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Demilio: Five Pirates Predictions for 2024

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Henry Davis, Pittsburgh Pirates

Opening day is nearly upon us. The Pittsburgh Pirates will play their first regular season game against the Miami Marlins on Thursday at loanDepot Park.

The Pirates enter the 2024 campaign with raised expectations after a 14-win improvement in 2023. Even so, there are multiple question marks as the Pirates embark on a new season. Can they compete for a playoff spot or will they again fall short?

Our staff at Pittsburgh Baseball Now is releasing our individual predictions for the Pirates this year. Now, it’s my turn.

A Reverse From Last Season

Last year, the Pirates could not have gotten off to a better start. Through the final day of April, the Pirates had a 20-9 record and were in first place in the National League Central.

The Pirates then dropped their first six games in May and 10 of their first 11 to begin the month. The team slump foreshadowed what was to come as the Pirates fell to the cellar of the division before salvaging the season somewhat by finishing on a strong note. They ended the year 76-86 and in fourth place in the division.

While the Pirates started off hot last season and went cold as the temperatures warmed, it will be the opposite this season.

A slow start from the Pirates this year would not surprise me. Their starting rotation is still largely a big question mark. The bullpen, considered their greatest strength heading into the season, is depleted to begin the year.

Once Colin Holderman and Carmen Mldozinski return from the injured list, the bullpen will look a lot better. Additionally, once Paul Skenes is deemed ready, the rotation should receive a big boost. The starting rotation has other reinforcements too. Eric Lauer and Domingo Germán still have to ramp up after being added late into spring training. JT Brubaker and Mike Burrows are expected to be back around midsummer.

This team could get better as the year goes on.

Two Pirates Finish Top 5 In ROTY

Speaking of Skenes, he will be one of two Pirates’ players to finish in the top five of the National League Rookie of the Year race along with fellow starter Jared Jones.

I’m not quite confident enough to crown either a winner, but both should log significant innings in their rookie seasons. Jones was brilliant during spring training and broke camp with a rotation spot. Skenes is the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

There are plenty of other worthy candidates who should receive plenty of consideration. Those names include Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jackson Chourio, Jung Hoo Lee and others.

Henry Davis Creates Catching Controversy

Six months ago, it looked like Henry Davis might have to find a new position. Whether it be right field, first base, or even designated hitter, the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have enough faith in his defensive abilities to use him as a catcher in the big leagues.

To make matters worse, he struggled with the bat and managed a mere .653 OPS in his debut season.

An opportunity opened for Davis at catcher once Endy Rodríguez suffered a season-ending injury. Davis took advantage of his chance and ran with it for the duration of spring training.

Davis looked significantly better behind the plate this spring. He earned his way to the starting job and will be the Pirates’ primary catcher to start the season. He looked pretty darn good with the bat too.

Davis’ play this season will give the Pirates a good problem to have with two promising young catchers. It didn’t seem like that would be the case at the end of last season.

Aroldis Chapman Wears New Uniform In August

In my opinion, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be more competitive this season. The National League Central looks relatively up for grabs. I’m not expecting a significant sell-off like we’ve seen in years past at the deadline.

However, the Pirates won’t be quite competitive enough to justify keeping Aroldis Chapman and the rest of his $10.5 million salary for 2024 to employ him after the trade deadline.

Trading Chapman could net an instant impact for the Pirates. It sure did for the Kansas City Royals last summer. The Royals acquired promising left-handed starter Cole Ragans for Chapman in a deal with the Texas Rangers. Ragans went 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 12 starts with Kansas City after the trade. Chapman helped lead the Rangers to the World Series. That one was a win-win.

Ke’Bryan Hayes Defends Gold Glove

My final prediction is probably the least bold. Ke’Bryan Hayes won his first-career Gold Glove last season. He did so by snapping Nolan Arenado’s streak of 10-straight Gold Gloves to start his career.

A similar run with Hayes wouldn’t surprise me, but since these are strictly 2024 predictions, I’ll leave it with back-to-back for the Pirates’ third baseman.

Hayes is one of the most gifted defenders I’ve ever seen play, regardless of position. Another piece of hardware on his mantle will be more than justified with another excellent defensive season.

*BONUS!

As I did last year, I’ll offer a bonus prediction for what I think the Pirates’ record will be. I have the Bucs finishing the season at 78-84, a two-win improvement from last season and another fourth-place finish in the division.

On Tuesday, Griffin Floyd gave you his five predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates for the upcoming season. You can find his HERE.

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