Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Pittsburgh Pirates

Potential sleepers and avoidable busts for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are not chock full of fantasy targets these days. They had one player hit over 20 home runs, while two others were close while only playing around 100 games. One player stole 20 bases while another stole 11 in only 87 games. The highest batting average for a player with over 300 plate appearances was .274 from Kevin Newman, and hitting for average is his only skill. However, the Pirates did have some impact rookies on the team last year and they are poised to roll out a roster full of players with under a year of service time in 2023, unless major moves are made this offseason.

Overall, I see two players getting drafted in almost all leagues, Bryan Reynolds and Oneil Cruz. Otherwise there are a few deeper league selections or late round targets, but that makes a list of sleepers and busts more difficult to wrangle. I will be focusing on a few players I believe will over perform or under perform their ADP to any extent and may not necessarily be as drastic as a sleeper or bust connotes.

 

Sleepers

 

Oneil Cruz

 

2022 stats(361 PA): .233 AVG, 45 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 11 SB

Oneil Cruz was the talk of the Pirates last year, showcasing his power, speed, and arm. His power is off the charts, setting the Statcast record for hardest hit ball ever with his 122.4 MPH single off the wall versus Kyle Wright in August. He is young and exciting, but there’s still much he needs to improve upon. His 34.9% K rate and .233 average stand out as the limiting factors in his fantasy success.

First, Cruz’s numbers extrapolated for an entire season are excellent. If he had 600 plate appearances, he was on pace for 28 HR, 75 R, 90 RBI, and 18 SB. With a .233 average, those are Daulton Varsho’s 2022 numbers. But Cruz had some alarmingly positive trends over the last two weeks of the season.

His rolling K% plummeted. It didn’t just drop a bit. He struck out eight times in his last 12 games of the season. The three games before this stretch he struck out eight times. His K% over that 12 game stretch was 14% with a BB% of 12.3%, nearly 50% higher than his season’s BB%. The primary reason was he cut his swings and misses in half. His O-Contact was 67.3% (49.7% for the season) and his Z-Contact was 95.5% (82.6% for the season).

Of course this is just 12 games. And cutting his K% from the usual mid-30s to the teens is an unlikely shift and expectation for 2023. However, a reasonable adjustment to the mid to high 20s even could drastically shift outcomes. His average and walk rate would be lifted a bit allowing for more run, RBI, and stolen base opportunities. Cruz’s power and speed combination is what you look for in a top of the line fantasy player. His youth and continued development coupled with the jaw dropping Statcast numbers lends Cruz to have one of the highest ceilings of any fantasy player.

 

Jack Suwinski

 

2022 stats(372 PA): .202 AVG, 45 R, 19 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB

Jack Suwinski catches my attention as a potential beneficiary of the shift restrictions that are going into place in 2023. Here is a link on mlb.com describing the details of the rules changes made for next year for reference. There will be plenty of speculation regarding how the rule will ultimately affect pull hitters like Suwinski, however, I will lay down the facts first. But also isn’t wild speculation the whole point of these sleeper and bust articles anyway??

According to FanGraphs’ splits, he was shifted against a lot. This makes sense as he is a pull hitting lefty that either hit fly balls (40.8%) or grounders (44.1%).

With the shift restrictions, he may see a few more hits. He may have more confidence in his swing and approach. He was a rookie last season after all.

Another angle of improvement is his abysmal record against lefties. He hit well under .200 while being allowed over 100 plate appearances. He most likely will not be platooned as he played solid defense in the outfield. But also, his BABIP was in the low .100s as well. He struck out and walked about the same rate against righties. If playing time stays consistent, I don’t see how he won’t improve on his performance against lefties.

Lastly, Suwinski was sent down to Triple-A mid-July but came back up at the end of August. After returning he struggled still but kept improving and finished strong. His rolling expected wOBA remained consistently below MLB average until the last 12 games of the year, where it steadily to its highest point of the season of .430. He’s not going to be a superstar or anything, but he should provide pop late in drafts or in deeper leagues that could get overlooked.

