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Perrotto: Three Pirates Prospects to Watch in Spring Breakout

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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes throws during a baseball spring training workout Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

BRADENTON, Fla. — One of my favorite things used to be visiting the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-league teams each season.

It was always fun to see the organization’s top prospects play and get a sneak peek at the future. It was also interesting to talk with those players and write stories about them.

Alas, free time has become scarcer as time has gone on and my minor-league trips have become much less frequent. So, the only chance I get to see the Pirates’ prospects is during spring training.

That is why I’m looking forward to the Spring Breakout game between the Pirates and Baltimore Orioles prospects on Thursday night at LECOM Park.  The Spring Breakout is a series of games this week involving all 30 Major League Baseball teams that is designed to showcase some of the sport’s top young talent.

There are three Pirates prospects, in particular, who I am excited to see play.

Paul Skenes

This one is obvious as the right-hander was the first player selected overall in last year’s amateur draft after leading LSU to victory in the College World Series. The Pirates also gave him a $9.2 million signing bonus, the largest ever for a drafted player.

Skenes has pitched in two Grapefruit League games this spring and allowed one run on one hit – a solo homer by the Tampa Bay Rays’ Amed Rosario – in three innings. Skenes also struck out three and walked none.

I haven’t seen Skenes pitch in person yet, other than throwing bullpens in the early days of spring training this year. He also pitched just 6.2 innings in the minor leagues last year as the Pirates did not want to overwork him following a 122.2-inning season with LSU.

The hype surrounding Skenes is big and he has the talent to justify it. Now, I’m curious to see him face hitters.

David Matoma

The 18-year-old right-hander is intriguing for various reasons. Chief among them is that he is a native of Uganda and the continent of Africa has produced just one major-leaguer, former Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe.

Furthermore, Matoma has yet to give up a run in his nascent professional career. He pitched 16.2 innings in the Dominican Summer League last year, allowing 12 hits, striking out 14 and walking seven.

Further adding to his legend is that the lithe Matoma’s fastball reaches 100 mph. That is an impressive feat for a 6-foot, 154-pounder with a limited baseball background.

Lonnie White Jr.

The right-handed-hitting outfielder has been more about projection than production since the Pirates chose him in the second round of the 2021 draft from Malvern Prep in suburban Philadelphia. The Pirates lured White away from a scholarship to play wide receiver and center field at Penn State with a $1.5 million signing bonus.

White has played in just 72 professional games because of injuries, primarily to his elbow and hamstring. Last season, he was able to get into 61 games combined with Low-A Bradenton and the rookie-level Florida Complex League, hitting .276/.406/.476 with nine home runs and 18 stolen bases.

To this point in his career, the uber-talented White has been more like a myth. It will be interesting to see the 21-year-old in action.

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