Pittsburgh Pirates: Dauri Moreta's Opening Day Roster Chances

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The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Dauri Moreta in the Kevin Newman trade, but with minor league options remaining and competition for the final bullpen spots, will he make the major league roster?

The Pittsburgh Pirates will have some tough decisions to make regarding their bullpen. Overall, it’s a young and unproven bullpen, meaning that many of their options have minor league options remaining. One player they’ll have to make a choice with at the end of Spring Training is Dauri Moreta, but should he start the year in the big leagues?

Moreta came over from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Kevin Newman. At first glance, Moreta looks like he shouldn’t even be on the 40-man roster. In 38.1 innings of work, the rookie reliever had an abysmal 5.40 ERA, 5.80 FIP, and a 2.35 HR/9 rate. But those numbers don’t show any of his many positives in 2022.

After struggling greatly early in the year, Moreta was optioned to the minor leagues. Then, he was recalled in mid-late June, and after that, he went on a hot streak. In his final 24.2 innings, Moreta had a much improved 2.92 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and 0.97 WHIP. Moreta’s home run rate was a much more manageable 1.09-per-9 rate, and he had a walk rate of just 7.2%. His strikeout rate was 23.7%, which was above average, and led to a K:BB ratio over 3.0 (3.29).

There are many more positives as well regarding Moreta. His fastball was highly effective. He averaged out at 95.9 MPH with 2250 RPM of spin, but he held opponents to just a .190 average, a .333 slugging percentage, and .280 wOBA. Even then, he underperformed as xSLG pinned him at .318. His fastball also had a whiff rate of 26%. Moreta had a similar whiff rate and better average against, slugging percentage, and wOBA with his four-seamer than Alek Manoah did with his, and Manoah had the fifth most-valuable fastball in baseball last year.

His slider was even better, holding opponents to a minute average of just .103, .207 slugging percentage, and .200 wOBA. Those are highly dominant numbers. But his whiff rate of 48.9% was beyond impressive. That ranked 28th among pitchers who used their slider in 25+ plate appearances. Moreta’s slider was lowkey, one of the best of its kind last year.

Even his change-up wasn’t terrible, holding batters to a .212 average/.312 wOBA. He struggled with extra-base hits with his off-speed pitch, having a .545 slugging percentage against (but a much better .428 xSLG). Where Moreta struggled the most was his sinker. Batters absolutely obliterated Moreta’s sinker to the tune of a .378 AVG, .865 SLG, and .551 wOBA. For reference, Barry Bonds had a .863 slugging % and .537 wOBA when he set the all-time home run record in 2001. That was how bad Moreta’s sinker was last year, and he used it over a quarter of the time (25.1%, to be exact).

So Moreta has clear upside. He has two pitches that induced outstanding results and an average third offering. Plus, he doesn’t give up too many walks and gets his fair amount of strikeouts. He just needs to either improve his sinker or drop it altogether. So what are his chances of making the Major League roster to open the year?

There are some easy calls. David Bednar, Wil Crowe, Jarlín García, Jose Hernandez, and Chase De Jong are likely guaranteed roster spots for now. That leaves 3-4 more spots for Yerry De Los Santos, Colin Holderman, Yohan Ramirez, Robert Stephenson (who may start the season on the injured list), and Duane Underwood Jr.

Among those players, Underwood Jr. has a strong chance of being DFA'd. After struggling with inconsistencies the last two years, Underwood’s roster spot is in limbo. Ramirez did fairly solid down the stretch and has some impressive stuff, but he certainly shouldn’t take priority over De Los Santos or Holderman. Stephenson ended the year on a high note after making the changes that Moreta needs to make (changing his arsenal usage up).

Underwood and Stephenson do not have minor league options remaining, but all of De Los Santos, Holderman, Ramirez, and Moreta do. That means the Pittsburgh Pirates can be flexible with who they send down. As of right now, I’d say that Holderman and De Los Santos take priority over Moreta, but Ramirez is below Moreta on the depth chart.

If the Pirates were to make the decision right now, I’d say that Moreta’s chances of making the Opening Day roster are low but not impossible. If it were up to me, the bullpen would consist of Bednar, Crowe, Garcia, Hernandez, De Jong, De Los Santos, Holderman, Moreta, and Stephenson. The fact he has options remaining and other players who also have options remaining likely are taking higher priority than him make it difficult to see him cracking the Opening Day roster barring any injuries.

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