A well-run organization generally has plans created for any potential curveballs they may be thrown.
The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t at a position yet that they necessarily need to have a backup plan if one of their expected stars has a dramatic drop-off in production — similar to their situation in 2016 with Andrew McCutchen.
They won’t need to look for someone to step-up if their rotation doesn’t pitch up to expectations — like that 2016 rotation of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Ryan Vogelsong, Jon Niese, and Juan Nicasio.
In the Pirates previous competitive window, the front office didn’t put plans in place in the event their plan ‘A’ went awry. They tried to bridge their way to their prized prospects under the assumption they’d be ready at the appropriate — Super Two date — time. The hope this time around is that they’ll have a better plan ‘A’, but that they’ll have additional plans.
The more I think about the additions of Vince Velasquez and Connor Joe, the more I wonder what their plan is going into 2023. Is their plan to give left field to Joe and a starting spot to Velasquez? Or is it the beginning of their intent to open up the competition? Bridging to prospects while in a rebuild probably makes more sense than while trying to maintain a competitive club.
I wouldn’t expect Mike Burrows to make a push for the majors, but there are arguably five pitchers vying for the final two rotation spots between Johan Oviedo, Luis Ortiz, Bryse Wilson, Vince Velasquez, and Zach Thompson. Six, if you count the addition of Tyler Chatwood on a minor league deal.
Now, I know this sounds like I may be trying to dress up a poor looking situation, but it’s that poor situation that is why this came to mind.
It’s hard to say that Velasquez deserves a rotation spot. Maybe (I doubt it) Wilson really was on to something with his new tweaked changeup. While Ortiz enamored us with his short stint in the majors, it’s also difficult to say that he’s ready at this point. If Ortiz enters Spring Training looking like the pitcher that picked apart the New York Yankees, why couldn’t he be given a spot?
As it stands, the Pirates have nine outfielders, per their website.
With Connor Joe, he’s got major league experience, but his success at the major league level is mostly from his 63 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2021. What Joe also has is two options.
If Canaan Smith-Njiba comes into camp looking the part after a clean recovery, why couldn’t he begin in the majors? Matt Gorski might also show a clean bill of health and that he’s ready to take that next step. Diego Castillo mostly came out of nowhere during 2022 spring training and hit his way into the opening day lineup. 2023 Spring Training leaves open the opportunity for the next Castillo, but hopefully someone that grabs the opportunity by the reins and runs with it.
There has been a lot of speculation on how the organization feels about Travis Swaggerty. It’s entirely possible they were letting him focus on playing in Indianapolis while in a more secure environment. 2023 spring training very well could be an open opportunity for him to grasp a starting spot.
Really the overarching plot is mostly up in the air. Catcher and first base were positions that the Pirates NEEDED competent big leaguers in the least. There will likely be a lot of movement in the upcoming season, much in the way that the Pirates added Joe while designating Castillo for assignment, after signing Austin Hedges.
Most of these moves themselves aren’t going to move the needle much, but the fact they’re actually cutting bait leaves something to be said. If they’re going to get better, they’re going to need to increase the competition for MLB roster spots.
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.