2022 Record: 62-100 (.383 win%, 4th in Division)
2023 Payroll: 59,262,500 (28th)
2023 Projected Lineup:
1. SS Oneil Cruz, .247 AVG / .315 OBP / .454 SLG, 3.3 fWAR
2. LF Bryan Reynolds, .268 AVG / .351 OBP / .457 SLG, 3.8 fWAR
3. 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, .257 AVG / .324 OBP / .396 SLG, 2.8 fWAR
4. RF/DH Andrew McCutchen, .240 AVG / .326 OBP / .397 SLG, 0.8 fWAR
5. 1B/DH Carlos Santana, .238 AVG / .343 OBP / .403 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
6. 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi, .240 AVG / .345 OBP / .405 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
7. CF Jack Suwinski, .222 AVG / .308 OBP / .412 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
8. 2B Rodolfo Castro, .229 AVG / .292 OBP / .404 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
9. C Austin Hedges, .202 AVG / .264 OBP / .335 SLG, 1.0 fWAR
10. 2B Ji Hwan Bae, .260 AVG/.325 OBP/.379 SLG, 1.4 fWAR
2023 Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Mitch Keller, 164.0 IP / 4.37 ERA / 1.39 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR
2. Roansy Contreras, 153.0 IP / 4.30 ERA / 1.33 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR
3. JT Brubaker, 163.0 IP / 4.29 ERA / 1.33 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR
4. Rich HIll, 119.0 IP / 4.42 ERA / 1.38 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
5. Vince Velasquez, 121.0 IP / 4.66 ERA / 1.39 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:
1. CP David Bednar, 66.0IP / 3.53 ERA / 1.20 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
2. Yerry De Los Santos, 48.0 IP / 3.90 ERA / 1.33 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR
3. Colin Holderman, 58.0 IP / 4.09 ERA/ 1.37 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR
4. Robert Stephenson, 56.0 IP / 4.12 ERA / 1.27WHIP, 0.2 fWAR
What Does Baseball Mean to Pittsburgh?
Throughout Pittsburgh’s history, the Buccos are not the only baseball team to call the city their home. Pittsburgh was a prominent home city for two teams from the now-folded Negro League that resided in the area: the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. Although often forgotten about, the history of both of these teams helped baseball grow into what it is today in Pittsburgh.
Currently, it is well known throughout the baseball world that the Pirates have not been successful for a stretch of time. Their last winning season was back in 2018 and have since then been on the decline. This has affected viewership and attendance at home games, which is down to an average of only 15,524 per game last year, the fourth lowest attendance rate of the entire league based on ESPN’s statistics.
Ownership of the Pirates has received criticism for refusing to spend money on big free agents and rarely giving their stars long-term extensions, which only has contributed to their demise. However, changes may be on the horizon, as star 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes was signed to an eight-year, $70 million contract last season.
Many fans hope this behavior will continue, for many top prospects will reach the big leagues within the next few years. As the Pirates continue to rebuild, Pittsburghers at least have hockey and football seasons to look forward to as both teams have continually put up competitive seasons every year.
2022 Offseason Recap:
The Pirates were surprisingly active this offseason by adding many veteran players to single-year deals. This is extremely typical of the Pirates as they continue to wait for the entire pool of talent at AAA to make its way to the majors.
The Pirates went into the Offseason with a mission to add a strong veteran presence that will lead and mentor their extremely young core group of players. Ji-Man Choi was the first player added by the Pirates in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in early November. The 31-year-old hit .233 with an OPS+ of 114 during the 2022 season. For reference, Choi would have had the second highest OPS+ if he were in Pittsburgh last year.
The Pirates also signed Carlos Santana later in the month to be Choi’s counterpart. Turning 37 during the season, the switch hitter is on the wrong side of his prime, yet still has some remnants of the pop in his bat as he has hit 19 home runs in back-to-back seasons. The Pirates needed some serious help at first base after posting a -3 WAR and an abysmal 52 wRC+, both which were the worst in the league a year ago. Santana and Choi will share the role this year to turn 1B into a strength for the Buccos.
William Gregory wrote a more in-depth profile following the Carlos Santana signing that you can check out here.
When you think about a veteran player, Rich Hill comes to mind. Hill is the oldest active player in the MLB at 43 and is a new member of the Pittsburgh Pirates after signing a one-year, $8 million contract in January. Playing for his 14th team in his long career, Hill will provide the younger starting rotation with mentorship, guidance, and a veteran presence that the Pirates desperately need.
The Pirates also acquired Vince Velasquez in an effort to provide depth to a pitching rotation that struggled last season. Velasquez pitched out of the bullpen for the majority of last year for the White Sox last season but is likely to crack the Pirates opening day roster as their fifth Starter.
In the ullpen, the Pirates added lefty Jose Hernandez from the Dodgers via the Rule 5 draft. Hernandez features a 3 pitch mix with a fastball that seems to be his strength. The Buccos also inked another lefty Jarlin Garcia to a one-year contract. Unfortunately, he will be starting the season on the IR due to an injury to nerves in his biceps region in spring training – an expected return date has yet to be announced. The bullpen desperately needed a southpaw since they lacked one towards the end of last year. Many Pirates fans, we hope these two additions can fill that gap.
