Spring Training games have been going on for a little over a week. That’s not enough time to get a strong opinion of what will happen this season. However, it has provided our first look at potential members of the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates.
With the disclaimer that we’re dealing with small sample sizes, I wanted to see who was standing out to everyone in the early days of camp.
Which player has stood out to you early in Spring Training?
JOHN DREKER: Carmen Mlodzinski
My early intriguing player is Carmen Mlodzinski, who has thrown four no-hit innings over three appearances early this spring. His second appearance was very impressive considering that he pitched the fourth/fifth innings on the road against many of the Orioles regulars, so he hasn’t just been facing minor leaguers late in the game.
I was never really impressed with his stuff in the past, especially when factoring in his high draft status, but I thought he could possibly excel as a relief pitcher. I saw a delivery that was high effort and not easily repeatable, which led to spotty control/command at times. I saw inconsistent pitches, with velocity that looked better/worse at times. Without drastically changing his delivery, it seemed like his future would be in the bullpen.
These three spring outings have looked good, with the results speaking for themselves. I don’t think the Pirates will/should move him out of the rotation at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he excelled in a relief role in the future. He seems to have the mentality and approach to just let it all go full speed in shorter outings, while only relying on his best pitches.
ETHAN HULLIHEN: Jack Suwinski
With at least three of us actually physically being at Spring Training–something I’ve always wanted to do by the way, but I have no idea at what point in my life I’ll actually be able to–and the other two actually watching or listening, do I find it disingenuous for me to answer this question? Absolutely! But, here we go anyway.
Have I watched or listened to the games thus far? Hardly, but I have been following along on Twitter and various media outlets, as I do, so I definitely have an idea of what’s going on. But did I just open the stats page to answer this question? Yes!
Of course, a few Spring Training games where results don’t matter and what we have to go off at this point being the epitome of small sample size theater, I will simply point something out that stood out to me as I was perusing the stats.
In 15 plate appearances, Jack Suwinski has struck out 7 times (46.7 K%), but has managed a slash of .308/.400/.462. That’s propped up by 2 walks and 2 doubles out of 4 hits, but no home runs, something Suwinski specialized in last season–when he wasn’t striking out.
Suwinski had a 30.6 K% last season, so that is definitely something to watch this spring, especially as he is implementing a different, more upright and open batting stance. With the outfield competition being what it is right now–crowded, to say the least–it’s hard to say if Suwinski is guaranteed a starting spot right now–or maybe even an active roster spot. The fact that he’s apparently in play in centerfield over Bryan Reynolds is another interesting story to watch, but he absolutely has to get his strikeouts in check if he’s going to find success this season.
WILBUR MILLER: JT Brubaker
Brubaker has always seemed close to something . . . well, not necessarily “big,” but good, anyway. It’s easy to see that reflected in his xFIPs, which have always been much better than his ERAs: 3.96 vs. 4.99 for his career. His velocity is fine and his slider should be a plus pitch. He clearly can miss bats, as he’s averaged over a strikeout an inning in all three major league seasons. But something always gets in the way. In 2021, it was a disastrous gopher ball problem. In 2022, he cut that in half, but he got done in by terrible first and last months, when he had a combined 6.51 ERA. So while he’s been a solid fifth starter, it seems like he could be something more.
This spring he could be moving toward some solutions. I’ve seen both of his starts (through March 8) and the overall results have been good: five innings, two runs, a 1.00 WHIP, and nine strikeouts. In his first start, he went heavily with sinkers for the first five hitters, didn’t have good control, and got hit around, including a two-run home run. After that, he started going much more heavily with his secondary stuff, especially the slider. He started getting ahead in the count and straightened things out. In fact, he fanned the last five hitters he faced.
Brubaker’s second start followed the same pattern, except he cut to the good part much more quickly. He started the first hitter with three straight sinkers, fell behind 2-0, and gave up a single. He then started mixing it up and retired nine straight.
It’s an awfully small sample size and could be nothing more than statistical noise, but hopefully it illustrates where Brubaker is headed. It looked to me as though, after he started throwing the secondary pitches more, and especially when he was ahead in the count, the hitters weren’t geared up for the sinker and either watched it go for strikes or swung through it. So it’s possible Brubaker is finding the right strategies.
ANTHONY MURPHY: Travis Swaggerty
This was actually harder than I thought it would be, because really reflecting back on it, there aren’t that many players that are truly standing out above the rest right now. That could be part it’s still early in spring, but also it is the fact the Pirates have struggled in general so far.
I’ve written about Carmen Mlodzinski, and talked about him a lot on Twitter, and while he’s certainly impressed, I think if there’s a player who is truly doing the most out there, it’s Travis Swaggerty.
It looks like the Pirates aren’t trying to hide the fact they may be considering moving Bryan Reynolds over to left field this season, with him spending the majority of his playing time there. That means there is an open spot in center.
