Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Sleeper Picks to Watch in 2024

Don't sleep on these three Pirates players as they could be massive contributors in 2024.

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages
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Joshua Palacios

Joshua Palacios captured the hearts of many Pirates fans in 2023 with his consistent, incredibly clutch hits. In late and close games, Palacios had 13 hits, nearly all of which were extra-base hits (four home runs and doubles, one triple), six walks, and just eight strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Palacios mostly served as a 4th outfielder for the team during the second half of the season.

Palacios’ overall line was not impressive. He only batted .209/.279/.413 with a .297 wOBA, and 83 wRC+. On the plus side, he did hit for above-average power, hitting ten homers in 264 plate appearances with an above-average 21.2% strikeout rate. But he also struggled to draw walks with a 4.5% walk rate, leading to a BB:K ratio of 0.21. Palacios did show off good power with a 91.3 MPH exit velocity, 10.3% barrel rate, and 45.4% hard-hit rate. His 7.7-degree launch angle, however, was a tad low.

Baseball Savant was very optimistic about Palacios’ overall performance. He had an expected .259/.318/.438 triple-slash and .318 xwOBA. That comes out to a .758 OPS. That’s comparable production to Eddie Rosario, Spencer Torkelson, or J.T. Realmuto. The league average triple-slash, OPS and wOBA was .248/.320/.414, .734, and .318. That would make him an average to slightly above league-average batter in most regards.

According to Baseball Savant and Statcast, Palacios’ batted ball profile is very similar to four players from 2023: Michael Harris II, Eloy Jimenez, Ryan O’Hearn, and Freddy Fermin (they do include a fifth comparison in Brendan Rogers, but he received less than 200 plate appearances, which is why I left him off). These four batters combined for a .284/.323/.465 slash (OPS of .788).

The most similar of these four batters in 2023 was Harris II. Harris’ BB:K ratio was 0.25 while carrying a 90.9 MPH exit velocity, 48.5% hard-hit rate, 7.6-degree launch angle, and 10% barrel rate. Those are very similar to Palacios’ 0.21 K:BB ratio, 91.3 exit velo, 45.4% hard-hit rate, 7.7 degree launch angle, and 9.8% barrel rate. Harris, of course, was a very productive batter in 2023 with a .293/.331/.477 slashline, .345 wOBA, and 113 wRC+.

Sure, Palacios will likely open the year as the team’s fourth outfielder, but I would not be surprised if he played well enough to at least earn a semi-regular role. He does a lot of things similar to batters who had good seasons last year. If he hits anything like his potential suggests, you are looking at arguably the most underrated breakout candidate of 2024.