Pittsburgh Pirates: Postseason Odds for the 2022 Season

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 07: The helmet of Sean Rodriguez #3 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is seen before the National League Wild Card game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on October 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 07: The helmet of Sean Rodriguez #3 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is seen before the National League Wild Card game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on October 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a multitude of prospects coming up next season, so much so that a return to Buctober isn’t out of the question.

When you look at the Pittsburgh Pirates you’re probably not thinking the best of teams. They finished with 101 losses last year, making them the 4th worst team in 2021. But there is light on the horizon. Many predict that in 2023, we could see a team that could conceivably compete for a Wild Card spot. But could we see that come to fruition a year earlier in 2022?

Let’s preview what the team could look like by the start of May, one month into the year. If healthy, Oneil Cruz and Travis Swaggerty will likely take over regular spots. Cruz will be a massive improvement at shortstop, with Kevin Newman being the incumbent until the team’s top prospect is ready.

Swaggerty will be an improvement over Anthony Alford or Ben Gamel. He showed massive progress last year, but the central question is whether he can continue making those strides after dislocating his shoulder.

The pitching rotation will also look different by May. The most significant addition is Roansy Contreras. According to FanGraphs, Contreras, the 8th best National League pitching prospect, made considerable improvements to his game last year. He made his major league debut after starting the season at Double-A Altoona.

He’ll start the year at Triple-A but is an easy early-season call-up and an improvement over someone like Wil Crowe, Dillon Peters, or Max Kranick. He’ll join Miguel Yajure, who has excellent talent and will start the year in the rotation as well as Zach Thompson who was a surprise rookie from 2021 and acquired in the Jacob Stallings trade.

That’s just the improvements that you may see at the end of April and into the beginning of May. Cruz and Contreras are top 100 prospects who are arguably National League Rookie of the Year candidates, but Swaggerty is a slept-on prospect who has the talent to be a 20/20 player with Gold Glove level defense.

But what other improvements could we see before the All-Star break sometime in May through June?

Diego Castillo could take over at second base. The keystone is quite shaky with Michael Chavis, Hoy Park, and Cole Tucker in line for playing time at the position, at least to start the season. But with Castillo and a few others, the job could be solidified by mid-May. Canaan Smith-Njigba, Jack Suwnski, Matt Fraizer, or Cal Mitchell could take over another outfield spot. Ji-Hwan Bae is a summer call-up candidate who has shown the ability to play both middle infield spots and center field. Rodolfo Castro is another candidate to take over at second base for the time being.

Plus, the Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of breakout candidates (outside of prospects). Ke’Bryan Hayes will be looking to get the ball in the air more after his wrist injury likely affected his 2021 performance. He still showed the raw power to be a productive hitter and the chance he puts up a ground ball rate well over 55%, given he never hit anything close to that in the minor leagues.

If one of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers, such as Kranick, Wil Crowe, Mitch Keller, or JT Brubaker break out, you have three decent starters going into summer with Contreras, Yajure, Thompson, and a breakout pitcher. Even if the Pittsburgh Pirates can’t find a genuinely great breakout player, the rotation will still look okay with Yajure, Thompson and Contreras. That’s three quality arms right there.

Now that’s a fair amount of players you could see during the first half of the year. But what about in mid-summer and the second half of the season? The most notable prospect who could come up around that time is Carmen Mlodzinski. A first-round pick in the 2020 draft, Mlodzinski made his way to Triple-A Indianapolis at the very end of the 2021 season. That’s where he’ll likely start 2022, but with so little playing time under his belt as a professional, he’ll probably spend at least an entire month or two at Indy.

Another very young prospect we may see in the second half after spending the first few months of the season at Triple-A is Tucupita Marcano. Marcano, acquired in the Adam Frazier swap, made the jump from Low-A to the majors. Given the sudden and quick jump, he’ll likely spend at least most of the first half of 2022 at Indianapolis. But if he’s healthy and doing well at Indy, he’s a guy who could come up in the second half of next year, or possibly even earlier than that.

Jacob Stallings is the only major piece to the roster the Pittsburgh Pirates will be without in 2022 compared to last year. As good as Stallings was, they’re not losing that much now that they signed Roberto Perez, and Perez can, at the very least, provide elite-level defense, much like Stallings.

Another factor to consider is the rest of the division, which would be the Pittsburgh Pirates most significant hurdle. They could very well jump the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are cutting salary as they salary dumped Wade Miley, letting him get claimed off waivers for nothing, traded Tucker Barnhart, are likely to let Nick Castellanos sign elsewhere, and will field offers on Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Jesse Winker, and Tyler Naquin. They have some very talented prospects coming up, but not nearly as many as the Pirates.

The Chicago Cubs did improve by signing Marcus Stroman and claiming Wade Miley, but still, have plenty of questions in the post-Anthony Rizzo-Kris Bryant-Javier Baez era. While the Pirates could overtake the Reds and conceivably the Cubs, their chances of surpassing the Brewers or Cardinals this year are slim.

dark. Next. 2022 Outlook: Logan Hofmann & Nick Garcia

Now is that being optimistic? Yes, but I don’t think it’s that unrealistic to say that a rotation housing Contreras, Thompson, Yajure, and Mlodzinski, and a line-up with Cruz, Swaggerty, Bryan Reynolds, Hayes, and one to three of Castillo, Fraizer, Smith-Njigba, Jack Suwnski, Castro, Ji-Hwan Bae, and Marcano is far from bad and might be a low-end 2nd Wild Card team. Many of those players will be in the majors for two or more months. On paper, that’s a team that could win 70 to 75 games. Maybe one of the prospects overperforms, maybe one or two of the starting pitchers breaks out, and suddenly, the team doesn’t look half bad.