Pittsburgh Pirates 2024 Season Preview

After taking a step forward last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates head into the 2024 season with an exciting foundation to build upon.

DENVER, CO - JULY 17: Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz (15) has a word with third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) during a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 17, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Pirates took a major step forward in 2023, and the foundation of their roster is finally starting to come together.

The Pirates surpassed all expectations last season, despite it being an assessment year for much of their young talent. They won 76 games, which was a significant improvement from the previous two seasons. It was also their highest win total since the 2018 season, and it was the second time since 2016 that the club surpassed 75 wins.

They are undeniably headed in the right direction, and there’s a lot to be excited about for Pittsburgh’s fanbase. However, they still appear to be a year or so away from playoff contention, despite being on a positive trajectory.

From an offensive perspective, Pittsburgh’s lineup should be fun to watch this season. They have a lot of talent at several different positions, and it’s a group of players that appears ready to take a step forward in 2024.

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The pitching staff is where the club may fall short this season. It will likely be an assessment year for many of their young arms, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their window for contention hasn’t opened yet, and it’s important for the club to establish who will be mainstays in the starting rotation.

Mitch Keller took a leap forward last season, and the Pirates rewarded him with a five-year contract extension to be a core piece of their rotation for years to come. With Paul Skenes expected to make his MLB debut in the near future, it feels as if the pitching staff is starting to come together.

All in all, this season may be the most excited Pirates fans have been in quite some time. We’ll start by breaking down their projected starting lineup, which is shaping out to be the most exciting part of their entire roster.

Projected Starting Lineup

The Pirates should be a fun watch in 2024, and it all starts with their promising lineup. While the back end of the order might lack some fire power, the top half has plenty of intrigue and should provide a lot of excitement for Pirates fans.

Projected Lineup vs RHPProjected Lineup vs LHP
1. Oneil Cruz – SS (L)1. Oneil Cruz – SS (L)
2. Bryan Reynolds – LF (S)2. Bryan Reynolds – LF (S)
3. Andrew McCutchen – DH (R)3. Andrew McCutchen – DH (R)
4. Jack Suwinski – RF (L)4. Ke’Bryan Hayes – 3B (R)
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes – 3B (R)5. Henry Davis – C (R)
6. Henry Davis – C (R)6. Jack Suwinski- RF (L)
7. Rowdy Tellez – 1B (L)7. Connor Joe – 1B (R)
8. Liover Peguero – 2B (R)8. Liover Peguero – 2B (R)
9. Michael A. Taylor – CF (R)9. Michael A. Taylor – CF (R)

Lineup Cornerstones for the 2024 Season

We’ll start by assessing the parts of the lineup that are set in stone for Opening Day.

Oneil Cruz returns to the lineup after playing just nine games last season due to a fractured ankle, and there is an immense amount of excitement surrounding his 2024 outlook.

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It’s generally best to take spring training stats with a grain of salt, but Cruz has been hitting the cover off the ball this spring. In 36 plate appearances, he is slugging 1.032 with seven homers, four of which were hit over 110 MPH or more. He’s locked in as the club’s starting shortstop, and his stock could continue to skyrocket if he can stay healthy for a full season.

Ke’Bryan Hayes is entering his fifth big league season, and he is entrenched at the hot corner for Pittsburgh. One of the best defenders in the entire sport, Hayes secured the first Gold Glove Award of his career in 2023, and he is coming off his best offensive season since his rookie year in 2020. Hayes can sleepwalk into a 3.0 fWAR with his defensive talent alone, but the biggest determining factor for him is his bat.

He finally slashed his ground ball rate from nearly 50% in 2022 to just 42% last season, and that was a huge development for his offensive potential. Hayes is entering his prime at 27-years old, and he can take his game to another level if he takes another step forward offensively this season.

Henry Davis is a major X-factor for Pittsburgh’s offense, and a breakout could be in store for the former first overall pick. Davis struggled last season after his promotion to the majors, as he hit just .213 and posted an OPS of .653 with a 76 wRC+ in 255 plate appearances. However, that’s not indicative of what kind of hitter Davis can be when things are clicking.

