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Five Pirates Spring Training Storylines to Follow

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

The frigid winter has finally turned into a blossoming spring. It may only be Feb. 14, but it’s the spring report day for Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitchers and catchers.

Under the sunshine in Bradenton Fla., the Pirates enter 2024 spring training with higher expectations than in recent seasons. The Pirates finished last year with a 76-86 record, which marked a 14-win improvement from 2022.

If the Pirates want to take a further step into contention, they will need a lot to go right. Here are a few storylines to follow as preparation for the regular season starts.

HOW WILL HENRY DAVIS FARE DEFENSIVELY?

Arguably the biggest question surrounding the 2024 Pittsburgh Pirates is whether or not Henry Davis is ready to serve as the team’s primary catcher.

Davis was drafted as a catcher out of the University of Louisville with the top pick in the 2021 draft. Despite climbing the ranks behind the plate, the Pirates mainly deployed Davis in right field last season.

Between questions regarding his defensive ability and a hand injury, Davis was limited to just two innings in his catcher’s gear in his rookie season.

Now, Davis will seemingly be thrust into the starting catcher’s role with projected starter Endy Rodríguez out of the year. We won’t fully know if he is ready to see such a drastic increase in workload, but the Pirates may not have a choice.

The other options the Pirates have on the 40-man roster are Jason Delay, Ali Sánchez and the newly-signed Yasmani Grandal.

HOW WILL CRUZ, CUTCH BOUNCE BACK FROM INJURIES?

The Pirates were hoping that Oneil Cruz would establish himself as a cornerstone in what was supposed to be his first full-season in the major leagues.

Instead, Cruz appeared in only nine games before sustaining a season-ending fracture to his left ankle.

The nature of the injury begs the question as to whether Cruz will be 100% when he returns to the field. Most of the unknown is in regards to defense. How much, if any, will the ankle injury affect his lateral movement?

Cruz isn’t the only one returning from a season-ending injury.

Andrew McCutchen’s reunion with the Pirates was cut short by a partially torn left Achilles tendon in September. The former National League MVP was re-signed this winter and projects to be the primary designated hitter.

When healthy, McCutchen showed that he can still be a productive player. He finished the year with a team-high .378 on-base percentage and a .776 OPS (115 wRC+).

At 37 years old, can McCutchen fully return from the injury and continue his level of production? I wouldn’t put it past him.

PAUL SKENES’ FIRST MLB CAMP

2023 first-overall pick Paul Skenes is one of the Pirates’ non-roster invitees for this spring training.

Skenes is widely-considered the top pitching prospect in baseball and rose all the way to Double-A in his brief showing in the minor leagues last season.

It will be interesting to see how Skenes matches up against big-league competition. His eye-opening stuff will certainly be on display.

It remains highly unlikely, but the 21-year-old has at least an outside chance of cracking the club’s initial 26-man roster. Even if he doesn’t head to Miami for opening day, Pirates’ fans will get a glimpse of the future this spring.

SECOND BASE BATTLE

Much of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lineup appears to be set in stone, but the second base job is one position that remains up for grabs.

The Pirates have a handful of players who will be in competition to start there, including youngsters Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Jared Triolo and Ji Hwan Bae.

All four players received their first extended look at the big-league level last season. Each one brings something different to the table. Ultimately, it will come down to who separates himself from the rest of the pack.

WHO ROUNDS OUT THE ROTATION?

Three of the five spots in the Pirates’ rotation are already set. Mitch Keller is the club’s No. 1 starter following his 2023 All-Star campaign. He will be joined by two offseason acquisitions — left-handers Marco Gonzales and Martín Pérez.

The final two spots are still unsettled. In-house candidates include Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Bailey Falter and Quinn Priester.

It will be a telling spring for Contreras and Ortiz in particular. Both pitchers struggled at the major-league level in 2023, but both were considered among the best pitching prospects in the Pirates’ system.

In addition to the in-house candidates, the Pirates could still look for outside help. Domingo Germán is among the available arms general manager Ben Cherington has monitored.

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