Starting pitchers - Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Rich Hill, Johan Oviedo, JT Brubaker/Vince Velasquez
For a variety of reasons, it is not uncommon to see an MLB club roll with a six-man starting rotation early in the season. It would not be a surprise to see the Pittsburgh Pirates go this route when the 2023 season begins.
Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras are locks to be in the team's Opening Day rotation. Keller took a huge step forward last season and Contreras appears to be budding into one of the best young starters in the NL. As Noah wrote about last week, they could be a very underrated one-two punch.
Veteran free agent addition Rich Hill is also a lock to be in the team's Opening Day starting rotation. After Hill, things begin to get a bit murkier. Not due to a lack of options, but due to having multiple options.
There could be some thought to having Johan Oviedo begin the season either in the bullpen or at Triple-A Indianapolis. However, this would be a mistake. In seven starts with the Pirates last September the young righty posted a 3.23 ERA, 3.47 FIP, with an 11.9% walk rate, and a 20.9% strikeout rate. Oviedo has nothing left to prove in the minors and it's time to see if his long-term MLB home is as a starting pitcher, especially after last September made it appear that this is indeed the case.
This then leaves 2022 Opening Day starter JT Brubaker and free agent addition Vince Velasquez. Both Brubaker and Velasquez will make the Opening Day roster, the only question is in what capacity. Brubaker struggled in his first two starts and his final start last season, but looked like a quality no. 3 or no. 4 starting pitcher in the 25 starts in between.
While Velasquez may project better as a reliever when he was signed Cherington said the Pirates look at him as having starting pitcher qualities. That was also before the team signed Hill to a one-year deal.
Could the Pirates roll with a six-man rotation featuring both Brubaker and Velasquez to start the season? Could one or both be used to piggyback with other starting pitchers? That remains to be seen, but both will make the Opening Day roster. More than likely, one of them will move to the bullpen to start the season.