After struggling in 2023, a big 2024 season lays ahead for Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitching prospect Po-Yu Chen
As the old saying goes, in the game of baseball you can never have too much starting pitching. This is a lesson the Pittsburgh Pirates learned the hard way in 2023. With the ever constant need for starting pitching help and depth, fans are always turning their attention to team's minor league systems to see which pitchers could be on the horizon.
For the Pirates, a starting pitching prospect that entered the 2023 season with a lot of interest and intriguing around them was righty Po-Yu Chen. Chen inked a deal with a $1.25 million signing bonus with the Pirates in October 2020, immediately making him one of the most talked about starting pitching prospect in the Pirate farm system.
Entering the 2023 season Chen was viewed as a Pirate pitching prospect who may be able to take a step forward. Especially after he finished the 2022 season, his first season of full-season pro ball, strong. Unfortunately, this step never came for Chen who put together an inconsistent season.
Chen spent the season with High-A Greensboro. In 25 appearances with the Grasshoppers (24 starts), he pitched 119.2 innings. This did give Chen a new professional career high in appearances, starts, and innings pitched.
However, he struggled to the tune of a 4.44 ERA and a 5.22 FIP. Entering the season he had allowed just 10 home runs in his professional career, but allowed 21 last season leading to a 1.58 HR/9. He also hit a career high 8 batters, although his 8.5% walk rate was the lowest of his career and his 24.5% strikeout rate tied the career best that he set last season.
Opposing batters hit .268 off Chen, which was by far the highest opposing batting average he has allowed in his career. His 28% line-drive rate was a slight improvement over 2022 (28.6%), and 40.9% ground ball rate was a slight regression (41.4%).
Chen throws a fastball, curveball, slider, and a splitter. His fastball is a 30 grade pitch, his slider is a 40, curveball a 45, and splitter 55. Both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline give him an overall future value of 40, indicating that they project him as a below average starting pitching prospect.
Due to the struggles with his fastball, Chen may project best a relief pitcher in the long-term. The 2024 season will be a big one for Chen in potentially determining his long-term outlook. 2024 will be his age-23 season, making it a season where you would like to see him pitching for Double-A Altoona and pitching well.
If that does not occur for Chen in 2024, then it could open up the conversation about Chen’s long-term outlook. If Chen fails to take a step forward once again in 2024, then he could find himself being looked at as a prospect who may begin to transition to a relief role.