Wily Peralta and his odds of cracking the Pirate Opening Day roster

Veteran right-handed relief pitcher Wily Peralta is in camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a NRI, but should he make the team's Opening Day roster?
Aug 4, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Wily Peralta (58) throws a pitch
Aug 4, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Wily Peralta (58) throws a pitch / Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran righty Wily Peralta's days as a starting pitcher are likely behind him, but could he break camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a member of their bullpen?

The long relief spot in the Pirate bullpen is up for grabs. It will likely come down to Josh Flemming, Bailey Falter, or one of their minor league signees, as I would guess the Pirates would send a prospect or young arm like Luis Ortiz or Quinn Priester to Triple-A to get reps in as a starter, assuming they both aren’t starters.

One of the Pirate minor league signees from this past off-season who is in camp as a non-roster invitee is Wily Peralta. Peralta is a former division rival, but he’s impressed thus far in Spring Training, so should he get the long relief role at the start of the year?

The last time Peralta pitched in the Majors, he wasn’t bad at all. He spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, working as both a starter and long reliever. The right-hander made 47 total appearances with 19 starts and 132 innings pitched. Peralta owned a 2.93 ERA, 4.69 FIP, and 1.39 WHIP. He didn’t have a great walk rate at just 10.9%, nor was his strikeout rate anything to write home about at 15.8%.

However, he did have an above-average 0.95 HR/9 and 6.5% barrel rate. Granted, how sustainable this is is up for debate. Keep in mind Comerica Park has the deepest outfield of any park in MLB. He also had a worrisome 5.15 SIERA and 4.98 xFIP.

Peralta has pitched three innings in Spring, allowing just one walk and one hit, along with striking out one batter. Peralta’s numbers are good in the microscopic sample size, but it’s still a microscopic sample size. The bottom line results aren’t nearly as important as his overall stuff, so how have his pitches looked in preseason?

Peralta’s reworked splitter looked great in his most recent game. He threw it 13 times, getting four swinging or called strikes and inducing four outs with the pitch. His split changeup has already made an impression in Pirate camp this spring.

That pitch sat around the low-80s with about 32 inches of vertical action and 10-11 inches of horizontal break. His splitter now sits closer to the upper 70s, topping out around 82 MPH, with 33 inches of vertical drop and 13-15 inches of horizontal break. He also threw his splitter with around 1000-1100 RPM, while his reworked splitter was around 1200-1250 RPM.

The Pirates have had him experiment the most with this new splitter, as he’s thrown it more than any other pitch in Spring Training thus far. However, while his sinker and fastball have lost velocity, they’ve also gained spin. His sinker RPM was up by nearly 150 RPM in his game on Friday, while his four-seamer spin rate was up by almost 70 rotations.

Bailey Falter likely has an inside shot at any remaining roster spot, given he has no options remaining. The Pirates might carry him in the bullpen anyway as a low-leverage/long lefty reliever. It doesn’t hurt to have a third left-handed relief pitcher out of the pen. That means it’ll likely come down to Peralta, Fleming, and Brent Honeywell. Between these three, I think the Pirates will likely turn to either Peralta or Honeywell. They could opt to have a fourth left-handed relief pitcher if they chose Fleming, but I don’t see that as too likely.

Honeywell has also done well in Spring, pitching three innings, striking out four, and only allowing one earned run via a home run. Honeywell has also reworked one of his offerings, that being his sweeper. He’s throwing it significantly harder, going from about 81.5 MPH in 2023 to 83-84 MPH in Spring. Although he’s added a decent amount of velo, he’s also lost both some spin and movement.

Thus far, I am more impressed with Peralta’s Spring Training sample size than Honeywell’s sample size. For what it’s worth, Peralta has more recent success in MLB. While Honeywell did pitch in 2023, he didn’t do all that great for the San Diego Padres or Chicago White Sox. If there is competition for the long relief role in the bullpen, I think that Peralta should have the inside track to the roster spot right now.

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