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Perrotto: What’s With All The Pirates’ Grapefruit League Homers?



Henry Davis, Jack Suwinski, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are not a power-hitting team, so they insist.

Yet the Pirates have hit more spring training home runs than any other major-league team. It’s not even close.

The Pirates belted three more home runs on Monday – two by shortstop Oneil Cruz – as they routed the Philadelphia Phillies 11-2 in a Grapefruit League game in Clearwater, Fla. First baseman Rowdy Tellez also went deep for the first time this spring.

The Pirates have now hit 46 home runs through 25 games. The Chicago Cubs are second with 36.

The franchise record for Grapefruit League home runs in one exhibition season is 47, set in 2006 and matched in 2018. The Pirates seem certain to surpass that mark with six games remaining this spring.

So, what gives with all the home runs, considering the Pirates ranked 28th among the 30 MLB teams last season with 159 longballs?

“That we’re taking good swings, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said last week at the Pirates’ spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. “We’ve had some games where the wind’s been blowing out, but it hasn’t been a factor in every game, and we’ve still hit home runs. I think the thing to take away is we’re impacting the baseball and taking good swings.”

No Pirates player is taking better swings than shortstop Oneil Cruz, who has seven homers in 36 plate appearances with 14 RBIs and a 1.476 OPS. He hit three-run and two-run shots on Monday.

That is certainly welcome news for the Pirates after Cruz had a lost season in 2023. He played in just nine games before sustaining a season-ending broken ankle on April 9.

Yet Cruz isn’t the only Pirates hitter showing power in the Grapefruit League. Catcher Henry Davis and right fielder Jack Suwinski have homered four times each and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and left fielder Bryan Reynolds have connected three times apiece.

Outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba also had three home runs before being optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis last week. Five other Pirates have two homers, though the only one of that group with a chance to make the opening-day roster is journeyman outfielder Billy McKinney.

Will all the home runs in Florida carry over to the regular season? Suwinski isn’t getting too excited about the Grapefruit League numbers, opting for a practical approach.

“I know we’ve got some guys who can hit the ball pretty well, but obviously this place, this ballpark here and the circumstances we play in, obviously isn’t going to be realistic going into the season,” Suwinski said of the Pirates playing spring home games at LECOM Park. “I think that we have some really good hitters for sure that can help us hit the ball out of the park, but I don’t think a place like this will translate.”

Instead, the Pirates will likely need to find other ways to generate runs this season – small ball, if you will. Last year, they were 14th in MLB in baserunning runs, a metric developed by FanGraphs.

“I think it’s something picking up from last year. Just using baserunning to the best of our ability,” Suwinski said. “We want to go out there and run the bases hard. If we can take another 90 (feet), it’s going to be really good for us.”

Still, home runs are always cool and spring training is a time to dream. So, it’s fun for the fans to see the Pirates hit the ball over the fence, even if the homers ultimately don’t count.



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