Right-handed Pirate pitching prospect Cody Bolton could benefit from a change in his mechanics
Cody Bolton has had an up-and-down professional career so far. A former sixth-round pick in 2017, Bolton had a 3.36 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP in his first three seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates' system. Then Bolton did not pitch competitively because of the canceled minor league season. He was projected to make his debut sometime in 2021 but then underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus. Bolton returned to action in 2022, and while he stayed healthy and rebounded to a solid degree, there were some worrying signs. However, a mechanical change to Bolton could help him in the long run.
Let's first start with the positives. Bolton pitched 75.1 innings, working to a 3.09 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. Bolton's 25.4% strikeout rate was about 1% better than his 2017-2019 rate, however, his HR/9 dipped to just 0.48. This was another improvement from 2017-2019 when he had a 0.73-per-9 rate. Bolton worked in both relief and as a starter. He made 14 starts to go with 16 bullpen appearances, though when he did come out of the pen, it was rarely just for one inning. Of his 30 total appearances, only four lasted less than 1.1 innings.
Where the worrying signs come into effect are some of his other peripherals. Bolton had a 12.4% walk rate, nearly double his 2017-2019 rate of 6.5%. Despite cutting his HR/9 down by about a quarter of a home run, Bolton's batted-ball rates barely changed. The right-hander had a 40.6% GB%, along with a 17.1% line drive rate and a 42.2% fly ball percentage. In 2017-2019, he had a 20.8% line drive rate, 40.9% ground ball rate, and 38.3% fly ball rate.
What changed was his HR/FB ratio going from 7.9% to just 5.1%. Now even if his HR/FB ratio returned to normal and back to about 8%, and his HR/9 increased to 0.73, he'd still be a solid pitcher. However, any increase in home runs with the number of walks he allowed could be a recipe for disaster.
Since reaching Double-A, Bolton's walk rate has been 11.4%, so is there a way for him to get his command under wraps? According to FanGraphs' most recent write-up on the right-handed pitching prospect, Bolton's delivery is described as "violent" and "scary, especially given the injury track record." Watching video from Bolton's season only reinforces this. He has a very quick and whippy-like arm action. He keeps his arm long, and some might even see a hitch in his motion.September 26, 2022
Shortening up the arm has become a popular trend in baseball, and it has worked for many pitchers. Bolton's command issues could potentially be traced back to his violent mechanics. Bolton could try shortening his arm up and maybe use a similar action to another Pirate pitching prospect, Max Kranick. If it can help Bolton get his walk rate down below 10%, it's something he should try implementing. Bolton's three offerings project as average or better, and his command (or lack thereof) is one of the major factors holding him back.