With Opening Day upon us the Pittsburgh Pirates are preparing to embark on a 2021 season that will be more about the future than it will the present
Manager Derek Shelton is preparing to embark on his second season as the skipper of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first season at the helm Shelton and the Bucs finished with a MLB worst 19-41 record. While the 2021 season will likely be another poor one for Shelton and the Pirates, it will be a season that is about the future.
For a second consecutive season the Pittsburgh Pirates will be one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. This will make the development of young players vital this season. In fact, this will be the most important part of the journey for the 2021 edition fo the Pittsburgh Baseball Club.
As Nick wrote about earlier in the week the Pittsburgh Pirates need to focus on playing the youth this season. This can already be seen in the decision the team made with the outfield. Veteran outfielder Brian Goodwin was added in the offseason and has been a slightly above league average (101 wRC+) hitter in his MLB career. However, Goodwin was left off the Opening Day roster in exchange for Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler.
Both Alford and Fowler are former top-100 prospects. However, neither have ever been given an extended opportunity in the Majors. Alford and Fowler will get that opportunity this season, and the Pittsburgh Pirates giving these two an opportunity to reach their former top-100 prospect potential, or close to it, is the type of move a rebuilding team should make.
One young player the Pittsburgh Pirates need a big season from in 2021 is starting pitcher Mitch Keller. The 2021 season will be a sink or swim season for the former top-50 prospect. After struggling in his first two MLB seasons, Keller’s Grapefruit League performance this spring was filled with red flags. The biggest storyline with the MLB club this season may be what progress Keller does or does not make.
A big reason 2021 is an important season for Keller is the pitching prospects the Pirates have coming in the pipeline behind him. By the end of the season highly touted prospects Miguel Yajure and Cody Bolton should both find themselves in the Pirate starting rotation. Will Crowe, who was acquired in the Josh Bell trade, could have a spot on lockdown as well. These three pitchers could play key roles for the next Pirate team that is a contender and they should all get an opportunity to begin to make their mark this season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could also see pitching prospects make an impact on the bullpen this season. Nick Mears and Blake Weiman are two of the organization’s top pitching prospects and both could become bullpen stalwarts this season. David Bednar, who will start the season in the bullpen, could become the team’s closer by the end of the season, and Bednar could quickly become one of the best closers in the National League. Watching the development of these three young relievers will also be an intriguing storyline for fans to watch this season.
Utility man prospect Rodolfo Castro is another highly touted Pirate prospect who could make his MLB debut this season. Center fielder of the future Travis Swaggerty could very well make his MLB debut this season as well.
Another way the 2021 season will be about the future will be the trade market. The Pittsburgh Pirates will likely look to trade second baseman Adam Frazier and relievers Richard Rodriguez and Chris Stratton this season. Free agent pitcher additions Tyler Anderson and Trevor Cahill could be trade chips as well. Moving these players can help Ben Cherington continue to bring young talent into the organization.
What will be the best part of the 2021 season? A continued return to normalcy. The Pittsburgh Pirates, and the rest of Major League Baseball, are scheduled to play 162 games after COVID-19 limited MLB to just 60 games in 2020.
Fans will be back in the stands this season. On summer afternoons and evenings the North Shore will once again be the place to be in Pittsburgh. PNC Park will have fans back in the seats, enjoying both baseball and the best view in all of baseball.
As the old saying goes hope springs eternal. This spring, the hope is for better things in the future not just for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but for the entire world as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enjoy watching the Pirates’ young players this season. Enjoy some sense of normalcy again. Most of all, enjoy baseball.