This may sound redundant to some of the articles you have been reading lately, but the Pittsburgh Pirates roster is slowly getting better. The calendar is about to flip to 2023, and the Pirates have mostly filled their area of needs.
That isn’t to say that they couldn’t stand to add in a couple more spots. There haven’t been any eye-popping moves up to this point, but the floor of the roster is creeping upwards.
At this juncture, the best chance of “wow” factor is going to come from internal development. I do believe there is an emphasis of bringing in various veterans from different backgrounds. This mimics a lot of what the Pirates have brought in, in terms of their minor league depth.
For what it’s worth, a lot of the recent players designated by the Pirates and then subsequently claimed, have then been designated again by the claiming club.
A strong defensive catcher mostly speaks for itself. Austin Hedges is closing in on 5,000 innings caught at the big league level. 2022 saw him as the battery mate for 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, and for a young up-and-coming power arm in Triston McKenzie. Hedges caught 28 of Bieber’s 31 starts, and 13 of McKenzie’s 32 starts. Hedges had largely been Cal Quantrill’s primary catcher, even going back to their days together in the San Diego Padres organization. Both were packaged together in 2020 along with Josh Naylor for Mike Clevinger.
What I also believe is that they’re focusing on bringing in a level of “veteranosity” that is looking to help their prospects assimilate to MLB in a more peaceful transition. I have seen a handful of callbacks to the late season antics of Rodolfo Castro, but I believe they want the personality of the players to exist while staying focused.
I would personally like to see the Pirates show some more personality on and off the field. This can be seen with the acquisition of Miguel Andujar dressing like a Pirate, or Carlos Santana dancing just before being introduced.
It is a game in the end, and I feel there is nothing wrong with players enjoying themselves. Playing loose.
In recent years with players like Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds, or Colin Moran, if they showed a wry smile it felt as, “WOW! They must be ecstatic right now!”
If you’ve seen clips from winter leagues or from college games, it can sometimes feel like a completely different game.
The Pirates will see an influx of international talent in the upcoming season. With pitchers like Johan Oviedo and Luis Ortiz already having made their debuts, along with position players Ji-Hwan Bae and Liover Peguero each getting a cup of coffee.
One of the most fun and exciting players to watch is sky rocketing catching prospect Endy Rodriguez. If you saw Bae’s post-game interview, he isn’t camera shy. So I do feel there is a sense of bringing in “Do things the right way”, while also staying loose. Rich Hill even once imitated Kip from Napoleon Dynamite while reading out the Chicago Cubs lineup.
Bringing it back to the floor of the roster, I think that Pirates fans may still often misdirect their anger in what exactly is considered a competent big leaguer. Sure, Hill is considered “old”, but he’s been very consistent at being worth roughly 2 WAR year-by-year. He isn’t Justin Verlander — who is closing in on 40 — by any means, but Hill has been around long enough to have seen it all. He’s going to have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to Pirates pitchers. Just take this quote from a LA Times article in September of 2020:
To combat a pesky blister that sent him to the injured list twice in the last month, Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler sought the advice of an expert, Minnesota left-hander and former teammate Rich Hill, whose 3½ years in Los Angeles (2016-2019) were marred by blisters on his pitching fingers.
Hill, 40, would do anything to speed the healing process — he tried laser therapy, drinking apple cider and vinegar, and urinating on his hand to harden the skin.
Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker both took steps forward last year with each posting near 2 WAR seasons. Keller inched out Brubaker 2.1 fWAR to 1.9 fWAR, with 15 more innings pitched. Both had FIP’s and xFIP’s under four. Hill could provide strong guidance in helping each of them further grow within the rotation.
The Pirates had six pitchers — including Jose Quintana — make 137 of their 162 starts last season. Chances are that this was an anomaly, as the Pirates should have more depth now in the event they want to supplant a struggling starter with someone from Triple-A.
Roansy Contreras will likely begin in the Opening Day rotation, with young starters Oviedo and Ortiz ready to step in early in the season, when needed. Then there are arms like Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows that could be ready by mid-season.
It’s fair to say that there are still plenty of question marks heading into the season, but I think it’s also fair to say that things are beginning to take shape for the Pirates heading into 2023.
Raised in Cranberry Twp, PA, Jeff attended Kent State University and worked in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, before moving to New Orleans in September of 2012. His background is as an Engineering Designer, but he has always had a near unhealthy passion for Pittsburgh sports. Hockey and Baseball are his 1A and 1B, combined with his mathematical background, it's led to Jeff's desire in diving into analytics. Jeff is known as Bucs'N'Pucks in the comments, and began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2022 after contributing so many useful bits of information in the comment section.