Jared Jones' Fastball
The Pirates' previous second-round pick before Solometo was another high school pitcher, this time in the form of Jared Jones. Jones was also an over-slot pick (like most high schoolers are), signing for $2.2 million. Coming out of La Mirada High School, Jones showed off a powerful fastball. With its velocity and spin rate, it might just be the best pitch in the Pirates' system.
Jones's first season was in 2021, where he impressed fans and analysts alike. Luck was not on his side, as a .385 batting average on balls in play across 66 innings bloated his ERA to 4.64. However, he had an outstanding 34.1% strikeout rate, a 0.82 HR/9, and both a FIP and xFIP below 4.00. His 11.3% walk rate wasn't great, but still solid given that he was a 19-year-old at a full-season level of the minor leagues with as powerful stuff as he had.
The following season, Jones' walk rate decreased below 10% to 9.6%, though his strikeout rate (26.7%) and HR/9 (1.39) both moved in the wrong direction. His ERA stayed relatively the same at 4.64, though his FIP of 4.85 and xFIP of 4.27 were major upticks. Granted, he was only 20 in a hitter-friendly environment, so 2023 at Altoona would be a real test for Jones.
So far, Jones has passed with flying colors. Jones has only pitched 20 innings but has allowed just six earned runs and a single home run and has struck out 22 batters. Even better, his walk rate has now been reduced to just 8.5%. It's all the more impressive that he's able to do this at the most competitive level of the minor leagues when he's about three years younger than the batters he's facing (23.9 years old) and nearly four years younger than his fellow pitchers (24.6 years old).
Jones has an extremely impressive four-seam fastball. He consistently sits 96-99 MPH, according to MLB Pipeline. If velocity was the only thing that made his fastball good, it wouldn't be a good pitch. However, according to FanGraphs, he also averages out around 2550 RPM. There are only 15 pitching prospects who hit around 2550 RPM, but only five of them top out at 99 MPH, at the very least. Jones is one of those pitchers (that's according to FanGraphs' prospect list and the ones they have data on).
Jones isn't just a fireballer with no reliable secondaries. Both his curveball and slider projects as above-average offerings. He's also made strides to improve both pitches to help them separate each other. MLB Pipeline is now calling his slider a sweeping-slider (the sweeper). His fourth offering is a change-up, which sits in the upper-80s/low-90s.
While Solometo may have been the best command/control pitcher of the 2021 draft class, the same couldn't have been said about Jones. One of the biggest points of contention about Jones was about his control and his command. Jones' control has slowly made progress, indicated by his walk rate going from over 11% to under 9% from 2021 to 2023. However, his command lags behind his control, as there are still questions about his ability to consistently locate and hit his spots.
Still, progress is progress, and Jones is making it. He's still a young pitcher and needs refinement. However, there's definitely a chance the Pirates get him a few outings at Triple-A before the end of the year, especially if he keeps pitching the way he has.