While no one has really grabbed it and ran with it, Swaggerty might have done the most to stake his claim early on — on both sides of the ball. He’s made several great catches, and an incredible throw to get a runner out at home, and he picked up a couple of hits, including a home run, in just 10 at-bats.
There have been others that have made some flashes, including Jared Jones in his last outing before being reassigned, even Chavez Young, but overall Swaggerty has done the most even with limited playing time.
JEFF REED: Travis Swaggerty
This is a difficult decision, being that we’re still very early into spring training. For the most part, I feel we have seen mostly what is expected of players. It’s funny that I mentioned in the comments of my Build Up For The Season article, that we shouldn’t be alarmed if Bryan Reynolds opens up 1-for-10, and he’s subsequently gone 1-for-12.
Jack Suwinski opening up in center field was an interesting development, but Reynolds has since recently found himself beginning to get time in center, while Suwinski has continued to show some swing-and-miss concerns.
Angel Perdomo and Rob Zastryzny were both actually piquing my interest, even before Jarlin Garcia went down with injury. Perdomo was sitting mostly mid-90’s, but seemed to have a good feel for the zone and attacking hitters at the top with his fastball.
Anthony Murphy’s Early Observations article touches on a handful of developments, and I think it’s mostly items to watch over the next couple weeks. It could be reading into it too much, but the addition of Mark Mathias itself is an interesting development, as he’s a utility right-hander. Is this the front office signaling they aren’t necessarily too happy with some of the other right-handed bodies they have brought in recently? Is it because they feel Ji-Hwan Bae isn’t ready at the moment, as Tim Williams questions in the article?
With all that being said, I feel I have to stick with a player that I have been throwing my weight behind quite a bit lately: Travis Swaggerty.
Most have seen the double-play he was a part of, gunning down a runner at home plate. He has made a few other impressive plays, mostly by tracking down flyballs with ease. All while going 3-for-10 at the plate, including an impressive homerun that he squared up on the road and we had to wait for the video. He has struck out only two times in 11 plate appearances, with one walk. It isn’t much – being only 11 plate appearances – but it is along the lines of what I would personally expect for Swaggerty. Maybe not a .300 hitter, but a player that excels defensively while also providing more offense than most fans expect from the former first-round pick.
TIM WILLIAMS: Travis Swaggerty
I don’t want to make much of a small sample size, but it’s good to see strong results from Travis Swaggerty in any capacity. He’s always excelled defensively in center, but his bat has been limited, in part due to time missed from injuries. It’s only ten at-bats as I write this, but he’s off to a good start at the plate, and showing his skills defensively.
The Pirates need outfielders to step up in Pittsburgh this year. This is where I’ll point out that the adjustments from Jack Suwinski, and his similar small sample size start is equally encouraging. It would be a great result for the long-term of this team if Suwinski can emerge as more than an average starter.
Suwinski has already been productive in the majors, so just returning to that level will be good for the team. Swaggerty’s emergence could at least provide a third outfielder to give average or better value. He also could be the best defensive option of the current outfield options, which would be an upgrade over Reynolds and Suwinski.
It’s great seeing both outfielders off to good starts in the first week. Considering what it would mean to have a strong defensive center fielder who can hit, I think Swaggerty’s early results are the most encouraging thing from camp.
Nick Gonzales has an OPS north of 1000 at the moment
That’s because the Pirates fielding during his time has been trash. Frankly, a smart MLB team would swoop in with a light offer on Bru and see if the Pirates are dumb enough to bite.
After todays game, the fact that no one picked Endy shows that we just expect this from him already. I’m going to enjoy the last couple of months of him in the minors before he’s in Pittsburgh and playing amazing
Endy’s reaction when I was getting his auto and said, “You should open up in Pittsburgh”
Swaggerty gets far more support here than from the FO. He has the fewest PAs of any of the OFs this spring. Speaks volumes when you consider that that includes Vilade and Young.
That was an overall bad performance from Vilade today. If he’s getting more playing time than Swaggerty then he’s just never going to get a legit shot with this organization and that’s a shame
The next roundtable: Most disappointing player thusfar in ST, it would be Vilade for me. BC mysteriously kept him on the 40 all winter while cutting other decent useful players, leading some (me) to believe he had some skills. He’s shown nothing, nadda.
IDK, perhaps the FO knows what to expect from TSWAG and want to see Vilade and Young before making decisions? Remember, TSwags family had a health scare last year (if I recall correctly) and they may have kept him in Indy to be closer to home.
I watched the highlight and, if I understand the play, what was most interesting to me was that Swaggerty had an easy double play set up by throwing to 1B but that probably would have allowed the run to count. I’ve wondered if his decision to go home was intentional (which would have been brilliant) or reflex.
