Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Opening Day Starting Rotation Preview

St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates have added some starting rotation depth this offseason, but what could the Opening Day starting five look like?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a very active team this off-season. Since the start of the offseason, the Pirates have acquired 10 players who are now part of the team’s 40-man roster. Many of those acquisitions were big league acquisitions like Rich Hill, Jarlín García, and Ji-Man Choi.

Entering the offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates had to answer the question of what will the starting rotation depth look like, and they have made some strides to improve it. But what will the starting five on Opening Day look like?

Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, and Rich Hill are guaranteed to be in three of the five spots. Keller had a strong May through October after he added a sinker to his arsenal. Contreras showed a ton of potential, and outside of one start, he strung together a handful of decent starts. Despite being 43 years old, Hill still put up decent numbers last year. He also likely wouldn’t have signed with the Pirates if he wasn’t at least considered for a middle/back of the rotation role.

Johan Oviedo is likely penciled in the rotation as of right now. Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline for José Quintana, Oviedo was once considered one of the better pitching prospects in the Cardinal system until he graduated rookie status. Oviedo spent August at Triple-A to get his workload up to speed and was inserted into the starting rotation in September.

Oviedo only made seven starts with 30.2 innings pitched but had a quality 3.23 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP. Although his strikeout rate of 20.9% and 11.9% walk rate were mediocre at best, he did show better strikeout stuff in some starts. But the more impressive aspect of his game is he induced ground balls at a 54.5% rate and allowed just one home run.

Oviedo throws hard with a slider and curveball that induced strong results. He also throws a changeup, though very rarely. Oviedo could be one of the more underrated breakout candidates in the league. It will be interesting to see how the soon-to-be 25-year-old looks in his first extended look in the big leagues.

There are two other pitchers in competition for the final spot in the rotation. The first is JT Brubaker, who likely has the inside track on one of the rotation spots. Brubaker had an up-and-down season. At times, he looked like a very decent starting pitcher. From April 19 through July 25, Brubaker had a quality 3.50 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 1.37 WHIP. But in his final 44 innings of 2022, Brubaker had a 6.34 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, albeit with a much better-looking 4.11 FIP. Brubaker needs to figure out consistency next season, as he was a decent starting pitcher for nearly 100 innings last season.

The other is Vince Velasquez. Velasquez was one of a handful of Pirate acquisitions this offseason, signing him to a one-year, $3.15 million deal. The veteran worked as a swingman for the Chicago White Sox, starting nine of the 27 games he appeared in. All told, he had a mediocre 4.78 ERA, 4.25 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP in 75.1 innings of work. Velasquez had a below-average 21.6% strikeout rate and 1.31 HR/9, however, his 7.8% walk rate was a career best. Aside from a solid walk rate, he also worked much better out of the bullpen, owning a 4.25 ERA/3.22 FIP out of the pen but a 5.26 ERA and 5.20 FIP in the games he started. 

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While Velasquez was an offseason signee, he was a whole lot better out of the bullpen than he was as a starter. Combined with Brubaker’s relatively solid season and flashes of brilliance, and Brubaker likely has the inside track on a starting pitching job. That rounds out the five rotation spots, but there could certainly be a case to be made to make Brubaker and Velasquez piggy-back starts on occasion or roll with a six-man rotation.