Feb 21, 2023: Roansy Contreras doesn’t take this opportunity for granted. Contreras, assuming health, won’t just be on the Opening Day roster but likely will possess a spot at the top of the rotation. He has shed the label of rookie and prospect, one of several 20-somethings ready to make a leap. Contreras, however, knows nothing is given.
“My mindset is always to win a spot and not feel like I earned a spot already in the rotation,” Contreras said through team interpreter Stephen Morales. “[My mindset is] to come here and work hard every day and not think about a spot in that rotation. That way, I can be the best version of [myself] every day.”
The Pirates will count on Contreras to be the best version of himself every five or so days throughout the spring and summer, a contrast to the twists and turns that defined his rookie year.
Contreras was slated to begin last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, but the Pirates called him up on April 9 after their first game when Duane Underwood Jr. hit the injured list. Contreras made three relief appearances -- April 9, 14 and 19 -- before the Pirates sent him down for a month.
On May 24, the Pirates recalled Contreras, and he started for a month-and-a-half.
On July 7, the Pirates initiated a planned shutdown, optioning Contreras to Indianapolis for a month.
On Aug. 17, Contreras returned and pitched for Pittsburgh the rest of the way.
In 2023, Contreras likely won’t experience that type of shuffling. The Pirates plan to have him in the rotation from beginning to end, setting up the 23-year-old to take on the most innings of his career.
The Pirates said they will be mindful of how much they ask of Contreras. In 2021, Contreras pitched just 61 total innings in the Majors and Minors, missing time due to a right forearm strain. Contreras pitched 129 1/3 innings in ’22 and didn’t miss time due to injury, but his velocity noticeably dropped as the months progressed.
In April, Contreras' fastball had an average velocity of 97.1 mph. In July, it was down to 95.8 mph. By September, it was down to 94.5 mph.
That diminished fastball -- Contreras’ slider also dropped from the mid to low 80s -- may have played a role in him finishing in the 4th percentile of hard-hit rate and barrel percentage, as well as the 12th percentile of average exit velocity.
To add more complexity to the equation, Contreras will pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, a hyper-competitive tournament that contrasts with the more lax nature of Spring Training.
Manager Derek Shelton believes the opportunity for players like Contreras to play on this stage and be alongside the game’s best players will be invaluable. That said, the Pirates will be cognizant of how much -- and how frequently -- the Dominican Republic utilizes Contreras.
As far as an innings limit, general manager Ben Cherington said the team does not “want to put any sort of artificial harness on it.” The Pirates might use alternative methods to manage Contreras’ workloads, but a full shutdown seems unlikely. Contreras, for his part, knows the Pirates expect him to take on an increased workload.
“That was part of my routine and preparation in the offseason, to make sure I can do that this year, go from the beginning to the end healthy,” Contreras said.
Contreras’ evolution as a pitcher will also hinge on the development of his changeup, a pitch that is still in its infancy.
The right-hander’s changeup accounted for only 2.9 percent of his pitches in 2022, and when he did throw it, he struggled with command. The sample size on the results is too small to be conclusive, but opponents were 3-for-9 with a home run against Contreras’ changeup.
“The main thing right now is to just throw those pitches around the strike zone,” Contreras said. “Just work on that because there’s proof that the more strikes you throw, the more chances you have to be successful.” (JD Santos - MLB.com - Feb 21, 2023)
|Birth City:||Yamasa, D.R.|
|Draft:||Yankees - 2016 - Free agent - Out of the D.R.|
Contreras trained with Basilio Vizcaino (also known as “Cachaza”), who is one of the most prominent trainers in the Dominican Republic.
In July 2016, Roansy signed with the Yankees (see Transactions below).
Contreras has added over 20 pounds since signing.
In 2020, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Contreras as the 8th-best prospect in the Yankees organization. He was at #11 in 2021, just days before being dealt to the Pirates. He was 4th-best Pirates prospect in the spring of 2022.
Sept 29, 2021: While Cole Tucker was at the Pirates’ Minor League complex in Bradenton, Fla., working to revitalize his offense, the club had him take live batting practice against some of the pitchers it planned to send to High-A and Double-A. One of them was Roansy Contreras. Tucker had seen flashes of him at Spring Training, but when he stepped into the box to face the right-hander it was a different story.