 

Endy Rodriguez

 

2022 stats in A+, AA, AAA(531 PA): .323 AVG, 92 R, 25 HR, 95 RBI, 4 SB

This is a small bonus sleeper since Endy Rodriguez was selected to the Pirates 40-man roster on November 15 ahead of the Rule 5 draft deadline. There is a good chance he makes his debut in 2023, since the organization’s top prospect, Henry Davis, is still a bit away from being an MLB ready catcher. Rodriguez has shown solid defense in the minors so it is an easier decision to get him up and starting. If you are looking for a replacement catcher a few months into the season, he may already be up.

Rodriguez’s tools are contact first with a mid-to-high-teens K% and a BB% over 10%. He hit .323 across three levels in 2022 with over a .400 OBP. Despite the 25 home runs, he does not have much pop but should still deliver offensively. It is just a matter of how much time he gets in the bigs.

 

Busts

 

Ke’Bryan Hayes

 

2022 stats(560 PA): .244 AVG, 55 R, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 20 SB

Ke’Bryan Hayes joined the big league club during the 2020 season putting together a stellar 24 game season with a 194 wRC+ with five homers. Subsequently, Hayes has had two seasons with a wRC+ under 90 and 13 home runs in 956 plate appearances. He has essentially disappeared at the plate. He has developed into an elite defender with the likes of Nolan Arenado but we don’t draft hitters for their defense.

Hayes is outside of Scott Chu’s Top 150 hitters but could still be drafted in the top 150 overall. Hayes does have two things going for him though.

First, he puts the ball in play with quality contact. He consistently strikes out at a 21% rate, with a hard hit rate over 45% each season. His hard contact rate was 37th in the league for 2022. Second, he steals bases. His 20 steals in 2022 ranked 20th.

The second one is difficult to count on especially as a one trick pony kind of pick. However, the first skill he has demonstrated consistently. But that contact has not turned into anything substantial since he has no power and is hitting in the Pirates’ lineup. His ground ball rate is consistently over 50% with a fly ball rate not even touching 25%. And he won’t reach that 33.3% HR/FB rate he saw in 2020 with two full seasons under 10% since.

I do not see Hayes making any fantasy impact next season, yet I see him being drafted in standard leagues. And if you are truly counting on his stolen bases, he still is nothing more than a late round flyer.

 

Roansy Contreras

 

2022 stats(95 IP): 3.79 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 86 K, 5 W, 0 SV

Roansy Contreras is coming off of his 22 year old rookie season, where he started 18 games and pitched to the tune of a 3.79 ERA. The promise comes from the nearly 96 MPH fastball coupled with a swing and miss slider that takes off over 10 MPH of velocity. However, there is not much beyond that to make him an appealing fantasy starter.

I am not entirely sure if Contreras should be considered a bust but he’s young with promising stuff and is probably the highest drafted Pirate. He comes in at number 85 on Nick’s List, in the same tier as fellow Pirate Luis Ortiz, Trevor Rogers, and DL Hall. That is still ahead of Jameson Taillon, Aaron Civale, and Carlos Carrasco.

Despite that promise, he still has plenty to work on as his sub-4.00 ERA of last season was not as stellar as it looks. His FIP and xFIP were over half a run higher than his ERA at 4.38 and 4.48 respectively. His K% was an ok 21.1% but his BB% was nearly 10%. That is a tough pill to swallow as a starter.

Additionally, his fly ball rate is about six percentage points higher than the MLB average. If anything you want those on the ground hit in Hayes’ direction as much as possible. More specifically, the nice 96 MPH fastball he throws half the time had a hard contact rate of 42.9%. His HR/FB was only 15.8% on this pitch but it could easily be worse. Compared to the MLB average it does not look pretty.

Lastly, he’s still young and has only thrown 98 total major league innings. If he does pitch all year in 2023, he won’t see that many more innings. And otherwise we may be watching a good relief pitching repertoire forced to pitch at the top of the Pirates’ rotation.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Jim Chatterton

Jim has written for Razzball and now is a part of the Pitcher List staff. He is a Villanova alum and an eternally optimistic Mets fan. He once struck out Rick Porcello in Little League.

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