For the Pirates, the kids are all right

Much to the chagrin of their loyal fans, the Pittsburgh Pirates always seem to be rebuilding for the future. However, with a rash of injuries that has sent Ben Gamel, Jake Marisnick, Kevin Newman, Roberto Perez, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Daniel Vogelbach and more recently Josh VanMeter to the injured list, along with Bryse Wilson‘s demotion to triple-A and Cole Tucker‘s designation for assignment, suddenly the future is now. Most recent games have seen four or five rookies in the starting lineup. Let’s check in and see how they’re doing.

Diego Castillo

Not to be confused with the Seattle Mariners pitcher of the same name, Diego Castillo was acquired from the New York Yankees right before the 2021 trade deadline, along with Hoy Park, in exchange for Clay Holmes. The 24-year-old infielder wasn’t expected to make the team out of spring training. However, he forced manager Derek Shelton‘s hand, hitting .406 in the spring while fielding well at second base and shortstop. At the major league level, he’s added third base and even right field to his resume.

Castillo couldn’t be expected to maintain the hitting pace of spring training. After a hot start to the regular season, he’s come back to Earth, slashing .221/.267/.320 with 2 HR, 9 RBI as I write this. More importantly, playing primarily in the middle infield, he has only one error so far in 2022. At the shortstop and second base spots, depending on whose data you subscribe to, he has been worth 24 or 52 defensive runs saved above league average. It doesn’t seem likely the Pirates will be sending him down to the minors any time soon.

Rodolfo Castro

Rodolfo Castro, another multi-position infielder, joined the Pirates in 2021. He holds the distinction of his first five major league hits being home runs. With Newman out, Castro was brought up after not making the team in the spring. Owner of a shotgun arm, he’s played a lot of shortstop and has also appeared at second base. He’s said he’s determined to make a good showing so he never has to go back to the minors.

To stay he might need to do better than his .197/.269/.296 slash line as of this writing. In the field, he has already committed six errors in 21 games. He has also made some spectacular plays, including one where he raced into left field to make a low-probability catch of a ball off the bat of the Colorado Rockies’ Brendan Rogers on May 23.

After that catch, he leapt high in the air and pumped his fist. The next night against those same Rockies, after sliding home and being called safe by the umpire on a close play, he stood over the catcher and made a “safe” sign. (He was later ruled out on a replay review.) Although these emotional displays are now commonplace throughout sports, they look silly from a young guy struggling to hit .200 on a third-place team.

Roansy Contreras

Right-handed starter Roansy Contreras came from the Yankees, along with three others, in the Jameson Taillon deal in January 2021. The Pirates brought him up for a brief look in 2021. The 22-year-old broke spring training 2022 with the big club and made three relief appearances before being sent down. He returned to the Pirates’ starting rotation on May 24 and has since performed at such a high level that it seems likely he’s in the majors to stay. In three starts covering 15-2/3 innings, he’s allowed just two earned runs. He now has a 1.93 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.

Contreras has an interesting four-pitch mix, although he leans on his four-seam fast ball and slider more heavily than his curve and change-up. The fast ball sits at 96-97 MPH. So far, the National League is batting .179 against the four-seamer and .118 against the slider, which explains his heavy reliance on those pitches. Pressure situations don’t seem to bother him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were to emerge as the staff ace by the end of the season.

Tucupita Marcano

Tucupita Marcano is an infielder/outfielder who came from the San Diego Padres in last year’s deadline deal for Adam Frazier. He had a taste of the majors with the Padres in 2021 but only recently joined the Pirates from triple-A. The diminutive, wiry 22-year-old, not known as a power hitter, has already hit two round-trippers as a Pirate. While he’s hot, Shelton will continue to pencil him in the batting order.

Cal Mitchell

When Cal Mitchell was called up on May 24, the young outfielder hadn’t even been on the 40-man roster. He was never considered one of the Pirates’ top prospects. However, with the major league team starved for offense and plagued by injuries, it was becoming hard to ignore Mitchell’s improved performances across the board with triple-A Indianapolis, where he was slashing .306/.362/.500. What has made Mitchell fun to watch is his apparent feeling that he’s playing with house money. But he hasn’t hit much with the Pirates yet and is losing playing time to Marcano.

Jack Suwinski

Lefty-swinging outfielder Jack Suwinski was another of the three players acquired in the Frazier deal. He made the jump from double-A Altoona to Pittsburgh on April 26 when Bryan Reynolds and Tucker were abruptly placed on the COVID injured list. His promotion surely had more to do with his proximity to Pittsburgh at the time. Even so, Suwinski is still with the Pirates. As of this writing, he is tied for third among major league rookies in home runs with six, a figure that also ties him for second on the Pirates. This includes a recent dramatic game-winning shot off the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Mark Melancon in the bottom of the ninth on June 4.

Despite the home runs, as of June 4 his slash line is a mere .210/.265/.410. It’s fair to point out he’s had to play against left-handed pitching more than he would have had he come up under normal circumstances. He’s batting .129 against lefties.

One aspect of his game surely keeping him with the big club is his defense. Suwinski plays balls off the 21-foot-high “Clemente Wall” in PNC Park’s right field as though he were born there. Shelton also trusts him to navigate the spacious left and center fields at PNC.


The talent is obvious among these six gentlemen and there’s much to like about their approach to the game. Still, the Pirates remain at the bottom of the league in every important offensive category. Each of the position players discussed above needs to step up his game. I see Contreras continuing to pitch well. I can foresee steady improvement at bat from Suwinski to the point where he’ll be an important contributor as well, especially if a veteran outfielder is dealt at the trade deadline. Castillo and Castro need to stick with the team based on the their ability to play shortstop. Once injured players begin returning, I would use a platoon between the right-handed Castillo and the switch-hitting Castro at shortstop, in the hopes of maximizing the offense at the position.

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