Wil Crowe has struggled mightily since May 1st of last season and throughout his career in high-leverage situations, who could be some potential replacements for him in the Pirate bullpen?
It’s pretty evident that Wil Crowe isn’t off to a great start to 2023. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ reliever has allowed five earned runs while walking nine batters in just 9.2 innings. Dating back to the start of August, Crowe now has an 8.84 ERA, 8.18 FIP, and 2.38 WHIP while walking 20 batters and only striking out 16 in his last 19.1 innings. Even if the Pirates can’t get another high-leverage reliever, Crowe is a so-so middle reliever at this point. So, who would take his place in the pen if the Pirates were to replace Crowe?
The Pirates do have a couple of options on the 40-man roster. One has already made his debut: Yerry De Los Santos. De Los Santos made a brief appearance last season, pitching 25.2 innings. While he gave up 14 earned runs, four of those came in his last game of the season, in which he didn’t get a single batter out, was pulled because of injury, and then was shelved on the IL for the rest of the year due to a right-shoulder muscle strain. Before that outing, De Los Santos had a 3.51 ERA, 3.66 FIP and held opponents to a .208/.276/.333 line. However, De Los Santos is off to a very poor start at Triple-A this season.
The second option on the 40-man roster is arguably the Pirates’ best relief prospect, Colin Selby. Selby had a massive breakout 2022 campaign, working to a 2.27 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP through 35.2 innings. Selby struck out just under 30% of the batters who squared off against him (28.9%) while only allowing two home runs. Selby also had a ground ball rate well above 50% at 54.4%. A former 16th-round pick, Selby runs his fastball up into the mid-to-high 90s and pairs that with a well-above-average slider and curveball.
Aside from options on the 40-man roster, the Pirates do have a couple of arms stashed away at Triple-A they could call up, but they would need to have roster space made for them. Osvaldo Bido has pitched 12 innings, allowing just one earned run with a 15:4 K:BB ratio. Bido has been used primarily as a starter throughout his career but could be a nice long relief man. Though do keep in mind that in four of his previous five minor league seasons, he has put up an ERA over 4.50 and a WHIP of 1.40 or greater. There may be a reason he is 27, not on the 40-man roster, and hasn’t been selected in a Rule 5 draft yet.
Another option is Cody Bolton. Bolton was used in a swing-man capacity last season but has seemingly transitioned to the bullpen full-time now. While Bolton has allowed three earned runs so far this year, he’s also struck out eight and allowed just two walks and no home runs. Bolton also was solid last season with a 3.09 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. He struck out 25.4% of opponents faced and allowed just four home runs in 75.2 innings, but he also had a poor 12.4% walk rate and an HR/FB ratio of just 5.1%.
The second option at Triple-A is Carmen Mlodzinski. Mlodzinski worked almost solely as a starting pitcher in 2021 and 2022. However, like Bolton, Mlodzinski’s home may end up being the bullpen. The right-hander showed off some improved velocity in Spring Training, sitting at 95-96 MPH, compared to only 92-95 the previous pre-season. Mlodzinski had a very up-and-down 2022, showing the talent that made him a first-round competitive balance pick but also struggling mightily at times. Overall, he had a 4.78 ERA and 1.41 WHIP but a 3.77 FIP.
One of the more unique options is J.C. Flowers. Flowers is still relatively new to pitching, as he moved to the mound in 2019 when he was still at Florida State. Flowers had a decent 2022 season but excelled during the summer, working to a 2.61 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and 1.03 WHIP. That includes a 27.3% K-rate, 0.47 HR/9, but a 9.1% walk rate. Flowers has one of the best breaking pitchers in the Pirates’ system that being his slider and a low-mid-90s fastball.
The Pirates could opt for a bolder option and go for a guy at Double-A. Tyler Samaniego or Nick Dombkowski would give the Pirates a second decent left-handed relief option. Right now, Jose Hernandez is their only LHP reliever. Tahnaj Thomas had a great breakout year after moving to the bullpen full-time. He’s one of the Pirates’ hardest-throwing pitchers. But like Bido, Bolton, Mlodzinski, and Flowers, a 40-man roster spot would need to be made for any of them.
I think it’s time the Pirates consider one of the options we talked about today. Crowe has consistently displayed his lack of being able to hold close games, even in the first three quarters or so of 2022 when he was pitching decently. Time to bring up a young gun and see what they can do. It’s more than likely that one of the Pirates’ many relief pitching prospects will become part of the team’s long-term plans than Wil Crowe.