Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Internal Bullpen Reinforcement Options
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen will likely be a major question mark throughout the season. Are there any internal moves that can be made to help?
The regular season has only just begun. However, some of the holes in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ roster have already started to rear their ugly head. After 5 innings from Rich Hill that kept the Pirates in the game on Saturday afternoon, Derek Shelton turned to his bullpen. Shelton handed the ball to Chase De Jong who surrendered three runs.
Putting De Jong in the situation he was in was a recipe for disaster. Last season, batters hit .296/.392/.546 in high leverage situations and .343/.413/.612 when the game was within one run against De Jong.
The bigger issue is the Pirates don’t have much better options. The Pirates were also warming up Duane Underwood Jr., another pitcher batters hit well against in high-leverage games. The Pirate bullpen has some talent, but it isn’t deep, and that’s the massive issue. Even though the regular season has already started, is it too late for the Pirates to fix their bullpen?
Well, the Pirates aren’t going to find any immediate help through the free-agent market. They could take a low-risk minor league deal on Ken Giles or Zack Britton, both of whom were still trying out for teams and looking for a contract late into spring training. Still, neither would be immediate fixes, as they’d likely be sent to extended Spring or Triple-A for the first few weeks until they were fully warmed up for the regular season. The Pirates also aren’t going to find a team willing to trade anyone right now.
Their Triple-A team does have some almost-ready guys. Their best relief prospect is Colin Selby, who had a breakout 2022 campaign. He was throwing mid-upper-90s with a wipeout slider and decent curveball. Another decent relief pitcher at Triple-A Indy is J.C. Flowers. Flowers has the best slider in the Pirate system and saw an uptick in strikeout percentage throughout the season. 2022 rookie reliever Yerry De Los Santos is also currently stationed at Triple-A.
Double-A Altoona also has some talent. In terms of southpaws, they have 2021 draft class relievers Tyler Samaniego (14th round) and Nick Dombkowski (UDFA). Samaniego had a great year at both Greensboro and Altoona. Dombkowski may not be a high-leverage reliever, but he can be a solid multi-inning arm. Their best right-hander is hard-throwing righty Tahnaj Thomas. Thomas broke out in 2022 after moving to a full-time relief role.
The Pirates’ bullpen is starting out weak, but it should improve throughout the year. It would be nice, however, if the Pirates would promote one of their relief prospects. The pen desperately needs a boost, and while getting another young guy in the mix may add to the already high volatility of the pen, it would be a far better option than De Jong or Underwood Jr. De Los Santos, at the very least, deserves a roster spot over either of them.