It has been less than nine months since the regime of General Manager Neal Huntington was ushered out the door of the Pittsburgh Pirates Front Office. Since that time a meaningful game of baseball has yet to be played, a truncated Spring Training was followed by an extended layoff and Summer Camps have just recently gotten underway in Pittsburgh and Altoona. However, it seems like people are very quick to assume that the flaws in his process of acquiring and developing talent have vanished just as quickly as the nameplate on his desk as calls are being made to elevate players who were the victims of an inadequate farm system and overall organizational philosophy. Even worse is the push to do so is often made at the expense of playing time for more proven players, mostly because a particular prospect has been touted as the future of the organization. How can one trust these assertions to be true and still continue to question the failures in development and assessment by the previous baseball operations department? As hard as I try I just can’t wrap my mind around this way of thinking and based on the moves that General Manager Ben Cherington has made thus far in his limited time with the Pirates, I believe he can’t either.
Cherington put his stamp of disapproval or at least recognition of the lack of Major League ready talent for Pirates front and center with the non-tender of Elias Diaz and the contract for Erik Gonzalez to avoid arbitration; along the subsequent signings of Luke Maile, Guillermo Heredia, JT Riddle and eventually Jarrod Dyson. These guys were not brought back or brought in to compete for jobs on the opening roster. They were identified and acquired/retained to play, fill holes/deficiencies in the lineup and possibly stick around because other than Dyson the still have a decent amount of team control to work with. If GMBC was so sure about the readiness of the next line of Pirates Prospects to contribute in a meaningful way at PNC Park this year, these guys wouldn’t be here.
Maile was signed as a clear defensive upgrade over Diaz. Over the past three seasons, in limited action, Maile has posted 8, 5 and 3 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved); while Diaz put up a -21 last year. That is a 24 run swing for the positive if you are keeping track at home. If the bat ever comes around that is a bonus, but is not to be expected or counted on. He did hit .248/.333/.700 and a couple homers two years ago during the season when he got the most consistent playing time, which would count as a win for the Pirates; provided these numbers are duplicated in a shortened season and as far as I have seen people, including himself, believe he is starting to get on track at the plate.
Heredia is a defensive minded 4th outfielder with platoon ability, especially against left handed pitchers. Last year for the Rays he batted .281/.339/.795 with 3 home runs against lefties in 124 plate appearances. He also sports a 7 DRS for his career as an outfielder. A once prominent Mariners Prospect, having defected from Cuba at the age of 25 in 2015, he hasn’t been able to establish himself as an everyday player. However as a role player he fits on a roster very nicely and he has been seeming to fit in with his new teammates in Pittsburgh as well.
His performance on the field and at the plate thus far can’t be overlooked either.
As far as JT Riddle is concerned, I see him more as the new Adam Frazier/Super Utility Man on the Pirates as he has the versatility to play multiple infield and outfield positions and had been a fairly solid offensive player in the Marlins system up until he caught the injury bug last year. Since some struggles during his first year in the minors, Riddle had performed well with a career .275 AVG and a little bit of pop in his bat. Some of his power transferred over to the majors as he had 9 home runs in 2018 as one of the teams regular shortstops. He also became a fan favorite during his time with the Marlin, which has carried over to his brief time with the Pirates.
Add in the previously mentioned Erik Gonzalez and Minor League Free Agent acquisition, Phillip Evans, former of the New York Mets Organization, who hit 17 homers last year in the minors as a utility infielder and you have a roster packed with little known or overlooked role players who are blocking the so called future of the Pirates; at least for now.
Now I know that this is not what Pirates Fans want to hear or see, but it is the reality. Does it make the team markedly better? Possibly, possibly not. Does it make them any worse? Absolutely not! For me it only goes to reinforce what I stated in the beginning about the lack of MLB ready talent in the system, that this is a year of evaluation and development under a new organizational philosophy and that for the Pirates it made more sense to fill holes in the present rather than continuing to bucket out water on Neal Huntington’s sinking ship.