Spring Training could preview the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation

The Pirates' non-roster invite list includes their five best pitching prospects.

Altoona Curve v Erie Seawolves
Altoona Curve v Erie Seawolves / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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The Pittsburgh Pirates are heading into camp with their five best pitching prospects as non-roster invitees, which could give fans a preview of the future of their starting rotation

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a strong group of prospects on their non-roster invite list. They'll all probably get some innings in during Spring Training, however the Pirates could be previewing their potential 2025 rotation during Spring this year. The Pirates are inviting their five best pitching prospects into camp, and they could all get innings in during this pre-season.

The most exciting NRI in camp is Paul Skenes. The no. 1 overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, Skenes is one of the most hyped prospects of all time. The right-hander signed for a record-breaking $9.2 million out of Louisiana State University after he had one of the best college seasons of all time. Skenes pitched 122.2 innings, pitching to a 1.69 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 10.45 K:BB ratio. Skenes' strikeout rate was closer to 50% than 30% at 45.2%, but he also limited walks like Greg Maddux with a 4.3% walk rate. Skenes then pitched 6.2 innings for the Pirates' minor league affiliates, and looked decent in the small sample size.

Along with Skenes, the Pirates are going to see what Jared Jones has to offer. Jones was Ben Cherington's third draft pick ever as the Pirate general manager. Taken in the second round of the 2020 draft, Jones has steadily worked his way up through the Pirate system.

Last season, Jones pitched 128.1 innings between Triple-A Indy and Double-A Altoona, working to a solid 3.79 ERA, 3.76 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP. He cut his walk rate down below 10% at 9.5% but also kept up a 27.5% strikeout rate and 0.84 HR/9. Jones' numbers took a dip going from Double-A to Triple-A, but in his defense, he was the second youngest pitcher to make 12+ starts in the International League. The league overall was very hitter-friendly as the league average ERA was over five, with the average OPS being nearly .800. Jones had to adapt mid-season to pitching with the automated strike zone, which Double-A did not use this year.

If there was any pitcher in the system whose ceiling could rival Skenes', it would be Bubba Chandler. Chandler had an up-and-down 2023 campaign. Heading into the All-Star Break, Chandler had a 6.79 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 5.51 FIP, and a 12.5% walk rate. But after that, Chandler finished the season strong as he pitched to a 1.66 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 0.82 WHIP, and 7.2% walk rate the rest of the way. Chandler ended his season on as high of a note as possible.

He made his Double-A debut, where he pitched five near-perfect innings with eight strikeouts. He allowed just one hit. Chandler's stuff looked significantly sharper in the second half, and he finally put his extreme athleticism to use, getting some of his mechanic issues under wraps.

The best command pitcher and best LHP in the system, Anthony Solometo, is also in camp. The funky southpaw pitched to 3.26 ERA, 3.46 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP for Greensboro and Altoona. Solometo struck out 26.2% of the batters he faced with a 0.65 HR/9 rate. His 8.6% walk rate might seem a tad high for someone who is considered such a good command artist, but he did see his walk rate drop from 10.7% to just 6.5% from High-A to Double-A.

Like Jones, Solometo's numbers took a dip after getting promoted to the next level of the minor leagues, but also like Jones, Solometo was one of the youngest pitchers in his league. Plus, he still wasn't bad overall, with about a league-average ERA and an above-average WHIP, walk rate, and HR/9.

Don't sleep on Thomas Harrington, either. Harrington was also a second-round pick like Solometo and Jones. Harrington pitched 127.1 innings in 2023 for Bradenton and Greensboro, working to a 3.53 ERA, 4.00 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. He only walked 7.8% of the batters he faced, with a 27.8% strikeout rate. He also allowed less than a home run per nine innings with a 0.99 HR/9. Harrington showed off a massively improved slider (which is more of a slurve/sweeper now) and owned an ERA under 3.00 in August and September.

All of these pitchers have a chance to at least make their MLB debut this season. Of course, we don't know what's going to happen in 2024, but all five could definitely be rotation options for the Bucs when they head into 2025. The best case scenario is that this becomes a good problem with Mitch Keller and Marco Gonzales still around in 2025, Mike Burrows and JT Brubaker returning sometime during this upcoming summer, and any of Quinn Priester, Roansy Contreras, and Luis Ortiz rebounding/breaking out this year.

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