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3 Players To Watch Series

LOD’s 3 Players to Watch: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a string of postseason appearances through the 2013-2015 seasons.  Since that time, they’ve been among the bottom tier teams in the National League.  Even in the NL Central, where there’s been plenty of movement in recent years.  This historic franchise hasn’t won an NL Pennant or World Series since 1979, despite some very strong teams in the early 1990s.  While the small market Pirates may struggle to compete for high profile free agents, they have been known to develop strong talent in their farm system.

Oneil Cruz, SS

The 6 foot 7 inch shortstop is one of the most exciting young players in the game.  He played 87 games for the Pirates in 2022 and put up 17 HRs / 54 RBIs / .233 BA / .744 OPS and 10 stolen bases.  While the Pirates may have big expectations for Cruz,  he apparently sees himself as a 30-30 guy this season — maybe in a 40/40 candidate.  His unique combination of power and speed and may get him there before too long.  Cruz turned heads last season when he smashed a 122.4 mph ball off the right field fence.  A big season for Oneil Cruz in 2023 would be a welcomed gift for a Pirates franchise who is looking to spark an interest with their fan base and superstar to build their team around.

Andrew McCutchen, OF

Another thing that may spark and interest with their fan base is the return of Andrew McCutchen.  The 2013 NL MVP, 5x All-Star, 4x Silver Slugger and Gold Gloves winner finds his way back to Pittsburgh in 2023.  Cutch was the Pirates first round pick (11th overall) in the 2005 MLB Draft, out of Meade High School (Central Florida).  He had one of the best five year stretches of productivity of anyone in MLB in recent decades (2011-2015).  McCutchen helped lead the  Bucco’s to three consecutive postseason appearances in 2013, 2014 and 2015.  His veteran leadership will be welcomed in this Pirates clubhouse as their young team looks to gain it’s footing this season.

Endy Rodriguez, C/2B/OF

Listed as the number two prospect in the Pirates organization is Eddy Rodriguez.  He had an outstanding minor league season in 2022 with 25 HRs / 95 RBIs / .323 BA / .996 OPS while raising the ranks from High-A Greensboro, to Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis.  If he were able to produce those numbers in MLB, he’d find himself a perennial All-Star, at any position.  Right behind Rodriguez on the Pirates prospect list is another catcher, Henry Davis.  Davis was the first overall pick of the 2021 MLB Draft and was already assigned to minor league camp for the remainder of Spring Training.  However, MLB.com just released an article touting Rodrigez and Davis as the “catching duo of the future.”  Given the physical demands of the position, having two strong catchers to alternate could be the path for most teams going forward.

Pirate Life in 2023

Can Pittsburgh compete in the NL Central this season?  That might be a tall order.  The Cardinals remain strong.  As do the Brewers.  The Cubs are much improved.  But, that doesn’t mean the Pirates don’t have something to prove and future to build.  In the fact, they have the #1 overall pick of the 2023 MLB Draft.  Most projections have the Pirates picking Dylan Crews (OF – LSU).  How many games will the Pirates win this season?  It’s hard to say.  But, they got plenty of young, interesting players to keep fans engaged in 2023 and beyond.

Brian is the Managing Editor at Legends on Deck and Co-Host on Legends On Deck Podcast. He's been writing about baseball at LOD since 2017. He grew up in the Detroit area and is a lifelong Tigers fan. However, he shares some affinity for his son George's favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. Brian also has a particular interest in the amateur side of the game, including high school, college and collegiate summer league baseball. Brian and George also love collecting and selling baseball cards. You can find them selling on eBay (@Kossball) or posting on George's Instagram (@Kossball). Brian lives in Horizon West (Winter Garden), Florida with his wife (Grace), three daughters and George the Card Kid. You can also reach him at brianmkoss@gmail.com

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