The Pittsburgh Pirates are 33-29, in first place in the NL Central, and the magical “Super Two deadline” is passing. Their prospects in the farm system could all start to arrive and help the big league club. Rather than a mass influx, it’s likely that most of the prospects will be used as depth for the remainder of the year.
The Pirates have been held up by their depth this year. That’s especially true with the starting rotation, where three pitchers have gone down for the year, and their depth is holding on by a stitch. Even in that situation, they’ve got a top prospect ready to make the jump to Pittsburgh.
Having a winning season into June is impressive. It can be more difficult to accomplish this for the final three months of the season. Today, I’m taking a look at the Pirates’ depth by position, to see what they’ve got left for the remainder of the 2023 season.
Team WAR: 1.1 (12th)
Starter: Austin Hedges (.179/.241/.226, 122 PA, 0.2 WAR)
Backup: Jason Delay (.301/.366/.425, 84 PA, 0.9 WAR)
Indianapolis: Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis are both at the highest level of the minors, though it’s only been four games. In the first game, Davis played behind the plate, while Rodriguez moved to first base. In the three games since, Rodriguez has been the catcher, with Davis in right field. Davis moved behind the plate during the game on Thursday. It’s possible that both players could be used as depth behind the plate this year, while having Hedges and/or Delay on the MLB roster.
Altoona: After the promotion of Davis, Altoona now has Abrahan Gutierrez behind the plate. He’s not an MLB depth option, but he’s got the defense and power at the plate to be another future MLB option.
Analysis: The Pirates love the defense and the leadership from Hedges. He’s caught five of seven games this month. Delay’s offense has been a surprise, but it comes with a BABIP of .396. Even with regression, you could make the argument that Delay is a better all-around catcher than Hedges, outside of the intangibles. I’d expect the Pirates to keep Hedges in the majors if they move Rodriguez and/or Davis to the big leagues. Until then, we should get a preview of how that catching combo will work.
Team WAR: 1.3 (10th)
Starter: Carlos Santana (.230/.325/.365, 231 PA, 0.3 WAR)
Backup: Connor Joe (.251/.347/.474, 196 PA, 1.3 WAR)
Indianapolis: Malcom Nunez entered the year as the top depth option, but has a .707 OPS on the year, and is currently on the IL with a shoulder issue. Aaron Shackelford has been hitting well, rocking an .874 OPS and eight homers on the year. Nunez was actually trending up with the bat prior to the injury, and Shackelford has struggled a bit since the injury. As far as MLB depth goes, these guys would be emergency in the event that Santana or someone else goes down with an injury. At this point, it looks like the Pirates are setting up Endy Rodriguez for a split role between catcher and first base. Rodriguez has caught almost exclusively this year, outside of three games at first base. The first one came on April 8th. The second was on June 1st, right before the Davis promotion. And, as noted above, Rodriguez played first when Davis was behind the plate.
Altoona: Mason Martin is in the same tier as Shackelford and Nunez. He could reach the majors as a depth option if there’s an injury. At this stage in the year, Rodriguez would likely be the call.
Analysis: The Pirates had a plan to give Ji-Man Choi some time at first base, reducing the workload from Carlos Santana. Choi went down early in the season with a left achillies strain. He should be on pace to return this month. The return of Choi and the eventual promotion of Rodriguez could help reduce the workload from Santana, while letting Joe spend more time in the outfield. I don’t think the Pirates intended for Santana to play this much first base. I think his numbers could improve once he gets more regular breaks from daily defensive work.
Team WAR: 0.9 (17th)
Starter: Rodolfo Castro (.268/.360/.436, 172 PA, 0.3 WAR)
Backup: Ji-Hwan Bae (.277/.335/.361, 185 PA, 0.5 WAR)
Indianapolis: Nick Gonzales has a .793 OPS on the year in Triple-A, and his numbers have been steadily rising as the season goes on. If either Bae or Castro go down, Gonzales could be in line for his shot at the big leagues.
Altoona: I think that Gonzales is ahead of Liover Peguero, but don’t sleep on Peguero. The 22-year-old infielder has routinely been playing back-to-back days at second base, where he’s getting used to the different angles and throws. His bat is also picking up, with an .880 OPS over the last month.
Analysis: This is an area where the Pirates could be improved by their depth in the minors, even without an injury. Castro and Bae are working in a platoon situation, with Mark Mathias added to that mix. Gonzales profiles as a future regular. The question is whether Gonzales can be a regular in the second half of 2023? I don’t think the Pirates need to make that move, but they’ve got it available if Gonzales continues to hit and if one of the second base options struggle.
Team WAR: 0.9 (16th)
Starter: Tucupita Marcano (.267/.320/.457, 128 PA, 0.5 WAR)
Backup: Rodolfo Castro (.268/.360/.436, 172 PA, 0.3 WAR)
Indianapolis: The Pirates just added Alika Williams in a trade for Robert Stephenson last week, giving them essentially a younger version of Chris Owings. They also retained Owings when he cleared waivers. Indianapolis provides them with defensive middle infielders, but no starters.
Altoona: This is where Liover Peguero could have a better shot at the big leagues. Shortstop is his more natural position, and the Pirates have two months until Oneil Cruz is set to return.
Analysis: Oneil Cruz will be the biggest boost to this entire team when he returns. Until then, Tucupita Marcano has been an outstanding replacement. I don’t think the Pirates can upgrade over what Marcano is doing lately. They have Williams and Owings for depth, or Peguero if they want an exciting replacement in the event Marcano goes down.
