Pittsburgh Pirates: Veterans Providing Guidance to Young Roster

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Houston Astros v Pittsburgh Pirates / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The veterans the Pittsburgh Pirates added this offseason have already shown an impact on the young roster

The Pittsburgh Pirates are going into Spring Training with an extremely young roster. 25 of the players on their 40-man roster were born in 1995 or later. However, some of the veterans they’ve brought in have already had an impact on the team. While most expect these veterans to play an on-field presence, some are already showing their off-field presence in camp.

Rich Hill is the oldest player in baseball, and when he makes his debut, he’ll be the oldest Pirate player since 1963, when Diomeds Olivo was in his age-44 campaign. Hill has been around the block and then some.

The southpaw made his debut back in 2005 in his age-25 campaign, already making him a bit old for a rookie. Hill bounced around the league for years as a starter and reliever and even had a brief stint in the independent Atlantic League back in 2015. However, after signing with the Boston Red Sox later that year and posting strong numbers in September, Hill has become a steady arm for the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Mets.

This will be Hill’s 19th Major League campaign, and he’s already imprinting himself on some of the younger pitchers, most notably 25-year-old Johan Oviedo. Oviedo, who was acquired in the Jose Quintana swap, was a former top prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He’s looking for a breakout 2023 campaign and his first extended look in a major league starting rotation in 2023.

Hill still has an elite curveball. Last year, Hill averaged 67.7 inches of vertical drop with his curve, the most he’s ever averaged in a single season in the Statcast Era. Only five other pitchers had more vertical movement. With his fastball velocity sitting in just the 2nd percentile, Hill has steadily increased the usage of his curveball over time which was his primary pitch in 2023.

Another veteran the Pirates signed this off-season was Austin Hedges. Hedges is renowned for his defensive work behind the dish. In less than 5000 innings caught, Hedges already has +75 defensive runs saved, and +64.7 framing runs. That ranks him 7th all-time in catcher DRS and 14th in framing runs. Hedges was working hard with both JT Brubaker and Colin Holderman in bullpen sessions so far, giving both a lot of feedback:

However, he’s not just helping the pitchers. He has also given advice to the Pirates’ young catchers in camp, specifically Henry Davis. Davis is a bat-first catcher who has struggled with his defense. Davis has already allowed nine passed balls in just 370 innings as a backstop, while Hedges has only averaged about three passed balls per 800 innings. 

Too many people focus on the hitting aspect when it comes to Hedges. Yes, he is a negative regarding hitting, but he’s probably the best defensive catcher in all of baseball right now. Game calling and his impact on pitchers are intangibles that can’t be measured. It will be interesting to see how Hedges impacts the game, both with his defense and with his tutelage. 

Andrew McCutchen was already a major leader in the Pirates clubhouse during his first run with the team. Now at 36, he brings even more experience back to the Bucs. McCutchen and stud third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes have already seemed to form a bond in camp. Not only will McCutchen positively influence Hayes, but he could also help him on the hitting side of things. The big knock on Hayes has been his inability to lift the ball. He had just a 5.2% launch angle last season despite strong exit velocity and hard-hit numbers. McCutchen, meanwhile, had a 13.2-degree launch angle and has never dipped below 12.5 degrees in any season of his career in the Statcast era.

Overall, it’s nice to see the veterans impact the young roster. While the veterans could provide on-field value, there’s a lot of off-the-field, intangible value many of these veterans are bringing to the table. With such a young team, it’s nice to have some veteran guidance.

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