Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Relievers Who Could Start The Year In The Majors

The Pirates could round their bullpen out with one of these three relief pitchers.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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Kyle Nicolas

Kyle Nicolas is probably the most talented pitcher on today’s list. The hard-throwing right-hander was acquired in the Jacob Stallings trade. Nicolas started his time in the Pirates’ system as a starting pitcher in 2022. Although he didn’t pitch badly as an SP, he was moved to the bullpen in the second half of 2023 and thrived, leading to a late-season promotion to the Major Leagues.

Nicolas reeled off an impressive final month of the minor league season. Through the last 15 innings of his campaign, Nicolas had a 1.20 ERA, 2.64 FIP, and 0.80 WHIP. Nicolas had an astounding 41.6% strikeout rate and 0.60 HR/9. His 10.3% walk rate might not look great on paper, but keep in mind he had to adjust mid-season to the automated strike zone. The league average BB% was nearly 12%, for comparison.

Nicolas’ brief MLB promotion was mixed. His debut was awful as he faced seven batters, induced just one out, walked two, allowed a home run, three total hits, and six earned runs. But it seemed like Nicolas got the yips out of him after that. In his next five innings, he allowed only one ER, struck out seven, and walked two. Of course, take his bottom line numbers with a grain of salt because we are still talking about a sample size of less than a full game’s worth of innings.

But you can still make some inferences about his stuff. Nicolas’ fastball sat in the upper-90s with 2409 RPM. He spins his fastball very well with a 97% active spin rate, giving it a ton of carry through the zone. It had better ride than Gerrit Cole’s fastball and more horizontal break. His slider also had outstanding movement with about 2500 RPM. His curveball was his least used offering, but it still had about 50 inches of drop. In terms of Stuff+, Nicolas was off the charts at 130.

If there is another spot left in the bullpen, Nicolas likely has the inside track for it. His outstanding final month at Triple-A and his promising small sample size in the big leagues, along with just how good his pitches looked, will earn him another at some point. Hopefully, it’s via making the Opening Day roster.