The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a 7-5 start, after dropping a series to the Houston Astros. That’s an encouraging beginning to the season. They’ll hope to continue this run in a four game series against the St. Louis Cardinals tomorrow.
The Pirates weren’t projected to win many games this year, and it’s too early to say whether they’ll exceed the upper-60s projections. A big factor to maintaining the level of team play we’ve seen thus far will be their depth.
Injuries to key players have already tested that depth.
Oneil Cruz is the biggest loss. The Pirates had Cruz as a spark at the top of the lineup, where he opened the season with a .750 OPS. He fractured his ankle, had surgery this week, and will miss four months.
I wrote on Monday about how the Pirates could replace Cruz. While Rodolfo Castro will benefit the most from increased playing time, there will be no way the Pirates can replace the upside of Cruz.
The Pirates have seen a few other big losses in the young season, testing their depth early. That includes some tough news about two pitchers in the rotation.
BRUBAKER AND BURROWS DOWN
JT Brubaker was expected to be in the Opening Day rotation this year, hoping to take another step forward after a quietly good year last year.
Today, it was announced that Brubaker underwent surgery, and his projected return to the majors won’t be until next June to August. The Pirates turned to Johan Oviedo, who will now get a full opportunity to remain in the big league rotation. That does deplete the depth from the start of the year.
Further depleting that depth, Mike Burrows is currently getting a second opinion on his forearm for a ligament issue. Burrows was one of the top prospects in the upper levels, with hopes to make an impact to the rotation this summer. He had a 2.70 ERA in 6.2 innings through two starts, before going down.
The Pirates had Oviedo as early-season depth, and Burrows as an impactful mid-season option. They still have Luis Ortiz as an early-season option, and Quinn Priester as an impactful mid-season guy.
Beyond those two, Osvaldo Bido is a sleeper to follow in the Indianapolis rotation. I see him more as a reliever in the majors, but he should get plenty of starts with Oviedo and Burrows possibly gone from Indy all year. A sleeper to follow in Altoona, depending on his control, is Kyle Nicolas. Don’t rule out Jared Jones as a deep sleeper, but if this team is relying on Jones to make the majors this year, then we’re talking serious depth issues.
For now, the Pirates have Ortiz as their main backup and Priester as the impactful guy from within. The jury is still out on Burrows, but you don’t usually get second opinions when there isn’t an issue.
HEDGES SEASON DELAYED
Stop me if you’ve heard this: The Pirates signed a defensive catcher to lead the pitching staff for $5 million and he went down early in the season with an injury.
Last year, the Pirates planned on Roberto Perez being their leader behind the plate. That didn’t work. Perez only played 21 games.
The Pirates signed Austin Hedges this year to an identical deal. After three games, he went down with a concussion, with no timeframe on his return. Thus far, the absence hasn’t been an issue, in large part to Jason Delay.
Delay has played seven games, hitting for a .238/.304/.429 line in 23 plate appearances. That’s a small sample, and doesn’t make you forget his .536 OPS in 167 plate appearances last year.
On the flip side, Hedges hasn’t seen an OPS over .600 since 2018. There are intangibles where Hedges can provide value over Delay behind the plate. Thus far, Delay has been doing what you’d hope for from Hedges.
The impact depth this year will come from Endy Rodriguez in Triple-A.
THE BULLPEN LOOKS BRIGHT
Jarlin Garcia was signed to be the main left-hander out of the bullpen. He’s currently on the 60-day injured list, with no real projection on when he will return.
Robert Stephenson was brought back to help stabilize the middle innings with a veteran reliever. He could return by the start of May.
The bullpen has been exceptional so far. Rule 5 pick Jose Hernandez and minor league free agent Rob Zastryzny have both given the Pirates some good outings from the left side. Colin Holderman has emerged to join Duane Underwood Jr. in the late innings in place of Stephenson. Dauri Moreta has been good as a middle inning shutdown guy.
The issue with this group is the inexperience. We’ve seen Zastryzny and Moreta have rough outings recently. Holderman and Hernandez will eventually have their rough outings. The consistency from each individual player will be crucial to developing roles. Holderman, for example, can have a bad outing and still be overall good enough to be the setup man for Bednar.
The return of Stephenson will help to stabilize the group dynamic with so many inexperienced relievers. At this point, I think that Stephenson would upgrade over Chase De Jong, while shifting the inexperienced guys to easier roles.
What’s interesting here is the depth from the minors. The Pirates have some legit pitching prospects as relievers in Indianapolis. The highlights are Carmen Mlodzinski, Cody Bolton, Yerry De Los Santos, J.C. Flowers, and Colin Selby. I think the chance of getting a solid middle reliever from this group will be good this year.
Heading into the season, the bullpen had a lot of question marks. It still has a lot of question marks, but you can see it on the rise.
**Speaking of pithing depth, Luis Ortiz went four innings with Indianapolis on Wednesday morning, giving up three runs on three hits, two walks, and six strikeouts. Coming into the day, Ortiz had a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings over his previous two starts. He’s the top depth option if a starter goes down in the majors right now.
**I loved seeing Matt Fraizer get three hits and a home run last night in Altoona. He added two more hits and another homer today. Fraizer struggled last year at the level, following his breakout season in 2021 in Greensboro. His bat hasn’t shown consistency at the higher level. Through four games and 15 at-bats, he has a 1.371 OPS and two homers. Hopefully this is the start of a sustainable run for him.
