Column | Pirates set up for future success barring more brutal trades


AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Delay (61) runs after batting during the fifth inning of a baseball game on Tuesday in Miami.

By David Scott, For The Pitt News

The Pirates haven’t done much to inspire hope in their fans in recent years. The team hasn’t made the postseason since 2015 and has only finished with an above .500 record once during that time. While the team is currently well out of playoff contention in 2022, the Pirates are beginning to show signs of life.

That life is coming from the exciting, young offensive weapons that are developing in the Pittsburgh farm system. Rookies shortstop Oneil Cruz and outfielder Jack Suwinski, both 23 years old, are lighting up the diamond with both their bats and their gloves. While both have a low batting average, Suwinski has slugged 14 home runs on the season and is on pace to finish with 29 on the year. 

The Pirates called up Cruz later on in the season, having him only playing in 20 games so far, but he has hit four home runs in those games. Cruz has already impressed fans with his defense, too, making multiple diving plays and registering the hardest thrown ball by an infielder this season at 96.7 mph.

The on-field production doesn’t stop with the rookies. 25-year-old third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who recently signed the biggest contract in Pirates history with an eight-year deal for $70 million, is a spark plug for the Pirates in 2022. The third-baseman is hitting .250 on the year with four homers and 10 stolen bases. In the outfield, Bryan Reynolds consistently remains a top outfielder in all four years of his career. This year, he has hit .260 with 15 home runs.

The quartet of those young stars is enough reason to hope for an offensive explosion in the future, but the Pirates still have more help on the way. 

2021 No. 1 overall pick and MLB’s No. 18 prospect Henry Davis is on his way to join the squad within the next two years. The Pirates left a void when they traded star catcher Jacob Stallings, but the 22-year-old catcher will look to fill this hole. Also on the way is second baseman Nick Gonzales, who is ranked as the No. 30 prospect in the MLB. The duo play for the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve, which is in first place in their division.

The Pirates offense may be well set up for the future, but the pitching staff is the key to future success in Pittsburgh. Currently, the Pirates’ pitching staff is bottom five in the league in ERA, walks allowed, hits allowed and WHIP. 

The only pitcher of note the Pirates currently have is closer David Bednar, who has a 2.63 ERA and 15 saves in 34 games. Bednar is also the only Pirate selected to the All-Star Game. Fortunately, the Buccos have minor league pitchers waiting with Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows and Jared Jones, who could start their MLB careers as soon as 2023.

Yes, the pitching needs improvement, but what the Pirates’ future really hinges on is competency from the front office. The team has been stuck in a perpetual rebuild, trading away rising stars before it can accumulate enough talent to be a winning team. Most recently, they traded former All-Star Adam Frazier to the Padres in 2021 and slugging first baseman Josh Bell to the Nationals in 2020. 

Even worse, if you made a starting rotation of pitchers the Pirates traded away, it can match up with any other team in the league. Gerrit Cole, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton would form a very formidable rotation that could go toe-to-toe with any rotation in baseball. 

With the exception of Glasnow, who hasn’t pitched yet this season, that rotation would be 30-9 with a 3.38 ERA.

Obviously, other factors go into pitchers’ win-loss records. Each of those pitchers plays for a team that currently holds a playoff position. Still, it shows the potential that the Pirates have missed out on by constantly trading their talent away, and that scenario doesn’t even include position players traded away such as Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.

Being in the NL Central, probably the weakest division in all of baseball, the Pirates have a real opportunity to get back to the top within a few years. Pittsburgh is such a great baseball city, and the fans deserve playoff baseball. If they can hang on to their young offensive core for a few years, develop a few pitchers and maybe, just maybe, spend a few bucks in free agency, the Pirates are set up for playoff success once again.