Well here we are ready to set sail on another Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season and our third here at Inside the Bucs Basement.
As has become tradition, Craig and I wanted to hammer this one together so here goes. Oh, and I guess we should do some kind of grading system. How about the boring old A-F Scale and we’ll toss in a + or – to signify if we think it’s improved from 2021 or gotten worse.
The Pitching Staff
The Starters: JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Jose Quintana, Zach Thompson, Bryse Wilson
Gary: (C+) I’ll get us rolling here because unlike most, I see this as a potential bright spot on this club. And yes, before I get too far along here, I know that’s not a popular take. Something to me is different this season and it’s all about upside. Everyone not named Jose raise your hand, I’m looking at you. Backed by Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Cody Bolton, Max Kranick and members of the bullpen we’ll touch on in a bit here, I like the chances that 3 of them look better than most expected. We often get locked into believing what guys were last year, they must remain, but the reality is kids get better, and if this team has any hope of this whole thing working, well, let’s just say showing they can improve what they have would be a good fist step. Mitch Keller has a real chance to finally reach what his pedigree dictates he should.
Craig: (W for What If and Waiting) Each of these pitchers come with their own distinct question marks, which always leads me to wonder What If. What if Mitch Keller’s development over the off-season is real and the increased velocity, coupled with what appears to be a new found confidence is real? What if JT Brubaker can be more like the pitcher we all saw in the first couple of months in 2021, rather than the home run surrendering one that followed? What if Bryse Wilson just needed a change of scenery to become the potential ace-or at least middle of the rotation arm-Atlanta always envisioned him to be? What if Zach Thompson unlocked something when he arrived in Miami, after years of never really putting it together in the White Sox Farm System? What if Jose Quintana can recapture even some of his luster from 2012 to about 2017 in order to become a decent trade chip at the deadline?
As far as the waiting is concerned, this should be fairly obvious. As Gary mentioned, the Pirates have Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Cody Bolton, Max Kranick waiting in the wings in Indianapolis. Of the four, Contreras usually the most attention, however, I am also very curious to see how the once highly touted Bolton bounces back from two years without logging any innings.
Overall, my interest is peaked more than it has been for the past couple of seasons, which is better than the alternative; of simply recognizing that what the Pirates have is a rotation with little room for growth. Of course, the growth could never happen to the degree that we hope, but at minimum it would answer some questions.
The Relievers: Dillon Peters, Wil Crowe, Aaron Fletcher, Sam Howard, David Bednar, Chris Stratton, Anthony Banda, Heath Hembree, Duane Underwood Jr.
Gary: (D+) If there’s one thing I think we can safely say, it’s that we’ll see quite a bit of turnover here. I don’t think they’ll use nearly as many pitchers as they did in 2021, but it’s just reality they’ll flow through some of these. The bullpen has two former starters penciled in and should any of the 5 expected starters struggle, it’s very possible that Dillon Peters or Wil Crowe could get a shot before a call to AAA is placed. It’s also possible Roansy Contreras or any prospect really could push their way into an opportunity. No matter how you look at it change is going to happen. By the end of this season if the Pirates are as far back as many seem to think they will be you could easily see Hembree, Stratton, minimally being moved. Nick Mears and Blake Cederlind who are starting the season on the 60-day IL will also likely factor in at some point. I’ll also call right here and now that the Pirates are done messing with Bednar, he’s the closer.
Craig: (N for Not Enough) Last season the Pirates ended the year with the 27th Ranked Bullpen in all of MLB; thanks to a combined 4.55 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 641 strikeouts to 307 BB and -.21 WPA (Win Probability Added). As I look at the current group of relievers, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for much improvement as a group. Certainly I see Bednar as an anchor, the potential of Crowe in a new role and solid veteran presence from Stratton and Hembree; still; not enough was really changed or been added over the off-season. Sure, we will see an influx/carousel of arms from Indianapolis throughout the season, which is something to look forward to; I guess I just expected more.
Luckily, I have always been of the mindset that the bullpen is the last thing that needs to be sorted out in a rebuild, so there is definitely time for some trial and error.
The Position Players
Catcher: Roberto Perez (Starter), Andrew Knapp
Gary: (C-) I mean, if Roberto stays healthy and plays 120 games I’ll be wrong with my rating, but I just don’t see it as likely he carries that kind of weight. If you were looking for a wash production wise though from Jacob Stallings to who’s next, this is as close as you could come. You all know how I feel about Michael, so you’d have really had to work hard to bring in someone who’d make me wonder why this was better, enter Andrew Knapp.