“It was like, ‘Hey, go get ‘em!” Tucker recalled. “‘Try out this new stuff. Here’s 97-99 mph. Go get ‘em!’ He’s sick.”
Now, after a season of ups and one big down he had to overcome, Contreras made his long-awaited -- and maybe somewhat unexpected -- Major League debut at the young age of 21, announcing his presence with three scoreless innings to start the Pirates' 3-2 loss to the Cubs at PNC Park.
- MLB debut (Sept 29, 2021): Contreras threw three scoreless innings for the Pirates. It was his only MLB appearance in 2021. Contreras' stuff was electric, and pointed toward what the Pirates and their fans hope he can become. (J Crouse - MLB.com - Sept 29, 2021)
What’s in Contreras’ arsenal? First and foremost, high heat. He touched 97.8 mph on the radar gun in the first inning, making him the only Pirates pitcher to hit that velocity in a start this season. And his four-seamer completed three of his four strikeouts.
Contreras has an above-average changeup, but he largely kept it in his back pocket. Instead, the slider was his most used secondary pitch, one that has been the biggest work in progress of any of his offerings. It drew three whiffs, plus a strike three swinging from David Bote.
However, his MLB debut wasn’t a scuff-free start. Rafael Ortega sent Contreras’ second pitch of the game for a single, then the right-hander left an 0-2 fastball too close to the middle for Willson Contreras two batters later—another single. To begin the second inning, Contreras threw six balls in a row before settling in for two straight strikeouts.
“This kid shows a lot of growth in a lot of areas,” manager Derek Shelton said. "Tonight we saw a young kid that never got away from what his plan was. He came back and executed pitches, and that's a really good sign for the Pirates moving forward.”
And the outing didn’t last long, though that was to be expected. Contreras threw 46 pitches, a fair bit below the 64 he threw in his last start at Triple-A Indianapolis. But given that he sustained right forearm and elbow discomfort in June and the fact that he returned from the injury as quickly as he did, and as a hard-throwing starting pitcher, is a credit to both him and the Pirates’ medical training staff.
“It's awesome to see a young man have the confidence in himself to become aware of an injury, to notify the medical staff, and then to … watch the true collaboration of a player, a medical staff, a strength staff, a pitching department,” said Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk. “It’s a true organizational win for me, but the biggest winner here is Roansy.” (J Crouse - MLB.com - Sept 30, 2021)
Part of the reason Conteras was held back was the number of innings he’d thrown around the injury, with only 58 across Double-A and Triple-A (and just one start in Indianapolis). In fact, it almost appeared Contreras would finish the year at Triple-A. But the Pirates need innings right now with an injury-marred pitching group, and Contreras’ numbers were phenomenal, pointing toward something GM Ben Cherington said he weighs in callups.
“If a player is not being challenged at a level, just dominating to the point where they’re not getting anything out of the competition, then we would want to move that player no matter how much was left in the season,” Cherington said last month.
Contreras looked well at ease at Double-A Altoona, especially before his injury. He threw six no-hit innings on May 11 against Binghamton. He had a 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings ratio with the Curve. He allowed more than three earned runs only once. So, Contreras got a small but healthy dose of challenge in his debut. And he passed his first test.
“This past offseason and the offseason before that, I had been preparing for this moment,” Contreras said. “I’d taken my preparation very seriously and I’ve been very diligent in my preparation.
“I’ve got to be honest with you: I’m not shocked [I’m here]. A huge part of that is that I really believe in all the hard work and sacrifices I’ve dedicated to this game. To see the results, it’s huge [and] it’s a blessing.” (J Crouse - MLB.com - Sept 30, 2021)
Sept. 2022: Contreras chose to play for the Dominican Republic in the 2023 WBC.
In July 2016, Roansy signed with the Yankees as an international free agent, via scout Juan Rosario. Contreras received $250,000.
The Yankees were in the second year of their international penalty period (during which teams are prohibited from spending more than $300,000 on a player). They bought into him thanks a live arm, a strong lower half and an impressive fastball-curveball combination.
