Top pitching prospect Jared Jones has won a spot on the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, the club announced to its beat writers this morning (X link via Alex Stumpf of MLB.com). He’ll likely slot into the team’s rotation. The Bucs will select the contracts of Jones and of right-handers Hunter Stratton and Ryder Ryan (X thread via Stumpf). Pittsburgh will place catcher Yasmani Grandal and infielder/outfielder Ji Hwan Bae on the 10-day injured list to begin the season. Relievers Colin Holderman and Carmen Mlodzinski will open the season on the 15-day IL.

Also making the roster are out-of-options pitchers Bailey Falter, Josh Fleming and Roansy Contreras, as well as outfielder Edward Olivares and righty Luis Ortiz. The Bucs will not carry non-roster invitees Brent Honeywell Jr. and Billy McKinney on the roster to begin the season. Those aren’t the only key roster decisions Pittsburgh has faced this spring; Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that manager Derek Shelton last night called it a “very safe assumption” that Jared Triolo will be the Pirates’ starting second baseman to begin the season.

Jones, 22, was the Pirates’ second-round pick back in 2020 and entered spring training ranked among the game’s top 100 prospects at each of Baseball America (No. 74), MLB.com (No. 62), The Athletic (No. 39), FanGraphs (No. 62) and ESPN (No. 53). That ranking came on the heels of a strong 2023 season split between Double-A and Triple-A, wherein Jones logged 126 1/3 innings of 3.85 ERA ball with a 27.6% strikeout rate and 9.5% walk rate. The right-hander’s dominant spring showing surely didn’t hurt his case; Jones pitched 16 1/3 shutout innings this spring, yielding just nine hits against eight walks with 15 punchouts.

The Athletic’s Keith Law writes that Jones has made huge gains with both his heater and his slider since being drafted and now has the potential for three plus pitches. The former two-way standout is an excellent athlete and, as noted by Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin at FanGraphs, has also improved his strike-throwing as he’s shifted his focus solely to pitching. Scouting reports on Jones generally agree that there’d mid-rotation potential, and further improvements to any of his command, curveball or changeup could further boost his upside.

Jones tossed 122 2/3 innings in 2022 and 126 1/3 innings last season. That should set the stage for a decent uptick in his workload this season. The Bucs might still be cautious with him on a start-by-start basis, particularly early in the year, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if a healthy Jones approached or exceeded 150 frames this year. Since he’s a consensus top-100 prospect who’s making the Opening Day roster, his performance this season will particularly important for the Bucs. If Jones wins Rookie of the Year this season or finishes top three in National League Cy Young voting, he could net the Pirates an extra pick in the 2025 draft under the 2022-26 CBA’s newly implemented prospect promotion incentives.

Triolo, 26, made his big league debut in 2023 and spent the bulk of his time at third base, filling in for an injured Ke’Bryan Hayes. That’s Triolo’s natural position, but Hayes is one of MLB’s best defensive players at any position, so Triolo will slide over to second base in what could be his first full big league season. The writing for him winning the second base job was on the wall after the Bucs optioned Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales — particularly with Bae also banged up (and now headed to the injured list).

In 209 plate appearances last season, Triolo batted .298/.388/.398 — production that was buoyed by an enormous .440 average on balls in play and came in  spite of a grisly 30.1% strikeout rate. The punchouts and good fortune on balls in play have both continued this spring. Triolo has taken 45 plate appearances and batted .325/.400/.525 — excellent surface-level numbers that are propped up by a more suspect .458 BABIP. Couple that with a 31.1% strikeout rate, and his production looks similar to his 2023 output — though this year’s pair of homers in his limited spring playing time is a good sign, as Triolo hit just three long balls in last year’s 209 trips to the plate.

Triolo is a strong defender who draws plenty of walks, which should help set a decent floor for him, but he’ll need to cut down on the strikeouts and/or significantly improve his quality of contact (86.6 mph average exit velocity; 32.8% hard-hit rate) if he’s to sustain much in the way of success at the plate in the majors. Strikeouts were an issue in his first taste of Triple-A work last year (26.5%) but weren’t a problem for him in the lower and mid-minor league levels, so perhaps he’ll drop that rate over a larger sample as he gains more experience. If nothing else, a plus defender at multiple positions with a keen eye at the plate has the makings of a useful utility option, but Triolo will get the opportunity to show he can be more than that right out of the gate in 2024.

More to come.

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