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Cody Bolton's New Pitch Pays Off

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The Pirates were hoping to get a good return from high school pitchers from the 2017 draft, when they spent a combined $6 million on their first two picks: righthanders Shane Baz and Steven Jennings.

They are getting results, but not from the expected source.

Righthander Cody Bolton was drafted in the sixth round out of Tracy (Calif.) High and signed for $300,000. He ranked as the No. 414 draft prospect in the 2017 class, while Baz and Jennings were both top 50 prospects. And yet Bolton has emerged as the Pirates' top guy from that class.

The unexpected development began in 2018, when the Pirates aggressively pushed Bolton to low Class A after he exceeded expectations in spring training. It was a promotion that was originally meant for Baz, but poor control kept Baz in Rookie ball. Bolton showed why he was deserving of the promotion by striking out 45 and walking seven in 44.1 innings.

"I'd really say my fastball (led to the success),” said Bolton, 20. "There's a lot of movement on it, and it's progressively getting faster.”

Bolton’s fastball is currently sitting 93-96 mph and touching 97, with good movement and control. He’s off to an even better start at high Class A Bradenton this year, featuring an 0.96 ERA through five starts to go with 29 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 innings.

Bolton's focus this year has been on developing his slider. He switched his old slider to a cutter, meant to complement his two-seam fastball. The pitch has led to his high strikeout rates so far. He has also focused on improving his changeup to play off his four-seamer, and is seeing some good movement on the pitch.

He also needs to stay healthy after experiencing forearm soreness last year and not pitching after July 19.

The Pirates traded Baz in their deal for Chris Archer. They’ve seen Jennings struggle after a cracked rib heading into the 2018 season. But Bolton continues to trend upward, and he is makin a case to be the No. 2 pitching prospect in the system behind Mitch Keller.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick.

BURIED TREASURE

— The Pirates have been plagued by injuries in the majors, and have seen the injury bug hit their minor league system as well. Shortstop prospect Oneil Cruz was placed on the injured list with a right foot fracture, while starting pitcher JT Brubaker was placed on the IL with a right forearm strain. Cruz is one of the most dynamic prospects in the Pirates’ system, while Brubaker was set to be a top depth option for the team out of Triple-A.

— Keep an eye on Max Kranick, who is also pitching well in the Bradenton rotation. Kranick has been throwing his changeup more often this year to improve the pitch, while also seeing a velocity increase on his fastball, sitting 92-96 and touching 97. Kranick was the 11th round pick in 2016, and has emerged as another value pick for the Pirates. Shortly after the draft I spoke with an AL scout who had Kranick as a third or fourth round talent prior to the draft, who was passed over by his team due to signability concerns. The Pirates signed him for $300,000, which was lower than third or fourth round money

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