The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielders experienced mixed results in 2023. Three positions viable for high offensive production and varying levels of defensive prowess, the Bucs saw growth from their inexperienced position players. Their $106 million man also experienced a second half much more like the 2021 All-Star than the first half indicated.
Rock and Reynolds
Bryan Reynolds is committed to the Pirates throughout the decade. The star left fielder shattered the Pirates’ highest contract ever allotted to a player - which was set by Ke’Bryan Hayes a year prior - and experienced an up-and-down campaign. Reynolds scorched opposing pitching to the tune of a .323/.351/.586 slash line with five home runs and 22 RBIs. His production teetered the rest of the way in May (.242 average), June (.268), a disappointing July (.200) and improved in August (.288), but never amounted close to his ridiculous April in which the Pirates started 20-8.
The Pirates go as Reynolds goes and vice versa. His success was in correlation with the best and worst parts of the Bucco season. Reynolds closed the season hitting 24 home runs and 84 RBI along with 12 stolen bases. Overall, Reynolds had a good year but will need more consistent stretches to push the Pirates to the playoffs and be one of baseball’s top middle-of-the-order bats. A second All-Star appearance for Reynolds could be in sight for B-Rey after closing the year on a high note.
Sweeter swings from Suwinski
One of the biggest storylines of 2023 was the emergence of Jake Suwinski as a much-improved hitter from a season ago. Yes, there is still more work to be done. There’s no denying a .224 average is subpar, despite the added emphasis on power in modern baseball to supplement contact, but he shot up by 24 points. He also crushed 26 home runs en route to hitting the second-most homers (45) in a player’s first two seasons of their Pirates career behind Ralph Kiner (74).
JACK SUWINSKI ENJOYS DESTROYING BASEBALLS pic.twitter.com/PSpl9P98ao— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) July 6, 2023
Suwinski closed the season hitting .291 in September after a horrendous .130 in August. One month people want to see Suwinski relegated to the Minor Leagues, while the next he projects as a three-hole hitter who consistently wins Silver Slugger awards. A balance between being Barry Bonds from the left side of the plate and a poor career Minor Leaguer will help Suwinski mold into the player the Pirates believe he can be. Thirty home runs and 90 RBIs are a realistic expectation with a .240 average if he can curve his trends of back-and-forth swings worse than any player I’ve ever seen. He truly has the talent to be great.
Davis’ days in right field numbered or just beginning?
Henry Davis was one of the most exciting, yet disappointing Pirates of the past season. The 2021 No. 1 overall pick debuted on June 19th and doubled in his first at-bat but faltered through limited playing time due to inconsistency and injury. Davis, 24, only hit .214 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 62 games. On a high note, he became the first player to ever hit two home runs off Shohei Ohtani in the same game.
Great homer by Henry Davis.— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 23, 2023
Great catch by the kid in the front row. pic.twitter.com/6j9oRUCQLb
Drafted as a catcher but known for his bat, Davis has steadily improved behind the plate, but the organization longs for more from their 24-year-old righty. Endy Rodriguez poses a significant upgrade defensively behind the plate, with Davis having ground to make up. The possibility of automatic balls and strikes to diminish pitch framing could come into play sooner rather than later. Does this matter to the Pirates? It’s obviously playing into hypotheticals but poises a unique theory as to why Davis could remain a catcher. That and who wouldn’t want a power-hitting catcher who can hit in the middle of your lineup? Davis did okay in right field and dealt with issues playing the ball off the wall or on a hop. Spring Training will be a telling sign of the Pirates’ true intentions for Davis.
Utility is the best company
Many players saw time in the outfield andnumerous other positions around the diamond and beyond. Andrew McCutchen played eight games in right during his return to Pittsburgh, but injuries limited his availability in the field. His bat was everything the Pirates could have wanted it to be, plus the invaluable aspect of Cutch’s leadership. Connor Joe appeared in 81 games between left and right field before ultimately transitioning to first base (53 games) for the first time. Miguel Andujar was DFA’d in May but returned with a vengeance and drove in over 100 runs between Triple-A Indianapolis and the Pirates. The infielder turned left fielder hit .250 in 30 games with an impressive 18 RBIs through 84 at-bats.
Ji-Hwan Bae learned center field while maintaining reps at shortstop and primarily second base. Bae became a fairly dependable defender in center while providing the Pirates’ best speed threat, a valuable weapon late in games and through September and October. Outfielder Josh Palacios can play all three positions and delivered some of the best moments of 2023.
Did you forget about me?
Within a 162-game season, there are surely players who suited up for the Pirates that certainly slipped your mind. Cal Mitchell only played two games with the big league squad in 2023 and was designated for assignment on Sept. 1. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A but never returned to Pittsburgh. Utilityman Chris Owings played one game in the outfield during his short stint to start the year. Canaan Smith-Njigba also dressed sparingly in a Pirates uniform in the early months but only saw the outfield 12 times.
The Pirates will likely begin spring training with Bryan Reynolds locked in left field and Jack Suwinski in center. They possibly could flip, but Suwinski’s arm strength is decently better than what Reynolds has at his disposal. Davis has an incredible arm to deploy in right which was shown on various occasions when runners attempted to test his abilities. Other than questions in right, the Pirates are locked in on a plan to deploy their outfield for years to come and are in a good place moving forward and should have confidence things are continuously moving in the right direction.