After struggling mightily in 2023 and now being out of minor league options, the Pittsburgh Pirates are set to face the decision of what to do with Roansy Contreras this season
Entering the 2023 season, expectations were very high for right-handed pitcher Roansy Contreras. Other than Oneil Cruz, there may not have been a player on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster who generated more preseason breakout potential hype than Contreras.
The hype was for good reason. Entering the season Contreras had pitched 98 MLB innings, posting a 3.67 ERA and a 4.29 FIP. Through his first 98 innings he owned a 9.5% walk rate, 21.4% strikeout rate, and had allowed 13 home runs (1.19 HR/9) while limiting opposing batters to a .225 batting average.
These results came on the heels of Contreras rising to become one of the top pitching prospects in the Pirate farm system. This included multiple publications having Contreras as a top 100 prospect in all of baseball.
All of this led to many viewing Contreras as not just a breakout candidate for 2023, but as a sure fire bet to emerge as a solid top of the rotation arm. Things got off to a strong start for Contreras who posted a 3.58 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 10.3% walk rate, 20.7% strikeout rate, and did not allow a home run in 5 starts during the month of April.
Unfortunately, following the first month of the season, things would go south in a hurry for Contreras.
From the start of May until early July, Conteras pitched in 14 games, with 6 starts, and pitched 40.2 innings. He posted an 8.63 ERA, 6.72 FIP, 10.8% walk rate, and a 16.7% strikeout rate in these 40.2 innings pitched. His opponent batting average jumped to .301 and he allowed a whopping 11 home runs (2.43 HR/9).
It got to the point where opposing batters were teeing off on Contreras. He was struggling to find the strike zone, and when he did it was often times pitches left over the heart of the plate that were hit hard. His opposing barrel rate of 8.4%, hard-hit rate of 44.9%, and average exit velocity of 90.5 MPH were all well above league average.
These struggles led to Contreras not just losing his job in the Pirate starting rotation, but being optioned back to the minors. At first, Contreras did not pitch at all in the minors. Instead, he was sent to Bradenton to simply work on things and be given an opportunity to press reset.
After pitching 2 scoreless innings in an outing with Low-A Bradenton on August 4th, Contreras was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. Contreras went on to pitch in 8 games with Indy, 6 of which were starts, posting a 4.96 ERA, 6.11 FIP, and a 22.4% strikeout rate in 32.2 innings pitched. He continued to struggle with his command. Even though he had just an 8.2% walk rate, he left far too many pitches over the heart of the plate leading to him allowing 8 home runs (2.20 HR/9).
Arguably the most concerning part for Contreras in the minors was his fastball velocity. Last season, his average four-seamed fastball velocity dropped to 94.3 MPH. This was a mile and a half drop from his 95.8 MPH average four-seamer velocity in 2022. During his time in the minors last season, Contreras fastball velocity remained down. Oftem times, he would struggle to get above 92/93 MPH.