- Jan. 24, 2021: The Yankees made a second off-season addition to their starting rotation, acquiring right-hander Jameson Taillon from the Pirates for four prospects. The Pirates received right-handers Roansy Contreras and Miguel Yajure, infielder Maikol Escotto, and outfielder Canaan Smith.
Contreras has a 91-98 mph FASTBALL with running life to both sides of the plate. The pitch explodes out of his hand at an angle that confuses hitters, and is thrown with considerable extension and downhill plane that somewhat mitigate the lack of movement; it's a 60 grade.
He has a 55 grade 12-to-6 CURVEBALL. He has a slurvy SLIDER to pair better with his fastball and has a 55 grade. His 86-89 mph CHANGEUP that gets both horizontal and vertical movement and is thrown with enough confidence to be effective vs. both left and righthanded hitters.
Roansy's command can waver at times when he gets over-aggressive with his delivery, but his athleticism allows him to make necessary adjustments on the fly. The larger concern from evaluators is whether the 6-foot Contreras can sustain both stuff and health against the rigors of a starter’s workload for a full season. The Pirates worked with Contreras to better sync the release point of his breaking balls with his fastball, unlocking more deception and improved spin rates on his curveball, which now tickles 2900 rpms with better depth. (Mark Chiarelli - BA Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2022)
- 2022 Season Pitch Usage/Avg. Velo: Fastball 49% - 96 mph; Slider 34.4% - 84 mph; Curve 13.2% - 79 mph; Change 3.4% - 90 mph.
Contreras has the chance to have three solid or better pitches when all is said and done. His fastball, is thrown with high spin rates and riding action. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, coming at hitters with heavy sink. His breaking ball is more of an average offering that he can add and subtract from to give it different shape and he’s added a distinct slider.
Contreras’ uptick in stuff has not compromised his feel for pitching. He repeats his delivery well and throws strikes. He’s gotten better with his command within the zone and, assuming healthy, his age, pitch-ability and stuff all provide confidence he’ll be a big league starter in the future. (Josh Norris - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2021)
Roansy has a fastball that features high spin rates that create some riding action, but it can get hit more than it should because it lacks plane and often gets too straight. His best secondary offering is a changeup with heavy sink. He'll also show some curveballs with good shape, though his breaker is more of an average pitch and doesn't overmatch same-side hitters.
Very advanced for his age, Contreras already has feel for sequencing his pitches, repeating his delivery and living in the strike zone. He'll need to refine his command to survive against better hitters, especially as a flyball pitcher without much life on his fastball. Given his aptitude and competitiveness, his proponents believe he'll figure it out.
He has an impressive combination of stuff and feel, along with 50 control. (Spring, 2020)
2018 season: Touching 96-97 mph with his fastball, Contreras took a huge jump this year. He has a great curveball and a work-in-progress changeup and has had a successful second professional season. Between Staten Island and Low-A, he threw 57.1 innings, had 54 K / 18 BB. And a 2.67 ERA.
Roansy has shown that he understands how to work out of jams. Unlike many young pitchers, he doesn't just try to throw harder when he gets in trouble—he'll mix in a changeup in those situations to get an aggressive hitter to get himself out. He has average control now and projects to have future above-average control.
Contreras does not have much—or any—projection remaining, and there are some scouts who still see the 6-foot righthander as a future reliever, but most project him as a solid No. 4 starter. (JJ Cooper - BA - Oct., 2019)
2019 Season: Contreras is ranked as the Yankees organization's No. 19 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. During the 2019 season, Contreras led the Yankees' Minor League organization and the South Atlantic League in wins, going 12-5 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 starts with Class A Charleston. Contreras was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2016.
2021 Season: Coming off a strong season in which the saw his first taste of High-A action pitching to the tune of a 2.20 ERA, 2.38 FIP and 34.2% strikeout rate in 49 innings pitched. He also shined in the AFL.
