Ben Cherington Addresses the Pirates’ Pitching Pipeline

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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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.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

24 Comments
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jdankoskymember
2 months ago

Now, please sign…like, anyone to fill the gap before these pitchers are ready. Nobody in the sport instills less confidence in me than the Pirates’ GM.

luke
2 months ago
Reply to  jdankosky

I’ve always tried to give Bob Nutting some benefit of the doubt. Mostly because he did once exceed $100 Million in payroll when they last were in contention. But this off season has been an eye opener. Cherington is clearly bright enough to know the team needs rotation and up the middle help yet we don’t see the moves to fix it. It’s all Nutting. Has to be.

Liam
2 months ago
Reply to  luke

Nutting is definitely to blame here, but Cherington’s acquisitions/drafting and development haven’t exactly been great either. Whiffed on the Josh Bell trade, whiffed on Marte, Nick Gonzales doesn’t look like much, Termarr Johnson suddenly has a lot more question marks, etc. etc. Obviously spending constraints are the biggest issue, but you’d like someone who is a little bit better at working on a shoestring budget in the role. Year 5 of the Cherington rebuild, tick tock

jroth
2 months ago
Reply to  Liam

I said when Cherington was hired that, if they didn’t field a competitive team by ’23, then they never would under him. My premise was that there was sufficient talent in the system (to trade away and to develop) that a proper development system should be able to turn things around in that time.

But here we are, projected for last yet again, with no clear window for contention in sight, and it’s really obvious that the organization is still pretty poor at developing young talent into productive major leaguers.

And frankly, there’s no real sign that any of that is Nutting’s fault, at least not in a “he’s cheap” sense. Cherington has been mediocre at best, updates to the development system have been glacial, and I have absolutely no idea what Travis Williams does every day.

gettwobrute79member
2 months ago
Reply to  jroth

Well said. They’re on half a decade of a rebuild and they’re basically not far off of where they were when Huntington got fired. It would be nice if the President had an actual baseball background.

Fittingly, the Bucs weren’t even mentioned in the Playoff Odds piece today. The farm systems of all divisional foes are probably equal to or better than Pittsburgh’s except St. Louis. It’s pretty easy to see this rebuild topping out at .500 and that’s as good as it gets.

jroth
2 months ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

I can talk myself into optimism, but the truth is that there’s no reason to think that this group is capable of maxing out the talent in the system. Like, there are 6 position players already in the majors with 3-6 WAR potential, and certainly enough arms to potentially stock a playoff rotation, but I don’t expect them ever to produce a legit 2B, 1B, or CF, and we can’t afford the Keller timeline for their various MiL arms.

Frankly, what happened with Stephenson should’ve caused heads to roll. Doesn’t anyone on Federal Street get tired of players leaping forward the moment they go to Tampa Bay?

gettwobrute79member
2 months ago
Reply to  luke

It isn’t. Ownership is certainly a major problem, but this group’s development has been spotty at best. Almost every prospect drafted or developed by this organization has struggled as they’ve gotten to the bigs. Three pitchers they had fairly high hopes for (Ortiz, Q, and Ro) all took giant steps back in stuff and results. They can’t decide what position they want Hank Davis to play. They gave 1500 at bats to rookies last year who were virtually replacement level on the whole.

They could have gone for Matt Arnold, but instead they got another Amherst drone. Same as the old boss.

Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

Henry. It’s Henry Davis.

gettwobrute79member
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

Good contribution, thanks for the catch.

Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

No problem. Appreciate the down votes too.

I do agree with your analysis though.

Last edited 2 months ago by Delgado4HOF
gettwobrute79member
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

I regret that I have only one downvote to give, champ.

Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  jdankosky

Spending money doesn’t lead to wins. The Royals spent how much this off-season? And no one expects them to compete lol. Now this team did improve from 22 to 23, but I mean it was hard not to after 2022. They are doing it right. Perez & Marco will eat innings and lefties always look good in PNC. If they’re contending they can hold pat, or if not there’s a chance of flipping them (Chapman & Rowdy too) for someone who can help next year. It’s the reality of a bottom tier team. Good years come and go fast and the rebuilding stays for a while. Just have to hope Nutting adds when they should, and he’s shown in the past the willing to do so. Now it hasn’t been effective, but it’s been done.

Slacker Georgemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

What team would acquire these flips in exchange for players who can can help Pirates next year (2025)? Even if there are such teams, and there are such players, it would be is a sign that Pirates aren’t competing in 2025.

In rebuilds, if your team isn’t answering questions, but generating more, you’re moving in the wrong direction.

Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  Slacker George

Let’s see.. Every single contender looks for pitching at the deadline. If you don’t think 2 inning eating lefties can be moved, even for lottery ticket prospects, then you’re wrong. I mean Rich Hill was moved last year… Let alone Chapman. This year is a spitting image of last. Go to a low payroll team, pitch great, get flipped for a ring. Cole Ragans looks to be a good mid rotation arm. Oneil Cruz was a lottery ticket prospect. Tatis Jr too.

Which questions need answered? At a certain point the kids just have to play. A rotation of Keller, Skenes, Jared Jones could be outstanding come 2025. This year is identical to 2012. Just miss .500, build a foundation (Reynolds, Cruz, Keller is a great start), and add that off-season to get back to the playoffs (Liriano, called up Cole, signed Russell Martin.

Slacker Georgemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

My question requires answering both parts: teams acquiring players willing to give up players who help a playoff-competing team the next year.

Last edited 2 months ago by Slacker George
Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  Slacker George

Which is literally EVERY contending team come the deadline. Like I pointed out, Chapman was flipped for Cole Ragans. He pitched to a (for Texas) 2.64 ERA backed by a 2.49 FIP, 2.6 WAR, and looks to be penciled in as the Royals 1/2 starter. Something along these lines is not out of the question. Especially if Chapman performs like he did for KC….

Last edited 2 months ago by Delgado4HOF
Chip Lockemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

This is a bad take and is the fan logic that allows Nutting to not invest anything. You don’t need to be the Yankees to sign Jordan Montgomery, or even Kyle Gibson. Banking on getting a Cole Ragans or Tatis is fool’s errand, and in a year and a half you’ll be talking about needing to trade Keller for a low level prospect and hope for 2027. The Pirates have every chance to compete, but with Nutting and this front office, they never will.

SenorGato
2 months ago
Reply to  Chip Locke

Yep. Fans have been brainwashed into this nonsense sequential narrative where teams must first Develop a Coredation before it makes Sense to spend and it’s just nonsense. The Pirates are a decent even possibly ascending team in a crap division but there is always Reason to not spend as conditions are never perfect enough for what sports fans are told they must be…It’s all ridiculous even before you get to the MLB and NFL more or less being publicly funded

Last edited 2 months ago by SenorGato
Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  Slacker George

Also addiction can be done by subtraction. Moving an arm like Perez or Gonzales can open a spot for a Jared Jones, Anthony Solemento, Paul Skenes…. Clearing a way for a guy who’s going to be ready the next season or late this season is just as much of a help as another organization’s prospect.

isntthisrichmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

Addiction is more often done by multiplication, methinks.

Michaelmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Delgado4HOF

This.

The last time the Pirates were competitive, they got their number one starter AJ Burnett, for nothing,
They got closer Jason Grilli for nothing.

they got their 5 WAR catcher Russell Martin and 3WAR #2 Liriano for very reasonable.

PLUS – McCutchen at MVP level.

Delgado4HOF
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael

Yup exactly. Spending a ton only helps the teams who can afford to do so. Yankees can afford to waste $15M on a 4th outfielder. The Pirates can not operate in that manner.