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Shelton’s 2024 Season as Buccos’ Manager Could Be Best Yet


Derek Shelton has the Pittsburgh Pirates prepared for the 2024 MLB season.

After six weeks of spring training in Florida, a manager and his coaching staff can learn a great deal about their squad. The first two weeks the Pirates spent at Pirate City, starting on February 14 when pitchers and catchers reported, were all about loosening up on the fields and in the clubhouse for the players.

Then, after recording a 13-16-1 record in Grapefruit League play, the organization loaded into two buses after their sixteenth game at LECOM Park on March 25 with a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

From the buses, Shelton’s 2024 squad boarded the team’s private jet, and off they went for a 35-minute flight to Miami.  The Pirates’ organization dates to 1887. When unfolding the team’s 2024 pocket schedule, it is clear who and where the Pirates begin their 162-game marathon of games.

All the batting practices, fielding exercises, running, jumping, and playing catch are behind the players now.  This week, March 28, the Pirates play against the Marlins for four games at LoanDepot Park.  Mitch Keller, one of two Pirates selected to represent the team at the All-Star Game in Seattle last season, gets the Opening Day start.

Before getting to play before the hometown faithful at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park on April 5, a three-game road trip with the Washington Nationals follows the club’s visit to Miami.

However, Shelton with the Pirates, no different from any corporation that has many qualified employees and limited spots available, had some complex decisions to make: who stays on the big-league roster and thus qualifies for at least the minimum salary of $740,000 and who gets reassigned to the minor-league camp.

Although it is an organizational discussion that narrows down who goes to what team, it is Shelton who has the most influence with management on who he wants sitting in his dugout and bullpen.

Pirates Owner Bob Nutting and club general manager Ben Cherington were personally responsible for bringing Shelton aboard when they announced him as the club’s manager in November 2019. Evaluating talent and making tough decisions are traits that the former minor league catcher has grown comfortable with.

Prior to skippering the Pirates, Shelton earned his stripes. He spent two seasons as a bench coach for the Minnesota Twins, a season coaching with the Toronto Blue Jays, seven seasons as the Tampa Bay Rays’ hitting coach, and holding the same position with the Cleveland Guardians (then Indians) before coming to Pittsburgh, Shelton had all the on-the-job experience needed for when the Pirates came calling.

Before waving goodbye to LECOM Park and Manatee County this past Monday, Shelton needed to solidify the club’s Opening Day 26-man roster.

The Pirates’ bullpen arms are impressive.  David Bednar, who last season tied San Francisco Giants’ Camilo Doval with 39 saves to be a top National League closer, will once again be the guy Shelton looks to when his club is looking to hold down the lead in the ninth inning.

Reliever Aroldis Chapman, who has 321 saves to his impressive MLB career already, is expected to be the set-up man for when Bednar enters the game.  Chapman was traded mid-season in 2023 to the Texas Rangers. He played a role in the club winning their first-ever World Series championship.

With Bednar and Chapman anchoring the pen, the starters are offering equal potential to dominate this season. Keller, who in 32 games last season ran a record of 13-9, is the Pirates’ ace.  Martin Perez, who, like Chapman, was among the pitching staff last season for Texas skipper Bruce Bochy that won it all, follows in the rotation as the number two starter.

Add veteran left-hander Marco Gonzales and rookie Jared Jones, and the first four hurlers offer great promise to this year’s club.  Jones, the Pirates’ second-round draft pick in 2020 who pitched the following season for the Bradenton Marauders, has pitched in 70 minor-league games.

Jones learned on Sunday from Shelton that he made the Opening Day team.

Another notable fresh face that Shelton and his coaching staff must be excited about is first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who has slugged 92 home runs during his six years of service on the MLB level. 

Jared Triolo, who has all but 54 games with the Pirates under his belt (all from 2023), won the second base job outright in training camp.

Add into the Pirates’ mix this season at third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, a National League Rawlings Gold Glove trophy winner last season, and the leadership and hitting prowess of former MVP Andrew McCutchen, plus the addition of Gold Glove center fielder Michael A. Taylor, and everything is pointing to Pittsburgh contending for the National League Central Division crown.

Under Shelton’s leadership in 2023, the Pirates finished the season at 76-86, a drastic improvement from 2022's disastrous finish of 62-100.

Progress is obvious within the Pirates’ organization. Shortstop Oneil Cruz is back. Last season, after playing in only nine games, Cruz broke his left ankle in early April because of an awkward collision at home plate at PNC Park in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

This spring schedule, Cruz clubbed seven home runs and collected 14 RBIs, resulting in a .273 average.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of training camp was the sheer dominance of catcher Henry Davis.  He hit for .300 with 12 hits, four of which were home runs. Davis also collected 11 RBIs.

Shelton has made all the tough decisions. It is time to hear “Play Ball”. 


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