Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Back of the Rotation

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 03: Mitch Keller #23 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on October 3, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 03: Mitch Keller #23 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on October 3, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates could have a formidable 1-3 mid-way through 2022, but who could fill out the last two rotation spots?

A current look at the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation is quite bright. By the end of the 2023 season righties Quinn Priester and Roansy Contreras should anchor the starting rotation. Both are considered two of the best pitching prospects among all National League teams. Then there’s 2020 first-round competitive balance pick Carmen Mlodzinski. Priester, Contreras, and Mlodzinski make a formidable 1-2-3.

But the Pittsburgh Pirates have many potential options to fill out the back of the rotation. Many of those arms have a ton of potential to become quality major league arms. So among those arms, who could fill out the last two spots in the Pirate starting-five next season?

I am still high on Mitch Keller.

So far, he hasn’t been what fans were expecting. He’s had about the weirdest start to his career as any player. He had a super unlucky first taste in 2019, a super lucky 2020, and was good for about every other start in 2021. However, things are looking up for Keller.

This offseason, he’s hitting triple digits on the regular with his four-seam fastball. He’s only ever once hit 98 MPH in the majors once. He’s also hitting the 90’s with his slider. So far in bullpens this off-season, his stuff looks entirely different for 2019-2021. It wouldn’t be the first time a former high-end pitching prospect went from worst to first. Just ask Lucas Giolito how he’s doing after posting the 27th highest ERA in a single season since integration back in 2018 (min. 150 IP).

Another player who could help round out the rotation is Miguel Yajure. Yajure was acquired alongside Contreras. Although his first few starts as a Pirate didn’t go all that well, he was injured for a good part of the season. He has five offerings that play at an average or better level when he’s healthy. He also has some of the best command of any player in the organization. If he can reach the 90-94 MPH range he was sitting at early into the season, he’ll be just fine moving forward.

A pitcher the Pirates acquired at the 2021 trade deadline who is in the running for the long-term rotation plans is Bryse Wilson. Wilson is a former top 100 prospect who hasn’t gotten a real opportunity in the majors yet. He’s been optioned over a dozen times since his first season back in 2018. He’ll finally get a chance at regular playing time without the threat of demotion the next day. Wilson has excellent command and some solid stuff to go with it. He wasn’t among the Atlanta Braves’ top prospects for no reason.

Max Kranick is another guy to keep your eye on throughout the following season. Kranick has shown some solid stuff, including a mid-90’s sinking fastball that can hit 98. His command might be a little on the fringy side, but he’s shown a good ability to induce above-average contact. He could help add yet another back-of-the-rotation arm to the depth chart.

J.T. Brubaker had some very solid underlying numbers in 2021. He was greatly affected by an unlucky HR/FB ratio. Underneath the surface, he was a 4.00-ERA pitcher. He had a solid start to the 2021 season but fell off in the second half. On the bright side, he increased his strikeout rate and decreased his walk rate in 2021. If Brubaker can pitch to his ability, he’d easily be part of the long-term rotation plans.

Although unlikely, Wil Crowe could be part of long-term rotation plans. He showed a few above-average pitches and a solid ability to induce soft contact. With the amount of talent coming up through the pipeline, Crowe will likely get a shot to prove himself as a swingman, long-relief/spot-starter. One last guy who has a chance to prove himself in 2022 is Dillon Peters. Peters’ contract was bought by the Pirates, and he strung together a handful of quality starts down the stretch of 2021. He’s shown a good ability to induce grounders and prevent the home run, which helps make up for his lack of K’s, overwhelming velocity, or elite command.

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The overall starting pitching depth is quite good for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Right now, I’d say that Keller and Yajure take up the last two spots. Hopefully, this is the year for Keller, and Yajure is a good candidate to have a rebound campaign.