Yesterday I broke down the Pirates lineup, trying to see where the team stands heading into 2022, and who needs to step up down the stretch to secure playing time for next year.
Today, we’ll take a similar look at the pitching staff. If you’re looking for an area where the Pirates could use some outside help, this is it. The Pirates have some good depth, with a lot of options who can be MLB starters. However, their best starter is a number three starter on an optimistic scale. They have starters with higher potential, but have yet to see that potential play out. This is a group where the Pirates can upgrade over almost every spot, but where they also manage to have interesting options at every spot.
Here’s a look at the projected pitching staff for 2022, based on what we’ve seen so far:
SP1 – Steven Brault – Brault looks like he could be the leader of the pitching staff next season, in a similar role to what Tyler Anderson saw this year. I could see Brault moved this offseason if he finishes the 2021 season strong. He would have two years of arbitration remaining, making him more valuable for a contender looking for a lefty starter.
SP2 – JT Brubaker – Brubaker looks to be leading the long-term pitching options for now, though he’ll need to improve his numbers to remain in the long-term rotation. He should be a lock for a spot in 2022, and is under control through 2025.
SP3 – Mitch Keller – Keller has the highest potential among these pitchers, but we’ve yet to see him really even scratch the surface of that potential. He should get a chance in the rotation next year, though he does have one option remaining. He’s a guy who can improve his chances of making the 2022 team with a strong finish down the stretch.
SP4 – Bryse Wilson – The Pirates added Wilson at the deadline, and they’re giving him a look in the rotation to end the year. He should be considered one of the guys with an inside track for next year’s rotation.
SP5 – Chad Kuhl – He’s got one year of arbitration remaining, and has put up some decent numbers as a starter. He’d be no different than Trevor Cahill this season, with the hope of flipping him to a contender at the deadline.
SP/RP – Wil Crowe – This is where things get tricky. Crowe has started more than most of the starters above this year, though the results haven’t been good. I’d put him in the Keller/Wilson tier, possibly even winning a spot over Kuhl if the Pirates are focusing on the long-term. I don’t project him to be a starter in this rotation for the long-term, though he can continue in a back-of-the-rotation role for a few years until better options arrive.
SP/RP – Miguel Yajure – Yajure would be one of the options projected to be better than Crowe, and possibly even better than Keller and Wilson at the end of the day. He hasn’t seen much time in the majors this year due to an injury. The 1-7 rotation options here give the Pirates a good mix of young options and veterans who have shown they can put up average or better numbers when healthy. I’d expect Yajure to be more in the mix next year.
This is where I’d add in the other upper-level prospects for consideration. Some of them we’ve seen, such as Max Kranick. The ones with impact potential aren’t expected until around 2023, with Quinn Priester and Roansy Contreras leading the way.
RP – Chris Stratton – I could see Stratton getting moved this offseason, with only two years of control remaining. I could also see the Pirates using him to anchor the 2022 bullpen, and dealing him at the deadline next year.
RP – David Bednar – The Pirates got what looks to be a steal in Bednar, with an impact reliever under team control through 2026. He’s the one long-term piece they have to build around, though some of the guys below could step up and join him.
RP – Duane Underwood Jr. – The Pirates have given Underwood a lot of innings, and he has put up decent numbers. The only way I see him moving out of the bullpen in the near future is if he completely bombs. He’s out of options, though he’s not arbitration eligible until 2023, giving the Pirates a low-cost middle reliever who can pitch in long-relief with a chance to grow into more.
RP – Cody Ponce – The Pirates have used him as a spot starter and a reliever, and I’d expect him to at least get a shot in the future as a reliever. From this point down, the guys will have to finish strong in 2021 to lock down a spot in 2022. Ponce has options remaining, and hasn’t stepped up to secure a long-term spot yet. He could always open 2022 in Triple-A as depth.
RP – Nick Mears – I like the upside with Mears, and would put him right behind Bednar for impact potential on this list. He’s starting to get an opportunity, and just like Ponce, I think he’ll have to make the most of it to secure a spot for 2022. He also has an option year remaining, so he could start the season in Triple-A.
RP – Sam Howard – Howard has shown potential at times to be a solid lefty middle reliever. He generates a ton of strikeouts, but also a ton of walks. The Pirates are thin on left-handed options, so he’ll have an inside track for a job next year. He has options remaining, like the previous two on this list.
I’m not going to break down the bullpen prospects, but will mention a few names we’ve seen of the post-prospect variety. I think Chase De Jong will get a shot at least in the bullpen next year. He’s out of options, so you could group him with Underwood Jr. I’d put guys like Kyle Keller, Dillon Peters, and Anthony Banda under the Ponce/Mears/Howard group as contenders in Spring Training.
In terms of prospects, Blake Cederlind has the biggest upside when he returns healthy. The Pirates should see most of their prospect impact in this group coming from converted starters.