Underrated Pirate pitching prospect impresses in 2024 Grapefruit League debut

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates' underrated pitching prospect made a promising debut on Monday.
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

An underrated, but intriguing Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect impressed in his 2024 Grapefruit League debut on Monday afternoon

The strongest part of the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system is their pitching depth. Their Spring Training non-roster invitee list has some impressive names, including Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler, and Thomas Harrington. But one minor league pitching prospect the Pirates brought into camp, Justin Meis, made his Spring debut in Monday afternoon's loss. Meis was the Pirates’ tenth-round pick in 2021, and his first pre-season outing went pretty well.

Meis pitched one inning and only allowed one hit. However, his four-seam fastball averaged out around 97 MPH. Meis was throwing around 94-95 MPH last season, so seeing this large of an uptick in fastball velocity is extremely promising. Meis was mostly used as a hybrid starter/long reliever, so the uptick in velocity may be caused by the shorter outings allowing him to max out with his pitches more often.

Meis topped out at 97.6 MPH on Monday, which was the 5th hardest thrown pitch in the game. His fastball had about 15.7 inches of drop with nine inches of break. MLB pitchers who had similar velocity and break on their four-seam fastball would include Huscar Brazoban, Yerry Rodriguez, and Jackson Kowar. Shane Bieber also had similar movement but less velocity than Meis.

Meis’ slider has always looked like a potential plus pitch, and it averaged out around 87 MPH with about 40 inches of vertical drop in his debut. Jordan Romano, Marcus Stroman, and Brusdar Graterol also sat around 40 inches of vertical break, 4-5 inches of horizontal break, and sat around 86-88 MPH with their sliders as well, for another MLB comparison.

In the second half of last season, Meis pitched 34.2 innings in 15 total outings, including four starts. Meis had a rough first half but ended the year on an extremely high note with a 2.08 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.04 WHIP.

Meis carried an above-average 28.1% strikeout rate with an astounding 0.52 HR/9 rate. Walks did give him some trouble as he had a 13.7% walk rate. Some of Meis’ success was carried by his .195 batting average on balls in play, which isn’t sustainable, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be good in the future. Plus, it was from a sample size of less than 50 innings pitched.

I think Meis will be an interesting pitching prospect to watch in 2024. He’ll probably be put into a reliever role, but only pitch one to two innings at a time instead of a long relief role. Shorter stints could help him maintain the velocity gains we saw on Monday when he was nearly hitting 98 MPH on the gun. His first Spring Training game was pretty promising overall, and I will be looking forward to his second outing.

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