Po-Yu Chen could be the most overlooked Pirate prospect this season

Po-Yu Chen will be in a rotation surrounded by some of the Pirates' best pitching prospects to open 2024.
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Po-Yu Chen will be in a rotation surrounded by some of the Pittsburgh Pirates' best pitching prospects to open 2024, making him arguably the most overlooked prospect.

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ more under the radar pitching prospects is Po-Yu Chen. The Bucs signed the right-hander out of Taiwan high school in the 2020-2021 off-season. Since then, he has climbed each rung of the Pirate minor league system. But given that he’ll likely open 2024 at Altoona, he could end up as the most overlooked pitching prospect in the system this season.

The 2023 season was an inconsistent one for Chen. He pitched to a mediocre 4.44 ERA, 5.10 FIP, and 1.38 WHIP in 119.2 innings at Greensboro. But there are some positives behind this bottom line. Chen had a respectable 24.5% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate, but his 1.58 HR/9 was well below average. But he had a HR/FB ratio over 20% at 20.9%. Only two other MILB pitchers tossed 100+ innings with a higher HR/FB ratio, but Chen had a higher ground ball rate and lower flyball rate than those who surpassed him.

Chen also ended the year on a massive down note. His final four outings of the year yielded 15 earned runs and four home runs in just 13 innings. Heading into those final four starts, Chen’s numbers looked much better with a 3.71 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and strikeout rate over a quarter at 26%.

Chen should open the year at Altoona and will likely be the team’s 5th best starting pitcher. But that’s far from a knock on Chen. It’s 20 times more of a complement of the talent currently in the Pirates’ system. Just look at who else projects to be ahead of Chen in Altoona’s rotation, at least to start the campaign. Chen sits low 90s with a slider, curveball, and splitter. Of his four offerings, his splitter is his best pitch. He controls all his stuff very well. Chen has shown he has an advanced feel for pitching.

Paul Skenes will be atop the rotation, but that’s not all. Behind him is Bubba Chandler, who had a sub-2.00 ERA in the second half of last year and made significant strides to cut his walk rate down. After Chandler is Anthony Solometo, who had average to above-average numbers at Double-A, despite being one of the youngest starters the Eastern League has seen over the last decade. Their 4th best starter will likely be Thomas Harrington, someone who is somewhat overlooked in his own right but is at least gaining more traction after his solid 2023 season. All four of them will be in Spring Training, making the Pirates' NRI list one of the more impressive in baseball, at least when it comes to pitching.

That’s the top four of Altoona’s rotation. Skenes is a consensus top five prospects, Chandler and Solometo are appearing on top 100 lists themselves, and even though Harrington has yet to reach most top 100 lists, he recently appeared on Kiley McDaniel’s top 100, coming in at 98, and also receiving some borderline top 100 praise by MLB Pipeline. That’s the kind of talent currently in Altoona’s rotation ahead of Chen.

Now I’m not going to say that Chen is deserving of a spot on a top 100 list anywhere. But that doesn't mean he’s a bad prospect either. He’s shown he can handle himself at each level. He has a solid repertoire with good command and an advanced feel for pitching.  Next year, he's going to open the year at the largest jump in the minor leagues, but surrounded by arguably the best minor league rotation.

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