The Pittsburgh Pirates second round competitive balance pick, Zander Mueth, could be their best pitching prospect within the next three years.
Arguably, the next best pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2023 draft class after Paul Skenes was high school right-hander Zander Mueth. The Bucs took Mueth at the end of the second round as their competitive balance pick, going well over slot to sign him. Mueth, selected 67th overall, had a slot value of $1,128,200 but inked a deal worth $1,797,500. This is an extremely bold take, but I believe that Zander Mueth will be the Pirates’ best pitching prospect in three years.
The first reason I believe this is Mueth’s stuff. He was a high school pick who is already sitting 92-95 MPH with his fastball and tops out at 97. It’s not a flat pitch either, as it has arm-side movement. His slider has plus-plus potential with very good movement, so much so that he has trouble landing it for strikes. Then there’s his change-up, and while it doesn’t have the same sort of potential either his fastball or slider has, it projects as an average third offering.
Mueth has had some trouble with locating the ball, but for a kid who had just turned 18 less than a month before the draft, he’ll have plenty of time to work on it. Mueth is also a large kid, listed at 6’6”, 205-LBS. The fact that he has this large of a frame and is already sitting in the low-mid 90s means we could see him sit 94-96 MPH and topping out at 98-99 within the next few seasons.
It wouldn’t be the first time a Pirates’ high school pitcher draft pick saw an uptick in velocity over the course of three seasons. In 2021, when the Pirates took Anthony Solometo, he was only sitting about 89-92 MPH. Now he’s sitting 91-94 and even topped out at 95 with Altoona.
So there are a lot of kids who throw hard with a great breaking ball and solid third pitch but mediocre command. Many flame out, so what other reasons do I believe Mueth to be the potential top pitching prospect in a system? Well, along with decent stuff, everything plays up because of his arm slot.
There are plenty of low-arm slot guys you could compare Mueth to. Chris Sale, Tanner Houck, Camilo Doval, Alexis Diaz, etc. But this makes his stuff play up. This plays into vertical approach angle, which is the angle at which a pitch approaches the plate. Batters swing with a slightly upward attack angle, and pitchers attack from a downward angle because they throw off a raised mound. But the lower the VAA (vertical approach angle), the harder it is for the batter to attack the pitch at the right trajectory, as my favorite baseball YouTuber, Foolish Baseball, explains here.
In the video provided, he shows how Alexis Diaz’s fastball, which has only about average velocity, spin, and movement, plays to an elite level because of his low arm slot (along with good extension). Now imagine how an arm slot like that will play on a fastball that has above-average velocity, movement, and spin.
Most side-arm pitchers with similar form to Mueth have average to above-average release point extension, too. Diaz is the pinnacle of this, as his 7.7-foot release point makes his 94.5 MPH average look more like 97 MPH, but even being around the 65th percentile of release point extension can add another half MPH to a fastball. I do not have specific numbers on Mueth’s release point, but again, a lot of low-arm slot guys have decent release point extensions.
For these reasons, I believe that Mueth has the potential to be the Pirates’ best pitching prospect within the next three years. His stuff already looks like it has potential. With his low arm slot and release point, his plus stuff could play to a plus-plus level. If he can get his command down to even an average level, he could have a lot going for him.