ALTOONA- During day two of my trip to see the Altoona Curve play the Richmond Flying Squirrels, I caught up with Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Anthony Solometo.
Solometo has been a fast riser in the Pirates’ system since he landed in the organization in 2021. The Pirates drafted Solometo in the second round out of Bishop Eustace Prep in New Jersey.
Coming out of high school, Solometo brought a funky delivery, which gave some concerns to his control, but he has maintained a decent BB/9 for the most part.
The 20-year-old started the ’23 season in High-A Greensboro. In 58.2 innings pitched, Solometo put up impressive numbers with an ERA of 2.30 (2.61 RA9), 68 strikeouts, 25 walks, and a WHIP of 1.159.
The Pirates must’ve been pleased with his development and progress because on June 15, Solometo got the bump to Double-A Altoona.
Two days later, Solometo debuted against a tough Somerset squad (New York Yankees Double-A Team).
The already potent Somerset lineup became even more dynamic with an established MLB player on a rehab assignment. Talk about a tough task in your Double-A debut.
“I wasn’t concerned about the lineup; it was more about the pure excitement that day,” said Solometo. “I saw [Harrison] Bader was going to be in the lineup last second, which excited me even more. My favorite thing to do when I go out on the mound is try to prove to everybody I’m the best on the mound every time I go out there. Being able to strike out Bader and Dominguez three times was cool.
“I found some trouble out there early and got a little anxious, but I found a way to settle in. It’s not just about dominating batters, but showing people my stuff can play.”
Confidence indeed wasn’t lacking with Solometo, and there is a good reason for it. The young lefty is only the 13th player ever to wear a Curve jersey under the age of 21.
To some prospects, that fast track can be daunting, having to adjust from High-A to Double-A in a relatively short time.
“The move for me was exciting at first, getting to come up to Double-A,” said Solometo. “I’ve been finding success here, just not the success we always want because we’re trying to push ourselves to be the best ever. I think the best part about coming up here was facing adversity and learning how to maneuver away from it.
“I think throwing more innings this year, especially being in Double-A. I’ve gone through times where I wasn’t 100%, and learned how to pitch to batters and still be successful. That has been one of the best things I learned. Overall, I still love the challenge every day of coming here and seeing how I stack up against higher-level guys in the future.”
Where a pitcher can test their mettle jumping from one level to another is how their breaking stuff plays.
As a prospect climbs the ranks, the competition obviously gets tougher and tougher. Outs are harder to come by.
“The mindset has changed in a sense where I have my go-to pitch, which is my slider, and everyone knows that. It’s about building myself into a pitcher where I can have my fastball, slider down in the zone and make sure that’s my bread and butter. Now it’s just about building up my other two pitches and getting my changeup where it’s just as lethal.
“I think coming here and working on that plane of dominating with two pitches has helped a lot, but it’s helped me realize that need for a changeup, which has me working extra hard on that too.”
Solometo delved into his changeup work.
His fastball and slider have always played. His changeup, while still a solid offering, has always needed the most work and has been a step behind the other two pitches.
“We saw the plus-plus action flash. That’s nice and encouraging to see, but we’re at the point where we want the flashing to stop. We want it to be a consistent thing. Today we worked on how to be more fluent, direct and get more extension into the ball. Today, my sinker and changeup have been playing a lot better, so we just have to figure out little things day-by-day, week-by-week, and build it up.”
Later in the day, I caught up with Curve manager Callix Crabbe. Crabbe and I delved into the potential difficulties of managing such a young talent and trying to foster that learning environment.
Crabbe may have only had Solometo on his roster for a relatively short time so far, but he knows he has something with the funky left-hander.
“Solo is a different bird,” said Crabbe. “He has a special mindset. He’s 20, but he’s pretty mature for his age. His mentality to compete and be challenged is well beyond his years. I’ve never truly seen someone that young willing to take difficult feedback.”
“Last start against Harrisburg, he had some traffic in the first inning, and Benny went into him pretty good. When Solo got off the field after giving up a bloop single that ended up scoring a run, he came in and said, ‘Thank you for doing that; I really needed it.’ He went on to throw five shutout innings after that. Part of what I try to do is allow autonomy.
“After you allow autonomy, you allow them to gain experience. After they gain experience you can speak into it, and they will trust you more. All because you allowed them to gain experience on their own. That’s the case with Solo. He’s really impressive.”
One of the concerns people have with Solometo is his velocity. There will be flashes of 94-96, but for the most part, his fastball sits in the low 90s.
With Solometo’s uniqueness on the mound, however, it’s not all about velocity. Even so, Solometo might even have some more left in the tank.
“I know velocity is a sexy thing,” said Crabbe. “There are other ways you can disrupt the hitter’s timing. He has velocity; it’s just his second year in pro ball, innings, 20 years old, managing the weeks to weeks; you expect to see the velo drop occasionally. He’s going to mature physically; as he continues to mature physically, I can see the velocity holding.”
“Even if he doesn’t have it, there’s so much deception with the lead arm, the angle he’s coming from. His 89-92 will seem a little firmer on the hitters. He’s a loose and limber kid. You will likely see the velocity tick up as he gets older and gets more muscle on his frame.”