Pittsburgh Pirates: 3 Spring Training Battles to Watch

Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates
Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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While Pittsburgh digs out of the snow and hunkers down to avoid the latest arctic blast, Pirates fans may benefit from dreaming about warmer climes. After all, Spring Training is just about a month away, and a few position battles promise to heat up February in Florida.

1. The Back-End of the Rotation

Mitch Keller, with whom the Pirates avoided arbitration last week, is a lock for the top of the rotation. In 2023, Keller took a major step forward from “promising” to “legit,” earning his first All-Star nod and posting his career-best WHIP (1.245). Nos. 2 and 3 will be Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales, two new Bucs who will provide veteran experience but also come with their fair share of red flags.

That’s about where the certainty stops. The fourth and fifth rotation slots are up for grabs and a litany of young arms seem poised to make a push. Quinn Priester carries the highest expectations of the group. He has ranked in both Baseball America and MLB’s Top 100 prospect lists and flew through the Minors. His first stint in the Majors was forgettable, allowing 29 runs over his first six starts, and Pirates fans have yet to see if his stuff can translate successfully to the big league level.

Bailey Falter, whom the Pirates acquired from the Phillies via trade last season, has had the most Major League success of Pittsburgh’s in-house options. If he can replicate his 2022 results, which yielded a 3.86 ERA, the left-hander could lock up a spot. Whether Falter can bear the innings load required of a starter is yet to be seen. The last time Falter completed more than 100 innings was 2018 when he was in Rookie/High-A ball.

The final two candidates are a pair of young right-handers with an up-and-down history in the big leagues. Roansy Contreras is out of Minor League options, so he has added pressure to perform well this spring, and Luis Ortiz can touch triple-digits with his fastball but has yet to demonstrate solid command at any level above Low-A.

On the bright side, these young arms just need to carry the team through the early months of 2024. JT Brubaker will return from Tommy John surgery, and Pirates faithful will see Paul Skenes in black and gold before they know it.