Other Miscellaneous signings included a one-year deal for catcher Austin Hedges. It is highly unlikely that he is in the future plans for the Buccos as both Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis are expected to be called up to the majors within two years. Mark Mathias was acquired this spring in a trade with the Rangers and is currently fighting for the starting 2B spot against Rodolfo Castro and Ji-Hwan Bae.
This leads us to the biggest signing for the Pirates during the offseason: a reunion with Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen, the face of the franchise from 2009 until he was traded to the Giants in 2018, is now back on a single-year deal with the Pirates. Though McCutchen may be out of his prime, he still posted a 99 OPS+ last season, which is about league average. Many Pirates fans such as myself hope that the reunion can help bring back his 2013 MVP form.
The Pirates didn’t lose anyone who was vital to their future plans in the offseason. Both Bryse Wilson and Zach Thompson were dealt to other teams after being DFA’d. Wilson posted a 5.62 ERA last season, while Thompson did not fare much better posting a 5.12 ERA. Both of these players were extremely underperformed last season, so hopefully a change of scenery will do them some good.
Other losses were players such as Diego Castillo, who was claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks; Ben Gamel, who was picked up by the Red Sox as a free agent; Michael Chavis, who became a free agent at the end of the season; and a few bullpen pieces such as Tyler Beede and Cam Vieaux. Regardless, these players were not going to be vital in Pittsburgh’s future.
It should also be noted, to the dismay of many Pirates fans, that Bryan Reynolds requested a trade during the offseason. While the Pirates did entertain the market for him, the asking price was extremely high which was unappealing to many teams. Reynolds remains a Pirate right now, but this could change as the year progresses.
2023 Regular Season Preview:
Without a doubt, this roster on paper is better than previous years; however, the Pirates are most likely not going to be in playoff contention. As talent from their farm system has made its way to the majors, there have been flashes of greatness that are extremely promising for the future.
Unfortunately, for many fans, that future is not here just yet. While I believe that they do have the talent to beat any team, as shown by their 5-1 record against the Dodgers last season, they are too young and inconsistent to be making predictions regarding making the playoffs.
While no one on the Pirates put up crazy numbers last season, two positions really struggled: catcher and 1B. Both positions ranked in the bottom three in wRC+ and OPS+ league-wide. First base received a major improvement with the signings of Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi. However, the signing of Austin Hedges at catcher confuses me because Austin Hedges finished last season with a sub .200 AVG, and -0.6 WAR and a career low 42 wRC+.
While he is often praised for his defensive skills and ability to work with pitchers, his Bat is extremely weak and will not improve the lack of offense from that position. Any improvement from his offensive play could drastically improve the outcome of Pirates season.
Second base is a position for the Pirates that does not have a solidified starter. Currently, in Spring Training, the role is being split by Ji-Hwan Bae, Rodolfo Castro, and Mark Mathias. Each of these players have something unique to offer. Ji-Hwan Bae is currently ranked number 12 on the Pirates’ top 30 prospects and is known for his speed and contact skills. However, he lacks power, hitting only 8 HR in AAA ball last year.
Rodolfo Castro, the switch hitting second baseman, provides a lot of pop for the position, yet is prone to the strikeout. Recent information suggests that Mark Mathias will start the season at AAA, but may get a chance with the big league club later in the year.
The other two infield positions, third base and shortstop, are locked down by Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz, respectively. Robbed of a Gold Glove last year, Hayes has made a name for himself due to his defensive play. However, his offensive prowess during his 20-game callup has disappeared in his first two full seasons.
Hindered by injuries, Hayes struggled in 2022 by hitting for a .246 AVG with only seven HR and an 87 OPS+. Things may be turning around as Hayes is hitting around .333 with 4 HRs already this spring. Fans are hoping that Hayes can continue hitting at this pace, for he is under team control until 2030.
On the other hand, Cruz is about to make his first Opening Day start at shortstop. The 6’7” shortstop who made a name for himself last year by hitting the hardest ball ever recorded and throwing the hardest ball from short, is looking to join an exclusive club this season. This season, his expectations for himself are higher than ever.
During an interview, Cruz was recorded saying that he is trying to join the exclusive 30/30 club this season and “put on a good show” for all Pirates fans. Cruz hit 17 HR and stole 10 bases in just 87 games, it is quite possible for this freak athlete.
His issue, though, revolves around striking out. He had a 35% K rate last year, placing him in the 99th percentile had he played enough games to be a qualified hitter last season. A lot of his success will be determined by whether or not he can lower this K% this year. If he can, he will be a very fun player to watch.
The outfield is a place in which Pirates fans could see plenty of battles this season. Besides Reynolds and McCutchen, who have already established themselves, the other two outfield spots will see some competition. While Jack Suwinski and Canaan Smith-Njigba may crack the opening day roster, players like Travis Swaggerty and Michael Andujar may get some looks throughout the season.
