It’s obviously hard to be too optimistic about a 100-loss season, but I do think there were some potentially promising developments.
The Pittsburgh Pirates look to have a the beginning of a dependable rotation, with the biggest storyline being the turnaround from Mitch Keller.
Coming into the season, and even through the first couple months, Keller looked like he was just never going to fully live up to his hype. After some mechanical adjustments in the offseason he was topping out at upper 90’s once again, even touching 100. Unfortunately his control was still erratic and he was far too hittable. Around mid-May is when the new and improved Sinker-Mitch showed up. Following two appearances out of the bullpen, Keller started throwing his sinker more often on May 31st and never looked back.
From May 31st to the end of the season, Keller made 22 starts to the tune of a 3.22 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 3.82 xFIP. Those are very quality numbers and what you’d love to see from a mid-rotation starter.
Another pitcher that looks as if he should have a rotation spot locked up is JT Brubaker. After a difficult start to the year, Brubaker himself saw a nice turnaround in May. Going from Brubaker’s May 7th start through the end of the season, he carried a 4.44 ERA, but that came with a 3.78 FIP and 3.70 xFIP. The contrast in numbers could partially be attributed to Brubaker generally not having the best defense behind him. He added about 20 innings — 124.1 IP in 2021 to 144.0 IP in 2022 — that hopefully will help him be more durable in 2023 and avoid time on the IL.
On the position player side there weren’t very many positive story lines. Bryan Reynolds maintained his status as one of the better hitting outfielders in the game with a 125 wRC+, but that also came at the behest of substantially declining defensively in center field. On the flip side, Ke’Bryan Hayes showed that he may very well win a handful of Gold Gloves on the hot corner at third base, but his bat didn’t take a step forward even with some very promising batted ball data. Hayes hits the ball hard, and he hits it hard often. If they can find any tweak in his launch angle, then look out. Kevin Newman was someone that I honestly had all but written off, and he had a quality year where he could be considered for an early everyday role, or be looked upon as the #1 bench guy that is used in an almost everyday role.
From there, in terms of veterans, the bigger question is going to be who they may look for in the off-season.
The hottest topic in Pirates World is the prospects. And who other than Oneil Cruz perfectly epitomizes this?
Cruz showcased why he is very special. He also showcased some of the questions people have had over the course of his professional career. At times it looks like there isn’t a more athletic player in the game, but at others it looks like his fundamentals just disappear. It’s promising that Cruz seemed to see advancements at the plate towards the end of the season, but I personally am not completely sold on shortstop as his position moving forward. The reason why we mention sample sizes is it takes time to develop enough of one to get a feel on where a player’s skills truly stand. Cruz may be able to give you average defense, and the question is do you want to leave an average defender at shortstop just so we can say we have a shortstop that hits 30, 40, 50+ home runs? Home runs are home runs, regardless of where they come from, and I believe with some guided specific training that Cruz’s skillset could make him an above-average to plus defender anywhere in the outfield.
The best way to describe Rodolfo Castro is probably “Mini Cruz”. It makes sense as to why the two of them have become best friends. Castro is an electric player that at times showcases a lot of power from his stature, and is athletic enough to handle any position defensively. Unfortunately he can get ahead of himself at times and so far hasn’t graded out well defensively at second base. He was better at third base, but that spot is taken up for the long term. Castro’s future could go one of two ways in that he may be the starting second base to begin 2023, or if they decide to give it to Newman and let Castro be the #1 bench guy.
Ji Hwan Bae had a very limited run in Pittsburgh, but I think he in the least proved why he has some value to the team with his speed and defensive versatility. Reynolds shouldn’t stay in center field, and unless the Pirates bring in someone who can play center, they may give Bae a shot at it. Jack Suwinski had an interesting season with the bat. He obliterated pitching at home while struggling on the road. Jack showed that scouts maybe undersold his defense and if he can find some consistency on the road, then he is possibly a hidden gem for this team.
Returning to the rotation for a moment, another one of the biggest names was Roansy Contreras. He only turns 23 in November, and looks to have a bright future. He had periods of domination that give reason to be optimistic. Another young starter that jumped on the page was Luis Ortiz. His MLB time was very limited, but he showcased a high end fastball that may help him find his way back into the rotation either at the end of spring or early in 2023 season.
Last but not least we have the bullpen. I’m biased, but I still think Yerry De Los Santos showed he could compliment a healthy (and hopefully not overused) David Bednar. There’s a handful of arms that I wouldn’t mind in the bullpen, I just believe most of them shouldn’t see the late innings.
This is my overview of the 2022 season, and in part why I said in my portion of the Roundtable that I can’t see them contending in 2023, but that they may be on the cusp of developing a foundation to contend in 2024.
What are your thoughts on the 2022 season? Setting aside your feelings of the coaches and front office, do you feel more or less optimistic of the near future?
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.