Here’s the very best the Pirates have to offer right now. These prospects not only could make the Majors within the next two seasons, but they could also be potential ace-like pitchers and rotation anchors. These are the guys that should frontline a Pirates’ future starting pitching rotation.
The Pirates and Paul Skenes broke the all-time signing bonus record when they took him with the first pick in the 2023 draft. Skenes is well deserving of that $9.2 million bonus. The right-hander was a key cog (arguably the most important player) in LSU’s College World Series run. In 122.2 innings, Skenes worked to a 1.69 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 10.45 K:BB ratio. Skenes only allowed seven home runs, while striking out over 200 batters (209 for a 45.2% strikeout rate). That might be impressive, but what's more impressive is his walk rate below 5% at 4.3%.
Skenes has three legitimate plus to elite offerings. His fastball is hitting 97-100 MPH and topping at 102. Then there’s his wipeout slider, which was basically unhittable last year. His changeup is a slept on pitch, only because his four-seamer and slider are that good. It's another pitch he can rely on. Skenes isn't just a young flamethrower with no idea where it's going either. He dotted up opponents and painted the edges with his elite stuff. Skenes is even athletic, as he worked some as a catcher and first base while with Air Force prior to his transfer to LSU.
The Pirates took Jared Jones in the second round of the 2020 draft as a hard-throwing high schooler. After showing a ton of talent in both 2021 and 2022, it seems like it’s all coming together for Jones this season. In 78.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, Jones owns a strong 3.31 ERA, 3.43 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. Jones has an outstanding 0.64 HR/9 to go with a healthy 27.3% strikeout rate and an 8.9% walk rate. Although his ERA is over 4.70 at Triple-A at the moment, part of that is because his batting average on balls in play is at .322. All of his peripheral stats have gone in the right direction since getting to Indy.
Jones doesn't throw as hard as Skenes (very few do), however, he does throw hard at 96-97 MPH and has hit 100 before. Jones' fastball might only be surpassed by Skenes because he throws with around 2500 RPM. Jones also has a plus slider, above-average curveball, and average change-up. The question wasn't whether Jones had the stuff, but the ability to locate it. While his command still isn't great, it's definitely gotten better, and his strike throwing ability (his control) has significantly improved.
One year after taking Jones in the second round, the Pirates then took Anthony Solometo in the same round of the 2021 draft. Solometo was also a high school pick. He’s already made it to Double-A and is the second-youngest pitcher at that level. Overall in 92.1 innings between Greensboro and Altoona, Solometo has a 2.73 ERA, 3.14 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. He has a 27.9% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate, and 0.49 HR/9. Solometo has done extremely well at Double-A, especially considering just how young he is.
After starting off with two flamethrowers, let's slow it down with Solometo. The lefty hits about 91-94, but that's plenty of velocity for him. He also throws a quality slider and a good changeup. Solometo has the best command in the system and can put the ball just about wherever he wants. He also has a wind-up and delivery reminiscent of Madison Bumgarner and Dontrell Willis, so he also has deception to his outstanding command.
The next top pitching prospect is Thomas Harrington. Harrington was a first-round competitive balance pick from their 2022 draft class. Harrington has pitched 92.2 innings for Bradenton and Greensboro, working to a 3.69 ERA, 3.79 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP. Harrington has both a great 28.1% strikeout rate and a 6.1% walk rate. His HR/9 is his weakest number, though 0.97 is still fairly solid. Harrington’s numbers for Greensboro aren’t too impressive, but his BAbip is nearly .400 at the moment, inflating his ERA.
Harrington typically sits 92-94 and tops out at 96. Although he doesn’t have elite velocity, he does have good spin and it carries through the zone. Of his two breaking offerings, his slider is the better pitch. It has above-average potential, though his curveball isn’t terrible either. Overall, his second-best offering is his tumbling changeup. Harrington also has plus command and has shown a ton of control thus far.
Oh, what could have been. Mike Burrows ascended from mid-tier prospect with relief risk to a borderline top-100 prospect in 2022. Burrows pitched to a 4.01 ERA. but a 3.29 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP in 94.1 innings in 2022. Burrows struck out 28.2% of opponents with a quality 7.8% walk rate. A pitcher who consistently limited home runs, Burrows had an HR/9 rate of just 0.76. Even these numbers are underselling him, as he gave up six earned runs while making two outs during his final start of the season. His ERA going into that game was 3.46.
Burrows was projected to potentially play a key role for the Pirate 2023 rotation, but after just 6.2 innings, the right-hander had to undergo Tommy John surgery, likely eliminating him until the second half of 2024. Either way, Burrows certainly has talent.
His fastball/curveball are plus offerings. His four-seamer sits 93-96 MPH with elite spin, coming in around 2500 RPM. His curveball has even more spin, sitting around 3000 RPM. There were always questions as to whether or not his changeup would improve enough to become a quality offering, and he did so in 2022, making it an above-average third pitch. He was even working on a second breaking pitch during Spring before his untimely surgery.