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Floyd: Five Pirates Predictions for 2024

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Pittsburgh Pirates' Jared Triolo scores during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Pittsburgh Pirates will open their 2024 season when they take on the Miami Marlins at 4:10 p.m. on Thursday, March 28. After seeing the club improve on their previous season’s win total by 14 games in 2023, fan expectations are higher than ever with the hope that general manager Ben Cherington’s rebuild, started in 2020, has neared completion.

Pittsburgh still enters 2024 with question marks in key spots, namely the starting rotation, but with the Pirates leading the major leagues in spring training home runs, No. 3 prospect Jared Jones making the Opening Day roster and the imminent arrival of 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes, the Pirates have young talent ready to fill those gaps—and, if things go right, win now—for what feels like the first time in forever. Here’s five predictions for the Pirates’ 2024 regular season.

Jared Triolo Wins a Gold Glove

Triolo bounced around the diamond in his first season, with the Pirates taking advantage of his defensive versatility and plugging him in wherever they needed. He’s a third baseman by trade, but Ke’Bryan Hayes’ iron grip on the hot corner means that the Pirates will play Triolo at second base instead.

Triolo managed four defensive runs saved in 309.1 innings last season, a rate that would put him on pace for nearly 19 over the course of a full season. 2023’s National League Gold Glove winner at second base, Nico Hoerner of the Chicago Cubs, managed just 12 DRS. Triolo’s UZR/150, which predicts the impact of a fielder’s range over the course of 150 games—and thus, defensive potential across a full season—clocked in at 23.2.

It’s an admittedly small sample size, but that would’ve put him at the top of the league, and, as we’ve already seen him flash the glove quite a bit in spring training, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say he could take home some hardware at year’s end… especially now that he’ll be able to focus on one position, rather than moving all over the place as a utility man.

Jared Jones Goes Through Growing Pains

The flamethrowing right-hander was perhaps the biggest story of spring training, as he didn’t allow an earned run across 16.1 innings pitched and won an Opening Day roster spot out of camp. With a fastball that hovers around triple digits and a nasty slider as his chief secondary offering, Jones has otherworldly arm talent and a whiffle ball-esque power to miss bats.

The question comes in after that two-pitch mix. Jones rarely mixes in his changeup and curveball, and that lack of variety will pose an issue his second or third time through the order. For comparison, look at fellow Pirates right-hander Johan Oviedo, who relies on his fastball and slider at similar rates when healthy. When Oviedo had good command of his pitches, he’d throw lights out… but if even one of his offerings started to waver, things got ugly fast.

At just 22 years old, Jones has plenty of time to flesh out his game, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go through a learning curve, especially as he finds his feet against big league batters.

Paul Skenes Debuts In May

The Pirates are giving due diligence to Skenes, giving him more time to find his feet in the world of professional baseball as he starts the season with Triple-A Indianapolis. There’s a gulf between college baseball, where starters pitch just once weekly, and the every five days rotation that Major League clubs employ, and with all the discussion about his heavy usage during LSU’s College World Series run last season, it makes sense that the Pirates are taking time to get Skenes up to speed.

With that said, I don’t think it’ll take him much time to figure things out. After seeing the Pirates push him from rookie ball to Double-A in a matter of weeks last season, it seems like they feel similarly, and a few turns through the Indianapolis rotation should have him ready to hit the ground running.

Andrew McCutchen Logs Major Milestone in Home Opener

This prediction borders on fan service, but after hearing McCutchen talk about the hurdle of logging his 2,000th hit last season—when he endured a cold bat for a week beforehand—I don’t think he’s going to waste any time hitting his 300th home run. The veteran slugger has endured a long layoff, suffering an Achilles tendon injury that ended his 2023 season before he could reach the milestone, and after slashing .316/.435/.909 with a home run in 19 spring training at-bats, it seems like McCutchen’s swing is as good as ever.

McCutchen and the Pirates enjoyed several storybook moments in 2023, whether it was his return to Pittsburgh in the black and gold or his reaching 2000 hits and games played. He’s currently sitting on 299 career home runs, and what better time to hit his next than Pittsburgh’s home opener against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, April 5?

Pirates Record Remains the Same

There’s quite a buzz around the Pirates this season after the success of their rookies and bats, but I think it may be wise to pump the brakes. Mitch Keller and Martín Pérez are the only proven big league commodities in the opening day rotation, with Marco Gonzales shaky in his return from season ending nerve issues in his pitching arm and Luis Ortiz still enduring up and down outings.

Injuries have decimated the bullpen, and while the arrival of Jones and Skenes will help address holes in the starting rotation, there’s still plenty left to be desired.

The Pirates overperformed dramatically in the face of rotation injuries last season, dragging a patchwork rotation of Keller, Oviedo and whoever else was momentarily available to the finish line last season. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising for them to finish with a similar record, even with an improved team.

That’s not to say that 2024 will be a lost season, as players like Skenes, Jones and Triolo rounding to form—and the continued development of prospects like Termarr Johnson, Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler—will pay off in the long run. Rebuilds are about the journey as much as the final result, and the Pirates will have plenty of exciting and memorable moments from their young core this year: I just don’t think they’re quite there yet.

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