Po-Yu Chen had an impressive outing on Saturday night, and his good fortunes came along after a visit to the mound by pitching coach Yorman Bazardo.
Chen walked the first batter on six pitches, as he was having trouble spotting his fastball in the first plate appearance. After that, he got two ground balls and a fly ball to left field. Unfortunately for Chen, both ground balls to third base resulted in the runners reaching base and a run scoring. Juan Jerez threw away the first grounder, then the second one hit off of his glove, though it was not an easy play or deserving of an error. Just a ball hit right down the line that resulted in a single.
That brought out Bazardo, and Chen was dominant from that point on.
With one out and two men on in the first inning, already down 1-0, Chen seemed to be in a bad place. That turned out to be a poor assumption. He faced 13 batters to record the final 14 outs of his masterful performance, getting a double play to end the first, then retiring the side in order for the final four innings. He finished with a season high seven strikeouts, a mark he reached twice in the Florida Complex League last year.
Anthony Murphy posted a video of those strikeouts here:
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) May 1, 2022
This is the second time this year that Chen has started off a game slowly, then dominated. In his season debut, he allowed a single and a walk to start the first, then retired the final 12 batters he faced. Almost all of the damage this year against him came in his third start, which he began with four shutout innings, before three batters reached in the fifth and two scored after he left the game. He is holding batters to a .155 BAA this year. His results are similar to what we saw in the FCL last year, except there are some extra walks now and a lower BAA.
Chen joined Bradenton late last year and did not impress on paper or in live looks. Part of the reason was because he began to get tired at the end of the year and his control wasn’t as sharp, while his velocity was down. I was told that he was completely healthy, and that made sense because he continued to pitch through the lower velocity. He wouldn’t have been on the mound if there were any injury concerns. However, there was still a concern in my mind going into this season. We heard that he hit 94 MPH during FCL games and even in Extended Spring Training exhibition games, but those games in Bradenton with the Marauders were more like 88-89 MPH.
Chen has alleviated some of those fears this year by hitting 94 MPH a few times during my first look at him. Velocity isn’t everything, but you have to be nearly perfect to work in the 88-89 MPH range. There were no 94’s on Saturday night, but plenty of 93 MPH pitches, and one that really stood out. While he was mowing down hitters and his night was coming to a close, Geovanny Planchart called for a high fastball on a two-strike count and Chen’s last pitch was right where he wanted it, 93 and up for a swinging strike to end his night.
As you will notice in the video above, most of those strikeouts were off-speed pitches. At 20 years old for this entire season, Chen is doing a great job of using all of his pitches and mixing them well. He has a nice range of velocity, with a high 70s curve, and a slider and changeup that are both in the 81-84 MPH range, showing good separation from his fastball. He was pretty much on with his command after the first batter on Saturday, with only a handful of pitches that clearly missed the target, and most missed away from the plate so they did no damage. He didn’t have more than a few pitches that got too much of the plate, either fastballs or hanging breaking balls. He had 12 swinging strikes on the night, and started missing more bats as the day went along. He worked quickly as well, and you can tell that there’s already some confidence on the mound.
Chen gets attention because his $1.25 million makes him the highest bonus international pitcher signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates since Luis Heredia. You can see that the advanced feel for pitching at a young age is what attracted the team to Chen.
I don’t know if I’d call him the best pitching prospect for Bradenton right now, Carlos Jimenez is impressive looking and will be on more radars soon, but Chen is more advanced right now. He also doesn’t have a high-effort delivery, which means that he probably hasn’t topped out at velocity yet. That’s especially true as he continues to fill out his frame and get stronger. That last part is another key, as you hope that he’s still hitting 93 MPH in early September when Bradenton (or possibly Greensboro?) is finishing off their season.
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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.