At the time of this writing, Carlos Santana is the only Pittsburgh Pirate to go elsewhere ahead of the trade deadline. That almost assuredly will change by 6 P.M. on Tuesday. For now, the Pirates have embraced the fact that 2023 will not be their year. General Manager Ben Cherington has called up a handful of top prospects in the past few weeks. Now, the Young Bucs are growing together and looking to show the rest of the league that they might just be ready to compete in 2024.
Ever since April, it’s been tough to consume Pirates baseball on a nightly basis. They just look like a team outmatched by their competition. A breath of fresh air and new life needed pumped into the team. They’ve gotten that in all of their Young Bucs.
Fans packed PNC Park this weekend to watch the Young Bucs take down the Philadelphia Phillies twice in three games. The atmosphere was pretty electric over the three-game set and is a stark reminder to ownership that people will, in fact, come to the ballpark if they are given a real product on the field. Even potential trade target David Bednar threw a few back with fans after the game.
— Patrick Counihan (@NotPattyice00) July 30, 2023
Despite the mini-hot streak, Pittsburgh resides 9.5 games out of their division lead and a wild card spot. We won’t be seeing them in the elimination tournament at season’s end. However, that doesn’t mean that the Young Bucs don’t have anything to play for. We’ll discuss that in this week’s version of Bucco Blasts.
Young Bucs Trying To Set Tone for 2024
Pirates fans, there might just be some light at the end of the tunnel. The single most important thing over the final 57 games of the season is the progression of the Young Bucs. That much is undeniable. So far, while none of their numbers are overly-eye-popping, there is still a lot to be excited about.
Fans had been tortured by Austin Hedges‘ inexplicable amount of playing time. Hedges is a defense-first catcher with a career average of .189. That just isn’t going to get it done. Now, exciting catching prospect Endy Rodriguez is receiving the bulk of the action in Pittsburgh. He’s been electric and batted in three runs during Pittsburgh’s win Saturday night.
Former first-overall pick Henry Davis looks like the real deal. Middle-infield prospects Liover Peguero and Nick Gonzales are coming around after slow starts to their careers. Quinn Priester hasn’t been overly dominant on the mound but he is showing flashes of potential. Jared Triolo is playing great defense in Ke’Bryan Hayes‘ stead.
The future is now for Pittsburgh. They’ll potentially get Oneil Cruz back before the end of the season. He’ll have a chance to ramp up before hopefully playing a full schedule in 2024. Bryan Reynolds is coming alive a bit over the past week with three long balls and a modest four-game hitting streak.
Reynolds and Hayes represent guys that have long-term deals. Cruz is a potential superstar. Couple that with exciting prospects like Rodriguez, Davis, Priester and the rest of the crew and Pittsburgh has a true future. The Young Bucs aren’t all guaranteed to become legitimate everyday ballplayers but they’re off to a promising start.
Hayes’ Pending Return
Speaking of Hayes, it looks as though he’ll make his return from the injured list this week. His rehab assignment in Triple-A Indianapolis over the weekend is likely over. Hayes will make his return this week.
Ke’Bryan Hayes is expected to play the second of back-to-back days today for Indianapolis and then head back to Pittsburgh after the game, per sources.
— Ryan Palencer (@RyanPalencer) July 30, 2023
The 26-year old third baseman has spent a lot of time on the shelf in his short Pirates career. He may be the preeminent defensive third baseman in the entire league. Not much gets by him and he makes the tough plays look routine. The Pirates didn’t hand him north of $8 million per year to be just a defensive player. They need him to hit too.
Hayes sports a .256 career batting average. His OPS is .705 over his four seasons in Pittsburgh. Hayes hit just 23 home runs and has a WRC+ of 95. That number is boosted because of his 125 WRC+ in his 24-game rookie season sample size. The Pirates have been waiting for Hayes to get back to those COVID-season levels offensively. That hasn’t happened.
The Pirates don’t need Hayes to hit 30+ home runs. They knew he wasn’t that upon making him their first-round selection in 2015. They would absolutely take in the ballpark of 20 home runs a season. The career .318 OBP isn’t awful but it certainly could be improved a shade or two.
Outside of the Young Bucs, Hayes’ final two months of baseball might be the Pirates’ second biggest stretch run storyline. If he returns and stays healthy over the final two months, the Pirates may see if the injuries truly were the reason for his struggles. Otherwise, they may have locked themselves into a player who’s rookie season was a costly aberration.
What Players Could Benefit from Trades?
As it stands, the Pirates don’t have a first base prospect in their system. They’ve relied on a plug-and-play system at first base for nearly a decade now. They traded Santana and now have only Ji Man Choi as a natural first baseman on the roster. Connor Joe has seen some time at first base but is a true outfielder.
Triolo is a fantastic defensive player. With Hayes returning to his post at third base, Triolo would be relegated to the bench. With playing time available at the other infield corner, maybe the Pirates can explore giving Triolo time there. He isn’t lighting the world on fire at the plate but he’s been adequate enough to continue earning at-bats.
Jason Delay was optioned to Triple-A a few weeks ago when Rodriguez was brought to the majors. If interested teams acquire Hedges, the Pirates would likely recall Delay. Davis could also see time behind the plate, his original position, according to Cherington.
Rich Hill is likely to be sent out after making what could’ve been his final start in a Bucco uniform on Sunday. A myriad of pitchers who have struggled this season could be called upon to replace Hill’s rotation spot. This list includes Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz.
With no shortage of options to replace the departed veterans, the Pirates brass will turn to the Young Bucs to finish 2023 out on a high note. All the experience they get now will be invaluable in 2024-and-beyond if the Pirates do become a force starting next season.
Photo Credit- Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Players Mentioned- Carlos Santana, David Bednar, Austin Hedges, Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Quinn Priester, Jared Triolo, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Bryan Reynolds, Ji Man Choi, Connor Joe, Jason Delay, Rich Hill, Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz