had some issues with inconsistency, but keep in mind you could technically quantify this as his ‘rookie’ year. 

Both Luis Ortiz and Roansy Contreras have had some major struggles this year. Ortiz is still a rookie, but Contreras is in his second big league season. Both were recently optioned to Triple-A. While it’s discouraging to see both perform so poorly after looking so good in 2022, both are still young enough you can’t rule them out as potential long-term rotation pieces if they can figure it out.

There’s a realistic chance the Pirates end the 2024 season with a starting rotation consisting of Skenes, Keller, Jones, Solometo, and Priester. There are multiple other players who could potentially positively impact this group as well. Oviedo has looked solid in his first extended look against major league batters as a starting pitcher. You have to factor in a potential Contreras rebound, or if Luis Ortiz figures it out. 

Plenty of other names could factor into the 2024-2025 discussion. Thomas Harrington, the Pirates’ 2022 competitive balance pick, is climbing prospect rankings, and could very well be a top 100 prospect by the end of the season with his current trajectory.

Bubba Chandler is still a highly talented arm who is still trying to refine his arm. Both Braxton Ashcraft and JP Massey have been nice surprises, and are two more potential pitchers who are forcing their way into future conversations. Hunter Barco, the Pirates’ second-round pick from last year, will also be returning in 2024, if he doesn’t sometime later this year.

The Pirates will get back two more Tommy John surgery victims in the second half of 2024 in the form of Mike Burrows and JT Brubaker. The former was on pace to become a high-end prospect and make his debut sometime later this year. 

There are plenty of high school-aged players the Pirates have in the minor leagues who could make a significant impact in the future. Jun-Seok Shim was considered the top amateur pitcher in South Korea prior to the Pirates signing him. Michael Kennedy is another arm who could impact the long-term Pirates.

One of the newest additions to the system, Zander Mueth is yet another teenager that could be a future starting pitcher. The Pirates’ Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League affiliates are filled with guys who are worth keeping tabs on as they continue to develop and play.

I think it’s safe to say the Pirates have built up the best chance they’ve had in years to build a potential long-term core pitching staff. Aside from the popular and higher end names, there’s plenty behind them that the Pirates will be able to source a quality starting five, and then some. Of course, only time will tell, but there’s reason to be excited about what the future will hold for his ball club. 

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