Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking at Current Bullpen Options for 2023

Apr 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) delivers against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /
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BALTIMORE, MD – AUGUST 07: Colin Holderman #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 07, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD – AUGUST 07: Colin Holderman #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 07, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Prospects

Of the many relief prospects, the one with the most major league experience is Colin Holderman. Acquired in the Daniel Vogelbach trade, Holderman flashed plenty of talent before landing on the injured list. He only pitched 17.2 innings, working to a 3.81 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and 1.20 WHIP between the Bucs and the Mets. Although he had a 20.3% strikeout rate and 11.9% walk rate, he also didn’t allow a single home run, holding opponents to an 87.3 MPH exit velocity.

Holderman has a nasty sinker that averages out around 95-97 MPH. He’ll also throw a slider and cutter. While Holderman’s strikeout and walk numbers weren’t impressive in the major leagues, he did have a 7.2% walk rate and 30.4% strikeout rate at Triple-A. Holderman, De Los Santos, and Bednar could form one of the sport’s most underrated 7th/8th/9th inning trios.

One prospect who could make an impact this season is Colin Selby. The Pittsburgh Pirates added Selby to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Selby is coming off his first season pitching solely out of the bullpen. In total, he owned a 2.27 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP in 35.2 innings between Altoona and Indy. Selby struck out batters at a 28.9% rate while posting a solid 9.2% walk rate. But what was even more impressive was his 0.5 HR/9 and 54.4% ground ball rate.

Selby throws a fastball in the upper-90s. He was hitting triple digits at the Arizona Fall League recently. He pairs that with a gyro slider and curveball. The Pirates must have a high opinion of Selby, protecting him over the likes of Malcom Nunez, Matt Gorski, and our next name. But once you see what he throws and how effective he was in 2022, you see why the Bucs decided to keep him around.

The prospect the Pirates decided to leave open to the Rule 5 draft is Tahnaj Thomas. A former top 100 prospect, Thomas had mightily struggled as a starting pitcher for High-A Greensboro. However, the Pirates moved him to a full-time bullpen role at Altoona, and while it took him a while to get fully acquainted with his new role, by the time summer rolled around, Thomas looked unbeatable. His final 36.1 innings of the season saw him work to a 1.98 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.05 WHIP. Thomas had a fantastic 28.5% strikeout rate and only walked 6.9% of the batters he faced. Plus, he allowed just two home runs.

Thomas is known for his big fastball that hits triple digits. He also has a nice slider but no third offering. He’ll occasionally mix in a change-up, but it’s not a pitch he relies on. That was the major concern for Thomas as a starting pitcher in the low levels of the minor leagues. That and his command, which looks to be sured up based on his sub-8% walk rate during the summer. If the Pirates do not lose Thomas in the Rule 5 draft, look for him to debut in the major leagues sometime in 2023.

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