For such a long time watching the Pirates, one of the best players on the roster perception-wise well, wasn’t on the roster. The top prospect is always expected to be the next answer for who will lead the Pirates back. Sometimes the faith is well placed and other times it’s a stretch at best.
The latest example is Ke’Bryan Hayes. He’s going to be a good player; I firmly believe that. He works hard and his defensive game is superior to many perennial starters in MLB already, but he’s a work in progress. Hayes is not going to be a star immediately and quite honestly, that’s ok. Neither was Barry Bonds.
Remember how badly we all wanted Kris Benson to be the savior? He was a fine pitcher and viewed in a bubble he did a great job for the Pirates, but he was never the Johnny Cueto, or Adam Wainwright this team needed. Gerrit Cole actually was all those things and didn’t stay because he was the “wrong” kind of good for Pittsburgh. Gerrit was everything Pirates fans dream of for a top prospect and exactly what played out is going to be the norm for a player like that while baseball remains the only major sports league without a cap.
Back to Hayes because I can already tell the fan base at large is going to pile expectation on him, just comments alone about what a travesty is would be should he not make the club out of Spring Training this year showed me that. Again, I think he’s going to be a fine player and as a defender he’s as close to a finished product I’ve seen preparing to enter the league as a rookie. That part of the game is traditionally not the first to come together, he’s to be commended for that and I’m not saying the kid is swinging a Wiffle ball bat.
That said, looking at where he’s been and what he’s put together thus far, its hard to fathom he will exceed the numbers of say, Colin Moran at third. Yes, yes, defense could very well be so damn improved that the move should still be made. Yes, of course, his bat isn’t so far behind Colin that it shouldn’t happen. Expectation seems to be he’ll be better in every single way though, and I don’t see that as reality. Keep in mind Colin isn’t a 35-year-old vet himself, he too will improve. Maybe not on defense although he can make improvements in things like his first step and decision making, his range will never equal Hayes and his skill set. Hayes may very well never equal where Colin is right this second with the bat.
Again, we could be ok with that, probably will be in the end, and this in no way is to say we shouldn’t be excited about him but enjoy the ride a bit. He isn’t going to look like Terry Pendleton out there, especially not at first.
We set ourselves up for disappointment and eliminate the possibility of being pleasantly surprised when we anticipate any rookie being a superstar from minute one. Because it’s right in my wheelhouse, I’ll go back to Benson. There was little doubt in the fan base that Kris was going to be the next Drabek, the hopes of everyone, sky high. More importantly that what we, the fans think is the organization itself. See, the management itself believed the hype about Benson. Seeing him as a transformative talent to the point of counting on it and it influenced moves made in that era, directly contributing to the 20 years of losing.
They learned little from it however, making the same mistake with Brad Lincoln. Difference there was simple, as soon as he wasn’t the dyed in the wool number one starter, ace type they hyped him to be, he was essentially busted out. Very quickly making his way to the pen and ultimately out of town. They forgot that most of us remembered how excited the organization was about him to the point they literally held his first start in MLB back in the hopes of showcasing him against Stephen Strasburg. THAT is where they saw this guy fitting into the conversation.
That was a different time, with different management and learning from it is important. The Pirates have had as many number one picks as every other club and the excuse of being priced out of picks was eliminated quite some time ago now. Now the problem is simple, the number one picks by in large just haven’t been good enough. I fear Travis Swaggerty could very well wind up proving that fact out.
Bottom line, it is a rare athlete in MLB that makes impact as a rookie, and sometimes you can’t even see it coming (cough, Bryan Reynolds, cough). When these young men make their way to the diamond at the height of their sport, we, and indeed the Pirates would do well to remember the call up is the next step in development, not the time to prove the pick was right. Most prospects struggle when making the jump from every level to the next, that’s just fact, all I’m saying is remember the jump to MLB is no different.