Each year before a season begins there are expectations; for the organization as a whole, for the team and especially for the individual players on the field. We try to predict a direction or a path for the future; sometimes based on numbers and patterns, but often it is rooted in emotion, a gut instinct or feeling that we may have. Sometimes we are are right, often we are are wrong. As fans, from time to time, these guesses we make are pleasant surprises or unfortunate disappointments. Either way, in the end, we find out the truth. Nonetheless, I feel that this is part of the fun and excitement of being invested in a team. It is the not knowing that keeps us coming back, year after year.
In this shortened season we are all going to experience something that we never have in our entire lives, but it is not going to stop us, even me, from trying to predict what the future holds. Who is going to take that step forward, what player(s) may disappoint and who are ones that show they are exactly who we thought they were; for better or worse. After it is is all over, we compare notes, see who has bragging rights and how the year turned out for our Pittsburgh Pirates However, now is the time to put my stamp on the predictions I have for those that will progress or regress and the guys that will maintain the status quo, which we have to remember isn’t always a bad thing.
Taking That Step Forward
This is the one we usually get a little tripped up on because we let our emotions get the best of us. We want so badly to see our guy succeed, to make a name for himself, to finally get the recognition he deserves or more than likely, to just be right. Unfortunately not everyone is primed to take the next step, but I believe these three guys are.
1) Jacob Stallings
After being the customary September call up for three years, Stalling finally got his shot last year; thanks to injuries to Francisco Cervelli and poor play from Elias Diaz, he became the choice of the Pirates Pitching Staff and took advantage of the opportunity. His offensive numbers (.262/.325/.382) don’t jump off the page, but his defensive production (14 DRS) more than makes up for it, as he ranked in the top 3 in this category for catchers last year. With a full off-season to work with the Major League staff I look for the defensive numbers to remain consistent and more than likely improve. An uptick in offense production would be a bonus and is clearly possible as he put up career numbers in this area in back to back Minor League seasons; hitting .301 in 2017 and .285 in 2018 for the Indianapolis Indians.
2) Clay Holmes
Once envisioned as a member as the Pirates Starting Rotation, Holmes has transitioned to a full time member of the bullpen over the past two seasons. During this time he has maintained his swing and miss ability by striking out 56 batters over 50 innings in 2019. Unfortunately for him increased walks and lack of consistency have also followed. Having the benefit of unexpected recovery time from a Spring Training Injury (fractured right foot) due to the shutdown, Holmes appears to have taken advantage of this by showing back up in mid-season form. In his last appearance before the season opener, he showed great control of his all of his pitches; especially his curveball, which he dropped for two called strikes and was not able to be put in play. I look for this consistency to continue throughout the shortened season, which will be a pleasant surprise for Pirates Fans.
3) Jose Osuna
In a season where Osuna was finally given regular opportunities, he impressed; especially in a pinch hitting . In these situations he led the league in home runs for the season with 5. He also posted a .325 Batting Average, a 1.232 OPS and 10 total extra base hits in this role. Thanks to the designated hitter coming to the NL this year, Osuna should have the chance to put his bat on display even more and even flash his often underrated glove at multiple positions.
The Best May Be Behind Them
This one may also be a little tough, a bitter pill to swallow, considering we don’t like to see any of our players not live up to expectations and let’s face it, actually be wrong about something. In baseball success cannot last forever. Many times people talk about players being at the tail end of their career and not being what they used to. For other players it can be one or a couple years of achievement, followed by regression before the eventually fade away. Age and/or ability catches up with everyone. For these three Pirates it seems like they have reached their heights and the only way to go is down.
1) Trevor Williams
In 2018 Trevor had a breakout season (14-10 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP) and gave fans hope for things to come. Unfortunately for Williams and fans alike 2019 couldn’t haven’t been more of a disaster as his ERA ballooned to 5.38 and his WHIP raised to 1.414. Much of this was attributed to a right side strain suffered early on in the season, however I believe the issue goes even deeper. Williams relies on his secondary pitches to set up his mid-90’s fastball. During the shutdown he worked with new pitching coach, Oscar Marin, on his curveball, which definitely shined through on his last exhibition start. However, his primary off speed pitch, his slider, continued to miss the mark. If this pattern continues, Williams could be in for a long season; even if it will only be 60 games.
2) Kevin Newman
As a Rookie, Newman took ahold of the starting shortstop job and never let it go; hitting .308 with 12 homers and a .800 OPS. A season such as this is hard for many players to repeat and may be even more difficult for him. In his almost unbelievable first full season, Newman ranked near the bottom as it pertained to exit velocity (5th percentile), hard hit % (6th percentile) and barrel % (4th percentile), as well as near the top in K% (97th percentile) and whiff % (97th percentile). As much as I don’t want to admit that Newman’s rookie season was a bit lucky, the numbers don’t lie and if there isn’t marked improvement in these areas, his first season in the majors could be seen as the extreme outlier.
3) Kyle Crick
Crick has always been known as a hard throwing right handed pitcher, who sometimes experiences control issues. In his most recent appearances one of these things has not been true and unfortunately it has nothing to do with control issues, as those have still been prevalent. The real concern has been his drop in velocity, particularly on his fastball. Over the past two seasons his fastball has averaged around 95 to 96 mph. Right now it is sitting at closer to 92. For a pitcher with control issues that can’t rely on speed to fool batters, this year could be a catastrophe.
They Are Who We Thought They Were
As I said before, this isn’t always a bad thing. Some players simply reach their potential and don’t have the ability to achieve a level any higher than they already have. I feel this is the case for these three Pirates. Luckily for them the standard they have set for themselves is higher than many players of similar ilk have been able to achieve.
1) Adam Frazier
In his three full MLB seasons Frazier has been extremely dependable and predictable, batting .276, .277 and .278 during this time. Simply put, he is what he is. Add in a OPS that hovers between .743 and .798 and you have a very good everyday contributor to your team. He may never reach the heights of a superstar, but at least you know what to expect and this level of play is not easily replaced.
2) Bryan Reynolds
In his entire profession career Reynolds has never hit below .300 in a season. He regularly hits for a mix of contact and power, to all parts of the ballpark. The kid can just flat out hit. Things are fairly simple when it comes to predicting a future for this young man; hitting over .300 and impressing everyone along the way.
3) Josh Bell
I know that many are looking for bigger and better for things for Bell, especially with the DH coming to the National League and with the power shown from both sides of the plate in the last exhibition game. However, it is hard to improve upon 37 home runs, 37 doubles and 116 RBIs for a season. Now I know much of this damage was done over around a 2 month period of time, so people like to extrapolate this over an entire season and enhance the numbers to up over 50 homers and as many as 130 RBIs. In my mind I see more consistent play from Bell, as opposed to near historic production each and every month, so in the end the numbers will look around the same; which one again is not a bad thing.
Now if you have read any of my columns previously or have listened to me talk with my buddy Chris on our podcast, Bucs In The Basement , you already know I am opinionated on all thing Pittsburgh Pirates. This means I could have written a breakdown of every player from the entire 40 man roster and beyond, but that would have turned into a book and honestly I probably need to save some of that material for the short and exciting season we have in front of us!