This is one in a series of stories breaking down PBN’s Top 30 Pittsburgh Pirates prospects.
It was a year to remember for Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Kyle Nicolas, who made his major league debut late in the season.
Nicolas was roughed up in his first big league appearance against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The right-hander was tagged for six earned runs while recording only one out. Still, he was able to call himself a major leaguer.
After that appearance, though, Nicolas pitched well over his final three relief appearances of the season. In those three games, Nicolas allowed one run across 5.0 innings pitched (1.80 ERA) and struck out seven batters.
The Pirates originally acquired Nicolas from the Miami Marlins during the 2021-22 offseason in a four-player deal that sent catcher Jacob Stallings to the Sunshine State. Miami selected Nicolas out of Ball State University in the second round of the 2020 MLB Draft.
After spending the majority of his career as a starting pitcher, the Pirates shifted the right-hander to the bullpen in the middle of the season this year while in the minor leagues, and the strategy paid off. In 17 appearances out of the bullpen with Triple-A Indianapolis, Nicolas posted a 3.67 ERA across 27.0 innings. He yielded only 17 hits over that span and struck out an impressive 42 batters.
The transition to the bullpen helped expedite Nicolas’ major league debut and leaves him in the mix to contribute again at the big league level next season.
Heading into 2024, the Pirates can pencil in a handful of names in their bullpen. Two-time All-Star David Bednar is the closer. Carmen Mlodzinski and Colin Holderman will see high-leverage situations while Ryan Borucki will serve as a left-handed option after a breakout season. Dauri Moreta likely has a spot, too.
Outside of that, though, there will be competition during spring training to settle the final few spots, and Nicolas will be part of that group vying to crack the opening day roster.
Even if Nicolas begins next season with Indianapolis, he provides the Pirates with a depth option to be called upon when needed in case of injury, poor performance, etc.
With his success after transitioning to a relief role combined with a power fastball and some interesting off-speed pitches, Nicolas is in line to see his opportunity increase next season.