What is the Path to Playing Time?

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with some Bucco fans on the Tweet box about Jose Osuna. Someone proposed that Jose was one of those players who won’t look good with increased exposure.

This could be right, honestly there are some signs that he could never be much more than a decent bat off the bench and a utility guy, hey they all can’t be Bryan Reynolds, right? But how do you know? I mean I could say the same about Josh Harrison, but the difference is I saw that happen. We already watched it transpire and that’s what brought up this question for me.

What are all the reasons players are provided a path to playing time?

Pure Position Improvement
Let’s take Ke’Bryan Hayes for example, and yes, I know he isn’t here, and we don’t know why, all that out of the way, why is the consensus that he is ready? From what I’m seeing people say, it’s a very Colin Moran focused ascension for Mr. Hayes. It’s really all about defense, and that’s fine but the root of this is to at least part of the population Hayes is ready because he is a perceived improvement over who’s here.

OK, that seems like a reasonable way to approach it, real tangible belief that you can improve the club by playing a youngster is probably the purest reasoning there is.

Keep in mind this is not about validating the reasoning, you needn’t believe Hayes is ready to understand this path to playing time.

Pipp’d
Who doesn’t know the Wally Pipp story? Lou Gehrig, it’s a whole thing. An example from this past season was Kevin Newman who returned from a much less severe injury months ahead of the named starting short stop Erik Gonzalez. Kevin latched on to the position and never let go. Now in order for this to take place there has to have been a pretty close competition for the spot to begin with.

Pipp’d Plus
I’m not sure Bryan Reynolds is the sure-fire starter/star on this club he is today if Marte doesn’t run smack into Egon. Maybe he would have tore up AAA anyway and this was inevitable, I mean can you imagine that guy in AAA against lower level pitching?

Either way, Pipp’d Plus is basically finding playing time and instead of directly replacing the injured guy permanently, you latch on at another position.

If Bryan did indeed take that other approach, I mentioned he’d be our next path.

Under Matched
Tyler Glasnow is a perfect example. There was simply nothing left to be gained by leaving Tyler in AAA to miss his spots with fastballs and still rack up 13 strikeouts over 8 scoreless. He was just not facing the kind of competition that would force him to take the next step in his evolution. Force him to understand that high fastball with no movement at the belt won’t be a strikeout against Christian Yelich, it’ll be gone.

An under matched player left to continue to cruise will often regress and providing them playing time at the next level is the only option before some of the bad habits fully set in. Once the evidence is hammered home it allows a coach to point to his performance rather than just repeat a mantra. A player like this will have probably excelled at every level he’s ever participated in, facing adversity for the first time is a necessary step to accept and it can lead to arguably the biggest jump they ever take in their progression.

Quad A Player
This is a guy who is too good for AAA but has just not taken hold of any opportunity when called up. Sometimes these players need some settle in time and that can be a tall ask when your club is competitive. Steve Pearce is probably my favorite example of this type of player. He was given shots with the Pirates, and you can argue none of them were long enough or he didn’t get a fair shake but reality is, he never put a strangle hold on his playing time until he went to Baltimore and a team in worse shape than Pittsburgh (yes they exist) gave him a full on audition.

Steve came up aces and it left some of us bitter Bucco fans feeling a bit cheated.  Reality is we’ve had an absolute ton of these players and being out of options is a direct reason. We’ve seen it with Alen Hansen, Rajai Davis and Keon Broxton.

Sometimes they just never pan out, anywhere. Nick Kingham, Tony Sanchez, oh forget it I could go on and on.

My fear Will Craig is one of these players. And while its easy to say play him so we don’t get into that position, where? I think we’ll get easily through this year before his position in the depth chart comes up and that’s not to say he’s untalented. He is very good defensively and shows some power, but those strikeouts in AAA are ripe to increase even more at the next level. Here’s hoping the new coaches can reach him.

Necessity
My belief right now is that the Bucs don’t think Jared Oliva is ready to be a regular contributor in the bigs. That’s pretty clear from how they’ve constructed the roster here but should say Heredia and Dyson get hurt or sick, Oliva, a guy who you just know they’d love to be locked in for a solid season of AAA could be forced into action.

For this one to lead to a path a player must answer the questions the club had before he can really threaten Pipping anyone.

The best example I can think of for this probably The Fort, Michael McHenry. The Bucs if you remember were on catcher 4 or 5, maybe even 6 before they stumbled on The Fort. Now he came from another organization, but necessity is what spawned his opportunity, and he took it.

When we look at the youngsters coming up, how they get to the point of getting on the field can vary, that much is obvious as we’ve covered. Even given all those options you still need to be fortunate enough to play a position that’s open.

In-fact maybe it’s not fair to skip mentioning what gets in the way. Service time and Super 2 are probably strong enough to stand alone, both of these ask a club who is relying on aligning all the stars, to pick a window before starting the clock. This same type of club is more often than not moving that player before his control is up so the window is even tighter. If a team makes an expensive mistake at a given position the team may be inclined to get their money’s worth out of the player, even if a younger option is available. The DH in the NL will open some doors for getting young bats involved we Senior circuit veterans have never enjoyed. In fact that is the very best reason to like the DH, it helps with the overall flow of prospects. Used properly it can be almost a proving ground or a wild card so you no longer need a perfect hand to trial balloon a guy. Not that the prospect has to be the DH, but you have a place to keep that veteran bat in the lineup and still get to test the youngster. Hate it all you like, its still a real benefit.

Injury is another big one, and it can wreak havoc on a players development and opportunity. See Brubaker who was on track to beat Keller to MLB and it could be argued has more command of his pitches. Even with expanded rosters in 2020 he may struggle to make it, and reports from management sound like he’s impressing.

Pedigree is the last one I’ll mention. This is a weird one so bear with me. Cole Tucker is my example, here is a number one pick, slick with the glove, switch hitter, good approach at the plate, but it just never really came together for him. Not average, not power, he’s just not put it together. His pedigree says he’s a first round pick, so when he reaches the majors we expect him to well, look like a first round pick. Then he does pretty well right away, and you start picturing him as the future and where he fits and how good he can be. While you’re thinking of all that for a couple weeks you kind lose focus and look up to see he’s down to .245 and made two errors last week. Playing time decreases, now he’s not so exciting. Thing is not every prospect, even number one picks, come up ready for everything, and he may never evolve to meet that draft slot, but this is his second year and he’s already changing his swing, double the work too since he hits both ways.

He plays the same position as a player who himself came up with those expectations, fell on his face, then got a second chance that he still has hold of. Don’t count Tucker out, sometimes the pedigree is an albatross.

At the end of the day, for playing time, you’re either going to hit, pitch or catch your way to the proving ground. Ask yourself, who fits that bill? Maybe it is Hayes, maybe it’s Brubaker, Cederlind, hey maybe most of us will run to Craig to ask about whoever it is. This year, starting in AAA and forcing your way to opportunity isn’t in the cards, but some of these guys have already made their case.

Let’s see what they’ve got.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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