The Pittsburgh Pirates have laid the foundation for a strong bullpen in 2024 and beyond, but these three potential relievers could boost the bullpen to an elite level
The Pittsburgh Pirates have laid the foundation for a Shark Tank 2.0. There are a lot of youngsters who are projected to be in the Bucs’ bullpen; however, some could boost their pen from being a good bullpen to an elite group like what we saw in the early-mid-2010s. These three youngsters could lead the youth movement in the pen in 2024 and give it the extra oomph behind David Bednar.
I’ve written plenty of articles about Kyle Nicolas, but there’s just so much to like about his late-season debut. Nicolas was originally a second-round pick by the Miami Marlins in 2020 but was included in the Jacob Stallings deal. Now that the Fish non-tendered Stallings, the Pirates let go of Zach Thompson last off-season, and Connor Scott has not developed as hoped, Nicolas remains the last player from either side of the deal with any potential. However, there is a lot of potential.
Nicolas’ first few games were mixed. The right-hander stumbled out of the gate, allowing six earned runs and making just one out. But after that, Nicolas settled down and pitched five more innings, allowing only one earned run and striking out seven batters with two free passes allowed.
Of course, that is a small sample size, though Nicolas did look much better at Triple-A once he got acclimated with his new role as a relief pitcher. In his final 15 frames, Nicolas had a 1.20 ERA, struck out 41.3% of batters faced, and allowed just one home run for an HR/9 rate of 0.6. He did have a 10.3% walk rate, which was above the league average in the International League, and overall, he still had a 4.0 K:BB ratio.
Then you take a look at Nicolas’s stuff, and you see why I like talking about him. His fastball sat 96.8 MPH with 2409 RPM. Not only did he have high-end spin, but he used nearly all of it to his advantage with a 97.3% active spin rate. Nicolas’ fastball was most comparable to Gerrit Cole's, and that’s not an over-exaggeration. Cole sat 96.7 MPH with 2412 RPM and a 94% active spin rate. Nicolas’s fastball is arguably even nastier than Cole’s as the former’s four-seamer has better ride and more horizontal movement.
His primary breaking pitch is a slider, which averaged out at 89.5 MPH with nearly 2500 RPM of spin and football spiral spin. It’s a nasty pitch that pairs well with his fastball. He only threw his curveball a total of eight times, and while it was by far his least-used offering, batters swung and missed at it every time with a 100% whiff rate on eight curves.