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Friday, December 9, 2022

WTM: Projecting the Pirates’ Possible Position Players at the End of 2023

The Pirates’ lineup went through some far-reaching changes during the course of the 2022 season.  This was their opening day lineup, which gave a foretaste of things to come by getting shut out:

Dan Vogelbach, DH
Bryan Reynolds, CF
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Yoshi Tsutsugo, 1B
Kevin Newman, SS
Cole Tucker, RF
Ben Gamel, LF
Roberto Perez, C
Hoy Park, 2B

Substituting in the game were Michael Chavis, Diego Castillo, and Josh VanMeter.

Not exactly a lineup for the ages.  Out of this Dismal Dozen, three are long gone, two are more recently departed, two (one of whom missed most of the season) will be free agents shortly, and one had a poor year at age 26 and shouldn’t be anywhere close to a lock to return.

So the Pirates went through an extensive sorting-out process that led to all the changes.  Or not.  They didn’t really do the sorting in 2022, because they were too busy with players who just took up space.  They gave 2,198 plate appearances, or 37% of the team’s total for the year, to players who are gone, many of them players who obviously weren’t going to be around in 2023.  So the sorting is still in very early phase.  Not that it was ever going to get finished this year, but with more potential pieces of the puzzle becoming available over the next couple years, the Pirates needed to be further along with the ones who were already available.

And there are other reasons it’s the roster at the end of 2023 that’s going to matter, not the one at the beginning.  Most notably, guys like Endy Rodriguez and Ji-Hwan Bae are going to have to waste their time at Indianapolis until some point in June in order to save Bob Nutting a bit of arbitration money.

I wanted to look at where the roster might stand by September of 2023.  Obviously, I don’t know what players they might acquire during the off-season, although Cherington made it clear the other day that they’re not going to spend any real money.  But, making some effort to be realistic about the way this front office operates, here’s a look at where the position player part of the roster could be late in the season.

CATCHER

Focusing on the late-season conveniently avoids talking about the early-season catching.  Ideally, the Pirates will re-sign Roberto Perez, although I don’t think that’s a given at all.  In fact, if I had to guess, I’d guess they don’t.  But he’d give them a nice transition to Rodriguez, who should be up as soon as Nutting’s wallet is safe, and then Perez could serve as backup.  That would give the Pirates a legitimate major league backup catcher for the first time in Cherington’s woeful tenure.

The more intriguing question is what happens if the Pirates don’t re-sign Perez.  Blake Sabol is another catcher who’s probably ready for the majors now; in fact, he should be given a chance to win a job out of Spring Training.  And, of course, there’s Henry Davis.  I think he’d probably need a healthy season to reach the majors in 2023, and what are the odds of that?  Carter Bins could also work his way into the picture.  After the first couple months of 2022, he hit decently, with good power and a frightening K rate.  Defense is a problem for him, though.  Of the realistic possibilities, having Rodriguez and Sabol both in the majors in September could mean a lot of upside.

INFIELD

Half of this is easy.  Hayes at third and Oneil Cruz at short.  And, no, moving Cruz off short wouldn’t be a good move now, especially with Liover Peguero not looking like a near-term answer.  The rewards from Cruz being able to stay there are worth some risk.  You just have to consider the travesties the Pirates have readily tolerated at catcher, first base, the outfield corners and elsewhere.  The potential harm from Cruz staying at short is trivial compared to those, and there’s significant upside, compared to zero upside.  The risk/reward calculation of Cruz playing short is exponentially more favorable.

Second base is pretty interesting.  Rodolfo Castro seemed to have it locked up at least as long as he continues to be Second Half Castro and not First Half Castro.  But then Bae surfaced, three months later than he should have, and was close to the team’s best player over the last couple weeks.

