Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Examining High School Arms Drafted in Recent Years

The Pirates have taken a handful of talented high school pitchers.
Bishop Eustace/Sader Baseball Club's Anthony Solometo delivers a pitch during the Last Dance World
Bishop Eustace/Sader Baseball Club's Anthony Solometo delivers a pitch during the Last Dance World / Chris LaChall/Courier-Post via Imagn
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have selected multiple high school pitchers in recent drafts that have become or could become highly touted prospects

The draft is a very important process for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Every pick must count, and the Pirates have used the last few drafts to their fullest advantage. While fans might have a lot of criticisms for Ben Cherington, one thing that most can agree on is his draft ability. However, one thing he and the rest of the front office has been able to do is identify good high school pitchers.

Going back to 2020, the draft was only five rounds, so the Pirates only took one high schooler. That high school arm was Jared Jones. Jones has since become a top 100 prospect by some outlets, and one of, if not the Pirates’ best pitching prospect not named Paul Skenes. 

Jones started the year at Altoona where he had a 2.23 ERA. 3.35 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP. He struck out 26.3% of opponents while having a 8.9% walk rate, and 0.61 HR/9. Jones’ outstanding performance at Double-A led to a promotion to Triple-A this year. He’s made many statistical improvements, including upping his strikeout rate to 28.1% while cutting his walk rate and HR/9 to 8.3% and 0.37, respectively. Many will see that ERA of 5.08 and automatically think there’s something wrong, but most of that is bad luck caused by an inflated .342 batting average on balls in play.

Since getting to Triple-A, Jones is showing off his big fastball, both in terms of velocity and spin. He also has a great slider, as well as a solid change-up and curveball. When the Pirates drafted him in 2020, many were concerned about how his command and control would develop. It was by far the weakest part of his game, and he walked 11.3% of batters in 2021. But it’s clear that he’s getting a better feel on the mound and trending in the right direction.

The Pirates followed up their 2020 draft with a strong 2021 class. The big catches for the Pirates this year were Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler. If Jones isn’t the Pirates’ second-best pitching prospect, then it's Solometo. Solometo has pitched 82.1 innings between Greensboro and Altoona, working to a 2.51 ERA, 3.14 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP. 

Solometo is striking out 29.3% of batters he’s faced with a 9.1% walk rate and 0.55 HR/9. Many of Solometo’s walks allowed came at Greensboro. Since getting to Altoona, his BB% is just 5.3%. His HR/9 has gone up from 0.31 to 1.14, though part of that is because his HR/FB ratio went from 4.8% to 10.3%.

Getting that below 10% should cut his HR/9 below 1.00. Solometo has also seen his fastball velocity increase since being drafted, now working around 91-94 MPH. He also has a plus slider and average changeup. Everything in Solometo’s arsenal plays up because of his deceptive wind-up/arm slot, as well as his elite command.

Chandler hasn’t been nearly as successful as Solometo this year. In 73 frames, Chandler has a 5.79 ERA, 5.03 FIP, and 1.75 WHIP. He’s walked 12.3% of opponents, but there are some positives here. First is his .396 batting average on balls in play is completely unsustainable. Chandler has a 47% ground ball rate and a line drive rate of just 20.5%. Neither should result in a BABIP approaching .400. Second is his HR/FB ratio. He has a 1.23 HR/9, caused by a 15.4% HR/FB ratio. Greensboro is a hitter friendly park and doesn’t contain flyballs well. The next thing is he still has a strong 26.6% strikeout rate. Chandler has also done much better recently at preventing walks with a 7.2% BB% over his last seven outings. However, his poor fly ball luck and .410 BAbip are still getting in the way.

Chandler is still highly talented. He has a plus fastball that hits the upper-90s, as well as an above-average slider, curveball, and a solid change-up. Chandler’s command and control are both lacking right now, but I have faith he will figure it out. There were some issues with his delivery and getting out of sync, but there’s no question that he has the athleticism to lock it down and find a rhythm. The Pirates drafted him as a two-way player, an RHP, and a shortstop. This is also Chandler’s first time focusing only on pitching, as the Pirates tried him out as a two-way player in 2021 and 2022. 

The Pirates only took one high school pitcher (that they signed) in the 2022 draft; left-hander Michael Kennedy. Kennedy was selected as the Bucs’ 4th-round pick. The lefty has pitched all 24.2 innings of his pro career thus far for the Pirates’ Florida Complex League affiliate where he’s allowed just five earned runs on one home run and 13 hits. On top of that, he’s struck out 36 opponents. The only downside to his season so far has been 13 walks.

Kennedy currently sits in the upper-80s/low-90s, but there’s room for more velocity. He’s already 6’1”, 205 pounds. Even if he’s never a hard-throwing pitcher, the pitch rides through the zone, giving it a deceptive quality. Even if he only averages out 93-94 MPH in the future will make it a plus pitch. He also throws a slider he gets a lot of swings and misses with. It’s the second-best pitch in his arsenal. His third offering is a changeup, which projects as an average offering. Kennedy has an easy delivery, so his command should be a strength of his in the future.

This past draft, the Pirates added yet another potentially great prospect from the high school level in Zander Mueth. Mueth throws like Tanner Houck/Chris Sale, with a side-arm arm slot. He’s already throwing pretty hard for a kid who just turned 18 last month. Mueth’s four-seamer is sitting 92-94 and topping out at 97. It’s very possible he eventually starts averaging 93-96 MPH in the near future. He also throws an outstanding slider with a sinking change-up. Getting his command down will be his biggest hurdle. But even if he has fringe-average command, he’ll be an effective future Major League starting pitcher.

If there’s one thing the Pirates have been able to do, it’s identifying good high school aged pitchers in the draft. Many of their best pitching prospects were taken out of high school. Skenes is probably their first college pitcher in a while who became a top prospect pretty much immediately. Some of these prospects could debut by the end of the year, namely Jones and Solometo. However the rest could provide stability to the Pirates’ long-term pitching plans.

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