Pittsburgh Pirates: Offseason 40-Man Roster Crunch is Looming

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Mar 1, 2021; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates Cal Mitchell (91) poses during media day at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: MLB Photos via USA Today Sports
Mar 1, 2021; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates Cal Mitchell (91) poses during media day at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: MLB Photos via USA Today Sports /

Players on the radar

Corner outfielder Cal Mitchell will be in consideration for a 40-man roster spot. The 22-year-old has had a solid season at Double-A. He’s yet another outfielder with decent numbers at Altoona. In 364 plate appearances, Mitchell is hitting .283/.339/.449 with a .340 wOBA, and 111 wRC+. Mitchell is striking out just 17% of the time but has a sub-6% walk rate (5.5%).

Mitchell has always been praised for his raw power. He’s had his best season in terms of power this year with 12 long balls and a single-season best .166 ISO. While that’s not overly impressive, he has trended upward every year. As a fielder, he only projects as average with below-average speed. Though his solid season at Double-A and age will at least leave him as a possible candidate to be protected.

One of the more interesting cases will be Cody Bolton. Entering the 2021 season Bolton was one of Pittsburgh’s higher ranking prospects. He had a strong start to 2019 with a 1.61 ERA, 1.96 FIP, and 0.85 WHIP in 61.2 innings at High-A Bradenton. After being promoted to Double-A, he saw his numbers rise to a 5.85 ERA, 4.67 FIP, and 1.32 WHIP. All of his numbers went in the wrong direction, but part of that could be because of injuries he suffered down the stretch.

Bolton was slated to start 2021 out of the bullpen, but then he tore his meniscus, causing him to miss the entirety of 2021. The new regime seems not to be as high on him as the previous one did, which is why I could see him being left off in favor of another player. If the Pittsburgh Pirates have room, they should protect him, but only as an ‘if there is room’ option. He has plus spin on his fastball and breaking ball, but after 2 years, who knows what his stuff will look like.

The next player that I think has a chance to make the 40-man is Lolo Sanchez. The 22-year-old outfielder has put up solid numbers at High-A Greensboro. He’s hit .257/.376/.446 with a .366 wOBA, and 125 wRC+ in 366 plate appearances. Sanchez has never been that much of a power hitter, but he’s shown some pop with 14 long balls and a .188 ISO. He’s also walking a ton with a 13.4% walk rate.

Sanchez has always been more of a speed/high BA kind of player. Though he is hitting for more power, he’s still a big stolen base threat. Sanchez has swiped 28 bases in 36 attempts. He’s still considered a solid fielder and ranks as the Pirates’ 48th best prospect on FanGraphs. Among all the players I talked about in this section, I think Sanchez has the best chance of making the 40-man.

Last but not least is outfielder Fabricio Macias. Macias got the year started at High-A Greensboro where he hit .316/.364.497 with a .375 wOBA, and 131 wRC+. Macias showed some solid power, blasting 6 home runs in 184 plate appearances and having a .181 ISO. He was hitting a ton of line drives as well with a 28.3% LD%. Though this came with pretty poor plate discipline. He struck out in 22.3% of his plate appearances while having a walk rate of just 5.4%.

Regardless, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been aggressive with his movement through the system, promoting him straight to Triple-A Indianapolis. However, the transition hasn’t been as smooth as he’d probably like it to be. While it is just 94 plate appearances, Macias has struggled, hitting .280/.337/.378 line, coming to a .715 OPS, .323 wOBA, and 94 wRC+. His strikeout rate has gone down a tick to 21.1%, but so has his walk rate to an extremely poor 4.4%.

Any power he previously showed has been sapped with a .097 ISO. Macias has struggled to get the ball in the air with a 58.7% ground ball and 19% line drive rate. While he does have a solid BA and respectable OBP, the fact he’s striking out more than 20% of the time and walking less than 5% as well as showing now power are very worrisome. Again, small sample size, but not a promising sample size.

Though Macis could simply be struggling because they had him skip Double-A entirely. Him only having slightly below-average numbers isn’t awful considering that he made such a large jump. The outfielder is already 23-years-old. He’ll be on the Pirate radar but isn’t an absolute need to protect. The Pirates might be able to sneak him through because he’s neither a high-ceiling/floor prospect nor does he particularly excel at anything. Teams might find a better choice in the draft and select someone with more potential. But seeing as they were confident enough to promote him straight to Triple-A, he might be a higher priority target to protect than we are seeing.