The Long Trip From Altoona to Pittsburgh: How Did We Get Here?

Back at the end of June, after all of the monetary negotiations had failed and the 103 page health and safety protocols had been approved, teams were asked to make some tough decisions as to how the would choose to assemble their 60-man player pool. Major League teams, including the Pirates, were asked to submit their pools to the front office with the goal of having Spring Training 2.0 at their home ballparks; comprised of 40-man rosters that would eventually be whittled down to 30 at the beginning of the season. The remainder of the players would be sent to an alternative/satellite training facility, People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona for Pittsburgh. Ultimately the would be joined by the 10 players who did not make the opening day roster. How teams decided to construct their respective player pools and/or taxi squads was completely at the discretion of the general manager and his staff, but they would need to keep in mind that these alternative sites would be used as a quasi minor league system to pull from in case of injuries on the big league club.

So how did the Pirates and other clubs around Major League Baseball choose to set up the player pools at the alternative sites? Well, there were two methods of thought: 1) Top Prospects that have no realistic chance of playing in 2020 should be left of the list because they could take up a valuable roster spot. 2) Top Prospects, whether they have a chance of playing or not, and recent draftees should be added as to not miss out on a year of development. If you scan over the Pirates original list, you can easily see which direction they picked.

In the Pirates initial player pool/taxi squad there were a total of 7 players who had not reached above High A, 5 who had ended the year in AA, 4 who had varying degrees of time in AAA and 4 who had at least some MLB experience. In my eyes it safe to say there were at least 10 to 12 players that General Manager Ben Cherington had no intention of giving any playing time on the Pirates for the 2020 season; leaving at most 50 to 48 players to operate with for the entirety of the season and this is before you take into account that Nick Gonzales and Deon Stafford were added to the mix. This may seem like a lot, but what happens when injuries and positive COVID tests begin to accumulate? What if I told you that last year the Pirates used a total of 54 to players under normal circumstances. Would this move the dial for you at all? How about if you knew the Pirates had already used 37 different players and they are only a quarter of a way through the season?

I am sure that some of you would argue that we don’t want our top prospects missing out on a year of development, but I would immediately counter with the fact that Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone, Liover Peguero and Sammy Siani are mysteriously missing from this list. I could also make the argument that not much actual development is occurring because according to Cherington in an interview with Adam Berry of MLB.com, they do not have enough pitchers at Altoona to give position players a regular amount of live at-bats.

Another assertion could be made that the 60-man player pool is fluid and that free agents with more experience can always be added if needed or young guys can get their shot. However, this is how players like Henderson Alvarez III gets signed from the Milwaukee Milkmen, Tyler Bashlor gets acquired for cash or Nick Tropeano is claimed off of waivers. It’s also why players like Nick Mears get called up before they are truly ready. Sure I was as excited as any Pirates Prospect Junkie to see Mears get his first taste of the majors, but even I believed it was too soon for a player that only had 5.0 innings of work in AA during his professional career.

In any other season every team, including the Pirates with the Indianapolis Indians, would have 25 players on the AAA roster at their disposal. This year they essentially put at least 10 guys on that roster that otherwise wouldn’t be there. No matter which way I look at it I can’t see how this makes any sense, even in a shortened season.

In a larger sense a team’s decision as to how their full player pools are constructed can have an effect on the Major League Baseball season as a whole because when there is a COVID outbreak, they do not have enough major league ready talent to field a competitive team as has been the case with both the Cardinals and Marlins. For me this is another oversight by MLB in their plan to bring baseball back because anyone could have seen this coming, no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on.

In the end I see these decisions becoming more and more of a problem as the season progresses and could ultimately lead to the MLB season not be completed, players being put in situations that they are not prepared for or the over use of free agent players/off-season acquisitions that should probably not be given as much MLB experience as they have or could see in the future.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at InsidethePirates.com, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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