Looking at ZiPS Projections to See Where the Pirates Should Add in 2023

Last week, Dan Szymborski released his 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates ZiPS projections at FanGraphs.

This is one of my favorite projection systems, and every year I do a team analysis based on the projections. At this point in the offseason, the Pirates have a roster that is far from set.

To get an idea of where this team needs to add, I went through the ZiPS projections, position-by-position, identifying the current projected starters, prospects, and breaking down the many holes on this MLB roster.

CATCHER

Current Projected Starter: Jason Delay (-0.2 WAR, 255 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Endy Rodriguez (2.6 WAR, 520 PA)

Prospects: Endy Rodriguez (2.6), Henry Davis (0.3)

Analysis: Help is on the way behind the plate. Endy Rodriguez will start the 2023 season in Indianapolis, and my expectation is that he will finish the season with the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. ZiPS has him at 2.6 WAR over 520 plate appearances. I doubt he sees that much, unless the Pirates sign him to a very early extension and bring him up immediately. While Rodriguez is advanced, and could probably handle such a jump, the Pirates might be better adding help from the outside.

Roberto Perez is the most common name mentioned, after signing with them last year and missing time with an injury. Perez is projected for a 1.4 WAR over 265 plate appearances. At the moment, Rodriguez is the only catcher on the 40-man roster, and my guess is Jason Delay would be the starter right now. I’d expect the Pirates to add at this position — not just an MLB starter for the beginning of the season, but also some depth, which is always needed behind the plate.

I don’t expect Henry Davis to arrive this year, outside of a late-season callup.

FIRST BASE

Current Projected Starter: Carlos Santana (1.4 WAR, 516 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Carlos Santana (1.4 WAR, 516 PA)

Prospects: Malcom Nunez (0.2), Mason Martin (-0.3)

Analysis: The Pirates got off to an early start with their offseason, adding Carlos Santana as their first baseman. Santana will stabilize a position where the Pirates were the worst team in the majors, giving a huge upgrade over the 100-loss 2022 squad. The Pirates didn’t get an above-average player, as ZiPS only projects a 1.4 WAR over a full season. Considering their circumstances, beggars can’t be choosers. I’m not sure that someone like Jose Abreu on a big three year deal would make sense for this club.

In the minors, Malcom Nunez was added in last summer’s Jose Quintana trade, and would be the top prospect to take over by the end of the season. Nunez will have competition in Triple-A from Mason Martin, who struggled with his strikeouts in 2022. The long-term first baseman might come from another position, with Matt Gorski (0.4 WAR), Jared Triolo (1.0), and Blake Sabol (0.0) all candidates to make the switch. With the exception of Triolo, all of these players are exposed to the Rule 5 draft this week, though first basemen and corner players rarely get selected.

I think the best the Pirates can hope for here is Santana stabilizing the position, helping to lead the club and the infield defense, and one of those prospects emerging by August as a 2023 option.

SECOND BASE

Current Projected Starter: Rodolfo Castro (0.8 WAR, 530 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Nick Gonzales (0.8 WAR, 338 PA)

Prospects: Nick Gonzales (0.8), Ji-Hwan Bae (1.2)

Analysis: The second base position is open heading into the 2023 season, although I think the Pirates have enough internal options that they won’t need to look for help. Rodolfo Castro should have the inside track here, after finishing with a .788 OPS in the majors down the stretch. He should be challenged by Diego Castillo (0.8) and Ji-Hwan Bae (1.2) in the early part of the season. I’ve got Bae in the outfield mix below as well.

Long-term, the Pirates are looking to 2020 first rounder Nick Gonzales (0.8) to stabilize the position. Gonzales has struggled in his brief pro career, and has been derailed by injuries. I wrote last month for Baseball America about how the Pirates were helping Gonzales get his swing on track. I’m actually higher on Gonzales now than I ever was before, even post-draft. The changes he’s made might not bring the future batting champion that was dreamt about in 2020, but they might bring a well-rounded hitter who can be an above-average starter at second.

It would be huge for the Pirates if one of these guys could emerge with that possibility by the end of the year, and my money is on Gonzales. I wrote more about this position today:

Who Wants to Be the Second Baseman For the Pittsburgh Pirates?

SHORTSTOP

Current Projected Starter: Oneil Cruz (2.7 WAR, 536 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Oneil Cruz (2.7 WAR, 536 PA)

Prospects: Liover Peguero (0.3)

Analysis: The Pirates will go with Oneil Cruz at shortstop, and there’s really no backup here after Kevin Newman was traded. They could turn to someone from the second base side, with Diego Castillo being the best bet. Liover Peguero would need to show improvements with his development to become an option. However, this spot is Cruz’s to lose.