I kinda doubt second base is going to get definitively resolved in 2023, and I’m not sure it should be.  Bae can play the outfield and Castro can play short and third, which will help when Hayes is hurt and Cruz is DHing.  It seems like it’d also make sense for the Pirates to get Castro some time at first, but that probably won’t happen.  And there’s also Kevin Newman, who probably isn’t going anywhere.  The Pirates can just go with whomever makes sense each day.  A choice of Castro, Bae or Newman sure seems better than a choice of Josh VanMeter, Michael Chavis or Yu Chang.

And then there’s first base.  The Pirates seem to have identified the position as their top priority for a fix.  It’s virtually certain that this just means Cherington will wait until the latter part of Spring Training and sign the cheapest player available, which has been his SOP so far.  Whoever he acquires that way is very unlikely to be around in September.

So what happens in September?  It’ll be time to find internal options.  Hopefully not a mind-numbingly stupid one like having Newman play first.  I’m skeptical Miguel Andujar is going to get a shot.  When you rank behind Zack Collins for a shot at a position, you’re probably not going to be playing there.  The big remaining possibilities, then, would be Matt Gorski and Malcom Nunez.  As a hitter, Nunez is probably much lower risk than Gorski because he commands the strike zone better.  Gorski, though, is an excellent athlete who should be able to pick up the position; he’s not very good there now, a product of very limited experience.

The Pirates also have some upper-minors prospects who figure to be utility guys.  Most notably, right now that’d be Diego Castillo, Hoy Park and Tucupita Marcano.  Park hasn’t been impressive and should be in danger of losing his roster spot.  Marcano probably isn’t, but maybe should be.  It doesn’t help that the Pirates seem determined to eliminate any value he may have by making him an outfielder.  Castillo showed surprising power in 2022, but his strikeout rate won’t work long-term.

The dark horse here is Jared Triolo.  He should be going on the 40-man roster this fall, he’s probably the best defensive infielder in the organization other than Hayes and maybe Javier Rivas, and his bat always seems to come around after a slow start at a new level.  He hasn’t played first yet, but it probably wouldn’t take him long to pick it up well enough to back up there.

OUTFIELD

The outfield could end up as one of the team’s more stable spots, although disappointing performances could change that.  The wild card, of course, is Cherington adding a sub-replacement veteran to stand in the way of progress, as is his habit.  Assuming that doesn’t happen, the Pirates could go most or all of the year with an outfield primarily made up of Reynolds, Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, and Andujar, plus Bae some of the time.  Mitchell and Andujar also fit at DH as well as anybody who might be a candidate for the roster.

A lot of fans seem to underrate Mitchell, maybe because he struggled early in the year in the majors.  He hit very well in the majors starting in July, had a big year when he was in AAA, and has, by Pirate standards, exceptional control of the strike zone.  With Andujar, there’s the unsettling question of why the Yankees weren’t able to trade him, but his history just looks like that of a guy who was torpedoed by injuries and never got much of a chance in the majors afterward.  And it’s hard to believe Suwinski can’t find some happy middle ground between the wild extremes of Home Jack and Road Jack.

The other possibilities here would be Sabol — who’ll surely get a chance at some point — Travis Swaggerty and Canaan Smith-Njigba.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the Pirates have lost interest in Swaggerty.  I don’t expect him to be around in September 2023.  I wouldn’t bet on him being around in March 2023, for that matter.  Smith-Njigba will no doubt get some opportunity in between injuries, but him hitting left-handed and his severe struggles against LHPs in the minors aren’t a plus.

I could see the Pirates’ 13 position players next September (I’m ignoring the expanded rosters here) looking like this:

C:  Endy Rodriguez, Blake Sabol
IF:  Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Ji-Hwan Bae, Kevin Newman, Matt Gorski, Jared Triolo
OF:  Bryan Reynolds, Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Miguel Andujar

+ posts

Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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RobForsyth

I’m really, really confused about Swaggerty. He missed almost all of last season and this year he was just getting his feet back on the ground. You couldn’t expect him to have just busted out especially considering the year before was the Covid year when the minor leaguers didn’t play.
He’s a former 1st round draft pick. I think he was the 7th player taken in the draft. Do you just throw a high draft choice like that away?

