Pittsburgh Pirates: Four Bold Predictions for the 2023 Season
By Noah Wright
Multiple Players Receive Rookie of the Year Votes
The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a player receive National League Rookie of the Year votes in the last two seasons. In 2021, it was David Bednar, then in 2022, Oneil Cruz received a few votes. The last time multiple Pirate rookies received ROY votes was in 2010 when both Neil Walker and Jose Tabata received ROY votes. There's definitely a chance they will repeat this feat in 2023 and possibly have the first Pirate Rookie of the Year since Jason Bay in 2004.
Everyone is super excited to see what Endy Rodriguez can do. Since the Pirates acquired the switch-hitting backstop, Rodriguez has hit .310/.395/.554 with a .423 wOBA and 154 wRC+. He's only struck out in 18.4% of his plate appearances, with a healthy 11.4% walk rate. Rodriguez has struck out at a rate under 20% of the time while drawing a walk in 10%+ of his trips to the dish every year of his career. He's easily the best Pirates minor league batter (at least since 2006), owning the best OPS, slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+.
Rodriguez has only improved with time, with his wRC+ going from 140 to 151, then to 199, and finally 208 at each stage of the minor leagues. He only has 155 plate appearances above Greensboro, but still, rarely do you see a player get noticeably better at each level of the minor leagues. Rodriguez is super exciting, but Luis Ortiz is the organization's most exciting pitching prospect.
Last season Ortiz made his major league debut, showing off an upper-90s four-seamer, wicked slider, and effective change-up. He also had a quality minor league season, even if his surface numbers didn't reflect it. He had a 4.56 ERA, 4.40 FIP, and 1.14 WHIP. But he struck out 27.1% of the opponents he faced with a walk rate of 7.5%. Ortiz had a 1.45 HR/9 rate but with an HR/FB ratio of 17.4%. Given he had a ground ball rate of 47.8% and was a soft-contact merchant in the major leagues, it's reasonable to expect him to post a much lower home run rate.
Ortiz gets both swings and misses and (as stated earlier) induces soft contact at a high rate. As we've talked about before, the overlap between elite strikeout pitchers and elite soft-contact merchants is very small, with most including some of baseball's most dominant pitchers. Plus, Ortiz draws extremely favorable comparisons based on his pitch mix (velocity and movement based), according to Baseball Savant.
Rodriguez and Ortiz are far from the only prospects who could make a significant impact in 2023. Don't forget Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Kyle Nicolas, and Carmen Mlodzinski, as other notable pitchers who will start the year at Triple-A. There's also Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Malcom Nunez, and Jared Triolo, which should make up Indy's infield to start the year. Plus, one of the Pirates' best relief prospects in Colin Selby will likely see some major league time this season. Don't forget the other Colin, Colin Holderman, who will start the year in the Major Leagues. Chances are, the Pirates will get at least one player with some ROY love. But it's a bit bolder to predict that the Pirates will have multiple Rookie of the Year candidates.