This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking with several members of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Draft and UDFA Class, all of whom are currently participating in the Instructional League at the Pirates Spring Training Facilitates in Bradenton, Florida. As each interview progressed I always found myself coming around to their individual draft experience and ultimately what they did between June and the beginning of instructs. Any other year we would have spent time talking about games being played for the West Virginia Black Bears, GCL Pirates and possibly the Bristol Pirates as their first experiences of professional baseball. Instead our conversations drifted to private workouts, college courses, batting cages, bullpen sessions and searching for battery mates or live at bats whenever it was possible, which is clearly not the way any of them envisioned beginning their careers. However, they were not alone in their time of wanting, waiting and ultimately improvising within the Pirates Organization and Minor League Baseball as a whole.
As I discussed in a previous article, there were a limited number of prospects from each club that were invited to be part of their team’s taxi squad and a select group that was eligible and available for instructs. Everyone one else has been, or continues to be, on their own as they try to navigate their own personal baseball journeys. These sets of circumstances lead me to have many more questions than answers as we move toward the 2020 off-season and eventually the start of the 2021 baseball season; especially for a team like the Pirates who are at the beginning of a build.
To what degree has player development been stunted, both individually and as a whole? General Manager Ben Cherington, Manager Derek Shelton and the rest of the coaching/development staff got very little time in Spring Training to begin instituting the new organizational philosophy, especially as it pertains to pitching, before everything was shutdown.
How will the lack of a Minor League season affect the trade market? I asked a very similar question prior to the August 31st trade deadline. It is difficult to trade for a prospect based on performance at the alternate site and/or in Instructional League. The same way it is nearly impossible to make changes to the top prospects list unless a player (aka Ke’Bryan Hayes) was able to debut in the 2020 truncated season, but not play enough to lose eligibility.
What level will players start off at after an entire year without organized baseball? If a player was scheduled to start the year in Bristol, West Virginia, Greensboro, Bradenton, Altoona, etc. this year, where do they begin 2021? I realize that these decisions will be made on a case by case basis, however, you also have to take into account that some of these Minor League Ball Clubs will more than likely will not exist next season.
Obviously there will be more questions that need to be answered and concerns to be addressed as the Pirates and the other 29 Major League Organizations move into 2021 and beyond. Unfortunately many of them may not present themselves right away and may appear without warning, much like they did in 2020. So be prepared.
Be on the lookout for full Pirates Prospect interviews during upcoming episodes of Bucs In The Basement .