One of our most popular features this year was Prospect Roundtable, where I ask our writers a question about the Pirates each week and get their input.
The fun part is seeing how each writer approaches the game in a different way. We rarely have a consensus opinion, or anything close.
Prospect Roundtable will run in the offseason on Thursday’s at noon. To kick off the schedule for the offseason, we’re taking a look at the Pirates’ needs.
Question: Which position do the Pirates need to upgrade the most this offseason?
Check out our thoughts below, and leave your opinion in the comments!
JOHN DREKER: First Base
There are plenty of options for lineup holes to fill going into 2023, which makes it hard to limit this to just one. The ideal position to upgrade would be a hitter who can play first base this year, and possibly corner outfield or just DH beyond. There shouldn’t be any hesitation to go after a quality player who can help after 2023 when the team should have a much better chance to compete.
There’s no one on the Pirates (minors or majors) ready to step into first base right now, but Indianapolis looks like they will have a loaded team to start 2023, so that need at the Major League level could change depending on the progress of certain prospects. Having the versatility to move from first base would be a great option to have in a player, but the most important part is still the bat. The lineup is going to have multiple below average hitters until the top prospects start filling in holes throughout the 2023 season.
The ideal situation would be to add a middle of the order bat, speaking in terms of this current lineup, not a generalized definition of a 3-6 hitter. We are being realistic here after all, though front loading a contract wouldn’t be a bad idea in a year when it looks like the payroll will be low once again. If you can add a quality bat to the middle, the lineup becomes more tolerable to watch early in the year.
ETHAN HULLIHEN: First Base
Is there really any other option? Sure, they need help at catcher and corner outfield, not to mention starting and relief pitching, but at least there are some in-house options available at those positions.
The team has no true first base option on the roster at the moment, with nothing on the immediate horizon prospect wise either. Mason Martin hasn’t proven to be the answer, and Malcom Nuñez just moved up to Triple-A at the end of the season.
Simply signing a competent player could swing the position in the 4-5 win range from 2022. Even if they don’t want to pay for one, slugging corner infielders are a dime-a-dozen on the open market, and finding any kind of upgrade from the black hole last season shouldn’t be too difficult or much to ask.
WILBUR MILLER: Bullpen
The easy answers here seem to be catcher and first base. At catcher, though, the Pirates have the answers already close, in the farm system. Somebody like Roberto Perez can tide them over for a few months, but it’s not going to make a big difference ultimately. At first, it should be almost impossible not to upgrade dramatically. The Pirates were historically bad at the position in 2022, on a level that no GM apart from Ben Cherington could ever hope to achieve. Any random move there inevitably would be a huge improvement, except for the fact that it’d be Cherington making the move. Anyway, Bob Nutting isn’t going to spend the money for a real solution, so the Pirates will do just as well by waiting for something to emerge from the farm system, like Matt Gorski, or Henry Davis shifting to first.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is an area where they need to get to work sooner rather than later, thanks to Cherington’s incompetence on that front thus far. It’s been obvious in the playoffs this year that you can get great results from bringing a string of shutdown relievers into a game. Cherington, instead, has focused on sub-mediocre middle relievers, an addle-brained strategy that got exposed when the team had to find solutions for the losses of David Bednar and Chris Stratton. One or two late-inning relievers surrounded by a bunch of waiver claims not good enough for the other 29 teams is a blueprint for failure. The Pirates are going to need multiple quality relievers in order to succeed, so they need to get to work on finding them.
ANTHONY MURPHY: Bullpen
When you are coming off your second straight 100-loss season, there are no shortage of glaring areas that need improvement. First base was statistically the weakest position on the diamond last year, but that’s a position that doesn’t necessarily need a single answer to fix that. Catcher, and to an extent the outfield, all are positions that need to be addressed as well this offseason.
All of those don’t touch the issues the bullpen had late in the season. If there’s a positive, David Bednar will have an offseason to rest up, and they will get Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman back.
