Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential 2022 Timeline for Roansy Contreras

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 29: Roansy Contreras #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes his Major League debut against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 29, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 29: Roansy Contreras #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes his Major League debut against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 29, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Roansy Contreras took major strides in 2021, so when could we expect him to take over a regular role in 2022?

During the 2020-2021 offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates traded starting pitcher Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees for a four-player package. One of those four prospects the Pirates received was starting pitcher Roansy Contreras.

At the time, Contreras wasn’t all that highly touted of a prospect. But after 2021, he’s not a top 50 prospect per FanGraphs. He even got his first major league start at the very end of the 2021 season. So when could we expect him to get regular starts in the Major Leagues?

Last season Contreras pitched mostly at Double-A, where he did phenomenally. He only pitched 54.1 innings but had a 2.65 ERA, 2.74 FIP, and .90 WHIP. He was a strikeout machine, getting well over 30% of batters faced down on strike three (34.9%). His 5.5% walk rate was just as good as his K-rate. He had just a 0.83 HR/9 rate, but that arguably could have been lower. Contreras had a healthy 47.5%  ground ball rate and line-drive rate of just 11.1%.

He eventually got promoted to Triple-A where he pitched just 3.2 innings, allowing 1 earned run, but striking out 6 and one walk. After that, he was promoted again, this time to the big league club. He continued to pitch well, going 3 scoreless against the Chicago Cubs, striking out 4, and allowing one free pass.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates called Contreras up to the Major Leagues, he was pumping mid-to-upper-90’s heat. This was unprecedented for Contreras going into this year. Before, he topped out at just 97 MPH. Now, that’s about his average. Plus, his breaking ball looks sharper, and his changeup has always been projected to be an above-average pitch. Based on spin rate and velocity, his fastball is a 60-grade offering. His slider gets a ton of swings and misses, and all four of his offerings have distinctive speeds (other offerings being a curveball and change).

So when could we expect Contreras in the Majors next season? Well, he’s at a reasonable age to make an early call-up. 2022 will be his age-23 season. Given how well Contreras did in his first look in the majors, as well as his improved stuff, it would be easy, a little too easy, to say that he’ll get that call in mid-April once he meets his service time requirements (if that is still around after CBA negotiations). Though I only think that happens if there are multiple injuries to the starting pitching staff.

Remember, Contreras doesn’t even have 10 innings pitched above Double-A. While he did well at Triple-A and the major leagues, that’s only 6.2 innings between the two levels. Leaving him at Triple-A until mid-May gives him about 6-9 more starts, and 40-55 more innings, assuming Indianapolis uses a normal 5 man rotation, no openers, and Contreras is healthy. That’s not an insane amount of innings, nor starts to let Contreras get before getting called to the majors for regular playing time.

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Contreras is very much close to being major league ready. Calling him up mid-May still gets him 20-23 starts in the major leagues if he stays healthy, a very reasonable amount for a guy who made his way up through the minors quickly in 2021 after no competitive play in 2020. He needs a bit more seasoning, but he’s almost there.

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