Cody Bolton has had an up and down professional career thus far. A former sixth-round pick in 2017, Bolton posted a 3.36 ERA, 3.23 FIP and 1.09 WHIP in his first three seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. Bolton then did not pitch competitively due to the cancellation of the minor league season. He was projected to make his debut sometime in 2021, but then underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus. Bolton returned to action in 2022, and while he remained healthy and recovered to a solid degree, there were some worrying signs. However, a mechanical change at Bolton could help him in the long run.
Let’s start with the positives first. Bolton pitched 75.1 innings, with a 3.09 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. Bolton’s 25.4% strikeout rate was about 1% better than his rate from 2017-2019, however his HR/9 dropped to just 0.48. This was another improvement from 2017-19 when he was 0.73 for 9. Bolton worked both as a reliever and as a starter. He made 14 starts with 16 bullpen appearances, though when he came out of the pen, he rarely went just one inning. Of his 30 total appearances, only four lasted less than 1.1 innings.
Where the worrisome signs come into force are some of its other peripherals. Bolton had a 12.4% walk rate, nearly double his rate of 6.5% from 2017-19. Despite dropping his HR/9 by about a quarter of a home run, batted rates Bolton hardly changed. The right-hander had 40.6% GB%, along with a 17.1% line rate and 42.2% fly ball percentage. In 2017-2019, he had a 20.8% line drive rate, 40.9% ground ball rate, and 38.3% fly ball rate.
What changed was his HR/FB ratio, which went from 7.9% to just 5.1%. Now, even if his HR/FB ratio went back to normal and went back to around 8%, and his HR/9 increased to 0.73, he’d still be a solid shooter. However, any increase in home runs with the number of walks he allowed could be a recipe for disaster.
Since arriving at Double-A, Bolton’s walk rate has been 11.4%, so is there a way for him to keep his lead a secret? According to the most recent FanGraphs article on the right-handed throwing prospect, Bolton’s delivery is described as “violent” and “terrifying, especially given the injury history.” Watching videos of Bolton’s season only reinforces this. He has a very fast, whip-like arm action. He keeps his arm long, and some might even see a jerk in the movement of him.
The Pirates have really been safe with Cody Bolton this year. In his last outing, he struck out five in three innings pitched. #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/8tPUvokx5g
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) September 26, 2022
Shortening the arm has become a popular trend in baseball, and it has worked for many pitchers. Bolton’s command issues could potentially be attributed to his violent mechanics. Bolton could try to shorten his arm and perhaps use an action similar to another Pirates pitching prospect, Max Kranick. If he can help Bolton get his walk rate below 10%, that’s something he should try to implement. All three of Bolton’s offers are projected to be average or better, and his dominance (or lack thereof) is one of the main factors holding him back.