ArkyWags

I’m getting the feeling of a “he’s not their guy.” In other words, they didn’t draft or develop him so they don’t think much of him.

EightMenOut

I think people are way over-thinking Pittsburgh’s handling of Swaggerty. Due to injuries and covid wiping out the 2020 minor league season he hasn’t gotten a lot of at bats in the minors. It is likely Pittsburgh left him in the minors to get everyday at bats, and he got 458 at bats with an OPS of .747. Which is decent, but not great. So in 2023 they are likely to give him an equal shot of playing in the Majors just like everyone else, but for 2022 they just wanted him to see as many AAA pitches as possible.

roberto

Exactly. Plus, he was struggling in the second half. Injury, something else? Not a good time for a promotion.

Anthony

Not sure what the OF log-jam looks like in Altoona and Indy, but I hope our plethora of AAAA prospects doesn’t prevent this FO from adding an above average everyday outfielder.

Ideally, Swaggerty comes up in May/June to become the starting CF, this pushes Bae to 2nd on a full time basis, and Suwinski remains the 4th OF. Defensively, this would be the best-case scenario w/r/t alignment unless they sign a K. Kiermaier-type in the off-season.

Last edited 1 month ago by Anthony
EightMenOut

I guess you mean a 2021 version of Kiermaier? Right now he is 32, coming off a sub-par 2022, and is having surgery on his hip this off season. Doesn’t sound like a center fielder you want to risk millions on, given the Pirates limit payroll, and needs at Starting Pitcher, First Base, and Catcher.

Anthony

They aren’t getting Judge or Nimmo, so Kiermaier is likely your best upside even if it is almost all defense. I think you will be surprised at the interest in him this off-season.

john.benedict

CASTRO won’t be a pirate beyond 2023. He can’t catch a cold, more they expose him by playing musical positions, less value he will bring.
Young Lumber Company will be arriving soon.
However, BC knows a small market team can only sustain winning with Pitching, Defense, and sound fundamentals. I’m not sure shelty understands this or anything about baseball
except “just flush it” flush that bad outing and load up for them next time

How about we get you out of here next time because there are way to many next times for you to be managing. Wasted year of tanking
good job

Anthony

I could care less about where Castro plays on the field, but he def needs a lefty platoon partner.

TNBucs

He was so good RH that I’d like to see him try batting RH even against RHP. In any case, I’m pretty sure that his wRC+ of 148 against LHP was considerably higher than any other Pirate’s wRC+. For comparison, Reynolds had a 120 wRC+ facing lefties and we know how our many LH batters fared against LHP.

But yes, he either needs to improve dramatically against RHP or they’ll need to find a lefty platoon partner. Fortunately we have many LH bats to choose from.

bradlej31

If you see how similar NickG’s swing is to Trout’s you can’t unsee it. So I’m biased and think he’s our 2B by end of 2023

Anthony

Not gonna lie, he does have a nice swing! AND, I love his OB skills.

1979andCounting

Correct. Age 24 season. BC’s first first-rounder. Time to get this show on the road.

emjayinTN

Very comprehensive.

I cannot see the need to retain Newman and Andujar – way too many young prospects that need to have a place on the 40. They have no place on a team that is rebuilding.

I thought the Pirates pitched better in 2022 after the Pirates locked in Delay and Heineman as the Catching tandem. Both defensively strong, frame well, and are both “pitcher’s Catchers”. If Endy is not starting for the Pirates out of ST, then my vote is to start 2023 with Delay and Heineman. Endy and Henry by mid-Jun.

Malcom Nunez at 1B by Jun, Until then, Castillo/Castro. MM if not lost in Rule 5.

