The first game of Spring is scheduled for next Sunday, and thank God because it gets really old listening to all the platitudes and fluff that everyone has to put out from the time pitchers and catchers report to the time they throw a pitch in anger.
Today, lets take a look at ten storylines I think will be the most interesting to watch in Spring.
Also on a personal note, Happy Birthday to my Mom. No matter what I’ve done in life you have been my biggest cheerleader and I couldn’t be more grateful. You can’t choose your parents, if we could you’d have a much bigger family.
Now, onto the list!
10. The Rotation
Simplistic right? It’s hard to imagine the rotation starts 2021 as anything short of Brault, Kuhl, Keller, Anderson and Brubaker, but there really could be a couple youngsters who have something to say about that. Miguel Yajure and Wil Crowe will both challenge for a spot and we’d do well to not pretend anyone not named Keller is a lock. Logically both of those guys would do well as a long man or even starting in AAA, but I think they could just as easily decide Brault too could fill that role.
9. The 26th Man
At some point every player on the roster is technically the 26th man, but what I mean here is the last spot. Usually a utility guy, and the Pirates just tossed a curve ball into this mix by signing Todd Frazier. Because of the positions he would back up he’ll be in direct competition with Phillip Evans and I wonder if it could ultimately cost Cole Tucker indirectly. With three options to play short stop and four to play second, six if you count Evans and Moran, and no real room in the outfield for an experiment, Tucker might just find himself the odd man out.
8. The Prospects
Each and every one have things I’m looking for, but some really stand out. And it’s really about seeing where they are in their progression. Oneil Cruz and Quinn Priester probably peak my interest the most. I think Cruz has work to do, but Derek Shelton said they plan to bounce him around a bit this Spring and we should be able to start to understand how he handles that very real hurdle to get himself a spot sooner than later in MLB. That said, if the bat plays (and it doesn’t yet) he’ll play. Priester is interesting because, well, he’s one of the very top pitching prospects in all of baseball. He has five pitches, and I’d like to see all of them, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them limit the types he tosses.
7. Surprise Player Who Might Catch Your Eye
If I had to pick one, I might go with Rodolfo Castro the Pirates second base prospect. I think he’s flown under the radar largely and when you see his swing and slick fielding those days might be over. When, and I’ll only speak for myself here, I continually preach that Adam Frazier should be traded, it’s not only because I think they can replace him at the MLB level, it’s also because I really like Castro’s game and think he could really do some good things here.
6. The Marin Effect
Arguably a pitching coach never has more direct effect on development than this time of year. Sure they work on it all season too and tweak things as they go, but this is where they lay the base. Last year this work was interrupted and injury caused over half the pitchers used to have never even been part of the plan. Talent matters too of course, but this season we’ll start to see how Marin really grabs hold of this staff and how he helps them find pathways to improvement. Youth doesn’t always lead to wins in MLB, but it sure does make for a moldable learning environment.
5. Steven Brault
I touched on him earlier and of course he could be considered a long relief or swing man. But make no mistake, Brault is for the first time in his career heading into a season as an expected starter. It’s his job to lose, and that can’t be a normal feeling for him. It seems like a small thing, but some people thrive in the underdog role, feeling that their back is against the wall causes them to come out swinging. Let’s see what a little dose of expectation does to the Pirates suddenly veteran lefty.
Right or wrong, and I happen to believe totally right, the Pirates moved some big names and personalities off the club this off season. Natural leaders all. Logically, players like Stallings will step into the light a bit more but I’m interested to see which of the young guys really steps up to assume the mantle. For instance, Mitch Keller wants this role on and off the field, but let’s see how he feels about that after a bad outing. What you’d like to avoid is having someone like Todd Frazier step into that role because this club needs to start establishing what makes them tick, and that needs to come from guys who will be here beyond 2021.
3. Blake Cederlind
Why do I single him out? Well, Blake has the most MLB ready arm and position on the club. This team needs a closer, and he has closer stuff. Now, if you’ve read my stuff for a while you know I don’t actually believe a closer is a position that needs to be as nailed on as it has become in baseball, but I’m not the coach, and he seems to really want one. With that being the case, there should absolutely be room for Cederlind to make the club. They’ll have a hard time keeping that kid down long if he doesn’t make it and service time manipulation is much less prevalent for bullpen arms. If they want to sell position battles and competition determine playing time, I better not see him sent down because it makes the numbers work better. Talent needs to win.
That’s right, it’s still being talked about. Even as teams are actively having their starters practice bunting MLB is still floating that they want to get this done for the 2021 season. This is going to leave a whole lot of teams unprepared and could very well explain beyond the obvious why Todd Frazier might have been brought in here. I’d love to tell you this is all on MLB and the owners, but team executives all over the league are dumbfounded this crucial roster affecting ruling has not been determined at this point. It’s not even about yea or nay at this time, it’s more about please just say one way or the other so we can make decisions or additions.
I fully expect an extension if not this Spring then early in the season. The Pirates have already started a dialogue with Ke’Bryan Hayes and I’m sure he’s not the only one. It’s not about payroll as much as it’s about starting to decide who they want to build this team around. I certainly wouldn’t expect a Tatis style deal, but I’ll go as far as to predict the club will set a new Pirates record with one of these very soon. Granted, they only have to beat out the Kendall deal at 6 years 60 Million, but I expect something in the 8 year range. If Cherington follows what he did in Boston, the timing is almost perfect.