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Perrotto: Five Pirates Predictions for 2024

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

Today is the day all baseball fans have been waiting for – opening day.

OK, technically it’s not opening day. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres played two games last week in Seoul, South Korea to begin the 2024 MLB season.

But, to me, this is opening day as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of the teams begin play. The Pirates stayed in Florida once spring training ended Monday and will play the Marlins in Miami this afternoon.

Our staff at Pittsburgh Baseball Now has been releasing our individual five predictions for the Pirates for this season. Now it’s my turn, just hours away from the first pitch.

Oneil Cruz Flirts with 30-30

Perhaps the biggest question concerning the Pirates coming into spring training was how Oneil Cruz would bounce back from the broken ankle that cost him almost the entire 2023 season.

Cruz answered that question in the affirmative. The shortstop showed his prodigious power by belting seven home runs in 46 at-bats during Grapefruit League play. Just as importantly, Cruz showed he hadn’t lost any speed or range after such a serious injury.

I’ve had multiple scouts who watched Cruz play this spring say they think he can be a 30-30 man this season, hitting at least 30 home runs and stealing at least 30 bases. I’m not ready to go that far but I’m confident Cruz can have a 20-20 season.

Ke’Bryan Hayes Gets MVP Votes

I explained earlier this week why third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is my Pirates Pick to Click this week.

Hayes is a lock to repeat as the National League Gold Glove winner a year after winning the award for the first time. Following his strong second half, Hayes is also primed to hit close to .300 with at least 20 home runs.

The strong two-way play will be enough for Hayes to garner at least some down-ballot votes in the National League MVP voting.

Andrew McCutchen Becomes Full-Time DH

Andrew McCutchen is still a productive player at 37 years old and a franchise icon. However, his days of playing primarily in the outfield are over.

Last season, McCutchen was the DH for the Pirates in 98 games. He played just eight times in the outfield.

McCutchen prefers the DH role at this stage of his career, and it makes sense, especially after he sustained a partially torn Achilles tendon last season. I don’t think we’ll see McCutchen spend one inning in the outfield in 2024.

Vince Velasquez Returns

The starting rotation the Pirates begin the season won’t be the same at the end of the season. Top prospect Paul Skenes will be called up from Triple-A Indianapolis and right-hander JT Brubaker will return from Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery.

Another familiar face might also be helping the Pirates in 2024. Righty Vince Velasquez remains a free agent after undergoing elbow surgery last year and expressed a strong desire to return to the Pirates late last season.

Velasquez seemed to work well with Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin last season and was 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA in eight starts before being injured. I could see Velasquez returning to the organization when healthy enough to pitch.

Better but Not Good Enough

I’m never very good at predicting records but I almost nailed the Pirates’ 76-86 mark last season. I went with a forecast of 77-85.

I think the Pirates’ hopes of contending this season might be unrealistic. The organization is no longer a laughingstock but contention and a final record of .500 or better will have to wait at least one more year.

The Pirates will go 78-84 in 2024.

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

On Wednesday, Danny Demilio gave you his five predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates for the upcoming season. You can find his HERE.

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