Pirates Top 5 Things I Want to See in 2023

2-5-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Listen, maybe it’s not plausible to expect a baseball team to improve by 20 games. I mean that’s what hoping for a .500 season is after all, and while I really like the additions, and am truly excited about what a full season of some of these guys can look like, but that’s a big jump.

If it’s going to happen, a lot of things are going to have to happen, today, I’m going to try to outline some of those things. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, or that it’s going to mean you should go lay money on some longshot dahn at Rivers.

That said, lets see what we come up with.

5. Defensive Improvement

There’s no way around this one and the league has made some changes that will at least make it a bit harder to scheme it into existence.

Bryan Reynolds isn’t the best CF in the league, but unless Travis Swaggerty makes this club, he’ll easily be the best on the team. Well, at least provably. Bae could wind up being an upgrade, but we’d have to see it to be sure. And let’s be really clear, if the Pirates are holding any hope whatsoever that extending Bryan is still possible, lets just say, he isn’t moving. All that being said, he’s hardly a problem out there.

Jack Suwinski is solid, and just about anywhere they play him at that.

The other spot is a bit more murky. If they use Cutch out there, it really needs to be in Right, and his arm isn’t what it used to be, so taking shots at doubles or even tagging on shallow flies it going to increase a bit, but left is probably a bit too cavernous at home anyway.

The infield, it’s really all about Castro and Cruz. Third and first should be fine. Let’s start with Castro, first of all, I really don’t think he’s a long term issue, I simply think he’s inexperienced. Something that should at least not be the case by the end of the season. His range is ok, his arm is fine, and when it’s a bang bang decision, he tends to make a good athletic decision. When he has too much time to think, he runs into issues. My belief is that repetition will help him here.

Cruz, well that’s another issue. He’s got range for days and a cannon for an arm. I won’t bother telling you what I know you’ve seen,

To really improve, Cruz needs to learn how to gear down that arm on routine plays, and to do that, he probably needs to believe he can make a throw without taking that crow hop or two he tends to default to. Hey, it’s easy for me to type what his problems are, but this has been an issue for the vast majority of his professional baseball career and he’s yet to really conquer it. Toward the end of 2022 I started seeing some signs he was adapting some of these things. That coupled with what I hope is a consistent double play partner and more experienced 1B options, well, I’m hoping he becomes an average fielder with a flair for the exceptional on occasion.

Catcher will be fine. Hedges is notoriously the top fielding catcher in the game today, but he may not be the feature back there the whole season either, at least I’m quite sure you hope not.

Mendy Lopez has been added to the MLB staff to focus on this aspect of the game, and unless I’m way off, he’s going to spend the vast majority standing near second base.

4. Cut Down the Strikeouts

The Pirates struck out 1,497 last year, and while everyone is pretty quick to name the serial offenders like Castro, Suwinski, or Cruz, nobody on the team struck out more than Bryan Reynolds (147).

That’s a good thing, because it’s something he can absolutely improve on and he’s already shown the capability.

Don’t get me wrong, The others didn’t play as much as Bryan so their ratios are still higher, but your best player leading your team in K’s isn’t ideal either.

Andy Haines method of instruction led to player taking more pitches in an effort to increase OBA via the walk, but for this to improve, they’re going to have to see him at least change his instruction. Even if he doesn’t, veterans aren’t going to just start accepting 2 strike count after 2 strike count, point being, I think we’ll see this reduced regardless.

3. Pressure the Opposition Defense

There are veterans all over this club now, but they also have speed with the kids. Bae, Hayes, Castro, Cruz, Suwinski, and really a plethora of other youngsters who could make the club can steal bases. I love the idea of forcing opponents into making mistakes and maybe even forcing the issue with some small ball concepts.

Sure the shift is going to be tramped down a bit, but there are other rule changes too. Bigger bases, limiting how many times a pitcher can toss over, add it all up and speed is going to become a thing again in this league, and for once, the Pirates are well positioned here. They have the youth to really take advantage here, you know, if they’re managed to do so.

