While the current starting rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates is nothing special it could see huge improvements as the 2022 season unfolds.
The Pittsburgh Pirates current starting rotation doesn’t look all that strong. The 26-man roster has many inexperienced players, many of whom have talent but have yet to turn it into results—still, the chance for the rotation to be a massive strength of this team. In my opinion, they could have the most underrated starting pitching staff by the end of the season.
With the amount of young talent that will be making an impact next year, there’s a lot to look forward to, not only throughout the entire team but especially at the starting pitching. The organization’s biggest strength is arguably their young pitching, many of which we will see next year and take on a regular role.
However, the pitching will come in waves. They’re not going to run out of the gate with a phenomenal starting staff. There is a ton in store for the rotation as the season progresses.
The Opening Day rotation will be when the staff is weakest. Miguel Yajure and Zach Thompson will headline the rotation at the start of the season. The former is a top 100 prospect per FanGraphs and showed talent last year. He flashed the talent to be a quality major league starter when he was healthy. Last year, the ladder was a surprise rookie for the Miami Marlins, posting a 129 ERA+ through 75 innings.
The rest of the Opening Day rotation will consist of some significant question marks. Bryce Wilson has yet to be given a proper shot in the majors, so he’ll be an arm to watch. So far, Mitch Keller has shown no consistency or normality throughout his time in the majors. JT Brubaker has the solid underlying numbers, so he has a fair shot at becoming a solid rotation arm for the Pirates. Dillon Peters ended the 2021 campaign on a high note. Max Kranick will look to prove he can belong in the majors next season. But Wil Crowe and Jose Quintana remain massive question marks. The former struggled mightily during his rookie season, and the ladder is a rebound candidate who hasn’t posted solid numbers since 2019.
However, the Pirates will get a massive rotation reinforcement by May. That’s Roany Contreras. Acquired, along with Yajure, in the Jameson Taillon deal, Contreras flew through the minors last year. He started the year out at Double-A Altoona, where he showed massive improvements to his velocity, command, and break. He did so well he made his MLB debut during the last week of the 2021 season. If he’s healthy, he’ll easily be a guy we see around the end of April/start of May.
So by the end of May, you might be looking at a rotation headlined by Yajure, Contreras, and Thompson. That’s a quality start to the rotation, though the back-end will leave some questions. Maybe one of the Pirates’ young arms steps up and takes charge of a spot in the rotation. Perhaps the Pirates sign another pitcher from the free agent market to fill in a role. Still, to end May with an excellent chance of having three reliable arms is a great start to the 2022 campaign.
The Pittsburgh Pirates probably won’t see many big names come up in June. You may see someone like Omar Cruz or Trey McGough make their debut and try and lock down a spot in the rotation, but they’re likely aren’t going to be any Roansy Contreras-like promotions to the starting staff. However, July could be a different story.
One arm that also made a quick rise through the Pirates’ system was Carmen Mlodzinski. The Pirates had drafted Mlodzinski in the first round of the 2020 draft as a competitive balance pick. After posting solid numbers at High-A Greensboro, the Pirates had the right-hander skip Double-A and end the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Mlodzinski will get things kicked off at Indy again next season. Still, with less than 75 innings as a professional under his belt, he’ll probably spend the first few months of the season at Triple-A, that is, unless his performance demands a major league promotion. He will be in his age-23 season, making him a reasonable age to start the year just a step below the majors. But if his performance doesn’t take a dive off a cliff and he stays healthy, we’re looking at a potential post-All-Star Break promotion.
Like June, you’re probably not seeing many significant additions in August or September unless there is a surpise breakout among the pitchers in the upper minor leagues. At this point, the Pittsburgh Pirates just need to ride with what they have.
If the Pirates have played their cards right, we could be looking at a rotation consisting of Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Zach Thompson. The best-case scenario for the back of the rotation is that the Pirates have multiple arms among the breakout candidates performing well above expectations. Worst case scenario is they only have 1 or 2 arms among the breakout candidates who are doing good enough to serve as a 5th starter to the quality 1-4 options the Pirates already have at their disposal.
The best possible case in September is that we see Quinn Priester at some point. Preister pitched well at High-A Greensboro, so he’ll start the year at Double-A Altoona. As we have seen with many of their prospects, the Pirates have been more aggressive with promotions, especially higher-end ones. If Priester continues to pitch well, he may get a similar treatment to Ronasy Contreras, making his debut or appearing in only 2 or 3 games before the end of the year.
Even if Priester doesn’t make his debut, he’s still on a trajectory to be a regular factor in 2023. By the end of the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have multiple quality arms in the rotation, with Contreras, Yajure, Mlodzinski, and Thompson being candidates to pitch a month plus in the majors next year. With the number of inexperienced pitchers with breakout potential, the Pirates will get a shot early next year, they’re bound to find at least one solid starter among the about half dozen arms.