Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

This Prospect Could Join The Pirates’ Starting Rotation

Jared Jones is making a strong case for a spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation. His manager, Derek Shelton, is paying attention.

Jones, 22, was the Pirates’ No. 2 draft pick out of high school in the 2020 June Amateur Draft. He’s the Pirates’ No. 3 ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Nine of the Pirates’ top 10 prospects will be participating in Thursday’s Spring Breakout game. One of those top 10 is conspicuous by his absence – and that’s Jones.

Jared Jones Could Join Pirates Rotation

Long Shot

Before the season started, Jones seemed to be a long shot to make the major league squad. He began 2023 with the Double-A Altoona Curve, where he had a sparkling 2.23 ERA in 10 starts. In June, he was promoted to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, where things didn’t go so well. With the Indians, the right-hander was 4-5 with a 4.72 ERA and 1.317 WHIP, despite striking out 10.9 per nine. The word was that Jones had things to work on before he could crack the Pirates’ rotation. There were command issues and concerns that he was a bit of a hothead.

Putting It All Together

Whatever he needed to work on, it’s coming together in the spring. At the close of Sunday’s action, Jones has yet to surrender an earned run and has a 0.818 WHIP in four games covering 7 1/3 innings. He’s listed at six-foot-one, 190 pounds, but looks smaller. His fastball has been consistently in the 98-100 mph range. His other pitches have good separation from the fastball. The slider comes in at around 88 mph and the curve at 78. Jones is mostly a power pitcher who’s gone after hitters in the spring, although the slider and curve generate a lot of swing-and-miss as well. However, when he’s allowed hits in the spring, it’s mostly because he’s left a breaking pitch up in the zone.

Jones’s repertoire was on full display in one memorable sequence from Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Jones ran the count to 3-1 against the Phillies’ Carlos De La Cruz, a six-foot-eight prospect with plenty of raw power. Everybody in LECOM Park knew the fastball was coming, but Cruz couldn’t catch up with it. Jones finished him off with a slider that De La Cruz helplessly waved at.

It was a poorly kept secret that in the offseason, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington was in discussions with the Miami Marlins about acquiring one of their young starters. Edward Cabrera was rumored to be the target. The Marlins had a need at shortstop and the Pirates have an abundance of middle infielders. With the Marlins signing Tim Anderson to play shortstop and an injury to Braxton Garrett, the talks died. Fortunately for the Pirates, Jones has exceeded expectations and may have rendered the matter of adding a rotation piece moot.

Numbers Game

In addition to performance, there’s always a numbers game that determines how a final major league roster is shaped. Whether a rotation spot is open is not an issue. Mitch Keller and offseason acquisitions Martín Pérez and Marco Gonzales are assured of three spots. The other two spots are up for grabs. Eric Lauer was recently signed to a minor league deal that amounts to a nice low-risk play for Pittsburgh. If healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t revert to his 2021-22 form, when he was a combined 18-12 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.186 WHIP for the Milwaukee Brewers. However, due to the relative lateness with which he signed, he may need extended spring training. Until he joins the rotation – if he joins it – the other two spots must be filled internally.

Several pitching prospects came into spring training as candidates to claim two of those spots. Of that group, only Luis Ortiz has pitched consistently well in the spring. Quinn Priester has pitched well at times. Roansy Contreras and Bailey Falter have disappointed so far, although Falter was better on Monday against the Boston Red Sox. However, both are out of minor league options. It’s unlikely the Pirates will give up on either. At times in 2021, Contreras flashed qualities of a future staff ace. Falter, acquired in a 2023 deadline deal with the Phillies, had long been coveted by Cherington. Contreras and Falter will be kept, likely in long and middle relief, pushing more deserving candidates out.

Keeping Jones in the Pirates’ Rotation

Cynics will suggest another factor at work, that being possibly manipulating Jones’s service time by starting him in the minors. Still, barring a couple of poor spring performances, Jones is looking like a lock for the Pirates rotation. He’s pitched well in the spring and his omission from the Spring Breakout team is telling. Although this should be of secondary importance, keeping Jones should appease a fan base skeptical of the motives for starting Paul Skenes in the minors.

Everybody in the Pirates organization from owner Bob Nutting on down has stated that this year’s goal is a winning record and a postseason berth. With a team capable of accomplishing that, but not capable of running away with a division title, every game will be important. Starting Jones in the minors will be counterproductive to that end. The games in April will be as critical as the ones in September. The smart money is on Jones being part of the final 26-man roster.




More Posts

Send Us A Message