2024 Pittsburgh Pirates Rum Bunter staff prediction: Noah Wright

What do I see the Pittsburgh Pirates doing in 2024?

Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates
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Breakout Position Player: Joshua Palacios

Many people are going to put Edward Olivares, or maybe Oneil Cruz if you think he's a breakout candidate. But I have Joshua Palacios. The Pirates took Palacios in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. His surface numbers don't shout "breakout candidate," but based on his other underlying numbers, there's a lot to like about Palacios heading into 2024.

First off, Palacios' raw power was outstanding. He had a 91.3 MPH exit velocity, a 45.4% hard-hit rate, and a 9.8% barrel rate. All were well above average last year. A good comparison would be Sean Murphy, who had a 91.5 MPH exit velocity, 45.8% hard-hit rate, and a 10% barrel rate. Jorge Soler also had similar metrics with a 91.3 MPH exit velocity, a 48% hard-hit rate, and a 9.5% barrel rate. Every qualified batter in 2023 with a 91+ MPH exit velocity, 45%+ hard-hit rate, and barrel rate of at least 9% hit 20 or more home runs last year, with the only one registering a below-average wRC+ being Giancarlo Stanton.

Secondly, Palacios had a .318 xwOBA, significantly higher than the .297 wOBA he posted in 2023. He had the 42nd-highest difference between his wOBA and xwOBA among batters with 250+ plate appearances. His 105 DRC+ (deserved runs created plus) also paints him as an above-average batter and significantly higher than his 83 wRC+. Overall, this would make him an above-average batter.

Lastly, Palacios did end the year on a very high note. He batted .318/.338/.530 with a .369 wOBA, and 131 wRC+ in September. Now, there were some worrying factors about this stretch. He had a 2.9% walk rate, 27.9% strikeout rate, and a .395 batting average on balls in play. It was a small sample size, and where there were some red flags, there were also some positives. His flyball rate and launch angle at that point in the second half of the season was just 36.2% ad 8.2 degrees. He then upped that to 41.3% and 12.6 degrees in September. 

I think Palacios has a lot going for him this season, and this isn't the first time I've had this take. I went much further in-depth with why I think Palacios will be a good player in 2024. He showed off good power, and while he didn't have the greatest plate discipline, I think he'll provide some unexpected pop for the Pirates in 2024.