The list of non-roster invitees to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2024 spring training includes 13 prospects. Let’s take a look at the more intriguing members of that group.

Pirates Non-Roster Prospect Invitees to 2024 Spring Training

The Unicorn

How else to describe future number-one starter Paul Skenes, 21, the first overall pick in last year’s June Amateur Draft? Pitching for the 2023 College World Series winner Louisiana State University, his season could be described as “sick” in the parlance of the modern ballplayer. In 19 games covering 122-2/3 innings, Skenes was 13-2 with a 1.69 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 209 strikeouts, and 20 walks. These numbers translated to 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a 10.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His fastball averaged 98 mph and hit as high as 102. His repertoire also includes a slider and power change-up.

After logging so many innings for LSU in 2023, the Pirates preferred to rest him. Therefore, he pitched only six-and-two-thirds innings in five minor league games at three different levels. In a small sample size, he had a 5.40 ERA due to one bad outing at Double-A Altoona. However, he also had 10 strikeouts in the minors. Overall, the Pirates liked what they saw from their top prospect, so it’s no surprise he’s a spring training invitee.

The big right-hander Skenes is the man Pirates fans want to see in the majors right away, meaning Opening Day. Observers who saw him pitch at LSU insist he’s ready to get major league hitters out now. Unless general manager Ben Cherington swings some trades before the season starts, the Pirates are in dire need of starters. On the other hand, Cherington has proceeded with caution in deciding whether to promote guys from the minors. It will be interesting to see whether Skenes forces the Pirates’ hand with a few strong spring training performances.

The Second Baseman of the Future

There will be an interesting battle for the second base position in the Pirates’ spring training. It’s not likely that Termarr Johnson will be part of it. However, it’s very likely that whoever emerges from the competition will one day soon step aside for Johnson.

Johnson, 19, was the Pirates’ first pick (fourth overall) in the 2022 draft. Drafted as a shortstop, the Pirates are converting him to second base, which suits his arm better. He’s put in a lot of work to become a good fielder at his position. It’s his bat that has Pirates fans anxious to see him. Although small, the left-handed hitter has surprising ability to drive the ball to all fields against all types of pitching. However, he has yet to play as high as Double-A, and in two minor league seasons, he has hit .240/.413/.427. The Pirates love those on-base skills. But given his age, and despite being the Pirates’ number-two prospect, this invitee is a long shot to go north this spring.

The Two-Way Player

Bubba Chandler, 21, was a third-round pick in the 2021 draft. Drafted as a shortstop and a pitcher, he was an excellent two-way player in high school. Chandler wants to do the same as a pro, and the Pirates have given him that opportunity. He saw action at shortstop in the Rookie League in 2021. In 2022 and 2023, he was used as a pitcher and designated hitter. With the bat, he has slashed .189/.329/.364 with 5 HR, and 9 RBI for his minor league career. On the mound, he is 11-5 with a 4.02 ERA and 1.385 WHIP. Most encouraging, however, is the fact that he has struck out 11.1 per nine innings.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that his path to the majors will be as a pitcher. It may be in his best interest to put all his concentration there. With only one game as high as Double-A under his belt, however, he has a slim chance of breaking camp with the big club. The best bet is that he continues to improve as a pitcher and arrives in the majors in 2025.

Don’t Sleep On Him

Although the Pirates have higher-ranked prospects, Matt Gorski, 22, chosen in the second round in the 2019 draft, might be a sleeper candidate to make the Pirates if the stars align in his favor. In three seasons at Indiana University in the Big Ten, the right-handed hitting outfielder hit .306/.378/.491, 24 HR, and 108 RBI to go with 57 stolen bases. So far in four minor league seasons, he’s hit .239/.309/.454 with 64 HR, 205 RBI, and 73 steals.

The proverbial five-tool player brings an interesting package of speed and power to the table. Gorski is considered a plus defender at all three outfield positions. He’s been blessed with enough speed to cover center field and an arm strong enough for right field. He’s also played at first and second base in the minors to accelerate his path to the majors. On the negative side, Gorski has struck out 382 times in 1,238 minor league at-bats.

Cherington continues to pursue a controllable starter in a trade. In addition to some prospects, he may have to relinquish a genuine major leaguer along the lines of, say, Connor Joe or Jared Triolo. If that happens, and Gorski has a good spring and cuts down on his strikeouts (or the Pirates simply don’t care about them), it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in Pittsburgh on Opening Day.

More Highly Ranked Pitchers

Pitchers Jared Jones and Anthony Solometo are the Pirates’ third- and fourth-ranked prospects, respectively. Although the Pirates may prefer them to start 2024 in the minors, it’s also true that the team is desperate for starters. But suppose nobody emerges from among Roansy Contreras, Bailey Falter, Luis Ortiz, and Quinn Priester, all of whom pitched for the Pirates last year. In that case, there may be no other choice than to give one or both of these youngsters an opportunity.

Right-hander Jones, 22, has a power arm and a fastball that’s been clocked as high as 99 mph. Hitters also have to be wary of his curve and slider, while he continues to work on a change. In three seasons at four levels, he’s 13-22 with a 4.31 ERA and 1.330 WHIP. Last year, his work at Altoona (2.23 ERA, 1.083 WHIP in 10 starts) earned him a promotion to triple-A Indianapolis.

Solometo, 21, is the opposite of Jones in many ways. He’s left-handed, has only thrown as high as 93 mph, uses a high leg kick, and relies on command and a deceptive delivery. He was drafted in the second round in 2021 and hasn’t pitched above Double-A yet. Over two minor league seasons, he’s 9-8 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.146 WHIP. Solometo is reputed to be smart and a fast learner.

Perhaps further away is right-hander Tom Harrington, 22, drafted 36th overall in 2022. With only one minor league season under his belt, he has yet to pitch in Double-A. He has a four-pitch mix and profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

The Others

Other non-roster spring invitees among the Pirates’ prospects are infielders Jack Brannigan and Andres Alvarez, catchers Carter Bins and Abrahan Gutierrez, pitcher Sean Sullivan, and utility man Joe Perez.

There is also the usual assortment of non-roster invitees with major league experience. The most familiar of these would be two 10-year veterans. They are third baseman Jake Lamb, who hit 59 homers for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016-17, and right-handed pitcher Wily Peralta, who didn’t pitch in the majors in 2023. Peralta has the better chance of making the team. If so, he would likely pitch out of the bullpen.

 

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