Davis has a lot of offensive upside, especially in the power department, and that power has been on full display in spring training. Now thrusted into a full-time role as the club’s top backstop in 2024, Davis has a chance to take a major step forward in his development and become an integral player for the Pirates.

Bryan Reynolds is heading into his sixth season with the Pirates, and he’ll look to bounce-back to the All-Star-version of himself that put up a 6.0 fWAR in 2021. Last year wasn’t a bad season for Reynolds (.790 OPS, 110 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR), but his offensive production has steadily declined in each of the past two seasons. Still, he is the anchor at the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup, he is a cornerstone piece in their outfield, and he brings valuable experience to a relatively young batting order.

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Lineup Variables for the 2024 Season

While there are several areas of the batting order that are locked in heading into Opening Day, there are also parts of the lineup that are a bit more uncertain.

Second base features the most competitive battle for playing time in the lineup, but it’s likely that Liover Peguero opens the year as the club’s top option at the position. With top prospect Termarr Johnson still a year away from contributing at the big league level, the Pirates will look to bridge the position with various different players until Johnson is ready to take the reins at second base.

Rowdy Tellez signed a one-year contract with the club this offseason, and he will be the Pirates’ primary lefty bat at first base. Tellez will look to rebound with the Pirates after hitting just .215 and posting an OPS of .667 with a wRC+ of 78 with the Brewers last season. On top of being the strong side of a platoon at first base, Tellez could also be a flip candidate if things go right for him in the first half of the season.

Shifting to the outfield, the Pirates signed outfielder Michael A. Taylor to a one-year deal this past weekend, and it looks like he’ll be the club’s starting center fielder to open the season. His exceptional abilities in the field will provide a much needed defensive boost for Pittsburgh’s outfield. With Bryan Reynolds getting everyday playing time in one of the corners, likely left field, Taylor’s presence on the roster creates a potential platoon situation for Jack Suwinski in right field.

Suwinski broke out last year for the Pirates and became one of the top run producers in their lineup, but he’ll need to improve his efficiency against left-handed pitching in order to become a regular in the outfield.

Last season, Suwinski had a .608 OPS with a 68 wRC+ while striking out nearly 42% of the time against southpaws. However, when facing right-handed pitchers, his OPS jumped to .856 and his wRC+ rose to 127. He’ll likely occupy the strong side of a platoon in right field with the upside of earning a full-time role if he can improve his performance against lefties.

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Projected Bench

Yasmani Grandal/Jason Delay, Connor Joe, Edward Olivares, Jared Triolo/Ji Hwan Bae

The backup to Henry Davis will be one of Yasmani Grandal or Jason Delay. Grandal is currently dealing with plantar fasciitis and is in jeopardy of opening the season on the injured list, meaning Delay, who has been the team’s primary backup catcher for the past two seasons, should have a very similar role in 2024.

Connor Joe is entering his second season with the Pirates as the team’s right-handed platoon option at first base. Joe has historically performed well against southpaws, sporting a career 111 OPS+ and a 109 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. On top of being a valuable bench bat, Joe is also more than capable of starting games in the corner outfield when needed.

Pittsburgh acquired Edward Olivares from the Kansas City Royals this offseason, and he’ll likely claim a bench spot as the club’s fourth outfielder. His biggest shortcoming is his defense, as he put up -11 Defensive Runs Saved last year and has posted negative Outs Above Average in each of his four MLB seasons. That said, Olivares was an above average hitter in his previous two seasons with the Royals, and he is a talented player who has room for improvement in the field.

The final bench spot will belong to whichever utility infielder the club prefers. Ji Hwan Bae brings an element of speed and versatility to the lineup, and his left-handed bat would be a nice compliment to Peguero, who is a right-handed hitter.