Craig: (S is for Still Missing A Legit Backup) After Stallings was traded it was nice to see Cherington go out and get a player with Perez’s pedigree to replace him. I do have to side with Gary in the concern about Roberto’s health, and ability to carry the load.
Even if Stallings was still here I would be calling for a new backup catcher: and with all due respect to Andrew Knapp, he doesn’t count.
Third Base: Ke’Bryan Hayes (Starter), Hoy Park, Michael Chavis, Diego Castillo
Gary: (B+) Folks, to be right on this rating, all we need is Ke’ to stay healthier, and considering last season the backup was Phillip Evans and a shell of Todd Frazier, the position at least has viability beyond Hayes.
Craig: (K for Keeping Ke’Bryan Healthy) Hayes has the clear cut ability to be a Gold Glove Third Baseman for years to come, but he has to stay on the field to do it. I am also not expecting the bat he showed in 2020 anymore, not that I was in first place. Although I would like him to make me eat some crow when it comes to his bat, and show us something in between what we saw in his first two seasons.
Short Stop: Kevin Newman (Starter), Diego Castillo, Hoy Park, Cole Tucker
Gary: (C+) Again, I like the backup situation better than last year. I’m not holding my breath that Kevin Newman is going to suddenly have his entire game come together, but it’s certainly not impossible and his defense shouldn’t be a question mark.
Craig: (T for Take The Bull By The Horns) I don’t care if it’s Newman, Castillo, Park, Tucker or Cruz when he comes up, but someone needs to claim shortstop as their position for the year, and hopefully in the future as well.
As Gary stated Newman’s defense is there, but it is going to be a bat that will put any player over the top.
Second Base: Cole Tucker (Probable Starter), Diego Castillo (Possible Starter), Hoy Park, Michael Chavis, Josh VanMeter
Gary: (C-) I like the potential of Castillo, love what I’ve seen from Tucker this Spring, but I’m not about to pretend Adam Frazier wasn’t an All Star last year at second base. At least to start this year I can’t say this position is improved, even again liking the depth better. Adam made the depth not matter.
Craig: (C is for Chances) This is Tucker’s last chance. It has to be. I know he got somewhat of a raw deal with the earlier than expected call-up in 2019 and the centerfield experiment in 2020, but this is the year where the excuses end.
This year is also a chance for Diego Castillo to prove what he can do, and for Cherington to get a win as far as young player acquisitions are concerned. It is far from a guarantee though.
First Base: Yoshi Tsutsugo (Starter), Daniel Vogelbach, Michael Chavis, Ben Gamel
Gary: (D+) I actually like this position better than last year. How could this not be an upgrade from Colin Moran, Phillip Evans, Erik Gonzalez, John Nogowski, or whomever you remember? Yoshi has power potential and I think his defense is better over there than we remember. First, he worked hard at it, and second our memories of his defense are tainted by how he looked in the outfield.
Craig: (B is For Boom or Bust) Yoshi had a few breakout weeks, while Vogelbach had one breakout season. The power potential is there, but so is the possibility of hitting below the Mendoza line as they do it.
OK Craig, let’s flip the script and have you go first on the outfielders.
Outfield Starters: Bryan Reynolds, Ben Gamel, Greg Allen
Craig: (E is for Extend Reynolds) Even if it hasn’t happened yet-and with the Pirates and Reynolds set to go to trial for his arbitration-there is no answer in the outfield outside of Reynolds.
Gamel is clearly an upgrade over the way the first part of the year went for everyone outside of Reynolds last season, but his ceiling is a fourth fielder; or a third if you can put another All-Star on Bryan’s left or right.
Gary: (C+) If you watched 2021 you already know this is better than last year. It’s not even that close and that’s while happily acknowledging on a good team two of these starters are backups at best.
Outfield Reserves: Cole Tucker, Hoy Park, Diego Castillo, Michael Chavis, Josh VanMeter
Craig: (U is for Utility) With Anthony Alford’s injury and his continuing K problem, it’s become a place for a lot of guys to play out of position.
Gary: (D) I can’t really say this is better or worse. None of these guys have a ton of experience out there, but I see they’re going to get opportunities. If they hit, I suspect we will just ignore any defensive short comings.