It will have to go further than that, as the Pirates cannot have a repeat of what they had this year, as the splits of what Bednar did before and after that night in Los Angeles is as different as night and day.
Remember when things were already so in disarray they had to start the season with Roansy Contreras coming out of the bullpen? Yea that should have been a sign of things to come.
The Pirates bullpen had the 2nd and 5th worst unit when it came to ERA and FIP, respectively. Pittsburgh is going to enter the year likely with a really young rotation, so the best thing they can do is bolster a bullpen that recorded 27 blown save opportunities throughout the season – good for the eighth (tied) most in the majors.
JEFF REED: Center Field
I believe filling center field would have the most impactful domino effect on the roster. Bryan Reynolds can go back to left field, and then you have a plethora of choices to battle for right field and fourth outfielder.
This then leads to — repeat with me, “depth and competition is a good thing” – a plethora of players to battle it out for 2B and bench spots.
Reynolds 2021 season in center field seems to have been an outlier defensively. At the tail end of the 2022 season, it appeared as the Pirates themselves were considering the move back to left field.
Filling catcher only fills that one position, with no further impact other than how well they work with the pitching staff. With two top tier catching prospects, this is one area I feel they can bridge with a defensive minded player who hopefully hits better than the 2022 bunch. If I wanted to get crazy, I would say shortstop, thereby pushing Oneil Cruz to outfield, and so on with the ensuing domino effect.
The pitching staff to me is one of the more well-rounded areas, though that isn’t to say it couldn’t or shouldn’t be upgraded. In order for such moves to be impactful, it would likely require multiple positive acquisitions for either the rotation or bullpen.
Still in the midst of a “rebuild”, the Pirates aren’t going to dominate in any certain aspect of the game. On the flip-side they can’t completely ignore any areas such as defense.
TIM WILLIAMS: Catcher
My original thought was that the Pirates have the biggest need at either first base or in the bullpen. I’ve mentioned before that they need an alternative to David Bednar, in order to not exhaust him from over-use. Adding an elite reliever could help keep Bednar fresh and healthy long-term. The Pirates probably don’t need Bednar shutting down games in 2023 as much as they do in 2024 and beyond.
First base has some options emerging in the upper levels, but none that stand out as obvious starters. At best, you’ve got a group of 40-45 grade prospects, with the hope that one of them can emerge as an average starter. At worst, the Pirates have nothing but fringe-average options. I think the Pirates should add at first base, but I don’t think they’re getting a long-term option from the outside.
They might be better off banking on Malcom Nunez, Mason Martin, or even Matt Gorski. Blake Sabol is another possibility to shift to first. So is Jared Triolo. And so is Henry Davis, for that matter. The actual first base prospects might have more of a challenge from the other positions right now.
My choice is catcher, and perhaps I’m getting too fine with this analysis, but I’m focused on the long-term impact of the Pirates’ catching prospects. The Pirates do have two elite catching prospects in the upper levels. We can all just hope for the day they magically turn into MLB catchers. I do think that process will involve learning from veterans.
Bringing back someone like Roberto Perez probably won’t make an impact on the 2023 Pirates. It also doesn’t really seem like the Pirates making an impact in 2023 is a real priority. Perez would help the young pitchers adjust to the majors, which could boost a lot of the promising young arms. I’m thinking more about what he can do to teach those young prospects.
Catching in the majors is exceptionally difficult, and the game is constantly changing. Roberto Perez is an active catcher in the majors, right now. He gets active feedback from the games he plays in, learns from those games, and compares that knowledge to his career work. Rodriguez and Davis will be learning, but they won’t have the perspective. A veteran like Perez can give them this.
Sure, that’s what coaches are for, even if none of the coaches are playing in today’s Major League Baseball. My thought is the Pirates can rapidly accelerate the development of Rodriguez and Davis (the latter who is still developing receiving skills) by adding a mentor for them to debut under. It wouldn’t be a bad idea having Perez on a multi-year deal, serving as the starter at first, and eventually moving to the backup role and maintaining the mentorship.