The Pittsburgh Pirates concluded their 2023 season with a 3-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Sunday, which put them at 76-86 to end the season.
The fourth-place finish in the National League Central division marked a 14-win improvement from a season ago.
The Pirates’ season had its up and downs. Out of the gate, the Pirates started off red-hot, going 20-8 to begin the year. After freefalling to last place in the division in July, the Pirates rebounded and finished the year playing a bit over .500 in the final stretch.
Plenty was learned about the Pirates this year, and plenty of questions remain. Here are my top three takeaways from 2023.
It’s True, There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Starting Pitching Depth
Heading into the 2023 season, rotation depth looked like it was going to be a strength for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh had a blend of more established in-house pitchers, young arms and a couple of external additions to help get them through the season — at least on paper.
What’s on paper, however, is much different than reality.
The first blow occurred when JT Brubaker, who looked like a potential breakout candidate with his spring performance, suffered an injury at the end of spring training and eventually underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Not long after Brubaker was lost for the season, pitching prospect Mike Burrows suffered the same fate, and Vince Velasquez, who started off the season strong after joining the club as a free agent, also underwent season-ending surgery.
Injuries weren’t the only thing that plagued the Pirates’ rotation. Poor performance did, too.
Roansy Contreras was relied upon to be a key piece towards the top of the rotation after finishing 2022 at 5-5 with a 3.72 ERA in his first extended look in the big leagues.
This year, Contreras struggled mightily and was moved to the bullpen before the Pirates optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis in early July. He never made it back.
Luis Ortiz, one of the Pirates top pitching prospects entering the season, also had a season filled with inconsistencies.
All of that, combined with a deadline trade of veteran Rich Hill to the San Diego Padres, left the Pirates’ rotation in flux. They finished the season with only two permanent members of the rotation in Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo.
Where Does Henry Davis Play Defensively?
The Pirates drafted Davis as a catcher out of the University of Louisville with the first pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Two years later, Davis is still raw behind the plate, but he has a rocket for an arm that certainly appeals at the position.
The problem for Davis, however, is that Endy Rodriguez has taken the reigns and appears to be the club’s everyday catcher moving forward. Davis caught only two innings with Pittsburgh this season.
Because of Rodriguez’s emergence, the Pirates used Davis primarily as a right fielder, though he struggled defensively there, too. In 49 games, he committed four errors in 63 chances and was responsible for minus-nine defensive runs saved.
The Pirates are still insistent that Davis will catch, and they recently said he will report to 2024 spring training with pitchers and catchers.
With Rodriguez in the fold, it’s hard to envision Davis getting consistent reps behind the plate.
Do they keep him in right field and hope an offseason to learn the position pays off? Do they consider moving him to first base, even though that would suppress his big arm?
It’s an interesting development to follow.
Nutting Spends Again, Which Will Need to Continue
For the second-straight season, the Pirates made a rare, substantial financial commitment.
After they extended Ke’Bryan Hayes in 2022, the Pirates set a franchise record by signing Bryan Reynolds to an eight-year $106.75 million pact at the beginning of this season.
For the first time under his watch, Bob Nutting opened up the purse strings and showed a legitimate willingness to spend with a nine-figure deal.
If the Pirates want to get back to the postseason, Nutting and the Pirates will need to continue to pay for talent — not just internal extensions but external additions.
It needs to start this offseason. The Pirates’ young core is here. As a collective, the team played well down the stretch as their experience grew.
But that young core will need to be supported with veteran additions, and not just one-year-type deals that we’ve grown accustom to seeing. But with ‘splash’ type moves that show the organization’s commitment to winning.
There are plenty of positions to address this winter — most notably starting pitching and first base.