Rum Bunter Staff Predictions For The 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates: Noah Wright
Final Record Prediction - 75-87
A lot could go right for the Pirates this year. If you get Cruz, Suwinski, Hayes, Bednar, Oviedo, Keller, Contreras, Castro, and Reynolds firing on all cylinders, and then supplement them with some of the talented prospects like Quinn Priester, Luis Ortiz, Nick Gonzales, Endy Rodriguez, Mike Burrows, and Colin Selby throughout the season, this team could be really, really good. However, that's the best-case scenario. The Pirates must show improvement this year. This will be the fourth major league season (third if you don't want to count the 60-game 2020) that the Pirates will be entering the year in a 'rebuilding' state. There must be improvement, and 70-75-ish wins seem to be the minimum they must win to show they're serious about getting competitive within the very near future.
They do have a lot going for them to reach this mark. The team's rotation is looking fairly solid entering the year. It's headlined by Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, and Rich Hill, with a mix of Johan Oviedo, JT Brubaker, and Vince Velasquez making up the last half. Line-up-wise, the only major weak spot is catcher. The Pirates will essentially get nothing but defense out of guys like Austin Hedges, Tyler Heineman, and Jason Delay, but the team could have a league-average or better hitter at every other position to open the year.
With the infield consisting of the Ji-Man Choi/Carlos Santana platoon, Rodolfo Castro at second base, Oneil Cruz at short, and Ke'Bryan Hayes at the hot corner, you could tell a fan that every member of this group will all have better than league average hitting numbers. It wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) surprise them. The outfield will be commanded by Andrew McCutchen, Bryan Reynolds, and a platoon of Connor Joe and Jack Suwinski. Again, the Pirates could get average or better production from the three outfield spots.
The bullpen does look a bit shaky going into the year, but it could fix itself by mid-season. Triple-A should start the year with Colin Selby, Tyler Samaneigo, J.C. Flowers, Tahnaj Thomas, Cody Bolton, and Nick Dombkowski. Some of those arms could help support the Major League bullpen, which includes the likes of David Bednar, Yerry De Los Santos, Colin Holderman, Jarlin Garcia, Jose Hernandez, and Robert Stephenson.
By the end of the year, you're looking at some mix of Rodriguez and Henry Davis behind the plate, Choi, Santana, and Malcom Nunez at first base, Rodolfo Castro, Ji-Hwan Bae, and Nick Gonzales at second base, with Oneil Cruz and Ke'Bryan Hayes on the left side of the infield. The outfield will have some mix of Reynolds, Suwinski, McCutchen, Joe, Bae, Travis Swaggerty, and Matt Gorski. The rotation could house five of Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, Oviedo, Ortiz, JT Brubaker, Rich Hill (if he isn't traded), Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Kyle Nicolas, or Carmen Mlodzinski.
That's not even mentioning the multitude of other young players like Jared Triolo, Tucupita Marcano, Liover Peguero, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, or Bolton, all of which could see major league playing time, and potentially take over a key role in 2023, whether that be a bench/platoon, utility, or even starting role.
The Pirates have enough players between the Major League, 40-man, and Triple-A rosters to piece together a respectable big league team by at least mid-season 2023. I don't expect every prospect to hit the ground running full sprint, but I also doubt that every prospect will fall flat the instant they hit the big leagues. The team has added some veterans who will provide positive contributions (heck, they improved first base by at least 3-5 wins alone). They also have enough youngsters that they're bound to get at least some quality rookie seasons in 2023.