Pittsburgh Pirates Should Build Around Their Pitching Staff
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates should build around their young pitching as they have an abundance of it within their minor league system
When you look through the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, they have an abundance of high-end starting pitching prospects. Obviously, they have plenty of other good prospects at other positions, most notably both middle infield spots, behind the dish, and the outfield, but pitching is going to be what the Pirates need to build their next winning team around.
Now we all know that Quinn Priester and Roansy Contreras have ace-like potential. Priester was their 2019 first-round pick. He’s performing well at High-A, but more importantly, his stuff has looked outstanding. His boost in prospect stock happened over this past offseason after his work in instructionals. With one of the best curveballs among all prospects, an elite-level fastball, and a good change-up, you’re looking at one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball.
Coming up the farm is Contreras. Acquired in the Jameson Taillon deal, Contreras has looked like an ace at Double-A Altoona. Contreras not only has numbers looked like a #1 starting pitcher, but his stuff is backing it up. He’s averaging out in the upper-90’s, a large uptick from 2019. His breaking pitch has sharper break, and his change-up has always looked above average.
We also can’t forget about Miguel Yajure. Contreras wasn’t the only worthwhile pitching prospect to come over in the Taillon trade. Yajure is a right-hander with high-end control. His outstanding control helps his offerings play up. Impressively, all 4 of his pitches project as average or better. Three of the four are considered above-average offerings.
2020 first-round compensation selection Carmen Mlodzinski is yet another young pitcher with a high ceiling. Mlodzinski looks like High-A’s co-ace with Priester, also putting up good numbers. The Pirates picked Mlodzinski for a good reason. He’s a power pitcher who works in the mid-to-upper 90 MPH range. Not only does he have velocity, but movement with his fastball to go with it, being described as a sinking fastball. He works with a changeup as well and a breaking ball that can be seen as a cutter, slider, or both. Regardless, it’s an above-average pitch.
Now that’s four pitchers with the potential to be #1 or #2 pitchers. While Priester will take a bit longer to develop as he’s only 20-years-old, Contreras and Mlodzinski should at least get a taste of big-league action in 2022. Yajure has already played a few games in the majors while showing some promising stuff.
It’s not like they’ll be alone either. The Pittsburgh Pirates will have plenty of other pitchers with some promise that can round out the rotation in the next year or so. Bryse Wilson, Wil Crowe, and JT Brubaker have shown the potential to be a solid back of the rotation starter at some point this year. Mitch Keller has been extremely inconsistent but is still young. Overall, the Pirates should have more than enough rotation options by the end of 2022.
But that’s far from their only starting pitching prospects that will play a large role in the future rotation. The likes of Brennan Malone, Santiago Florez, Nick Garcia, Logan Hofmann, Omar Cruz, Ricky DeVito, and Michael Burrows are in the system and looking to do some good. Don’t forget about their high school picks like Jared Jones, Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo, Owen Kellington, recently acquired young arm Joaquin Tejada, and international signee Po-Yu Chen. Now the high school-aged arms won’t be up for a while, but they’re definitely names to keep an eye on as by the time they are major league ready, they could be just as highly touted as the likes of Priester, Contreras, Yajure, and Mlodzinski.
But what about the bullpen? We’ve talked a whole lot about all these potential future starting pitchers. But that’s just one part of the pitching staff. The starting staff may give the team a chance to win, but the bullpen needs to hold the leads. After all, what would the 2013-2015 Pittsburgh Pirates have looked like if their bullpens weren’t as good as they were? Well, the future Pirates should have that covered as well.
Their potential closer of the future is already in the Major Leagues, that being David Bednar. The right-hander is a local kid from Pittsburgh, and he’s been a lockdown late-inning arm so far this year. He has a powerful fastball, a plus curve, and a great splitter.
Aside from Bednar, the Pirates have plenty of young arms who are currently starting games but could move to the bullpen. That’s the case for two struggling right-handers in Eddy Yean and Tahnaj Thomas. The two have some good stuff, but a transition to the pen would help it play up and get better results. Though the ladder has a very high ceiling and the Pirates would probably attempt to keep him as a starter as long as possible.
Aside from that, they do have some relief pitching prospects who should make an impact by the end of 2022. Nick Mears has looked pretty decent this year. He’s given up 5 earned runs in 10.1 innings, but 3 of those came in one blow-up outing where he only got 2 outs. Blake Cederlind would probably have gotten a shot this year already had it not been for Tommy John surgery.
There are some other arms that could fill out the rest of the bullpen. Luis Oviedo will likely spend most of 2022 in the minor leagues. He’s a Rule 5 Draft pick who never played above A-ball and is only 22. While he has the stuff, his poor performance in the major leagues shouldn’t be a massive shocker. If a decent portion of the Pirates’ starting pitching prospects turn out, some will likely get a shot as a bullpen arm. Florez and Burrows are the two that might make that transition given that they don’t have a good third offering. The Pirates picked a relief pitching prospect in the 2020 draft in Jack Hartman, but he underwent Tommy John surgery so he missed all of this year.
The Pirates have some other young relief arms within the system. Enmanuel Mejia has struggled with his control but has yet to give up an earned run in 30.1 innings between Low-A and High-A. Yerry De Los Santos is considered one of the team’s best relief prospects. Though he’s missed most of this year because of an injury, he had a fantastic 2019 and got off to a solid start at Double-A before getting hurt.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of position player depth, their young pitching depth is phenomenally deep. They have young arms that should be able to help within the next year or two, as well as pitchers that will be ready 3-5 seasons in the future, setting themselves up for long-term success. They have young starting pitching prospects, as well as some worthwhile relief pitching prospects, or prospects who could make the transition to the bullpen.
Because of this, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to build around their young pitchers. The amount of young pitchers within the system is impressive, and that’s an understatement. Not only should they build around their pitchers because of their wealth of depth at the position, but out-pitching your opponent will lead to more wins than trying to out-slug them. Good pitching and defense will help an even a mediocre offense play at a playoff-caliber level.