2021 Pirates Breakout Prospect: Roansy Contreras.
Even though Contreras missed a chunk of time with a forearm strain, he went from somewhat interesting acquisition in the Jameson Taillon deal to a right-hander with some of the most electric stuff in the Minors. He posted a gaudy 6.31 K/BB ratio, mostly in Double-A, and made his big league debut, before looking like one of the best pitching prospects in the Arizona Fall League. (Mayo, Dykstra and Boor - MLB.com - Dec 23, 2021)
April 10, 2022: There’s no question Roansy has the stuff to get big league hitters out. He showed that both in 2021 as he dominated in Double-A and in the Arizona Fall League. In 2021, all of his stuff trended up and he maintained it, though he missed a portion of the season with a forearm strain. His fastball touched 97-98 mph during the season and averaged around 96. He carried that over to the AFL, where he was 96-97 mph with his fastball.
One thing scouts identified as an area where he needed to improve was his fastball command and that got better as the year went on. In the Fall League, he commanded his heater extremely well, a big reason why he was considered one of the best pitching prospects there. His secondary stuff has also gotten better, with all three—curve, slider and changeup—looking at least like above-average offerings, if not better. In the AFL, his breaking ball was easily plus.
In a bullpen role, Contreras could be effective with his fastball-breaking ball combination alone, and could focus on just one instead of throwing both the curve and slider. This is where his future role comes into play. For now, he’s a reliever, but the Pirates don’t see that as the 22-year-old’s long-term gig. (J Mayo - MLB.com - April 10, 2022)
April 14, 2022: Contreras is currently pitching for the Pirates because of circumstance. He has a case to keep pitching for the Bucs because of his talent.
Behind three masterful scoreless innings of relief with five strikeouts, Contreras recorded the first win of his Major League career as the Pirates bested the Nationals, 9-4, at PNC Park. It was an evening in which the complete breadth of Contreras' talent was on display, a combination of flame and funk that makes his appearances appointment television.
“It was very exciting, very emotional as well,” Contreras told team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “To be a part of the victory that we brought to this team, it’s something I can’t describe right now.”
As has become tradition, Contreras was showered with just about every substance in sight upon returning to the clubhouse. Shaving cream. Cold beer. Even ketchup. Manager Derek Shelton, who has already had the opportunity to celebrate Diego Castillo’s first hit and Miguel Yajure’s first win, said the feeling never gets old.
What made the achievement even sweeter for Contreras was knowing that he had family and friends back home in the Dominican Republic watching his masterful performance. A video circulated on social media of Contreras’ father reacting to his son retiring Juan Soto, who also hails from the Dominican Republic. When Contreras was shown the video after his outing, the milestone was all the sweeter.
“It feels amazing to be able to know that my family was able to witness that,” Contreras said. (JD Santos - MLB.com - April 15, 2022)
2022 Season: Contreras entered the season as a consensus top 100 prospect and the top pitching prospect in the Pirate farm system. He started the season in the Pirate bullpen, before being optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis and then returning to the majors to join the starting rotation.
Contreras finishes the season with 95 innings pitched in 21 MLB appearances. 18 of these 21 appearances have been starts. Contreras finishes his first MLB season with a 3.79 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 9.4% walk rate and a 21.9% strikeout rate.
Contreras regularly flashed his plus stuff during his strong rookie campaign. He currently ranks in the 81st percentile of baseball in fastball velocity, 85th percentile in fastball spin rate and 82nd percentile in curveball spin rate. This has helped put Contreras in the 68th percentile of baseball in whiff rate and 85th percentile in chase rate.
Opposing batters hit just .212 while slugging .333 off his curveball to go with a 20.8% whiff rate. While opposing batters did hit .270 and slug .515 off his fastball, the pitch still generated a 19.4% whiff rate. Moving forward, Contreras will need to have a better fastball. Throwing the pitch less could help improve the success rate of the pitch.
The best pitch Contreras has is his slider. Opposing batters his just .167 and slugged .280 off the pitch while it generated a healthy 43.0% whiff rate. Also, just simply using the eye test would tell you that his slider is a plus pitch with elite potential.
Possibly the most impressive facet of the season Contreras put together is that he did it at just 22-years-old. That is very young for a starting pitcher to be finding this much success in the majors. While Contreras still has soem growing and learning to do when it comes to how he pitches to hitters, adjusting to hitters, and his pitch usage, he was able to do things that few starting pitchers can do in the majors at 22. (Marty Leap - Oct. 3, 2022)
- 2021: Contreras missed two months with a forearm strain.