After what feels like an eternity every off-season, the time has come for players to officially report for Spring Training. Coincidentally, it’s also the biggest weekend of Mardi Gras season leading up to Fat Tuesday. Pittsburgh Pirates fans won’t get to have a Marte Partay — or shall we say Marte Gras — but it’s still time to celebrate.
In the spirit of Mardi Gras, I’m going to identify each named hereafter group’s unique throw versus their generic bead throw. For example, when attending Krewe of Muses, the most sought after throw is a personally decorated shoe. Or for Krewe of Zulu, it is to catch a decorated coconut (they are drained so no one is clobbered by a wayward coconut). Generic bead throw is rather self-explanatory. They’re the basic cheap beads people just leave for the street cleaners.
As it stands, the Pirates will be rolling into Spring Training with quite a few positional Krewe’s of options. The Krewe of Catchers recently added MLB veteran Kevin Plawecki on a minor league deal, that would pay him $1.5M if he makes the roster. The starting job appears to be Austin Hedges, with backup duties being anyone’s guess at this point. Anthony Murphy further broke down position this past Monday.
Unique Throw – Bat
Generic Throw – Glove
What the Pirates should be seeking is a catcher that could additionally provide an offensive boost. With Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis essentially cut out of the picture already, the Pirates are left with mostly glove-first options for backup. Kevin Plawecki has had four partial seasons with at least a 90 wRC+ and doesn’t strike out often. Carter Bins probably has the most power potential, but would need to make some substantial improvement in the contact department.
Next up would be Krewe d’Outfielders. It’s another area with a lot of options, yet there are still many questions. Bryan Reynolds comes into camp as the one surefire starter in the outfield. The one question I have for Reynolds, that could be answered rather quickly, is whether they’re sticking with him in center or at least questioning a move back to left field.
Andrew McCutchen has already mentioned himself in his press conference that he is likely to spend most of his time as the designated hitter. That would effectively leave open a competition for two outfield starter jobs. Jack Suwinski should have an inside track, and then Connor Joe remains as the likely sole right-handed outfield option.
I’d say an argument could be made for any of Ji-Hwan Bae (who I believe should be the bench Super Utility), Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Suwinski, Travis Swaggerty, and Joe (Sorry, Ryan Vilade. I don’t see the fit currently).
Unique Throw – OBP
Generic Throw – Defense
Most know I put myself behind Swaggerty, as I think he’s the best defensively of the bunch. That being said, with the exception of Mitchell’s arm, the rest can all at least handle themselves defensively in the corners.
Suwinski showed power, but the Pirates offense will need players that get on base that allow the power to play for hitters like Reynolds and Oneil Cruz. Mitchell has shown himself to be a professional hitter, but needs that to translate to the majors. Smith-Njiba has been an on-base machine, but could use his raw power presenting itself. Bae and Swaggerty are the best base stealing threats, that could use new rules to their advantage, but will need to shown an ability to consistently get on base. If Matt Gorski absolutely rakes in Spring Training, why not?
Last area I’ll mention is the Krewe d’Arms. Four of the five rotation spots at this juncture would appear to be locked down, with Vince Velasquez considered a front runner for the fifth spot. The bullpen itself could fall a handful of ways, with Anthony detailing the collection of left-handed relievers in camp on Wednesday.
Unique Throw – Strikeouts
Generic Throw – Contact
Heading into the off-season, Ben Cherington mentioned that he had hoped to “add more strikeouts to the pitching staff”. The Pirates needed a first baseman, so they traded for one and signed another. They needed a catcher, so they signed Hedges and then have a collection of players competing for the backup spot as mentioned above. They needed to “add more strikeouts”, and well, can’t say they really did that.
League average K% during the 2022 season was 22.4% (Per Fangraphs). Of actively rostered pitchers, the Pirates have five pitchers (David Bednar, Luis Ortiz, Dauri Moreta, Yerry De Los Santos, and JT Brubaker) above league average, with three (Johan Oviedo, Robert Stephenson, and Duane Underwood Jr.) hovering just shy of league average. Rule 5 selection Jose Hernandez had a 29.7 K% in 2022, but was in Double-A through 38.2 IP.
I believe it would behoove the Pirates to actually find more strikeouts, as the only truly known defensive competence will be the infield corners. Rodolfo Castro and Cruz are capable, but will they take steps forward defensively in terms of consistency? Was 2022 the defensive anomaly for Reynolds, or was it 2021? Did scouting reports completely undersell Suwinski and 2022 showed he is actually an above average defender in the outfield?
This could present itself as a strong reason to roster De Los Santos, and even Ortiz were he not able to find his way into the opening day rotation. The Pirates defense looks as though it should be more competent, but I’m not sure to the point of looking as it will be a positive value given the leaning towards more contact oriented pitchers.
Song of the Day
Did you know Ice-T has a Los Angeles hardcore band called Body Count? Here he is featured in another Los Angeles hardcore band called Lionheart
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.
Tyler Heineman should be the backup Catcher for the Pirates to start 2023. Some comps between he and Plawecki:
Heineman knows the pitching staff, Plawecki does not
In 2022 Heineman was a +0.6 fWAR for the Pirates. Plawecki was a -0.5 fWAR for two MLB teams.
Heineman .273 xwOBA, 0 HR; Plawecki .268 xwOBA, 1 HR
Heineman +5 DRS, Plawecki -10 DRS
Heineman was paid $700K in 2022; Plawecki is $1.5 mil if he makes the team
Keep bringing the NOLA flavor to the best Burgh baseball site Jeff. We need the extra spice as we eat our steaks with some Heinz ketchup.
In all seriousness though I’m kinda surprised that Cherington didn’t try to make more significant moves on the pitching side of things. Combined with the reports that came out awhile back that he was/is seeking top pitching prospects in a return on a Reynolds trade, it’s pretty deflating in regards to Nutting’s willingness to ever open the checkbook when reading between the lines.
Ortiz should be groomed to be a starter.