The Pirates have an above-average farm system that includes a number of high-ceiling pitching prospects. Paul Skenes is the most notable — the 21-year-old right-hander was selected first overall in last summer’s draft — but he’s far from the only electric arm in Pittsburgh’s pipeline. As many as half a dozen hurlers will populate the first 10 names when our Pirates top prospects list comes out this spring. Whether any of them will help propel the Bucs to playoff contention remains to be seen, but in terms of potential, the group presents a tantalizing mix of talent.
I asked Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington about a few of those promising young arms during November’s GM Meetings.
David Laurila: How happy are you with your pitching pipeline?
Ben Cherington: “We’re excited about it. We also know that pitching development never stops and there are things ahead of all those guys. Part of the reason we’re excited is the talent, but the truth is, no matter how well you do in pitching development there is usually attrition of some kind. You need some volume to make it work, and we think we’re starting to develop some volume. So again, we’re excited. Every one of those guys has targets that we’re working on this offseason, and we’re anxious to see where they’re at come spring training.”
Laurila: Has your pitching program evolved in the last few years?
Cherington: “We believe so. We’ve got some signal on that. It’s improving in some areas, and in other areas we still need to be better. We can’t ever be satisfied with it. But we’ve made some strides with things like breaking ball pitch design, pitch usage, sequencing in the minor leagues. We’ve made some strides with deployment, getting better at identifying what skills fit in different roles and getting guys into those roles. At the same time, there are more things to get better at. All of it is important.”
Laurila: Which of your pitching prospects most stands out for his stuff? I’m thinking pitch metrics.
Cherington: “Skenes would stand out if you’re talking raw grades and things like that. Just based on his college performance and the data we have there, he has multiple pitches that stand out.”
Laurila: What about Jared Jones?
Cherington: “Jones has really good pitch grades, too. He’s got above-average secondaries. Two breaking balls — a cutter and a slider — changeup, four-seam fastball. He’s developing and learning what his fastball is going to be, I would say. There’s plenty of velocity. The command has improved. But again, he’s still learning what it’s going to be.”
Laurila: Can you elaborate on that?
Cherington: “Basically trying to optimize the movement. That’s what he’s focusing on this offseason.”
Laurila: What can you tell me about Anthony Solometo?
Cherington: “He’s a different look. Unorthodox delivery and angles. Left-handed. A really good slider. Changeup. Command. He’s got both a two- and four- [seam fastball]. He uses the two on lefties and the four more to righties. With him it’s really more about the continued physical maturation. He’s still really young; it’s a young body. His offseason goal is primarily to get himself in as good a spot as he can physically.”
Laurila: I believe you drafted a pitcher this year who has been compared to Tanner Houck, in part because of his arm slot…
Cherington: “Zander Mueth is probably who you’re referring to. High school righty. Lower slot…”
Laurila: Meuth is lower slot from the right side and Solometo is lower slot from the left side. Is that something you’ve targeted in recent drafts?
Cherington: “It’s something we’re aware of. The draft is competitive, so if you start looking for one thing you’ll fall behind, because there is only so many of that one thing. Every team has got the same information. But it is something that, if it can be combined with enough command and the right secondaries, that slot can be effective. It’s also true that it can’t just be that. There is no one thing that makes a pitcher successful, so he’ll have to do other things, too. We are excited about their upsides.”
Laurila: The other guy I want to ask about is Bubba Chandler.
Cherington: “With Bubba it’s more of an unknown in the sense that he’s been pitching full-time for roughly five months, basically. We’ve seen the trajectory really speed up over the course over those five months, so what can he be? What can he do? What is he capable of? That’s something to think about. We don’t think he’s anywhere near a finished product. Those things said, we’re really excited to see where he goes from here.”
Laurila: Chandler was obviously a two-way player when you drafted him. Was there serious thought put into letting him do both?
Cherington: “Yes. We agreed to let him do both at the time we signed him. That was part of the draft and signing. We agreed that we would give him a good faith amount of time to let him do both. We did the best we could to give him a chance to experience both, and make an honest assessment. Really, as we got to last spring training, the conversation with him converged. It was becoming more clear to him that the pitching was just going to go way faster than the bat. He’s competitive and didn’t want to be back in extended spring training, so he chose the path of pitching. Hopefully he feels pretty good about it. I know that we do. We feel good about a lot of our young pitchers.”