Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Three Underrated SPs to Watch in 2023

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have a few notable starting pitching prospects behind Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester, and Mike Burrows who could make an impact in 2023

The Pittsburgh Pirates have three very talented pitchers who could break rookie status in 2023. Those three are Quinn Priester, Luis Ortiz, and Mike Burrows. There’s plenty of speculation as to when we will see all three eventually be in the same rotation, but a handful of other Pirate prospects could take over a starting pitching role next season. They’re not as highly touted as Priester, Ortiz, and Burrows, but they’re still notable in their own right.

One prospect who should start his year out at Triple-A is Carmen Mlodzinski. The organization's competitive balance first-round pick in 2020, Mlozinski followed up his solid 2021 with a mediocre 2022. We’ll first start with the positives. Mlodzisnki had a 24.1% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate. He also had a strong 0.85 HR/9, which led to a 3.77 FIP. Then comes the bad news. Despite his solid peripherals, Mlodzinski had a 4.78 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

The issue Mlodzinski ran into was consistency. After a rough April, Mlodzinski had a strong May/June, working to a 3.72 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and 1.42 WHIP. Then he went on to have a poor July/August, where he had a 6.51 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, albeit with a much better-looking 4.19 FIP. But then he ended the season on a high note, allowing just four earned runs with 15 strikeouts in 14 innings in September.

Granted, there was some bad luck involved. Mlodzisnki had a .366 batting average on balls in play during his mediocre July/August stretch, as well as a .343 mark in May/June. It was a very up-and-down season for Mlodzinski. The right-hander has the talent, and the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him in the first round for a reason. It’s going to come down to if he can find a groove and stay in it during 2023.

One pitcher who could be very fun to watch at Triple-A next season is Kyle Nicolas. Nicolas was acquired in the Jacob Stallings trade. The right-hander tossed 90.2 innings, working to a 3.97 ERA, 4.30 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP. Nicolas struck out 25.9% of batters faced with a 0.89 HR/9. The downside was his 12.1% walk rate.

Nicolas’ numbers weren’t great, but his third start of the year inflated his numbers. Despite only tossing two innings, Nicolas allowed eight earned runs, which made up 20% of his total runs allowed. Four of the nine home runs he allowed were from this one start. Outside of this one start, Nicolas’ ERA goes from nearly 4.00 to just 3.25.

If Nicolas is the real deal, that could make the Jacob Stallings trade a massive win for the Pirates. Of course, there is some risk with a hard-throwing pitcher with mediocre command and a poor fourth offering. But as long as the walks don’t become too much of an issue, he could be a starting pitcher with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, devastating slider, and average curveball.

Then there’s Cody Bolton, who’s somewhat of an unknown quantity at this point. Even though he had a solid 2022, there were still some underlying questions, and he was only used as a swingman. But if he gets stretched out as a starting pitcher, there’s definitely the possibility the Pirates will try him out in the major league rotation sometime next season.

Overall, Bolton pitched to a 3.09 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. Bolton struck out 25.4% of the batters he faced while only giving up four home runs in 75.2 innings. The major red flag was his 12.4% walk rate. This was a career worst. Despite allowing so few home runs, he only had a 40.6% ground ball rate and a 5.1% HR/FB ratio.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have more than just the trio of Priester, Ortiz, and Burrows coming up through the farm system. While they’re the best MLB-ready arms, there’s certainly more depth behind them. All three of Bolton, Nicolas, and Mlodzinski could see some starts in 2023, possibly before the higher-end prospects make their season debut.