After a delayed start to the season, the Pirates play an actual regular season game on Thursday in St. Louis for Opening Day. The Pirates saw a good amount of roster turnover this offseason, and the Bucs will try and improve from their 61-101 showing from a season ago.
It’s expected that it will be another tough year for baseball in Pittsburgh as the Pirates continue to rebuild. Still, for fans of the Pirates and of baseball it is great to have baseball back after uncertainty surrounded what it would look like, if it even happened, for a big chunk of the offseason.
As a season preview of sorts, here are 10 predictions for the 2022 Pittsburgh Pirates.
1. Mitch Keller Finally Emerges
We first saw the hype surrounding Keller in the offseason when he was hitting triple digits on the radar gun in his training sessions. That hype then carried over to spring training, when Keller showed off his increased velocity and a brand-new breaking ball. The 26-year-old got results too, closing out the spring with a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 innings. He picked up 12 strikeouts to go with it.
This season will be the year the right-hander finally breaks out and shows some of the potential from when he was considered one of the top prospects in the league. I’m not saying Keller will be an ace, but he will be the de facto “ace” of this staff. That may not be saying all that much, so I’ll take it a strep further and say Keller will finish the year with a sub-4.00 ERA.
2. Ke’Bryan Hayes Wins a Gold Glove
Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado has been in the league for nine seasons. He also has nine Gold Gloves sitting on the mantle over his fireplace. Yes, Arenado has won the National League Gold Glove at the hot corner every year of his career.
That changes this year when Hayes earns the Gold Glove, giving the National League a non-Arenado recipient for the first time since Chase Headley back in 2012. Hayes led all third baseman with 16 defensive runs saved last season despite playing in just 96 games.
3. The National League Rookie of the Year Wears the Black and Gold
Oneil Cruz has been seen as one of the favorites to take home National League Rookie of the Year honors. Even with the start of his season with Triple-A Indianapolis, Cruz still has a solid chance to take home the award one would think. Even if it’s not Cruz, Diego Castillo could be a surprise candidate to earn the honor. If he stays on the roster all season and shows he can produce at the Major League level like he did in spring and last season in the minors, he has as good a shot as anyone. Roansy Contreras could be a dark horse, if he’s called up early enough.
The main competition for NL ROY includes Seiya Suzuki (Cubs), Bryson Stott (Phillies), Hunter Greene (Reds) and a few others.
4. A Lone All-Star
The Pirates will have just one player representing them in Dodger Stadium for the Midsummer Classic and that will be outfielder Bryan Reynolds. This is not a hot take by any means, and it seems likely the Pirates may only get one this year. If they got a second, Keller (thanks to the first prediction), Hayes and David Bednar could be candidates.
5. Four Pirates Hit 20+ Home Runs
For a team that hit just 124 home runs a year ago, good for dead last in the league, this would be a drastic and welcomed change. However, it’s not entirely out of the question. I’m saying that Cruz, Reynolds, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Daniel Vogelbach all belt at least 20 home runs for the Bucs this year.
If the quartet were to accomplish this feat, it would be the first time the Pirates had four 20+ home run hitters on their roster since 1999. Can anyone guess those four?
6. The Pirates Hand Out At Least One Extension to a Key Player
*Disclaimer: This may occur in the offseason, but I’m counting it as 2022 nonetheless. Yes, I’m predicting the Pirates will give an extension to at least one player of their younger core. Reynolds, Hayes and/or Cruz will get an extension, and not only that, but the extension will surpass the largest contract ever given out in franchise history ($60M to Jason Kendall)
7. Another Pirate (Or Two) Will Get Extended
What? Which Player? Actually, it’s not a player, it’s manager Derek Shelton. I get it, the Pirates have been lousy for all of Shelton’s tenure and in all likelihood it will be another tough season. But can you really judge the manager on wins and losses from a team that has lacked talent for what is now going into his third season at the helm? The answer is no, and many in the organization seem to love Shelton, who has built a nice culture despite the win/loss record.
He may not be the only one as we could see an extension for general manager Ben Cherington. Sometimes, a manager and general manager (especially if hired in the same offseason) have the same length on their deals. It’s hard to see the organization parting with either at the current stage, so might as well tack on some more years
This is another one that may happen in the offseason, but the title reads 2022!
8. Nick Gonzales Debuts
It may not be for a lengthy period of time, but I have a feeling Gonzales works his way to Pittsburgh at some point this season. If I had to guess, it may be more of how we saw Cruz or Contreras at the end of last season, but I’m expecting to see the 2020 first-rounder in a Pirates uniform at some point this season. Then the controversy will start next spring. Will the Pirates give Gonzales a shot on Opening Day? Or, will they handle him as they did Cruz this spring?
9. Kevin Newman (somewhat) Bounces Back; Gets Traded at the Deadline
Newman had a brutal year at the plate last season but was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop a year ago which has value in itself. The former first-rounder made some changes to his stance this offseason, and I think those changes will pay dividends to a degree. Will Newman bounce back to his 110 OPS+ year in 2019? I don’t think so, but he’ll contribute more this year at the plate, hovering around a .700 OPS.
The improved offense combined with another year of solid defense will draw the attention of some teams in contention. The Pirates will pull the trigger on a trade, paving the way for the crop of middle infield prospects on the cusp of the big leagues.
That’s my record prediction for the Pirates this season. I’m predicting another last place finish, but hey, the over would hit on the Vegas over/under mark of 64.5 wins. I’ll add another prediction into this one for the future, this will be the last time the Pirates finish last in the division for a while.