Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A players who could soon get promoted to the Major Leagues

Who are some players currently at Triple-A who could soon get promoted to the Pittsburgh Pirates?
Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds
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Ben Heller

The Pirates signed Ben Heller to a minor league deal throughout the off-season. Heller made a brief appearance in the Major Leagues last season for the Atlanta Braves, mostly pitching in low-leverage situations. Heller had an outside chance to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster heading into camp, but injuries sidelined him for all of Spring. But he’s back in action and could put himself into contention for a bullpen spot.

Heller pitched most of his season at Triple-A, where he had a 3.27 ERA, 3.35 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP through 44 frames. This included a 28.9% strikeout rate, a 7.6% walk rate, and 0.41 HR/9. Heller induced a ton of grounders with a 51.4% GB%. Combined with a line-drive rate below 20% and flyball rate under 30% and it’s no wonder why he allowed so few home runs.

Heller then went on to pitch 18.2 innings in the majors with Atlanta where he had a middling 3.86 ERA, 5.02 FIP, and 1.45 WHIP. While he was still inducing ground balls at a healthy 49.1% rate, he had a K% below 20% at 19.6%, as well as a walk rate of 13.4%. Heller also pitched for the New York Yankees from 2017-2020, aside from 2018.

But the pitch that could carry Heller in the Majors is his sweeper. The pitch was unhittable last year, and I’m not exaggerating. He threw his sweeper 41 times during the 2023 season. Not one time did batters get a base hit off of it. His 78.6% whiff rate is the highest single-season whiff rate on any pitch in the Statcast era (since 2015). But don’t sleep on his mid-90s sinker that has well above-average movement.

Heller’s rehab has gone excellent. He has pitched five innings, has not walked a batter, only two have reached via base hit, and has struck out nine. Batters’ sticks are still allergic to his sweeper, with a 69.2% whiff rate. Currently, that’s the 3rd highest whiff rate among all minor leaguers who have thrown a sweeper at least ten times so far.

With how good Heller’s sweeper is, we could definitely see Heller as an option in the Major Leagues sometime this year. I don’t know if he would take priority over Nicolas or another name we will soon talk about, as they are both on the Bucs’ 40-man roster. But he’s definitely making a push to get his time in the big leagues in 2024.