Rookie of the Year - Mike Burrows
After solidifying himself as one of the top Pirates pitching prospects last season, Mike Burrows is looking to improve on a very successful 2022 campaign. With the Altoona Curve, Burrows was fun to watch, posting a 2.94 ERA, 2.72 FIP, struck out 69 batters, and had a 1.10 WHIP across 52 innings pitched and 12 starts. Burrows struck out 32.4% of the batters that he faced and continued to limit hard contact.
Mike Burrows was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis to finish the 2022 season, where he posted a 5.31 ERA, 3.98 FIP, struck out 42 batters, and had a 1.35 WHIP across 42.1 innings pitched and 10 starts. Even with various minor injuries that season, Mike Burrows was selected for the 2022 Futures Game and was named the #2 pitching prospect in the Pirates farm system behind fellow teammate Quinn Priester. While Burrow’s numbers on paper didn't look great, one bad game toward the end of the season inflated his ERA significantly after giving up 6 earned runs, so he was very unlucky. Without that start, Burrows would’ve had a 4.10 ERA for the Indians.
Burrows is known for his ability to limit home runs (HR/9: 2018: 0.00, 2019: 0.41, 2021: 0.55, 2022: 0.52, 2022: 1.06) and has excelled in limiting hard contact throughout his entire minor league career. Burrows houses a lethal pitching repertoire that consists of a mid-90's fastball, a dominant curveball, and changeup, and his most recent addition: a slider with lots of horizontal break. Even though Mike Burrows will start out the 2023 season in Triple-A, he will still receive multiple chances at the major league level in the rotation or the bullpen. Many would argue that Endy Rodriguez should be the clear consensus pick for Rookie of the Year, but I believe Burrows will be a surprise find this year.
Breakout Position Player - Rodolfo Castro
After a relatively disappointing season, Rodolfo Castro still showed some promise as the potential future of the second base position. In 71 games, Castro posted a below-average stat line at .233/.299/.427, hit 11 homeruns, 27 RBIs, and had a 103 wRC+. While Castro was able to generate walks 7.9% of the time at the plate, he still struggled with a 26.6 strikeout rate and wasn't able to get on base much. He wasn't an exceptional defender at the second base position last season, but he has made strides to be better during Spring Training this year.
With the future of the position up in the air, this is Rodolfo Castro's chance to shine and I believe he will have a massive chip on his shoulder this year. With solid power upside, Castro could potentially hit close to 15-20 homeruns. If he limits his strikeouts and improves his defensive ability at second base, the sky is the limit for this young buc!
Pirates Record- 72-90 (4th in NL Central)
Yes, I'm not completely delusional. The Pirates are not ready to make it to the playoffs and I don't realistically see that happening until 2024 or later. Since the Ben Cherington rebuild started in 2019, the Pirates have had two back-to-back 100+ loss seasons, and if the 2020 season wasn't shortened due to the pandemic, I truly believe we would have had three consecutive 100+ loss seasons.
However, the current roster on-paper looks significantly better compared to the last 5 seasons. After multiple mediocre or downright terrible offseasons, the Pirates actually went out and spent money on free agents to try and be somewhat competitive this season. With veterans Carlos Santana, Rich Hill, Vince Velasquez, and Austin Hedges being signed to 1 year deals, multiple trades made to bring talent to the team, and top prospects waiting in the wings, anything can happen this season.
The Pirates are in a unique position to potentially be competitive in a weak NL Central division and could surprise a lot of baseball fans if certain things play out. Sure, the Cardinals and Cubs were very active in free agency and are the clear favorites to win the division, but the Brewers are potentially about to go on a massive firesale at the deadline and gut the team entirely. The Pirates could easily try and push for the no. 3 spot in the NL Central, as long as our offense and pitching doesn't completely fall apart like in previous seasons. The Reds aren't going to be much of an issue, but they're a young team that could surprise us.
There are still a lot of questions about this team: Could Oneil Cruz and Bryan Reynolds hit 30+ home runs next season? Will Roansy Contreras and Mitch Keller solidify themselves as top rotation arms? Will top prospects Mike Burrows, Luis Ortiz, and Endy Rodriguez adjust well to Major League pitching? Will our bullpen improve compared to prior seasons of mediocrity? Will Andrew McCutchen return to MVP form? (doubtful for the latter)
Only time will tell if the Pirates turn into a bottom-feeder in the National League, or compete for a wildcard spot. I'll be putting my money on the Pirates winning 72-75 wins, but if they somehow make a playoff push, I'll be eating my words in October.