You’d never believe that on top of podcasting, and writing and social media that we have more baseball talk in us, but at least 3-4 times a week Craig Toth and I wind up getting into deep baseball conversations and it goes on all night.
Ok, maybe not rapid fire texting, Craig at least has a life and young kids. But over the course of a night we’ll back and forth on a subject and talk through it.
Last night neither of us could get past the yearly revisiting of who the Pirates leaders would be. Early spring training tradition is to immediately start with who the leaders will be and who will lead the rotation.
These are stories because when you change over the veterans on your roster in the offseason, of course the job is seemingly always up for grabs.
Thing is, to me you can’t name things like this.
I can tell you right now Jacob Stallings is probably the most prepared to be the field general, but that hasn’t changed, he’s been that since it became clear all the best pitchers wanted to throw to him when he was clearly in a backup role. Players recognize quickly who helps them be better, and who gobbles up every ground ball. They notice the guy who covers the gaps and turns doubles into singles.
I can tell you from a talent standpoint that Mitch Keller should wind up being the best pitcher on the staff. That said, he’s only started 16 MLB games, and I’d like him to be a bit more selfish, or internally focused at the very least to become all he can be without trying to carry the burden of leading anything other than his body to the mound.
This time of year, there simply isn’t much to cover. Most of the deals are wrapped up and talking about who leads the team or who wants to step up to be a leader on the team have become as regular and counted on as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th inning stretch.
Leaders in baseball emerge over time. Josh Bell was a leader, but not the kind you’d look for necessarily. He wasn’t going to give you a fiery locker room speech or jump all over his infield group to tighten up. He was a quiet leader, one who people looked up to for how he dealt with the media. The way he handled his own struggles with grace. The way he handled his hot streaks with an understanding there would come a time when he cooled off.
Bryan Reynolds is a leader, by all accounts he too prefers the quiet approach, allowing his on field actions to speak louder than his deep drawl ever could.
Reality of things like this is the best players will get looked to. Not only by the team itself, but also the media. For all we know Erik Gonzalez has been very hands on helping the infielders get better, but unless he hits or another player points it out, we’ll never hear about it.
This isn’t hockey, nobody is going to wear the “C” or “A”. That’s not how it works in baseball. For a team like this that has yet to draw their line in the sand, meaning they have yet to show us or the team for that matter exactly who from this current club might be part of the window, there has to be a bit of trepidation approaching the subject.
Let’s say Steven Brault comes out and looks settled in from the jump. He looks like the best version of Brault from the first series of the season, is he the leader? Maybe, but players aren’t blind or ignorant as to what’s happening here and they’ll know Brault is pitching his way into a deadline deal. That’s where we are. That’s where they are.
Does that mean nobody will look up to him? Of course not, but it might mean he’s never fully embraced as the example everyone follows.
Now, sign someone long term, and you have a different story. Openly have a guy who knows he’s a Pirate for the next 8 years and players take notice. Not only is there more of a feeling of permanency with that player, there is more of a feeling that doing the right things could lead to the same for you.
Some people are born with leadership qualities, some have leadership bestowed upon them, but in baseball sometimes there is nothing more powerful than management pinning those stripes on your sleeve if you will.
Don’t get me wrong, leaders will emerge this year with or without something like that, but until the Pirates are fully committed to a player or two the moniker won’t fully cement.