Weiss: Pirates have a pulse entering ‘24

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | The Pirates currently have a 74-84 record, which puts them in fourth place in the National League Central Division. The Milwaukee Brewers clinched the division on Tuesday night.

Aidan Weiss | Staff Writer

After an up-and-down season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will finish fourth in the NL Central, despite a 10-win increase from last year’s 62-100 campaign. They stayed in the playoff hunt until this past weekend when they were officially eliminated, but the future appears bright.

The key to the turnaround has been through the hitting core, who have led the way this season.

Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds bounced back from a difficult start to finish with a 20-plus home run season. Signed to an 8-year, $106 million contract in the offseason, Reynolds has proved well worth it as his skills at the plate continue to develop, while still providing a serviceable glove in left field.

Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes’s breakout season has also given Pirate fans hope for future years. He popped off at the plate for career highs in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Additionally, he has continued to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner.

Finally, the youth movement came to the Pittsburgh hitting core this season. Catchers Henry Davis and Endy Rodríguez, second baseman Nick Gonzales, shortstop Liover Peguero and third baseman Jared Triolo all made their debuts this season to varying degrees of success, and all figure to be crucial pieces in the Pirates’ future.

Lack of depth in the pitching staff exposed itself as the year went on. However, there is some talent to build upon.

The start of Mitch Keller’s Pittsburgh career was terrible, and it seemed he would never live up to the status he earned as a highly touted prospect. However, the 2023 season has been a resurgence for the young arm. Keller has pitched like an ace this season, and his efforts resulted in the first All-Star appearance of his career. Additionally, he reached the 200-strikeout milestone, becoming only the seventh in team history to achieve this goal. His development as the ace of the staff will be essential for future success.

Closer David Bednar also had a fantastic season, earning his second All-Star appearance and setting career highs in saves and earned run average. Bednar’s shutdown ability allows fans to relax when leading in the ninth inning, knowing that he will shut down the opposition.

The Pirates are on the right track. However, pieces need to be acquired by General Manager Ben Cherington to ensure the team succeeds in bringing playoff baseball back to Pittsburgh.

The infield is not a problem at all. With all the prospects above, plus star shortstop Oneil Cruz’s return from injury next year, that area is strong. However, the first base position needs addressing as there are no eye-catching prospects in the system and no MLB-caliber first baseman on the roster.

The outfield is a bigger issue for the lineup. Besides Reynolds, the team was reliant upon 36-year-old Andrew McCutchen and players too raw to be ready for the big leagues. The team has only three true outfielders in its top 30 prospects, so it is necessary to secure talent outside the organization for next season.

However, the holes in the batting lineup pale in comparison to the pitching, which was disastrous, and the main reason why the team was not in the wild card hunt this year.

The starting pitching had two starters last the entire year; Mitch Keller and Johan Oveido, are more than serviceable options for next season. After that, there is nothing. The pitcher with the third-most starts was 43-year-old Rich Hill, who was traded on Aug. 1. The team desperately needs depth next season.

At the start of the year, it was expected that Roansy Contreras and Quinn Priester would graduate from the minor leagues to fill the voids in the rotation. However, both pitchers flopped and were sent to Triple-A Indianapolis. At least one of them must become a quality option next year.

Additionally, there are other top prospects on the way. With the first overall pick in the 2023 MLB first-year player draft, Pittsburgh selected pitcher Paul Skenes, who was fresh off winning a national championship at LSU. He is currently ranked as the third-best prospect in all of baseball. He brings a 102 mph fastball and two extremely good breaking pitches, and the hope is that he can debut in 2024. Jared Jones, Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler are also starting pitchers also expected to debut in the next two years.

After this season of improvement, Pittsburgh fans look toward 2024 and hope to find a Pirate team ready to compete for a playoff spot and beyond.