Suwinski played just over 100 games for the Pirates last season and hit 19 HR. However, much like Cruz, Suwinski was plagued by the strike out. Smith-Njigba got injured early last year and was relegated to AAA after. Meanwhile, former first round pick Swaggerty, is looking to make his mark on the league after struggling at the plate the past few seasons in the minors. An extremely strong spring training may make him the first player outfielder the Pirates will call up if players are struggling or injured.
The pitching rotation is looking to build off of improvements from 2022. Mitch Keller, who had a career year last season, is looking to be the team’s Ace. Already named the team’s Opening Day starter, Keller posted a 3.20 ERA from June onward last season. I believe Keller will take another step forward this year and put up All-Star numbers. I know this is a bold prediction, but if he continues to throw like he did towards the tail end of last year, he could be extremely good.
Roansy Contreras is another key part of this rotation, even with his up and down season in 2022. He started off the year extremely strong, but seemed to have lost steam throughout the season. Injured in 2021, Contreras had to slowly work his way back up to a starter in the beginning of 2022 before finally being called up about halfway through. He finished with a 3.79 ERA over 18 starts last season.
This year will be a career defining season for Contreras who needs to stay healthy and continue to improve on his longevity. Otherwise, he may be relegated to the bullpen or long relief in the future.
JT Brubaker, the only other returning starter for the Pirates from 2022, will play a big role in the rotation again. Although inconsistent last year, Brubaker played better than his record suggested at 3-12. His 4.69 ERA was a little inflated, but he will need to lower this year for the Pirates to find success.
The other two projected starters were brought in via free agency: Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez. Rich Hill is the third veteran lefty that the Pirates have signed in the past three years. The other two, Tyler Anderson and Jose Quintana were both flipped for prospects at the trade deadline. It will be interesting to see if this happens yet again with Hill.
The Bullpen seems to be revamped from last year. Many of the pieces that made up the bullpen last year seem to have split ways. All the players who performed still remain: Bednar, Crowe, DeJong, De Los Santos, and Underwood. New additions, Jarlin Garcia and Jose Hernandez, are likely to crack the opening day roster as well. Other players like Angel Perdomo and Cam Alldred have been impressing this spring training and have a chance to round up this unit.
No matter who makes up the bullpen, they need to be better than the relievers last year who posted the second worst ERA in all of baseball. This was a final area of need in which the Buccos tried to address, and I am not convinced that they have succeeded. While they have replaced many players who struggled, I do not know if the replacements are strong enough.
Player to Watch #1: CF Bryan Reynolds
Reynolds is coming off of a “down” season last year where he slashed .262/.345/.461 with an OPS+ of 126. Even though he was still better than the average hitter, in comparison to his 2021 season where he hit for a .302 AVG, .912 OPS, and an OPS+ of 145, last season was a disappointment.
However, his talent is not the only reason why he is #1 on this list. Reynolds had requested a trade over the offseason after he and the team were split on contract extension negotiations. He felt as though he was being undervalued, and the Pirates were not giving him a fair deal.
Despite the fact that he was shopped around, the reported return the Pirates wanted was similar to that of the Juan Soto trade which deterred many teams. With him being under team control until 2025, the Pirates have no reason to trade him now, but Pirates fans are keeping an attentive eye on him.
Player to Watch #2: SS Oneil Cruz
Cruz would have taken the top spot on this list had Reynolds not requested a trade this offseason. Cruz is one of the most exciting players to watch in the sport. A 6’7” shortstop with elite speed, a cannon for an arm, and the ability to destroy baseballs; Who wouldn’t want to watch him!
However, he does struggle making consistent contact with the high strikeout rate, as mentioned earlier. If Cruz reduces his strikeouts this season, his ceiling will be ridiculously high. A 40/40 season could be on the cards for this athletic anomaly.
Player to Watch #3: C Endy Rodriguez
I want to give an honorable mention to Key’Bryan Hayes, but Endy Rodriguez has to occupy this spot. Three years ago, Rodriguez was acquired by the Pirates in a three team trade in return for Joe Musgrove.
It wasn’t until last season that he broke out hitting .323/.407/.590 as he rocketed all the way from Greensboro, Pittsburgh’s A+ affiliate, to AAA Indianapolis. Although he got sent back to AAA to start the season, I would not be surprised to see him called up by the all-star break because of an unstable catching situation.
Position Group to Watch: Rookies
The Pirates have a majority of their young talent currently pooling at AAA and AA. Many of these players are projected to get called up to make their debuts during the 2023 season. Pirates fans may be able to witness players such as Endy Rodriguez, Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales, and Liover Peguero solidify their future on the Pirates later this season.
If any of these players arrive with similar hype surrounding them that Oneil Cruz received, the Pirates may be more interesting to watch than previously thought.
2023 Record Prediction: 74-88
I stand by my point earlier that the roster is better than it was last year, predicting they will win 12 more games than last year. While the optimistic Pirates fan in me could see many scenarios where the Pirates are better than the record shown above, realistically, they could easily do way worse. This team has a lot of young talent; however, due to their inexperience, I have doubts about them winning on a consistent basis.
Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis
Leave a Reply