However, Jared Triolo has far more offensive upside, and he can play three infield positions at a high level. On top of posting positive outs above average and defensive runs saved at both second and third base last season, Triolo slashed .298/.388/.398 for an OPS of .786 and a 118 wRC+ in 209 plate appearances. If he can continue to post strong offensive numbers in the early goings of the season, he could even play his way into a starting role at second base as the season progresses.

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Projected Starting Rotation

The Pirates were one of baseball’s worst rotations last season. The starting rotation finished the year ranked 24th ERA (4.88), 24th in FIP (4.63), and 27th in fWAR (6.9). Additionally, only three pitchers contributed more than 74 innings in the starting rotation last season: Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, and Rich Hill.

Flash forward to 2024, and Hill is no longer with the organization, and Oviedo is going to miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Those two arms combine for nearly 300 vacated innings that they will need to replace this season.

The Pirates will turn to a pair of newly-acquired veterans and a handful of young starters looking to establish themselves in the big leagues to form what could be an extremely volatile rotation in 2024.

Projected Starting FiveVeteran Rotation Depth
Mitch Keller (R)Eric Lauer (L)
Martin Perez (L)Chase Anderson (R)
Marco Gonzales (L)Domingo Germán (R)
Luis Ortiz (R)
Jared Jones (R)/Quinn Priester (R)

Mitch Keller broke out for the Pirates last season and established himself as the anchor at the top of the rotation heading into 2024. Fresh off a season where he tossed a career-high 194 innings and earned his first-career All-Star bid, the Pirates will need Keller to replicate his standout performance from a season ago in order to keep the starting rotation afloat.

The club brought in a pair of veterans this offseason to soak up innings in the middle of the rotation. Martín Pérez, who was signed to a one-year contract back in January, and Marco Gonzales, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves via trade, are two veterans who bring experience and dependability to the starting rotation.

Pérez, 32, is just one year removed from his lone All-Star appearance back in 2022 where he started 32 games and pitched to a 2.89 ERA with the Rangers. Gonzales, 32, spent his previous six seasons in Seattle. In those six seasons, he had a 4.02 ERA, a 4.34 FIP, and a 1.25 WHIP while being available for a vast majority of his Mariners tenure. They will have an extremely valuable role in 2024, and they’re both potential flip candidates at the trade deadline as well.

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The back of the rotation is a bit more uncertain, but it’s undeniably more exciting.

Luis Ortiz has a good shot at securing a rotation spot. The former top prospect has struggled in his 102.2 big leagues innings, specifically with pitch location and command, but he still has a very promising pitch mix. Other than Mitch Keller, Ortiz was the only Pirates starter last season with a Stuff+ of 100 or greater. He has middle-of-the-rotation upside if he can take a step forward with his control in 2024.

The final rotation spot is up for grabs heading into Opening Day. Jared Jones, who is Just Baseball’s No. 75 prospect, has looked great this spring. He has not allowed a run in 11.1 innings pitched, and it feels as if he has done enough to break camp. However, if the Pirates wish to preserve some of his service time, there’s a strong possibility he starts the season in Triple-A, despite his strong spring training.

If Jones starts the year with Triple-A Indianapolis, Quinn Priester could get a shot at the final rotation spot. Priester disappointed last season, pitching to a 7.74 ERA across 50 innings, but he will be an arm the Pirates evaluate this season. Priester, still just 23-years old, has a wide pitch mix that can work at the big league level. If he can grab the final rotation spot out of camp, that could be the first step in him putting together a rebound sophomore season.

Projected Bullpen

The Pirates had a solid group of relievers last season. Despite ending the year in the bottom half of the league in ERA (4.27), the bullpen was 15th in the league in FIP (4.09) and their win probability added of 4.04 was 10th in baseball.

Additionally, Pittsburgh returns a good chunk of their relievers from a season ago. Anchored by one of the top closers in the sport, this is a deep group of viable relievers that can surprise in 2024.

