PITTSBURGH — From 2013 through 2015, the Pirates enjoyed three consecutive Wild Card seasons. Those back-to-back-to-back postseason appearances brought the excitement back in a big way as Pittsburgh enjoyed a resurgence in baseball enthusiasm.
In the years since that great three-year stretch, however, the Bucs have been forced to rebuild their organization from top to bottom. Immediately following the 2019 season, owner Bob Nutting named Travis Williams as his team’s president. One month later, Nutting and Williams hired Ben Cherington as general manager, and a short time after that, Derek Shelton was named as the Pirates’ 46th field manager.
The new management team navigated the team through both the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season and this year’s lockout, which extended into spring training. In many ways, the Wild Card seasons seem like a lifetime ago. In the five full seasons since those postseason appearances, the Pirates have averaged 89 losses. They’ve finished in last place in the National League Central Division for three straight seasons.
The rebuild is real, and the Pirates are hoping for spectacular results, although Cherington and Shelton know it will take continued patience and trusting their plan. The prospects are finding their way to the big leagues, and as the Pirates prepare to begin the franchise’s 141st season, they’ve bid farewell to a list of veterans, including catcher Jacob Stallings, right fielder Gregory Polanco, first baseman Colin Moran, and pitchers Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl.
The 2022 Pirates will start their season with many questions, but they’ll also enjoy some intriguing potential. Bryan Reynolds enters his fourth season as the team’s starting center fielder. Reynolds batted .302 last season. 2022 will be the second full season for third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. In 2021, Hayes played only 96 games because of a left hand/wrist injury. Hayes will be joined in the infield by 24-year-old shortstop Diego Castillo, who just found out this week that he had made the big league roster. 28-year-old Kevin Newman, who begins his fifth season with the Pirates, will play second base. Yoshi Tsutsugo and Daniel Vogelbach will share time at first base along with DH duties. In the off-season, the Pirates-signed catcher Roberto Perez will replace Stallings. Ben Gamel and Anthony Alford will round out the outfield, although Alford will start the season on the injured list with a right wrist sprain.
The Pirates announced that JT Brubaker will start Thursday’s season opener in St. Louis, while 33-year-old left-handed pitcher José Quintana, who was acquired late last year, will start the home opener. Mitch Keller, Zach Thompson and Dillon Peters will likely round out the starting rotation. Mars native David Bednar will be the team’s closer. The Bucs were the fourth-worst team in baseball last season with a 61-101 record.
The key to success, as always, will be pitching, but with some young talent on the big league roster, and with a long list of prospects working their way up to the majors, look for improvement in 2022.
It’s not impossible that the Pirates could overtake the Cubs and Reds, although they’re likely to still be chasing the Cardinals and Brewers.
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