I think the Pirates could use some veteran middle infield presence, with strong defense at this position to provide insurance. It will be interesting to see how the defense goes with the removal of defensive shifts and more traditional positioning. Cruz has long limbs and a lot of range, and this might actually give him an advantage that other shortstops won’t have with the restricted positioning.

THIRD BASE

Current Projected Starter: Ke’Bryan Hayes (2.7 WAR, 514 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Ke’Bryan Hayes (2.7 WAR, 514 PA)

Prospects: Jared Triolo (1.0)

Analysis: The Pirates are set here with Ke’Bryan Hayes as a Gold Glove finalist who can hold his own at the plate. I’ll add that my hope with Hayes is that he uses this offseason to figure out how to increase his launch angle. Hayes provides very hard contact, but the launch angle has been consistently in the zone that leads to more ground balls. If he could learn to lift the ball more, he would be an all-around star.

The Pirates have Jared Triolo in the minors, fresh off back-to-back Gold Glove seasons in High-A and Double-A. Triolo had some issues with his timing in early 2022, which I wrote about this month for Baseball America. Once he got those out of the way, he finished looking like a two-way threat. Triolo gives the Pirates a luxury of depth at third, and he’s athletic enough that he could move anywhere on the field. His defense might be wasted at first base, but his bat could play with the timing he had in the second half last year.

LEFT FIELD

Current Projected Starter: Bryan Reynolds (3.5 WAR, 625 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Bryan Reynolds (3.5 WAR, 625 PA)

Prospects: Blake Sabol (0.0), Matt Fraizer (-0.3)

Analysis: There are a lot of disclaimers that you could include with Bryan Reynolds right now. The one I’m going to use is that I have him in left field for this process, due to the Pirates moving him off the position for Ji-Hwan Bae at the end of the 2022 season. I would like to see an outfielder brought in, moving Bae to the bench as a super utility guy, which boosts the depth.

If the Pirates do trade Reynolds, things will get interesting. They don’t really have an impact outfielder waiting in the minors, and it’s difficult to see how such a move wouldn’t set them back and leave a big hole in their lineup.

CENTER FIELD

Current Projected Starter: Ji-Hwan Bae (1.3 WAR, 473 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Ji-Hwan Bae (1.3 WAR, 473 PA)

Prospects: Travis Swaggerty (1.3), Matt Gorski (0.4)

Analysis: Again, the disclaimer above. I don’t think Ji-Hwan Bae ends up the starter all season, and if he gets 473 plate appearances, I think they would be picked up across multiple positions. I think this is a priority area to add, regardless of whether the Pirates keep Reynolds.

This is also where the best prospects are located. Travis Swaggerty (1.3) is rated the highest on ZiPS, although I think Matt Gorski (0.4) ends up having the best long-term impact of the prospect group. He profiles as a three-outcomes hitter with power, speed, and solid defense in center.

The Pirates would benefit by adding someone, moving Bae to the bench, and letting the prospects develop at their pace.

RIGHT FIELD

Current Projected Starter: Jack Suwinski (1.0 WAR, 549 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Jack Suwinski (1.0 WAR, 549 PA)

Prospects: Cal Mitchell (0.5), Canaan Smith-Njigba (0.1)

Analysis: I think that Jack Suwinski will end up starting at one of the corner spots for the bulk of the season. I have that as right field under the current scenario, but could see him in left if Reynolds is traded. This time last year, Suwinski wasn’t on anyone’s radar to make the 2022 impact he did. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about all of the other outfield prospects mentioned here.

I’ll also use this spot to highlight Tucupita Marcano (-0.5), who doesn’t get good ratings from ZiPS, but will probably factor into the outfield mix, and was showing promise at times in 2022. I also think that Miguel Andujar (-0.1) is the most likely guy to move into a starter role if Reynolds is moved.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Current Projected Starter: Ji-Man Choi (0.9 WAR, 396 PA)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: Ji-Man Choi (0.9 WAR, 396 PA)

Prospects: Cal Mitchell (0.5), Mason Martin (-0.3)

Analysis: Just as Santana will stabilize the first base position, the Pirates added Ji-Man Choi to give the lineup a boost from another veteran bat. I would expect Choi to play some time at first base, and Santana to spend some time as the designated hitter.

