The Pirates Will Hit, but Pitching is Still the Name of the Game

Photo credit: Christopher Horner/Tribune/Review

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If the start of Spring Training has shown us anything about this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates roster, they actually have the ability to put some runs across the plate.  Even though Mason Martin will most likely start the season in the minors, he hit an absolute bomb of a homerun yesterday afternoon.  This comes just a day after the Pirates hit four homers in a game Saturday, including one from Oneil Cruz where he was on one knee. 

Also, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, and Bryan Reynolds look like they are already seeing the ball very well, just three games into the Pirates Spring Training schedule.  Combine that with the Pirates re-signing Yoshi Tsutsugo this offseason and bringing in power hitter Daniel Vogelbach as a free agent, both possessing much needed pop.  Additionally, if Ke’Bryan Hayes can stay healthy for a full season, this Pirates lineup may surprise some people, in a good way. 

However, the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff is still brutally bad.  The hopeful ace of the staff, Mitch Keller, has been lighting up social media with his progress this offseason.  Unfortunately, his stuff without a hitter in the box has never been a problem, it’s his confidence. It’s easy to be confident when you’re lighting up Statcast in a simulated game.  I’ll be interested to see if that confidence carries over into a regular season game after a leadoff double or homerun.  It hasn't in the past.

I don't fault anyone who gets excited about what they are seeing from Keller.  It is okay to get excited when a player shows improvement.  However, it is also okay to reserve that excitement for when it actually translates on the field in the regular season.  Right now, if the rotation depends on Keller, I'm not confident.  

I also have no hope that Pirates top prospect, Roansy Contreras, will appear on the opening day big league roster.  So counting on him early on is not likely.

Then, the Pirates will trot out a plethora of guys who are either passed their prime or never really had one.  Bryse Wilson and Dillon Peters showed again yesterday they will never be more than 4th or 5th starters at best in this league, just two days after Wil Crowe showed the same.  Miguel Yajure and Max Kranick don’t have much major league experience, but what they did show last year was not pretty.  Also, the veteran of the staff, Jose Quintana, appears well over the hill, and even if he does perform well, will most likely be dealt at the deadline.

J.T. Brubaker looked good at times last season, and started off 2021 very well.  However, there’s a reason it took until he was 27-years old to play his first full season.  His ceiling is a 3rd starter in a bad rotation like the Pirates.  There are just too many things that need to go right for this rotation to even rise to mid-tier level.

Unfortunately, the bullpen is not in much better shape.  The Pirates are still looking to replace Richard Rodriguez, their best bullpen arm last season.  I do think David Bednar and Chris Stratton are serviceable and could actually be really good 8th and 9th inning guys.  However, unless newly signed Pirate, Heath Hembree, finds some of his old production alongside Luis Oviedo and Sam Howard having break out years, the Pirates won’t make it to the 8th or 9th inning with a lead.  Especially with a rotation consisting of very few innings-eaters.

So while the Pirates will put runs on the board this season, and bring us up out of our seats more often this year, the wins may be even harder to come by.  Roansy Contreras will most likely start the season in the minor leagues and he’s one of the only top pitching prospects projected to come up this season.  Pitching help is not coming this season, unless some minor league arms really perform early. 

Hopefully the Pirates can win some games by putting double digit runs on the board, but that’s not sustainable.  The pitching help is coming soon, just likely not enough this season to put any real winning streaks together.