The Pittsburgh Pirates are approaching their fourth year under the grand rebuild and 2024 is tabbed to be the time they “compete,” but you wouldn’t guess that based on the type of players that make up the current roster.
As of Sept. 6, only two true starting pitchers — Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo — remain in the once five-man rotation, while the three other spots are occupied by a corps of relievers acting as “openers.” Among them are Colin Selby, Thomas Hatch and Andre Jackson, all of whom have had moments of brilliance, but have since flatlined back into reality.
Getting real sick of using an opener almost every day— Bucs Dugout (@BucsDugout) September 6, 2023
The “bulk” pitchers that tend to follow the trio are Bailey Falter and Luis Ortiz, two guys that were once starters but fell out of favor after severe regression and underachieving. In their defense, though, they have fallen into a rhythm in the bulk role.
Falter has appeared in three games out of the bullpen and has allowed two earned runs over 10.2 innings since the Pirates acquired him at the Trade Deadline. This isn’t counting his appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 6.
Ortiz made one relief appearance, that coming Aug. 29 against the Kansas City Royals. In that game, he tossed five innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts. He did have one successful start, however, that coming Sept. 4 against Milwaukee.
Luis Ortiz getting Christian Yelich to whiff on a changeup out of the zone for the K— Platinum Ke’Bryan (@PlatinumKey13) September 4, 2023
90.3 MPH, 1646 RPM, 30 inVB, 14 inHB pic.twitter.com/BKw1fDNcmV
Others that appeared as bulk relievers are Ryan Borucki and the now-optioned Osvaldo Bido.
While the Pirates trot relievers out most days, there are several players in Triple-A who could benefit from making a few appearances at the Major League level.
Guys like Quinn Priester, Roansy Contreras, Max Kranick, or even Travis McGregor could eat innings and work out kinks throughout the final weeks of the season. Granted, Kranick just came off a rehab assignment from Tommy John surgery so if not him, why not try younger arms like Jared Jones, who has proven to be starter material?
Then there’s Jackson Wolf, the lefty with Double-A Altoona acquired at the deadline in the Rich Hill/Ji Man Choi trade. He has experience at the top level but yet he’s stashed away in the Minors.
Jackson Wolf impressed once again for the Curve.— Kody Duncan (@KodyDuncanPGH) August 25, 2023
Final line: 5.0IP 1H 0ER 1BB 5K
His ERA is now at 2.50 for Altoona
Now, let’s turn our attention to the guys on the field.
While prospects like Nick Gonzales and Malcom Nunez sit in Triple-A, Pirates fans have the fortune of watching Vinny Capra and Alika Williams take the field day in and day out. Both of whom carry a WRC+ of 30 and 51, respectively.
In the outfield, Joshua Palacios has had his moments but, overall, his numbers are less than desirable, accruing a -3 WAR and -1 DRS. Meanwhile, Canaan Smith-Njigba hasn’t seen a major league game since April.
To be honest, though, it is fun watching Palacios have star-studded moments.
TWO-RUN PINCH-HIT HOME RUN FOR JOSHUA PALACIOS AND THE PIRATES HAVE THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/I7jyj3UcNm— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) September 3, 2023
One could make arguments for other players on the 26-man roster too, such as Miguel Andujar, Jason Delay and, to a point, Jack Suwinski, to name a few.
The overall landscape of the Pirates’ roster heading towards the end of the 2023 season is suspect. Would we see most, if not all, of these players if injuries didn’t plague the initial roster over the season? Probably not.
We probably wouldn’t see Capra or Williams if Oneil Cruz’s ankle wasn’t broken, openers if J.T. Brubaker and/or Vince Velasquez didn’t have season-ending surgery, and Andujar and Palacios if Andrew McCutchen and/or Henry Davis weren’t sidelined, but if the team needs to slog through September, why not make it tolerable by playing guys with potential.
If the team plans on spending heavily in the offseason, this all becomes moot. But if they don’t, they are taking steps back, not forward.