2. Allow Players to Experience Some Consistency

It’s been a theme since Derek Shelton got here, he simply goes out of his way to change the lineup. I’d love to believe that was because the team was in damn near tryout stage the entire time he was around but until I see him let the lineup settle a bit, well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

We have seen him allow players who he deems “part of the solution” stick in a spot, and perhaps this year when so many more of them are in fact at least part of this year’s solution, he’ll allow it to lock in a bit more.

I cover baseball, have watched it a long time, even played it at a silly level that doesn’t matter a bit, but I’ve never seen a lineup that changes perpetually find success. At some point you simply must settle somewhere.

1. Manage the Staff Efficiently

Let me start with something unpopular. What happened to the pitching staff last year wasn’t Derek Shelton’s fault.

I wrote a piece before the season stared where I showed by simple math the Pirates had nowhere near enough arms to cover the number of innings typically required for an MLB baseball season. That came to fruition entirely.

On top of that, they got incredibly lucky it wasn’t worse as the starting rotation was freakishly healthy.

Not having enough available was squarely on Ben Cherington. You can question Shelton’s usage of the starters, but even that, you’d have to look above his head, because he was handed those inning restrictions to deal with.

This year is different, this time he has the horses. You can question how good they are, you can still believe he’ll make the wrong choices when he has them to make, you might even be right, lord knows he hasn’t proven anything, but when I do that same math this time, they’ve got easily 450-700 more available innings than they’ll need, and that’s accounting for injury, trades, even poor performance.

This time, it’s on Shelton and Marin to manage what they have, and make it work.


I won’t pretend I can dumb down what will turn this franchise around in 5 bullet points, I simply can’t and furthermore, better players is the only true way that happens. They’re working on that, you’re watching it, but these 5 things can help them utilize what they do have, and lay a foundation for what the on field culture of the Pittsburgh Pirates is moving forward.

Modern day baseball coaches aren’t what they used to be, so comparing Derek to Earl Weaver isn’t going to get you very far. The goal is still the same thing it always was, to win, to improve, to control what you can control, and more than any other thing, get the most out of what you do have.

This is a big year for everyone but nobody more than Shelton. I’m not saying he has to get to .500, but he has to show when the team gives him talent, he can turn it into wins.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

4 thoughts on “Pirates Top 5 Things I Want to See in 2023

  1. “This is a big year for everyone but nobody more than Shelton. I’m not saying he has to get to .500, but he has to show when the team gives him talent, he can turn it into wins.” If the Pirates thought he was in their future plans, he would have already secured an extension. He is only holding the manger slot for another next season unless he can perform a miracle and get this team to the playoffs. The organization is going to have to show their fanbase something different next offseason, so they have additional hope entering the 2024 MLB season.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All great points Gary, they really need to cut down on strikeouts, hopefully the hitting coach can help them. Cruz and Suwinski both took Ks in roughly 1 of every 3 Plate Appearances, they’re young, JT what scares me is they both had high Ks in the minors too.
    Anyway great article, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Gary,

    These are all great points. If Bae and/or Swaggerty, maybe a platoon, end up in CF then I assume Reynolds is back to left and Suwinski splitting time in right with Cutch – when he’s not DH. We have a lot of outfielders to look at. Just on the surface, I’d plan on Reynolds splitting his time between Left and Center and sorting out the rest. Probably not something Reynolds wants but just my team view.

    I think Cruz will be better just by knowing he has a real first baseman. I’ll throw out that some of the problem may have been trying to be too perfect because he knew he couldn’t miss by too much and still have the ball be caught. Still needs to get better but that’s certainly within range.

    Andy Haines – if the young guys still keep taking two strikes – just get rid of him. I’m sorry he’s still here.

    Love the potential speed. Take that extra base, steal that base. We all hated when Hamilton got on base plus I remember the days of Vince Coleman and several others. It would be great to see someone else get the brunt of that.

    Lineups/Rotation – it wasn’t that Shelton changed one or two guys but it was like there was no rhyme or reason for the changes. Hopefully with better players, he’ll demonstrate he can do a better job. Same with the pitching. Better players and more of them. This is the no excuse season for him. If the Pirates get off to really bad start – he’ll be gone.

    I can’t wait for the season to get underway!

    Liked by 1 person

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