Next Man Up: Prospect Watch
Craig: (F is for First Wave) Oneil and Roansy lead this charge, with Yajure, Kranick and Bolton in the rear. In the outfield Travis Swaggerty will most likely get the first look, if he is healthy. Jack Suwinski, Canaan Smith-Njiba or Cal Mitchell would take over if Swaggerty’s other shoulder continues to give him problems.
Gary: (C+) This isn’t the most exciting batch we’ll see in this process, but it is the first batch. I’m not breaking news and I’m not going to be really expansive here. Let’s keep it to guys I feel are can’t miss to make it this year and stick. Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, and Travis Swaggerty.
Playing Their Last Year as a Pirate
Gary: I’ll take a crack here first, Ben Gamel, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Kevin Newman, Jose Quintana, Chris Stratton, Duane Underwood Jr., Both Perez’, Chavis or Park, maybe even both. Outside shot at Ben Gamel being extended, he’d be cheap and he’s a perfect 4th outfielder.
Craig: Jose Quintana is the only given for me, with Yoshi, Chavis, Chris Stratton and Gamel at more than 50/50. For the sake of being different, I’ll throw Tucker in the mix.
Gary: Oh hell, Kevin Newman actually hits this year and the Pirates trade him. Instead of seeing it as making room for Oneil Cruz it’ll be met with cries that Nutting didn’t want to pay him.
Craig: Wil Crowe begin the season in the bullpen, but is called back into the rotation. He goes on to lead all starters in ERA, Innings Pitched and Wins..
Craig: Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Cubs and Pirates. It’s really between St. Louis and Milwaukee for the top of the NL Central, but that’s probably a given.
Gary: I’ll go in this order, Brewers, Cards, Cubs, Reds, Pirates, but I don’t think there will be much daylight in the last three. This is a top heavy division and nobody from this division could win the East or West.
Gary: Last year I predicted 63-99, I was off by a few games but in the ballpark. This year just don’t see the overt lack of depth or internal options I saw last year to fill inevitable injury voids, meaning I don’t see them rushing to the waiver wire every week to find a new shot in the dark. I’m going with 70-92 mostly because the division is weak and the depth. I also think an infusion of more talent from AAA will really change the complexion of this team.
Craig: Actually last year Gary, you optimistically predicted 72-90, and I went with 63-99 because I just couldn’t bring myself to say the Pirates would lose 100; which they ultimately did.
Even though, I don’t see another 100 loss season-those are kind of hard to come by-I don’t see a lot of room for improvement with the team as a whole. The majority of victories will come on the individual level, which isn’t really a bad thing for the future of the Pirates. Yet, for the present-2022-I am looking at 67-95 record on the year, with 5 game margin of error in either direction.
Craig: I’m excited for the Pirates season to start; but, that’s not really any different than the previous 30+ years of my fandom. Sure, I don’t see them competing for much of anything outside of the new shiny bouncing lottery balls in the 2023 MLB Amateur Draft, even if it’s not the goal; still, I can’t help feeling like a little kid at the beginning of every baseball season.
All too often we talk about hope springs eternal as being the false belief for teams that really don’t have chance at being competitive during the upcoming year. For me it is the hope to attend as many MLB and MiLB games as possible, watch seven months of players performing at the highest level of their sport, make new friends along the way, get back in touch with those I may not have talked to as much over the busy winter months and enjoy conversations with each and every baseball fan I come in contact with.
All that is left to say is…play ball! Oh, and Let’s Go Bucs! Indians! Curve! Grasshoppers! Marauders!
Gary: Well, since 2020 I’ve said 2022 would be more fun if only because we’ll finally start to see some of the fruit from this painful build process, and I see no reason to change that now. We predict a record because well, you kinda expect us to right? But it hardly matters, this year is all about getting some of that next wave up here and doing it again in 2023. I expect this team to have 10-14 guys currently on the roster not here come the end of 2023. Changes are going to start coming at us faster now, forced by talent, not money.
I’d also add, Mitch Keller is a pivotal player to watch in 2022. If he’s good, it really changes how quickly this team could start making noise, if he reverts to what he’s been, we’re right back to Priester, Burrows and the like holding the keys to elite pitching here in Pittsburgh. I still think the bats are ahead of the pitching, but if Mitch is right, it’s not as wide a gap as we currently think.
More than anything, to me, this is the fun part of these efforts. I certainly can see why it still isn’t fun for many of you, but for me, man I’ve been following some of these guys for years, and this is the beginning of what I’ve been waiting for. Let’s Go Bucs.