The Pirates announced their up to date list of Non-roster invitees last week and it looks like it could really be a fun Spring as they’ve included a who’s who list of top prospects.
Here’s the thing that really struck me, this list makes total sense. Stick with me a bit here. See, the Pirates traditionally have flooded the NRI list with little more than free agents who have signed two ways deals not unlike Wilmer Difo or Guillermo Heredia last season. That’s fine, they need those too, but this time they’re pulling in prospects no matter where they are in the development pipeline. Getting MLB eyes on them now, getting MLB instruction to them now, getting at bats against real MLB pitchers or innings against MLB batters.
It’s such a simple concept that if you aren’t looking for it, you might just miss it in the excitement of seeing Nick Gonzales hit 3rd in a Spring game.
Think back though just a bit to 2019. Will Craig, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds were all invited. Craig was the only one who would really get a look however. Hayes did well, Reynolds barely got to dirty his cleats before being sent to the prospect camp.
That’s it though, no Cruz who was already on the radar. No Swaggerty to get a look see at the new top pick.
The Pirates have for years, and hopefully this is now officially in the rear view, avoided letting players who weren’t ready to make the jump get in on the experience that is Spring Training. And it’s been a huge mistake.
Now the other half of the story is how few truly special prospects they’ve had through the years. That said, they so feared starting the clock on some of these guys that they often refused to give them any real time in the Spring. Probably felt it would “make good young men” out of them, right Mr. Stark?
What it did was frustrate the hell out of guys who just wanted a taste.
Think back to your first job (official job, not teenage after school stuff), remember the first time you felt trusted or included in the plan? Even if it was short lived it gave you motivation. It gave you a picture of what those guys who sit two floors above you were thinking, looking for, wanting to see.
That’s all these guys want, a real chance to have interaction with the guys they hope to one day play with, and a chance to learn what constitutes MiLB good from MLB good. And before you joke they won’t find that from the Pirates roster, it’s so much more than that. It’s the guys they face, guys they grew up playing who have since made it, coaching from all levels coming together and helping to develop your plan.
The Pirates have for years struggled to get prospects from AAA to MLB, that last step just somehow seemed too big for many.
We can either believe that they simply picked just about all players with no MLB talent, or maybe we need to take our own advice and pay attention to how many of them did after they were eventually given up on.
Small things like this, inviting a Quinn Priester to Spring Training when he’s nowhere near cracking the league begins building the bridge he’ll eventually need to make that leap. He’ll remember how Vlad Jr. crushed his ‘untouchable’ curveball and he’ll learn it can’t be his only option.
If all this only means you get to have more fun watching big name prospects compete, hey, that’s fine. For me though, it’s the first tangible sign after being robbed of the privilege in 2020 of an actual change in the development ethos.
This is the type of thing that will make them better and it means so much more than being bussed on split squad days to be sacrificial lambs with guys they’ll play with anyway. The culture of competition starts here and I’m very excited to watch it play out.