Pittsburgh Pirates Return to October
Yep, we're gonna go with this one again. This year has a different vibe to it. The off-season alone was much different than in previous seasons, as the Pirates actually went out and acquired Major Leaguers rather than just patchwork. In terms of off-season spending, they've added about $30 million to their payroll (excluding players who are not arbitration eligible yet). That's a lot more than they spent in the 2021-2022 off-season, which came in at just about $16.25 million. Two off-seasons ago, they spent less than $5 million (around $2.5 mil). Sure, the 2020-2021 off-season was different for a multitude of reasons, but the point still remains.
As stated earlier, a ton of talent is coming through the pipeline, and it's made its way to the higher levels of the minor leagues. Since the rebuild began in the 2019-2020 offseason, many of the prospects the Pirates acquired in the early stages, like Endy Rodriguez, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Jared Jones, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Canaan Smith-Njigba, are at Double-A, Triple-A, or have made their Major League debuts already. Some of those prospects will likely play a regular or semi-regular role by the end of the season.
Now, of course, not every prospect is going to hit the ground at full speed. Some might, others might only do okay, and others may struggle and get demoted back to Triple-A. It's not reasonable to expect every prospect to be a Rookie Of The Year candidate, but as long as a good portion of them at least provide average or better production, the team could very much be in contention.
The Pirates also have a handful of breakout candidates on the team. Roansy Contreras and Johan Oviedo could end up being two of the Pirates' best pitchers. Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman could also both be key high-leverage arms in the bullpen. Jack Suwinski has some promising underlying numbers that could help him in 2023. Both Bryan Reynolds and Mitch Keller will look to continue to build off their strong second half.
The veterans they have brought in, like Rich Hill, Andrew McCutchen, Ji-Man Choi, and Carlos Santana, all have the potential to be average or better contributors. They should help supplement the team's young players. Cutch, Choi, and Santana specifically have underlying numbers regarding the new shift rules that make them promising veterans.
Look, I'll be the first to admit it: a ton, and I mean a TON has to go right for the Pirates to make it back to October baseball. But this is my boldest prediction for a reason. You get Ke'Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Carlos Santana/Ji-Man Choi, Bryan Reynolds, Andrew McCutchen, Jack Suwinski, and Endy Rodriguez firing on all cylinders, and that line-up could sneakily be one of the better ones in baseball. That's a league-average or better hitter at every position. Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, and Luis Ortiz, with Johan Oviedo, Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Kyle Nicolas, or Carmen Mlodzinski making up the starting five, will also provide a formidable rotation.