Let’s first look at some players who are pretty much guaranteed a spot. On the position player side of things, Oneil Cruz, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jack Suwinski, Connor Joe, Ji-Hwan Bae, Rodolfo Castro, and Tucupita Marcano are likely safe from being selected. Oneil Cruz needs no introduction. Had it not been for a major injury in the home opening series, he would easily be a key cog in the Pirates’ line-up. He has some of the best raw power, and while he has some swing and miss, it’s not enough to be overly concerned. Plus he has steadily improved his plate discipline since debuting in 2021.
Ke'Bryan Hayes, despite his frustrating bat, has found a groove as of recently. Over the last month, the only two qualified National League third basemen to have a high wRC+ is Max Muncy and Patrick Wisdom. Not to mention he is statistically the best defensive third baseman in the league.
Suwinski is in the midst of a breakout campaign. He’s started to become much more patient at the plate, and his raw power is starting to show. He’s not a perfect hitter, but he currently owns a 130 wRC+. It also helps he’s a pretty solid defender in center field, and a plus defensive corner outfielder.
The Pirates acquired Joe this past off-season in exchange for minor league pitcher Nick Garcia. Originally a first round pick by the Pirates, Joe currently has a 146 wRC+. He’s always walked a ton, but now he is barreling the ball up. His 11% barrel rate is a career best, and he also has a 90.7 MPH exit velocity.
Rodolfo Castro has earned his spot this year. Like Suwinski, the switch-hitting infielder is also in the midst of a breakout, and has a 121 wRC+. On top of walking more often, he is hitting for above average power. His defense isn’t great (especially at shortstop), but overall he’s a good hitter.
Ji Hwan Bae and Tucupita Marcano are similar kinds of players. They’re both speedy utility men, though Bae makes things happen on the basepaths more often than Marcano. Marcano is a better defensive infielder, however. Still, they’re both guys who could be key players in the Pirates’ future.
Now that we got the position players out of the way, let’s look at some pitchers who are pretty much safe. The list isn’t as long, but the likes of Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Johan Oviedo, and David Bednar would likely claim protected roster spots. Mitch Keller has finally developed into the kind of pitcher many saw when he was a top prospect in the Pirates’ system back in the late-2010s. Keller currently owns a 2.72 ERA, 3.01 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP, with a great K% (27.2%), BB% (6.9%), HR/9 (0.72), and exit velocity (86 MPH).
Roansy Contreras hasn’t yet found that same groove Keller found, but there’s no doubt there’s talent within him. He currently has a 4.74 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, but a much better looking 3.94 FIP. He hasn’t struck out many batters, but he has kept home runs under wraps, despite so-so exit velocity and ground ball rates.
Luis Ortiz is arguably the Pirates’ best MLB-ready pitching prospect. The right-hander can run it up into the upper-90s and triple-digits. Last year, he was elite in swing and miss rate at 29.8%, and held opponents to an exit velocity of just 86.1 MPH. Ortiz induces a ton of ground balls too. Some view Ortiz as a reliever in the long run, though there’s no doubt that he could definitely be one of the Pirates’ best starters.
Johan Oviedo was a 2022 trade deadline acquisition. His 2023 season has had its ups and downs. At some points, he looks unhittable and at others, he’s been all over the place. But this is the first time he is getting an extended look against Major League batters. He’s still a hard throwing young right-hander with some very good stuff.
David Bednar has become one of the best closing pitchers in baseball. So far this year, he’s allowed just a single earned run and free pass in 15 innings with 19 strikeouts. Batters can’t touch Bednar as he is in the 99th percentile of whiff rate. In the rare instances they do hit the ball against him, it almost always results in soft contact. He has held opponents to an 83.7 MPH exit velocity.