Pirates fans should be excited about the future of their team’s pitching staff, as they have several electric arms in the minor leagues. With pitchers Mitch Keller, Quinn Priester, Tahnaj Thomas and Cody Bolton comprising four of their top six prospects, there is optimism for the future of the Pirates rotation.
Cody Bolton represents the Pirates pitching prospect who made the largest jump in terms of development last season. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, given where Bolton was drafted by the Pirates.
Drafted by Pittsburgh in 2017 out of Tracy High School in Tracy, California, Bolton came into the draft as a highly regarded prep pitcher. However, most teams believed that he would honor his commitment to play baseball at the University of Michigan.
As a result, Bolton would slip all the way to the sixth round of the draft, where the Pirates would select him with the 178th overall pick in the draft. To entice him to forego his commitment to Michigan, the Pirates offered him $50,000 more than his draft slot called for and he agreed to sign with the team for $300,000.
The signing appears to have been an epic steal for the Pirates, as Bolton has outperformed Shane Baz (now of the Tampa Bay Rays) and Stephen Jennings who were selected in the first and second rounds of the 2017 draft.
Bolton features a two-seam fastball that ranges in the 91-95 mile per hour range while topping out at 98 miles per hour. His best pitch is a wipeout slider that he throws between 81-86 miles per hour. He recently began throwing a hard cutter that sits between 89-92 miles per hour that hitters have a difficult time getting the barrel of the bat on. Bolton also throws an 85-88 mile per hour changeup.
At 6’3” and 185-pounds, Bolton is an athletic pitcher with a tall muscular build. He features a plus delivery that is very fluid and possesses an excellent mound presence that has played a major role in his rapid development.
Last season Bolton spent time with the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League before being promoted to the Pirates Double-A affiliate the Altoona Curve. He would be dominant at Bradenton and would initially struggle at Altoona before pitching well at the end of the season for the Curve.
In 12 starts with Bradenton, he would go 6-3 with a 1.61 earned run average, 0.85 WHIP, and 69 strikeouts in 62 1⁄3 innings pitched. He showed excellent strikeout and walk ratios, pitching to a 10.07 strikeout per nine innings rate and a ratio of 2.04 walks per nine innings.
Despite being much younger than most of his counterparts at Double-A, Bolton would hold his own. He would start nine games for Altoona going 2-3 with a 5.85 earned run average, 1.325 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts in 40 innings. Those numbers were negatively skewed by some rough outings when he was initially promoted.
While in Bradenton last season, Bolton was named a Florida State League All-Star. Following the conclusion of the season, he would be awarded the 2019 Pirates Pitching Prospect of the Year award. The excellent year saw Bolton rocket up the Pirates prospect list, where he currently sits at number six overall.
Bolton is expected to begin the year with Altoona, but if he continues to progress like he did last season, there is an excellent chance that he is promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis by season’s end.
Most experts see Bolton as a middle of the rotation starter, with an estimated arrival time in the major leagues sometime in 2022. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to develop at a rapid pace. The future is certainly bright for the young right-handed pitcher and potentially for the rotation of the Pittsburgh Pirates.