The surprise for me is a team in the 4th year of rebuild is hitting .190 or so, and playing around .350 baseball. I still don’t see this team will be able to score runs and if their starting pitching goes south could be yet another 100 lose season.
Appreciate the feedback but I am not sure how to take Ethan’s response. Is Suwinski standing out in a good or bad way? 7 K’s in 15 AB’s gives me bad flashbacks to his deserved demotion last year, however his continuing to get extra bases (2 doubles) and walking some is a good thing. I think his D will always be at least solid.
I’ve stated several times I feel Jack just has to look decent or even a tad worse to deserve to be on the roster given his power production last year. But I am also on record at saying if he looks like mid-season Jack, then a stint at AAA would actually be beneficial as that version of Jack looked lost.
As I stated, I haven’t actually watched anyone, which I think is more important in a setting like ST, where stats mean little to nothing, while new swings, physiques, and pitch grips are more important than results.
So, I was trying to remember things I’ve seen/heard while looking through the stats, seeing if anything would spark my memory. I knew I had heard Suwinski was striking out a lot, so it “stood out” to me when I saw his slash line still was what it was.
Of course, it means literally nothing when it’s 15 AB’s, but, pointing out that he struck out in nearly half of his ABs thus far seemed reasonable, especially considering the swing change. (edit–is it more appropriate to say “stance change”?)
So, probably more negative than positive, but it was kind of a mix of both.
Thank you Ethan. I kind of took it that way but also realize strikeouts will likely always be part of his profile. I really hope he can adjust without giving up his power. I still am the counter to those who consistently list Jack as an almost ‘guarantee’ for the opening day roster. His track record deserves the inside track, I just am struggling more than most IMO getting that summer slump out of my brain. He came straight from AA to the majors so I don’t see it as that bad of a thing if he needs time in AAA to continue to develop (ie. test out his new stance).
This is a tough one, as most would agree it’s been a collective disappointment on many fronts as far as player performance so far. The collective struggle offensively has been especially concerning, as the offense on paper looks like it should be above average. Makes me wonder what Shelton & Haines are preaching bc even the veterans are really struggling.
However, the last 2 years, the bucs have looked really good in ST, i think with winning records, yet once the season got going production was much different. So who knows.
While Swaggerty isn’t Kiermaier or Buxton in CF he’s at least Marte level. If his bat (and stolen base penchant) could become anything close to Marte that’d be awesome.
He’s an old prospect like Reynolds was. We’ll control his prime if he’s good
My vote easily goes to Keller. He just looks ready to destroy the competition this year. Great composure. Great command. Really good stuff.
As long as he stays healthy, he will be an All-Star quality SP for our Buccos this year.
From a team standpoint, we needed Mitch Keller to validate the improvements he made last year and he has. He’s the leader of the Rotation.
I like Swagg’s returning his name to the upper level of prospects, and Mlodzinski has been looking like a breakout candidate, but no love for Oneil Cruz? 16 AB with one HR, but that is also equal to the number of times he has struck out – once. He looks like he is maturing into the type of guy the Pirates would want to extend.
Preaching to the choir. I’d take all the money earmarked for Reynolds and send it Cruz’s way. Way better player when it’s all said and done.
The Pirates had a good record of extending IFA’s who showed promise (Marte, Polanco, Vazquez). Then a lot of years where none of the IFA’s were worth the effort.
Right now, though, the Pirates have a lot of IFA’s at the upper levels and in MLB. IMO, Cruz and Endy Rod would both be prime targets to at least try to get an extra 2 years of control. On the pitching side, Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz.
This. I can’t believe there hasn’t been a story anywhere about his lack of Ks.
Mine would be swaggerty too. I am really impressed with the defense and he has looked good at the plate. I also agree Mlodinski looks good and maybe could help the bullpen this year. I’m hoping bae starts to hit as I had high hopes for him this year.
Two hits today.
I’m in the Swaggerty crowd, too. Or maybe it is wishful thinking? His glove plays and I really think they need to give his bat 3 -4 months to see if it plays. He may end up being the Ke’Bryan Hayes of the OF, but, at least we’ll have above average defense out there.
Reynolds, Jack and Cutch IS NOT a good OF overall. Reynolds, Swaggerty and Jack IS.
I certainly like an everyday OF with TSwag manning CF much more than one with Cutch playing RF. At least from a defensive perspective. Maybe offensively, too?
Ya but it’s not just a Swaggerty for Cutch trade off, bc if they bump Cutch to DH, then either Santana or Choi sits. Defensively, you’re right, it’d be way stronger, but at what cost & how many more plays does Suwinski make over Cutch? Personally, I think it’s Suwinski OR Swagerty, bc IMO the best lineup (as of now) includes Cutch, Santana, & Choi. I’d like to get Joe in there as well.
I agree. I thought that maybe I should’ve clarified that part, but offensively and defensively may be right.