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2023 MLB Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh looks to take a step forward in 2023.

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MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons and haven’t had a winning campaign since 2015. Still, there are some signs of optimism about a roster that is hoping to take a step forward in 2023. There are still plenty of question marks and the chance that things don’t go well, but players such as Oneil Cruz, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds at least make the team somewhat interesting. The team also went out and tried to supplement the roster with veteran additions such Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Santana, Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi.

Reynolds is the team’s most established player, but requested a trade this offseason after he and the Pirates were unable to come to terms on a long-term extension. Pittsburgh has stated publicly that they want to keep Reynolds, and have placed a high price tag on any deal. His situation, along with whether Cruz and Hayes can take steps forward, will serve as the backdrop for Pittsburgh’s season.

Expectations for 2023

The Pirates come into the 2023 season looking to make progress on the field and move past the “losing as many games as possible” phase of the team’s rebuild. Many of the team’s top prospects are at, or approaching, the major league level, and the team did go out and try to supplement the roster with some cheap veteran additions.

The return of McCutchen is the most notable move and his impact off the field could be big for a team with such a young roster.

Still, this is not exactly a competitive roster. A Steamer-ZiPS blend sees them as a fourth-place finisher in the NL Central with 72-74 wins; ZIPS alone has them last in their division with a 68-win point estimate. A .475 winning percentage would probably constitute a successful season for this roster.

Projected Roster

Via Roster Resource:


  1. Oneil Cruz - SS
  2. Bryan Reynolds - LF
  3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
  4. Carlos Santana - DH
  5. Ji-Man Choi - 1B
  6. Ke’Bryan Hayes - 3B
  7. Jack Suwinski - CF
  8. Rodolfo Castro - 2B
  9. Austin Hedges - C


Kevin Plawecki - C
Ji Hwan Bae - INF/OF
Connor Joe - OF/1B
Cal Mitchell - OF


Mitch Keller - RHP
Roansy Contreras - RHP
Rich Hill - LHP
JT Brubaker - RHP
Vince Velasquez - RHP


David Bednar - RHP
Robert Stephenson - RHP
Wil Crowe - RHP
Duane Underwood Jr. - RHP
Jarlin Garcia - LHP
Chase De Jong - RHP
Yerry De Los Santos - RHP
Jose Hernandez - LHP

Biggest Strength

Per FanGraphs, the Pirates biggest strength is at shortstop, where Oneil Cruz is projected for 3.1 WAR in his first full season in the majors. Cruz posted a 106 wRC+ and 1.2 fWAR in 87 games in 2022 despite a 34.9 percent strikeout rate and a 49 percent ground ball rate. Cruz makes so much hard contact that it is easy to see why projection systems are bullish on improvement this season. Still, the strikeout rate must come down and there are still questions as to whether or not he can stick at shortstop long term. The Pirates are well positioned to let that situation play out.

Reynolds also needs to be mentioned here, as he is projected for 3.7 WAR between left and center. He put together a 6-win season in 2021, but got off to a cold start and had the worst defensive year of his career last season by most metrics. Even with the slow start, Reynolds set a new career-high with 27 home runs and posted a 125 wRC+. The Pirates can offset some of those defensive concerns by playing him more in a corner, but the trade demand for his services is likely to be a storyline throughout the season.

Biggest Weakness

There are a only a few serious problem spots on this roster, which might be surprising if you expected it to be horrendous across the board. The Pirates have options at the keystone with Rodolfo Castro, Ji Hwan Bae, and Tucupita Marcano, but none seem to actually offer anything other than stopgap production at the position. In right field, the Pirates are depending on Cal Mitchell, who raked in the minors last year, to do way better than his horrendous first 200 major league PAs, especially given that McCutchen probably can’t be counted on for useful production.

And then there’s the bullpen. Pittsburgh’s bullpen ranked 24th in fWAR in 2022 and is projected to be even worse in 2023. David Bednar is projected to account for 1.2 of the Pirates’ 1.3 projected bullpen WAR for the upcoming season. The Pirates need more from players such as Wil Crowe and Chase de Jong, or to move on quickly if they’re not going to produce.

Reinforcements from the Farm

More help does appear to be on the way. Pittsburgh’s farm system was ranked sixth by The Athletics’s Keith Law due to its good depth. Catcher Endy Rodriguez could make an impact at some point in 2023. Hurler Luis Ortiz reached the majors last season and right-hander Quinn Priester might not be that far behind. Liover Peguero might be more interesting than the existing options at second, and Jared Triolo can give Pittsburgh another useful piece around the diamond despite being blocked by Hayes at his primary position. The Pirates also had a strong 2022 Draft class headlined by infielder Termarr Johnson and Bubba Chandler.

Braves history/outlook against Pittsburgh

The Braves swept the Pirates last season, winning all seven matchups. They are 11-3 against Pittsburgh over the last two seasons. Atlanta won’t see the Pirates until after the All-Star Break and the Trade Deadline, when they head to PNC Park for a four-game series August 7-10. Pittsburgh will then visit Truist Park for a three-game series September 8-10.

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