**Aaron Shortridge is a sleeper right-hander to watch in the Curve rotation. He has outstanding control, but has missed time the last few years with injuries. Shortridge gave up one run on three hits and no walks on Tuesday night in Altoona, striking out six and looking like his old self for the first time this season.
TODAY ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
**John Dreker broke down the Pirates’ Extended Spring Training roster.
**Here’s my article on Brubaker’s surgery.
**Anthony Murphy wrote yesterday about how whatever happens with the Pirates, quitting won’t be an option.
**Anthony also had early statcast observations for the Indianapolis Indians.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
It sucks that Burrows is down but this is when moving other young players aggressively with confidence should happen.
The old days of 100 innings by level minimum shouldn’t be necessary it’s are you ready for more?
Examples like Oviedo, ready. Ortiz ready. Lower, Solometo ready for AA, etc.
The Rays push their players when they are ready not on a schedule.
GM’s make their money at the trade deadline and when they have a chance at the playoffs and injuries happen. It’s way too early to say the Pirates have a shot at the playoffs(I’m not crazy or stupid). But when a team is winning you want to keep that momentum.
If there ever was a time to move say Nick Gonzales, Matt Frazier, Jared Triolo now wouldn’t be a bad time. And I’m not saying just make a trade to make a trade. You have to get a legit SS back for Gonzales(like Oswald Peraza from the NYY).
I think any team would be doing the NYY a favor taking IKF in a trade though. B/c then they have room on their 26 man for Peraza(the better player). But I might deal Frazier for IKF.
The next couple weeks to a month are gonna be interesting. How long can you go without a legit SS?? It sure would be nice having Triolo healthy right now.
where is Brault these days?
Singing in a dive bar.
Better question: with all the hype about the “sweeper” being the new pitch du jour, how is Kyle Crick not on anyone’s roster?
He got stuck without a paddle
because he’s not good
Not good > awful. He was better than 10 of the stiffs Bucs used last year.
“ A sleeper to follow in Altoona, depending on his control, is Kyle Nicolas.”
i mean, i dont see much of a reason to think he’ll have good control. he’s never had it, and has two starts already this year of not having it.
Also, they should definitely be stretching JC Flowers back out.
You say he’s never had it.
I say he doesn’t have it yet.
love it! i’m a Nicolas fan overall/long term/and maybe even just in relief.
I’d just be shocked if he made the steps necessary to not be totally overmatched at the mlb level in the next year.
but i guess that’s what a sleeper is, so i guess we dont disagree much.
sucks that they seemingly pretty much just dealt Zach Thompson because of a *glut* of pitching. Yet here we are, two weeks in.
i remember being excited about the prospect of being 4 deep in indy to cover injuries. Even that goes away real quick.
Depth is fleeting.
Former ‘top prospect’ Cody Bolton is in Indianapolis. It’s been several years since he went down with ‘Tommy John.’ Presumably, he’s pitching in relief. How’s he doing? Could he be stretched out to starter innings?
Once Ortiz is brought in, i’d probably be on the phone to get Dallas Keuchel in Indy.
id be shocked if they add Priester before september.
If he will take a minor league deal, I say why not. Also could happen as soon as we have concrete info on burrows injury
we´ve still got Chatwood throwing somewhere in our minor leagues?
im kinda excited to see Brito get a shot
Tim: My apologies – I did not read this until after commenting on getting some love for Matt Fraizer in the write-up featuring Mason Martin.
No apology necessary! I was trying to guide you to the info you were looking for.
SP depth is almost certainly going to be severely tested. Given their age and injury history, the chances one or both of Hill and Velasquez go on the shelf are pretty high.
Get ready for Bido, Bucs fans. He’s going to be starting in Pittsburgh before too long.
We’re all gonna remember this 9 months from now and not lose our shit…again…when they acquire rotation depth.
Im taking the under on that
Bido is turning 28 this Fall. I know we’ve been a little more aggressive with promotions under Cherington regime but seems like teams like Cardinals & Rays just find a way to bring young talent up more expeditiously. Maybe I’m wrong.
not a lot of young talent to to be aggressive with
I wouldnt mind giving Archer a shot at redemption if another one goes down
Yeah I can see the headlines now on May 1 1) PIRATES SIGN CHRIS ARCHER 2) TAMPA BAY EXTENDS WIN STREAK, HAVE NOW STARTED SEASON 22-0!
God help us, but it’s a distinct possibility.
I agree. DFA DeJong when Stephenson returns and give the spot to the most deserving relief option in the minors at that time.
I’m leaning to trading an outfielder (Not Reynolds) for some starting pitching depth. I know you obviously won’i get an Ace but maybe someone useful in the back end of the rotation.
If our goal is to make the playoffs I might agree, but we are loaded with SP options for the team that we are in 2023.
Are you saying that the Bucs are loaded with SP options this year or in 24 and onward?
Draft Pitcher 1/1 this year.
I would love to see the Pirates select Paul Skenes at 1-1.
The Pirates have depth, unfortunately, it’s not major league depth at this time…
Bullpen will be exhausted by June…