While there may be argument by some for Johan Oviedo to start the 2023 season at Triple-A or in the bullpen, he deserves to be in the Pirate starting rotation
Prior to last year's trade deadline the Pittsburgh Pirates made the always rare inner-division trade. This trade came when they sent left-handed starting pitcher José Quintana to the St. Louis Cardinals. In exchange for Quintana, the Pirates received first base prospect Malcolm Nuñez and young right-handed pitcher Johan Oviedo.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Oviedo, despite initial belief he would join the major league club, they optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis. This was done in part to stretch Oviedo back out after he had pitched out of the bullpen for the Cardinals.
Oviedo joined the Pirates as a September call-up and would go into the team's starting rotation. The 24-year-old Cuban made seven starts for the Pirates, posting a 3.23 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 11.9% walk rate, and a 20.9% strikeout rate in 30.2 innings pitched.
Only one of Oviedo's seven starts went poorly. In his second start, he last just 1.2 innings against the New York Mets. He allowed 4 earned runs while walking five batters. Outside of this start, Oviedo posted a 2.17 ERA, 8.0% walk rate, and averaged 5 innings per start.
These results were more than good enough to get excited about Oviedo as a full-time starter in the majors. The results also needed to be graded on a bit of a curve. After all, he had only made one other major league start in 2022 before September, so his arm was not in "starter mode" prior to that stretch. Despite this, he still turned in a strong stretch of starts with the Bucs.
When the offseason first began Oviedo appeared to be a lock to begin 2023 in the team's starting rotation. Moves that have been this offseason have, in the eyes of some, cloudied that.
Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras are locks to be in the Opening Day rotation, as is free agent addition Rich Hill. Ben Cherington stated that the Pirates see Vince Velasquez as a starting pitcher as well, although that was before they signed Hill, and then there is JT Brubaker who pitched well last season outside of his first two and final starts.
Despite a bit of a starting rotation logjam, Oviedo should still begin the season in the Pirate starting rotation. Keller, Contreras, Hill, and Oviedo should be locked into the rotation, with Velasquez and Brubaker battling it out for the final spot.
Oviedo is set to embark on his age-25 season and has shown plenty of flashes in his young major league career. He was often times jerked back-and-forth between starter and reliever by the Cardinals. There is also an argument to be made that he was forced into MLB action before he was ready, thanks in large part due to the lack of a minor league season to build up his arm, during the 2020 COVID season.
All of these could have been factors into him failing to lockdown a rotation spot before being traded by St. Louis. The Cardinals having a deep starting rotation in 2021 and early in 2022 could have been a factor as well.
There is a real chance that Oviedo solidifies himself as a key member of the Pirate starting rotation long-term. The best way to find out is for Oviedo to begin the season in the team's starting rotation and to make 20-30 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Also, Oviedo is almost assuredly one of the team's five best starting pitchers. Oviedo has a good fastball with a plus slider and curveball. His three-pitch mix is likely, at worst, the fourth best among the team's options for the Opening Day starting rotation. Putting Oviedo in the starting rotation to begin the season is not just what's best for his development, it is what's best for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates.
So while some people may argue otherwise there should be no argument. Johan Oviedo should begin the 2023 season the Pirate starting rotation.