Need to find a home for Triolo, Gorski. Not sure of Swagg’s,

bradlej31

Newman is a great bench piece. Doesn’t need everyday at bats. Like an IF version of Gamel.

docdon385

You certainly have some opinions. I agree with some and do not agree with others but like they say everyone has them and only time will tell what the eventual outcomes will be.

Cruz is a decent short stop and could probably stay there and do pretty well but someone should be asking what’s best for him and his career. Whether or not he remains there should have nothing to do with Perguero nor anyone else but should be determined based on what’s best for him and his future in Pittsburgh as we all hope or somewhere else, which unfortunately is probably at least as likely.

I think it’s probable that if he was with a different organization he would have become a corner outfielder a long time ago not because he can’t play short but because his speed, arm strength, power and size make him much more suited for the outfield and in the long run more valuable there.

I know they say he’s still at short because he wants to play the position. That’s well and good, but I suspect that in a few years he’ll be starting in an all star game as an outfielder representing either the Pirates or one of the high priced organizations that will want to maximize his talents. Only my opinion of course.

b mcferren

what top prospects do we expect to be in Altoona in Sept 2023? Solo? Bubba? Barco? Harrington?

soberg2002

Barco is unlikely to pitch beyond FCL rehab appearances next year as he underwent Tommy John only a couple of months prior to the draft. I would add Jones and Lopez to the list above instead.

AdministrativeSky236

Could see any of those 4 tbh, I assume all 4 start at greensboro and with strong seasons could make the jump. Will be fun to watch!

joebaseball

I hope you are wrong on TSwags. Think he is coming around.

JimEastTennessee

Am I missing something here” How could a vacuum at 3rd like Triolo possibly be a bust at 1st!?!

skliesen

I’ll be disappointed if Nicky Sticks and Tank aren’t in Pittsburgh at some point in September. Here’s a Pirates lineup on some random day in September 2023:

1. Bae -CF
2. Reynolds – LF
3. Cruz – SS
4. Davis – DH
5. Endy – C
6. Suwinski-RF
7. Hayes -3B
8. Gorski -1B
9. Nicky Sticks – 2B

Kinda sad I can’t find room for Castro in my dream lineup.

Last edited 1 month ago by skliesen
postal911

If only we could start the season with that lineup. Instead BC will put out a 100 loss lineup that has some washed up veterans getting way too much playing time. I’d like to fast foward to April 2024.

juniorkrz

We can dream on that lineup. Plus, Castro makes a great UIF.

robertkasperski

Castro will be the Super Utility guy giving several guys a day off while getting lots of at bats as well. 🙂

Anthony

But only from the right side, I hope!

jon6er

Good article Wilbur though that repost of the opening day lineup was painful to see, lol.

piratemike

Have they? Have they really? I strongly doubt it. Watch all the garbage they sign and play next season.

roberto

I object to demeaning descriptions of players. Guys who can play at AA and above are amazing athletes. Of course they may not be better than the amazing athletes they compete with, but they are not garbage.

skliesen

Let’s hope so.

Born4rf

I think that is an excellent short term best case scenario. A lot of players got the first touch of failure this year which is the first step to success. Of course Cherrington will sign/trade for at least a couple lumps of roster cholesterol by opening day but all of the suspects you list are positioned to earn their way onto the roster. Good times.

TNBucs

I agree that Mitchell doesn’t seem to get quite the attention he deserves. Overall, I can’t make a case against anyone you have listed for the end-of-season roster but they seem to really like Delay, at least as a backup, and I think Nunez will start in AAA and play his way to Pittsburgh by August. So maybe add those two with the two to be dropped TBD by injuries.

roberto

Thoughtful post.

b mcferren

would much rather see Tank, Ricky Nix and Malcom next september than moar newman, andujarn’t and Triolo

Last edited 1 month ago by b mcferren
robertkasperski

Lord I hope that Hank learns some of Matrix like moves and can avoid pitches thrown at him……

mpg43952

At least he’ll be getting hit by professional pitchers.

AttyMike

Entertaining and informative. Great article!

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