Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing the Spring Training Bullpen Battle

Sep 23, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (48) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 23, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (48) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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This spring, there will be multiple battles for spots in the bullpen as the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves with multiple options

As Spring Training prepares to kick into high gear for the Pittsburgh Pirates, there will be multiple battles to watch this spring. One of these battles will be at the shortstop position. Another one of these battles will be in center field. Although, with the addition of Brian Goodwin this battle may now be settled.

Another major battle this spring, maybe the biggest of them all, for the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in the bullpen. Other than Richard Rodriguez, Chris Stratton and Luis Oviedo, odds are, entering spring no one has a spot truly locked down in the Pirate bullpen. This should create some great competition this spring.

Rodriguez is coming off a strong bounce back season that saw him rise to being the team’s closer by the end of the 2020 season. Stratton has quietly been a good reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates since he was acquired via trade in May 2019, and Oviedo is a Rule 5 Draft addition. Due to his Rule 5 status, Oviedo will almost assuredly crack the Opening Day bullpen.

With these three as likely locks it leaves the Pirates with five open spots in their bullpen, potentially six if they choose to start the season with just four bench players. Let’s examine which relievers could compete for these remaining bullpen spots.

Left-handed pitchers Sam Howard and Chasen Shreve are also safe bets to crack the Opening Day bullpen. While lefty Austin Davis is also on the 40-man roster, Shreve, who was added as a minor league free agent, is the better pitcher of the two with better career numbers. As for Howard, he is coming off a breakout campaign in 2020 during which he posted a 3.86 ERA and a 30.0% strikeout rate.

This would leave approximately 12 pitchers competing for either three or four spots. So, it is easy to see where all of the competition will come from. Of these pitchers there are some who will not make the Opening Day roster that will likely be a part of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates by the end of the season.

Young righties Nick Mears and Roansy Contreras, who was acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade, fit this bill. As does Edgar Santana who has not pitched in the Majors due to Tommy John surgery and a PED suspension since 2018, and could start the season at Triple-A as a result. Blake Cederlind, who is likely the team’s future closer, probably falls into this category as well.

Out of options pitchers Michael Feliz and Carson Fulmer iwll compete for spots as well. Feliz, who the Pittsburgh Pirates will face a decision with this spring, appears to be a pitcher who will get one last look from the Bucs, while Fulmer appears to be a longshot to make the Opening Day bullpen.

Pitchers with minor league options remaining will also be battling it out for spots this spring. David Bednar was acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade and could have a big future in the Pirate bullpen, but due to having minor league options remaining could start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Despite posting a 3.63 ERA in 2020, Geoff Hartlieb struggled with control walking 18.8% of batters faced. Combine this with an identical strikeout rate of 18.8% and Hartlieb posted a 5.03 ERA and a 5.65 DRA. This combined with having minor league options remaining could send Hartlieb to Triple-A to start the season.

Then there is Kyle Crick. As recently as June 2019 Crick was viewed as the potential closer of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since then, he has watched his fastball and slider velocity drop while his walk and home run rates skyrocket. That said, Crick dealt with a lot of personal turmoil in 2020 which may have played a role in his 13.8% walk rate and 4.85 DRA.

2021 could be a make or break season for Crick. Expect the Pittsburgh Pirates to give him an opportunity to bounce back and prove himself once again during the 2021 season.

Another battle in the bullpen to watch will be whoever does not win the final spot in the starting rotation between JT Bruabker and Wil Crowe. Odds are, whoever loses that battle will find themselves in the Opening Day bullpen. Right now, it appesr Brubaker is the favorite to land a rotation spot which would push Crowe to the bullpen.

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With all of that said, let’s take a stab at prediction the Opening Day bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of course, all of this is subject to change, especially with some Pirate pitchers still being on the trading block as the start of the 2021 MLB season approaches.

  • Richard Rodriguez
  • Chris Stratton
  • Luis Oviedo
  • Sam Howard
  • Chasen Shreve
  • Michael Feliz
  • Kyle Crick
  • Wil Crowe

This prediction is also under the assumption that the Pirates will carry eight relievers and five bench players to start the season. If they roll with nine and four, add Cederlind to the bullpen prediction.

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