Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Previewing Low-A Pitching Staff

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The Pittsburgh Pirates' Low-A Affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders, was outstanding last year and could have a strong pitching staff next season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Low-A affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders, was one of the best minor league affiliates in baseball last season. With the likes of Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler, Tsung-Che Cheng, Rodolfo Nolasco, and Po-Yu Chen, Bradenton had some of the most notable names at the Low-A level. But next year’s pitching staff could continue the trend of a strong staff.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of top minor league prospects who are young and looking to get a full season of action with the Marauders. The Pirate Low-A affiliate will once again be a strong team, so what should fans of the Pirates’ system look forward to next season?

The best prospect at this level will likely be Bubba Chandler. Chandler only pitched 26 innings at Bradenton, so he’ll likely get the season started there once again next season. Although he only allowed three home runs and struck out 33 batters, he also walked 18. But the more important thing is Chandler showed off a ton of potential.

Chandler has always shown a pitching arsenal that could make him a quality starting pitcher. But he showed a massive increase in velocity, sitting in the mid-upper-90s. On top of that, he has a sharp slider, along with a solid curveball and change-up. His command wasn’t great but give it more than 26 innings. He projects to have above-average command. That ERA might not be too pretty, but again, small sample sizes can do that.

2022 competitive balance pick Thomas Harrington will also look to join Chandler in the starting rotation. Harrington’s last season at Campbell saw him work to a 2.53 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Harrington only allowed one home run in 92.2 innings. The young right-hander struck out nearly a third of the batters he faced with a 30% strikeout rate but also displayed outstanding command. He had a walk rate of just 4.9%.

Harrington isn’t a hard thrower but can crank it up to 96 MPH when he needs to. He typically works in the 90-94 MPH range though. Harrington’s best pitch is his changeup. This off-speed offering sits in the mid-80s with tumble-like action. He also throws a slider and changeup, both of which are solid offerings. Plus he has above-average command.

Hung-Leng Chang is also likely in line for a bulk of starts at Bradenton. One of the Pirates’ top international signees from the 2021-2022 offseason, Chang showed off his fair share of talent at the Florida Complex League Affiliate. In total, he pitched 22.2 innings and allowed 12 earned runs, but he struck out 27.8% of opponents with a walk rate of just 8.2%. With a ground ball rate of 48.3%, he didn’t allow a single home run either.

Chang had a poor ERA because of a .355 batting average on balls in play. Like Harrington, Chang isn’t a flamethrower, but given he has a lanky 6’3”, 160-pound frame, there’s plenty of projection with the Taiwanese right-hander. Chang has the room to add a few extra ticks of velocity. He has a wide variety of offerings and is an advanced arm.

The Pirates’ most recent top international signee Jun-Seok Shim has a decent chance at seeing time with Bradenton this season. Shim was considered the top pitching prospect in this year’s international class by MLB Pipeline, ranking 10th overall. Unlike Chang and Harrington, Shim can throw gas. The South Korean pitcher sits in the 94-96 MPH range but has topped out at triple-digits before. His best secondary offering is his 12-6 curveball, but his slider also projects as above average and has displayed a feel for a changeup. Not only does he have the chance to be a flamethrowing pitcher, but he does so with effective command. 

Typically, international prospects do not start at a full-season level in the minor leagues. Both Yordany De Los Santos and Tony Blanco Jr. debuted at the Pirate Dominican Summer League affiliate last season. But Shim is older than most international signees. The right-hander will open 2023 at 19 years old. Both De Los Santos and Blanco Jr. opened the 2022 season at 17, for comparison. 

19 is still fairly young, as Harrington, Chandler, and Chang will all be 20 or older at the start of next season. If that’s the case and the Pittsburgh Pirates feel that Shim should start things out at the Florida Complex League, then Wilber Dotel could be a pitcher who gets a decent amount of starts next season. Dotel already debuted at Bradenton, but mostly pitched at the FCL last season. In 34.1 innings, Dotel had a 2.62 ERA, allowed just a single home run, and struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced with a 24.8% strikeout rate. The downside is he had a sub-par 11.3% walk rate.

A potential late-round selection from the Pirates’ 2022 draft worth highlighting is Julian Bosnic. The Pittsburgh born southpaw was projected to go within the first five rounds of the 2021 draft. But injury issues caused him to fall to the 16th round where the San Francisco Giants selected him. However, they were unable to come to terms and he re-entered the 2022 draft after strong numbers at South Carolina. That included a 2.84 ERA, 0.36 HR/9, 37.9% strikeout rate, and 0.92 WHIP in 50.2 innings. 

Bosnic is a high-floor/low-ceiling type arm. Bosnic typically works in the low-90s but can crank it up in shorter outings. He throws with a ton of vertical action, His upper-70s curveball has an extremely high spin rate and gets tons of swings and misses. He’ll also toss a changeup, and while he has a feel for it, almost never uses it out of the bullpen. But his sub-par athleticism gets in the way of his command. He walked 12.1% of the batters he faced in his senior year as his wind-up and delivery can get out of sync. The Pirates will likely give Bosnic an opportunity to start, but he could also make for a strong left-handed reliever.

One last notable pitcher who will be part of Bradenton’s pitching staff is Owen Kellington. The Pirates’ 4th round selection, Kellington was taken out of Vermont after posting godly numbers at U-32 High School. Kellington has only pitched 10 innings as a member of the Pirates organization. Kellington only works in the 88-91 MPH range but has a big curveball with decent command. 

Next. 2023 Prospect Outlook: Po-Yu Chen. dark

The rest of Bradenton’s pitching staff will likely be filled with some of the Pirates’ mid-to-late round picks from the 2021 and 2022 drafts. The most notable include guys like J.P. Massey, Dominic Perachi, Cy Nielson, Drew Irvine, and Miguel Fulgencio. Bradenton’s pitching staff has many top pitching options. Some are the Pirates’ best pitching prospects, but overall it’s a deep staff.