Team WAR: 1.5 (10th)
Starter: Ke’Bryan Hayes (.266/.309/.425, 249 PA, 1.4 WAR)
Indianapolis: Jared Triolo has Gold Glove defense at third base, winning the award in two different leagues over the last two seasons. He’s got the offensive upside to play at first base if the Pirates needed another option. He can technically play all over the field, including shortstop and center field. If the Pirates ever see Hayes go down, they’ve got a great replacement in Triolo.
Altoona: Drew Maggi is the only backup that Hayes has seen this year.
Analysis: Ke’Bryan Hayes has some of the best defense in the majors at third base. Lately, he’s starting to show improvements with his hitting, after making a toe-tap adjustment. The Pirates have one of the game’s best all-around third basemen coming into his own during his age 26 season. Behind him, they’ve got a guy who profiles just like him, with the ability to contribute on both sides of the ball.
Team WAR: 2.0 (12th)
Starter: Jack Suwinski (.242/.354/.509, 198 PA, 1.5 WAR)
Backup: Ji-Hwan Bae (.277/.335/.361, 185 PA, 0.5 WAR)
Indianapolis: Travis Swaggerty could give the Pirates a defensive upgrade, but his bat isn’t ready for the majors. This is one of those cases where baseball is put into perspective. Swaggerty’s wife has been dealing with a rare blood disease, so you can imagine he’s got a lot going on, beyond work.
Altoona: Matt Gorski has been making some adjustments to his game at the plate, and his offense has picked up since the start of May. Gorski has the defense to play center, and could make a similar move as Suwinski in skipping over Triple-A if the Pirates need someone.
Analysis: Suwinski and Bae are passable in center field, but the Pirates really lack a long-term option here. They can go with either player if the other goes down. They have Swaggerty and Gorski as options in the minors, though neither one is as ready as someone like Endy Rodriguez at catcher or even Nick Gonzales at second to where they might provide an upgrade over the current situation.
Team WAR: 1.3 (11th)
Starter: Bryan Reynolds (.278/.342/.471, 257 PA, 1.3 WAR)
Indianapolis: Cal Mitchell has a .794 OPS in Triple-A, with his bat picking up after the start of May. He’s split time between both corner outfield spots, and is in his age 24 season.
Altoona: Gorski would probably be the top outfield candidate to reach the majors from Altoona this year.
Analysis: Bryan Reynolds is like Ke’Bryan Hayes in that he’s one of the pillars of the entire team. Reynolds starts almost every game in left, after yielding center field to Suwinski. If Reynolds goes down, it would be harder to replace him than Hayes, as the Pirates don’t have the luxury replacement in the outfield that they have with Triolo at third base. Though, technically, Triolo could play anywhere in the outfield as well.
Team WAR: 2.4 (6th)
Starter: Connor Joe (.251/.347/.474, 196 PA, 1.3 WAR)
Backup: Josh Palacios (.268/.333/.415, 45 PA, 0.3 WAR)
Indianapolis: This is the position where Mitchell is more likely to contribute this year.
Altoona: Again, Gorski would be the top option, though I think he’s always behind Mitchell on the depth charts.
Analysis: The Pirates have been getting great results from Connor Joe this year, whose playing time has been shared with first base. If the Pirates bring up Endy Rodriguez to spend some time at first, they could keep Joe in right field more often. In seven games this month, Josh Palacios has started four games in right and Mark Mathias has started one. Palacios has been hitting well during this stretch. Joe made two starts in right, one in left, and one at first. He closed out the end of May with four of five games started at first base. The boost in depth here will be from first base getting a boost.
Team WAR: 4.2 (17th)
Mitch Keller (3.60 ERA, 80 IP, 1.8 WAR)
Rich Hill (4.23 ERA, 72.1 IP, 0.7 WAR)
Roansy Contreras (6.13 ERA, 54.1 IP, 0.3 WAR)
Johan Oviedo (4.29 ERA, 65 IP, 0.8 WAR)
Luis Ortiz (4.37 ERA, 22.2 IP, -0.2 WAR)
Indianapolis: Quinn Priester could provide the biggest impact to the rotation the rest of the season. With Roansy Contreras struggling, and Priester on the same pitching schedule, that could be a move the Pirates could turn to soon.
Altoona: Going for a darkhorse candidate, Jared Jones has the stuff to be a Major League starter. He’s also showing better command of his stuff, with great results in Altoona that were detailed recently by Anthony Murphy.
Analysis: The Pirates have already been hammered by depth issues, with season-ending injuries to JT Brubaker, Vince Velasquez, and prospect Mike Burrows. The top of their rotation is an emerging Mitch Keller, a 43-year-old innings eating Rich Hill, and Contreras, who has been getting hit around for a month. Priester might be an upgrade over the final two guys in the rotation, but the Pirates are nearly depleted in depth after him. This is an area where they could use a trade for outside help to boost the overall group.
Team WAR: 1.8 (16th)
Closer: David Bednar (1.85 ERA, 34.1 IP, 1.2 WAR)
Leverage Guy: Dauri Moreta (1.61 ERA, 28 IP, 0.5 WAR)
Indianapolis: Cody Bolton, Yerry De Los Santos, and Duane Underwood Jr. have all spent time in the big leagues this year. Carmen Mlodzinski is a guy to watch to join that depth tier later in the season.
Altoona: It would be difficult imagining a reliever reaching the majors from this level, but if we’re hoping for anything, I’d hope Matt Eckleman’s knuckleball reaches the big leagues.
Analysis: Heading into the season, I felt the Pirates had a need to bring in a veteran to back up Bednar. We’re starting to see the downside of not having that big second option. Dauri Moreta is quickly emerging as a complement to Bednar, but he’s also giving the Pirates an advantage of a middle innings fireman. What the team could use is an option to put Colin Holderman in the seventh inning role, and to spell Bednar in the ninth when he’s been used too often.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.