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Projected Bullpen
David Bednar (R)
Aroldis Chapman (L)
Ryan Borucki (L)
Carmen Mlodzinski (R)
Colin Holderman (R)
Roansy Contreras (R)
Bailey Falter (L)
Josh Fleming (L)
Brent Honeywell (R)

David Bednar checks in at No. 7 on Just Baseball’s top relievers list, and he will once again be the reliable bookend in the bullpen. Bednar is coming off the best year of his career, racking up 39 saves while pitching to a career-best 2.00 ERA and putting up a career-high in fWAR (2.3) across 67.1 innings.

Among qualified relivers since the beginning of the 2021 season, Bednar ranks fifth in fWAR (4.9), sixth in ERA (2.25), and ninth in FIP (2.56) in all of baseball. Not only is he the focal point in the bullpen, but he is an obvious extension candidate for the Pirates.

The setup role, at least to start the season, will likely belong to Aroldis Chapman, who signed a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the Pirates this offseason. It was a rather surprising move, but Chapman is an obvious flip candidate if he can put together a strong first half of the season like he did with the Royals a year ago.

Outside of Chapman, Ryan Borucki has the most experience in the bullpen and should be a valuable contributor in 2024. Borucki impressed with the Pirates last season, pitching to a 2.45 ERA with a WHIP of 0.74 across 40.1 innings, all while walking fewer than three percent of batters.

The absurdly-low walk rate appears to be an outlier when compared to the rest of his career, but his ability to elude barrels and keep the ball on the ground at an efficient rate would be very valuable in the bullpen.

Carmen Mlodzinski logged 36 innings with the pirates last season, and he looked great in those outings. He ended the year with a 2.25 ERA while generating a ground ball rate of 47.5% and surrendering a barrel rate of just four percent. The 25-year-old is an intriguing reliever, and he has the opportunity to establish himself as a mainstay in the bullpen this season.

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The rest of the bullpen will likely be a revolving door of players working to carve out a role in the big leagues. Most notably, Bailey Falter and Roansy Contreras are both out of minor league options, and each player could be at risk of losing their roster spot if they don’t perform in 2024.

Top Prospects Who Could Help in 2024

Paul Skenes – RHP

Starting with the obvious, Paul Skenes will be one of the top prospects to watch in all of baseball. He will start the season in the minor leagues, but it shouldn’t be long before Skenes makes an impact at the big league level.

The 6-foot-6 hurler could already contribute meaningful innings for the Pirates if needed. Already possessing a fastball and slider combination that can play at the big league level, the top pitching prospect could take over the starting rotation sooner rather than later this season.

Braxton Ashcraft – RHP

Standing at 6-foot-5, Ashcraft is another tall, athletic arm within the organization. He’s the No. 8 prospect in the Pirates’ organization, and appears primed to take another step forward in 2024.

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After missing the entire 2022 season due to Tommy John Surgery, Ashcraft looked solid in his time back last season. He ended the year in Double-A where he put up a 1.35 ERA with a 1.88 FIP while striking out nearly 30% of batters across 20 innings. The Pirates will monitor Ashcraft’s innings in 2024 as he continues to increase his workload, but he could crack the starting rotation at some point in 2024.

2024 Season Outlook

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is congratulated by Connor Joe #2 after he scored against the San Francisco Giants in the fourth inning at Oracle Park on May 31, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

For what seems like the first time since the start of the decade, there’s a lot to be excited about in Pittsburgh.

As they continue to assess who will be a part of their long-term future, they have managed to lock up several key pieces to build around moving forward. Ke’Bryan Hayes is a mainstay at the hot corner, Bryan Reynolds is a steady producer in the outfield, and Mitch Keller will be a core piece of the starting rotation for years to come.

On top of that established group, Oneil Cruz has the makeup of an ascending star at the shortstop position. Couple his potential breakout with the eventual MLB debut of Paul Skenes, and Pirates fans have plenty to look forward to this season.

The Pirates might not be ready to take the leap into contention in 2024, but it shouldn’t be long before they’re competing for a playoff spot. They have a bright future ahead of them, and Pittsburgh’s fanbase should be excited to watch this team as they continue to establish their young core in 2024.