Deadline acquisition Johan Oviedo could be in for a big 2023 campaign after showing tons of promise at the end of the 2022 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pittsburgh Pirates sent José Quintana to the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline for two players. One was first base prospect Malcolm Nuñez, and the other was young pitcher Johan Oviedo. Oviedo will get a chance to start the year in the Pirate Opening Day rotation, and he could be in for a big 2023 season.
Oviedo ended the year on a high note, pitching to the tune of a 3.23 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP while wearing black and gold. Opponents didn’t even hit above the Mendoza line against, posting just a .198 average against. Oviedo managed just a .29 HR/9 rate, in part because of a phenomenal 54.5% ground ball rate.
But there were a few red flags. The first was his sub-par strikeout and walk numbers. He had just a 20.9% strikeout rate and an 11.9% walk rate. With an HR/FB ratio of just 3.4%, xFIP pegged him at 4.45. SIERA also didn’t favor him too much, having just a 4.54 mark on Oviedo. Still, some could be chalked up to small sample size and up-and-down rates.
What I mean is Oviedo had a strikeout rate above 27% in three of his seven starts but a sub-20% K% in three other starts, as well as a 21.5% walk rate in his first four Pirates starts and a 2.9% walk rate in his final three starts. He certainly has the talent, but just needs to find a little more consistency.
The good news is Oviedo has the stuff to be a consistently good starting pitcher. The right-hander has a sizzling fastball that averages out around 96.5 MPH. He was in the top 85th percentile of fastball velocity this season. He also has a slider with an active spin rate of just 41%, which helps him get above-average movement. He also has a curveball that held opponents to a .111 average and .205 wOBA against it. He’ll occasionally throw a change-up, though he used it just 5.5% of the time. Even though he didn’t use it often, he still had a 40% whiff rate with the offering.
The most promising development is that Oviedo didn’t lose velocity when he moved from the bullpen to starting rotation. Oviedo was mostly utilized as a reliever for the Cardinals. Of his first 14 appearances of 2022, just one was a start, and he averaged 95.6 MPH with his fastball and 85 MPH with his slider. Once moving to the rotation with the Pirates, he was up to 96.5 MPH with his four-seamer and 86.5 MPH with his slider. Most of the time, when a pitcher moves from the bullpen to the starting rotation, they might lose some velocity, but Oviedo actually gained a few ticks.
I know what some of you may be thinking. Former prospect who needs more consistent playing time? That sounds similar to Bryse Wilson and look how that panned out. Although the circumstances might be similar, the prospect type is not.
Wilson was trending in the wrong direction when the Pirates acquired him. From 2018 to 2021, Wilson went from a top 70 prospect to a 45 Future Value (FV) prospect. Meanwhile, Oviedo has went from a 40 FV prospect in 2019 to a 45 FV prospect in his final year as a prospect. He went from a top 30 org prospect to a top 10 org prospect in three years.
Oviedo will turn 25-years-old on the second of May. He was ranked as a top 10 prospect in the Cardinals farm system as late as the start of the 2021 season, so he has some prospect notoriety to his name. Oviedo showed he could be a decent starting pitcher, and if given some consistent starts in the major leagues, I believe he could find some consistency and be a quality starting pitcher for the Bucs. He’s definitley on the radar as a potential breakout candidate.