The Pirates could put any of their prospects at this position, though with holes elsewhere on the field, they might want to address a defensive spot before locking down the designated hitter role. I highlighted Mitchell and Martin as guys who could have an easier path to the majors by focusing only on their hitting in Triple-A.

STARTING ROTATION

Current Projected Starters: 

Mitch Keller (1.5 WAR, 140 IP)

Roansy Contreras (1.7, 122.3)

JT Brubaker (1.2, 121.3)

Johan Oviedo (1.1, 113)

Luis Ortiz (1.0, 111.3)

Prospects: Quinn Priester (1.1), Mike Burrows (1.3)

Analysis: The first three starters above are locked in. The Pirates could actually have a solid rotation if they add two starters to the trio of Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, and JT Brubaker. That would allow younger pitchers like Johan Oviedo and Luis Ortiz to develop in the minors, and to be used as depth. I don’t actually think either pitcher starts the year in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates will get a boost from the minors in their rotation. Aside from Oviedo and Ortiz, they have two of their top pitching prospects in the system in the upper levels — Quinn Priester (1.1) and Mike Burrows (1.3). I would expect Burrows to arrive first, although he will have competition from Ortiz and Oviedo. By the end of the season, this group of pitching prospects should join that trio in the majors to provide a good core for the rotation.

CLOSER

Current Projected Closer: David Bednar (1.3 WAR, 58.3 IP)

Projected Bulk of 2023 Playing Time: David Bednar (1.3 WAR, 58.3 IP)

Analysis: I’m including this section to say that the Pirates would greatly benefit from adding another leverage reliever, sparing David Bednar’s arm from time to time. Their bullpen has some ZiPS standouts in Robert Stephenson (0.5), Yerry De Los Santos (0.3), and Duane Underwood Jr. (0.3). The Pirates also added Colin Holderman (0.1) and Dauri Moreta (0.1) in trades over the last six months. This could be a solid middle relief group if they add a late-inning guy to the mix.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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PirateRican21

I’m looking at my crystal ball and see Bae winning the 2b job and Swaggerty the CF spot coming out of ST. Gorski will be gone today, picked by either the Reds or Tigers……Reynolds traded to Tampa for Bradley, Paredes and Manzardo, unfortunately for Reynolds he will regress and spend a large amount of time on the DL while Bradley becomes a true ace and Paredes becomes a perennial 30 homerun 4+ WAR contributor and Mazardo and Nunez solidified the 1b position starting mid season….

BuccoinTN

Not sure where/why we should be looking for a veteran Middle Infielder. We just got rid of Newman to create some space. We have Cruz, Castro, Castillo, Bae (if CF does not pan out), and Marcano with Peguero and Gonzales knocking on the door. Just say no to a veteran MI who will just steal a valuable roster spot. We suffered through this last year with VanMeter, no need to do it again.

steve_zielinski

Some fans lack trust in the prospects.

leefieux

Choi and Mitchell splitting DH? Who bats vs LHPs?

Born4rf

I disagree on the starting pitching. Oviedo is as ready is he is going to be to sink or swim in the rotation. I do not want us bringing in another Quintana. By that I mean a veteran lottery ticket who has no better shot at success then Bryce Wilson, ( Kyle Gibson is a worse bet. IMHO) who is still young with a lot of years of control. Burroughs and or Priester will be ready by the All-Star break.

Same at both IF spots, it’s Castros job to loose with lots of semi-experienced backup.

Last edited 1 month ago by Born4rf
ArkyWags

Depending just on that above fivesome is folly.

Wabbit_Season

You need, like, 11 starters per season, right?

We’re up to, like, 8. Maybe a swing man or two from the bullpen and we might be ok.

Still need that 8th inning power arm.

This article gives me hope about the season because the Bucs seem more solid all around the diamond going into this season. The pieces are laying around all over the place. Just need playing time to settle themselves out.

I think a legit CF would be a good addition at this point and I’d be willing to see how things go (if we keep Reynolds) because I think our top group matures this season.

Not enough to get us over the hump, but at least there IS a hump.

“Elvis! Stop scarin’ the baby!”
-Wabbit

jeffw3000

The difference is, at least with Quintana he had some past success. He is like Liriano, where you hope he can regain that past success, and did. In the case of Velasquez, he has never had that much success.

Born4rf

They did it to spite me!

PirateRican21

So now we know who to blame!

AdministrativeSky236

Hey Tim! Im thinking SS maybe got left out of this article on the transfer to publication! I dunno if that was planned or not, but figured I would give you a heads up. Great read as always

joebaseball

Ready for your annual ZIPs projected wins for the Bucs

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