1-27-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
It amazes me. Every single time it happens with this fan base.
Roansy Contreras has been one of the rarest of rare prospects here in Pittsburgh. He was traded to the Pirates as part of a package that sent Jameson Taillon to New York in exchange for Maikol Escotto, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Miguel Yajure, and of course Roansy himself a little over 2 years ago.
At the time of the deal it was believed that Miguel Yajure was key, but he’s since been DFAd and long since was passed by Contreras for the mantle of headliner.
Fans have simply accepted that Roansy is not only good, but great by in large. There’s almost an easy comfort that he’ll figure out how to fix any issues he’s cropped up with.
To his credit, he’s done just that. Toward the end of 2022 Contreras was discovered to have been tipping pitches. It had been going on for a little while but hadn’t really burnt him, until it did.
A dedicated bullpen session later, he was back to himself.
That’s all great, and as I said, to his credit, but I still think many Bucco supporters have declared him a success story before the story is fully written.
This is a very important year for Contreras and today, I’m going to outline that case.
Roansy is 23 years old from Peralvillo, Dominican Republic and thus far in his budding Major League career he’s thrown all of 98 innings.
The Pirates handled him like a Fabergé egg in 2021, and with good reason.
This is a kid who didn’t pitch in 2020, like so so many prospects, and before that had never pitched more than 132.1 innings in a single season (2019). Add in that he had a very scary forearm tightness situation in 2021 that shelved him for an extended period and caused him to only rack up 58 innings between AA and AAA.
He’d still earn a cup of, er, sip of coffee in 2021, tossing 3 innings of shutout ball and setting the stage for coming to Spring in 2022 with some excitement.
After the forearm scare, Roansy tweaked some of his training and maintenance techniques, but the process of building an arm back up, especially a potentially golden arm is not simple. There was real fear this would wind up the way forearm tightness typically can and when it was put forward by doctors that rest might be enough, all parties involved took the risk. It’s a risk because if you’re wrong, all you’ve done is turned an already long recovery time into 5-6 months longer.
So far, it’s paid off, but the process called for not immediately putting a full workload of an MLB starter on the young man’s arm.
In 2022 Contreras was forced into early action at the MLB level. The Pirates had left themselves extremely short on pitchers on the 40-man, specifically guys who had options, so Roansy was placed in the Pirates bullpen where he’d make 3 appearances before being sent back to AAA.
Knowing they had a specific amount of innings they didn’t want to exceed altered almost every decision made surrounding Contreras in 2022. He’d wind up throwing 129.1 innings, 95 of which were in MLB.
Add in yet another strange offseason that altered the ramp up and training schedule for everyone who throws a baseball, and the Pirates did well to get that volume out of him, especially if the preseason chatter he’d be held to close to 100 check out.
The numbers for the rookie were really solid. An ERA of 3.79 in 21 games with 18 starts. 39 walks, 86 strike outs, a WHIP of 1.274, no matter how you look at it, Contreras had an effective rookie campaign.
Now entering 2023, Roansy is being counted on to be one of their best starting pitchers. The Pirates will still have a plan for his usage, and it’ll disappoint anyone who expects him to get a volume that all the top pitchers in the game carry. I’d put that number around 165-175, which would get a guy in the top 35-40 league wide. The important number for Roansy is his entire 2022 body of work which again was 129.1.
I’d expect the Pirates to up that target number to at least 150, maybe 160, but that’s going to continue to mean some shorter outings for Ro.
OK, so innings load should ramp up, that’s good. What else does he have to work on to take the next step?
First, his fastball, slider and curve are all plus pitches. Sharpening is easy to say, and almost always the go to suggestion for a young pitcher, so I’ll spare you that. Of course hitting your spots is important.
Lets talk through some percentile placements amongst his peers in MLB. For one thing, he has a really good Whiff% of 64 and a Chase Rate% of 82, that somehow have only created a K% of 38. Couple things here, one, I think part of this is evolution, it takes time for a young pitcher who could so badly fool most hitters in AA or AAA with a 3000RPM breaking pitch to swing outside the zone, to convince themselves that their stuff is so good they can afford to throw it at least closer to the zone. We saw some of this with Mitch Keller, although Roansy has not struggled nearly to the degree Mitch did.
I say this noting he also has a world class Chase Rate% of 82, but to turn some of those chases into K’s, he’ll need to realize enticing MLB hitters to take a hack at something with two strikes, it better be close enough to convince them a take would make them look worse than swinging at something off the plate.
Next, Roansy throws a changeup, but he only threw it 46 times last season, or 2.9% of the time. Don’t get me wrong, Roansy’s curveball acts as his change of pace and if he never develops this pitch he could still be a quite effective pitcher, but I love the thought of having a solid changeup in his quiver. Something like that could help keep guys off the fastball and creep down his hard hit rate a bit.
Even the Curve he only threw 14.4% of the time, and at some point major league hitters have to have their timing messed with more than 16-17% of the time, even if your high velo offerings are top notch.
To a degree, he’s already shown the ability to adjust, but he could stand to reign in his hard hit rate and the higher than league average launch angle results. This is why I’d put some emphasis on further developing the changeup and using the curve a bit more. Contreras needs to have more offerings in the bottom of the zone, and both of those pitches would help push back against a league that will absolutely have him well scouted this time around.
Year two is important for every player, clearly, but for a pitcher who experienced success as a rookie, in many ways the pressure is greater.
One thing he’s shown us, almost more than anything measurable, is the ability to not lose focus and continue to throw his pitches.
I don’t write all this to say you should be concerned or that he’s going to turn into a pumpkin this season, but I also think it’s entirely reasonable to expect he’ll run into at least a little more resistance than he faced last year.