It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Pirates are going through the process of rebuilding, but as you will see in this 2021 Pirates season preview, they have the potential to win some games. It is never easy to trade away your best players and exchange them for young players with big potential. However, when things are going as poorly as they were in Pittsburgh, sometimes that is the best thing for the team. The Pirates lost Chris Archer, Keone Kela, Trevor Williams, and Derek Holland to free agency this year. They also traded away Joe Musgrove, Josh Bell, and Jameson Taillon.
The Pirates received a group of minor leaguers in exchange for Taillon, Bell, and Musgrove. There were 10 in total. They also picked up Chasen Shreve, and claimed Michael Perez off waivers. Shreve will start in the minors, but Perez has made the roster as the backup catcher. Perez will be joining a young, strong Pittsburgh core full of potential. As we go through the 2021 Pirates season preview, you will notice the excellent homegrown talent the Pirates have. They may be competitive much sooner than most people think, even if it is not this year.
2021 Pirates Rotation
One of the areas that need the most attention still is pitching. Mitch Keller and Opening Day starter Chad Kuhl are the only starters left that have MLB experience as well as the potential upside, in this rebuilding rotation. Eventually, the group of minor leaguers they got back in trade will help the rotation out. However, not this year.
Along with Kuhl and Keller, the rotation should have Steven Brault, who has been shut down for a month with a lat injury. This injury opens the door for Trevor Cahill to start in the rotation. His only competition is Wil Crowe, who went to Pittsburgh in the Bell trade, but likely needs a bit of time in the minors yet. JT Brubaker and veteran Tyler Anderson will finish out the rotation. This group has the tools to win some games, but it lacks a true ace, and possibly a true number two starter.
The Pirates still have a good amount of work to do in the bullpen as well. This bullpen is likely going to go through a period of trying to find itself this year. There are no clear set-up or closer types, but there is some talent there. The pen will consist of Richard Rodriguez, Chris Stratton, Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes, Sam Howard, Luis Oviedo, and maybe Wil Crowe (if he makes the roster).
While this bullpen can get some outs, it still has a long way to go to be competitive. Fan Graphs ranked the bullpens for 2021. The Pirates bullpen was ranked 29th in MLB. The good news is that their bullpen will likely improve significantly this year. It will be an interesting year for this group.
Bryan Reynolds will be the starting left fielder this year. He is a home-grown Pirate that is very promising. Reynolds had a really rough abbreviated 2020 season, but his rookie season was very solid in 2019. He slashed .314/.377/.503 with 16 HR, 37 doubles, and four triples in 491 AB. He had a strong spring—reminiscent of his third-place ROY finish in 2019. Keep your eye on this guy.
Anthony Alford will be the starting center fielder to begin the year. Alford is a rookie who saw some MLB at-bats with the Toronto Blue Jays between 2017 and 2020, but never more than 28 in a year. He came over to the Pirates last year and got 12 AB to go with his 16 in Toronto last year. Alford won the job in center by slashing .265/.342/.500 this spring.
Gregory Polanco will be the everyday right fielder this year, as he usually is. He is another home-grown Pirate veteran who is looking to ride his decent spring into the season. He slashed .243/.317/.541 this spring, which is nice. However, Polanco regularly has good springs that have yet to translate into good numbers in the season. Perhaps this will be the year he can put it all together.
The infield is the bright spot in Pittsburgh right now. This group is full of young, home-grown Pirates with lots of potential, and some that will already be producing this year.
Jacob Stallings will be the primary catcher. He is home-grown talent and while he is known mostly for his defense, his bat has been pretty solid for a catcher. Stallings owns a career .262 average in 382 MLB at-bats. He is currently 31 years old, so if he is going to evolve as a hitter, it will probably happen this year—which will likely be the most at-bats in his career, by far.
First base will be manned by the lone infielder who is not from the Pirates’ farm, Colin Moran. Moran debuted with Houston in 2016 with 23 AB, and he added another 11 in 2017. He came to Pittsburgh in 2018 and played mostly third base until the arrival of young phenom third basemen, Ke’Bryan Hayes last year. At that point, he moved to first base. Moran will need to take a step forward offensively to be a viable MLB corner infielder, which is possible in this, his 28-year-old season.
Adam Frazier is another home-grown Pirate, who seems like he is getting ready to have a breakout-quality year. Frazier is a 29-year-old second baseman, and he has had a ridiculous spring. He has slashed .512/.535/.902 with six doubles, two triples, and two homers in 41 AB. If he can continue his hot hitting into the season, big things are going to happen for Frazier.
The starting shortstop position has been won by another home-grown Pirate who is having a big spring. Kevin Newman slashed .308/.353/.446 in 2019, with 12 homers. So, people were expecting him to breakout last year. That did not happen. Instead, he took a big step back as he slashed .224/.281/.276 with only one home run. This spring, however, Newman is absolutely raking. He made a change to his approach at the plate in the offseason, and it is working. Newman is looking like another breakout candidate this spring, slashing .645/.676/.839. If he can finish with stats half this good, Newman will be an All-Star.
Rookie sensation Ke’Bryan Hayes is going to be the third basemen this year, and probably for years to come. He burst onto the scene last year with 85 at-bats of total devastation at the plate. He slashed .376/.442/.682 with five homers, two triples, and seven doubles. This will be his age 24 season, and he is picking up right where he left off at the plate this spring, slashing .429/.462/.694 with six doubles, two triples, a homer, and eight RBI in only 49 AB. Hayes has also been said to have gold glove caliber defense at the hot corner to go with his ability to hit for average as well as power to all fields. It looks like he could be the real deal. He will be exciting to watch as this year and this young man progress.
2021 Season Outlook
The Pirates are right in the middle of a pretty major rebuild, and they are not expected to finish above the cellar in the NL Central this year by a Sports Illustrated article on the Pirates. While the Pirates likely will not be in contention to win their division, they will be an exciting, young team on the rise. Their large amount of home-grown talent is very promising, especially since it brings with it the payroll flexibility that comes with arbitration-eligible years.
Pittsburgh fans may not see the finish that they want their team to have, but they are going to win some games and gain a ton of experience and growth. They will also be fun to watch as they grow together and get better. In a couple of years when the pitching has been addressed and the team gets stronger, the Pirates very well could be a force to be reckoned with. Time will tell, but the rebuild is coming along very nicely.
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Chris Archer, Keone Kela, Trevor Williams, Derek Holland, Joe Musgrove, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier, Jacob Stallings, Colin Moran, Gregory Polanco, Anthony Alford, Bryan Reynolds, Richard Rodriguez, Chris Stratton, Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes, Sam Howard, Luis Oviedo, Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Cahill, Wil Crowe, JT Brubaker, Tyler Anderson, Chasen Shreve, Michael Perez