Number 2 – Starting Pitching
The amount of pitching talent in the Pirate farm system is immense. The big-name is Quinn Priester, but he likely won’t appear in the big leagues next season. Despite that, the starting pitching staff could be the most improved area of the team, but right now, I have it as the 2nd most improved position.
By the end of May, both Roansy Contreras and Miguel Yajure should be in the rotation. The duo was sent over to the Pirates in the Jameson Taillon trade. Contreras had a phenomenal year at Double-A Altoona and saw a huge uptick in fastball velocity. He went from averaging out in the low-to-mid-90’s all the way up to 96-98 MPH. He also has a plus breaking ball and change-up. Two of his three offerings are easily 60-grade offerings while his change-up is still a 55-grade pitch.
Yajure might not throw very hard, only averaging out in the 90-94 MPH range, but what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for in volume and command. All of Yajure’s offerings project as average or better. He throws a four-seam fastball, a cutter, curveball, and change-up. Those are the 4 pitches that FanGraphs grades, but he also throws a sinker and slider, mainly to right-handed batters. He also has projected-60 grade command. Yajure may not have overpowering stuff, but he keeps hitters off-balance with the number of offerings he throws, as well as throwing them with good control. Yajure would have been in the rotation for a decent part of 2021 had it not been for injuries.
Both Contreras and Yajure should be getting regular starts by mid-May. They’re considered top 100 prospects by FanGraphs with Contreras even ranking at #49. Yajure may not be on the same level as Contreras, but he’s easily a guy who could be a strong #3 type of starter. Contreras on the other hand could be a high-end #2, possibly even a low-end #1 if the stuff he showed in the minors this year was the true Roansy Contreras.
Another high-ranking prospect that could get a shot at the major leagues next season is Carmen Mldozisnki. He was a first-round pick by the Pirates in 2020 and showed a lot of promise at High-A Greensboro. He has a handful of offerings, but none are considered bad either. They’re all very usable pitches. Mlodzinski even got to pitch 2 innings at Triple-A and considering that next year will be his age-23 campaign, he’s a guy you could see in the rotation by the All-Star break
There are also a handful of others that should improve next year. Bryse Wilson will get his first shot at regular innings. Before being traded, Wilson was optioned back-and-forth from the major leagues to the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A team six different times, which surely isn’t a good way to get acclimated with the major leagues. JT Brubaker’s underlying numbers suggest a very solid pitcher. He had a 22.4% HR/FB ratio, which is extremely unlucky when you consider he had a healthy ground ball with an exit velocity and hard-hit rate around league average. Despite his poor overall numbers, Brubaker had a solid 4.00 xFIP, 4.04 SIERA, and 4.34 DRA. Recent free-agent signee Jose Quintana had a highly unlucky .370 batting average on balls in play but had a solid 3.75 xFIP, 3.94 SIERA, and 4.09 DRA. Plus from 2017 up through 2020, he was pretty much a solid league-average pitcher.
Other prospects who aren’t necessarily ranked high like Omar Cruz and Trey McGough might get to the majors sometime earlier in the season. Maybe this is the year Mitch Keller figures it out. Wil Crowe also flashed some potential as a back-of-the-rotation arm. Dillon Peters could end up being a diamond in the rough.
Overall, there’s a glut of pitchers who the Pirates will see next season. Many of them are going to be contributing to the major league roster positively. Yajure and Contreras may be the most notable, but they’re far from the only ones with a decent chance of being good starters.