Ever since Ben Cherington arrived on the scene as the Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager in November of 2019 he has preached some very similar sounding and typically intertwined organizational philosophies; among them stock piling talent throughout the system and creating competition at every level. Based on this information concerning how the Pirates plan on building a successful team in the future, my immediate reaction to sending first base prospect Shendrik Apostel to the Cubs for recently DFA’d pitcher Duane Underwood Jr. was completely confused. Not so much with the acquisition, but more about what the Pirates gave up in return.
Last April, when the Minor and Major League seasons were put on pause, I wrote about Apostel for one of my Through The Prosect Porthole articles, which is not something I do for just any player in the Pirates Farm System; I am actually pretty selective. After posting a .872 OPS, due in large part to an increased OBP of .421, while dropping his strike out rate from 29.1% to 16.8% and raising his walk rate from 10.8% to 19.6% in 2019 for the DSL Pirates1, I saw the potential of him starting the season at Pittsburgh’s former Advanced Rookie Level Affiliate in Bristol; and this year I was hopeful for a Low A assignment to Bradenton. However, that aspiration is long gone as the Cubs are now in charge of Apostel’s fate, which really makes me wonder even more and still leaves me perplexed.
Currently in the Pirates Farm System the options are somewhat limited in my opinion, as far as first base goes in the lower minors and power is something that is surely lacking from top to bottom. In High A, Will Matthiessen has shown promise and has the flexibility to move to the outfield as well; and below him, Apostel’s former teammate in the Dominican, Alexander Mojica is poised to make the move across the diamond from third to first. It is also possible that Ben Cherington and company see other options as first base is often a landing spot for players that can make it defensively at their natural positions, so the competition could grow naturally at some point, nevertheless, it isn’t exactly overflowing at this point.
Now, as I stated earlier, the decision at the Major League Level wasn’t as confusing, but that doesn’t mean their wasn’t any muddying of the waters in an already crowded bullpen. Underwood Jr. has no Minor League options left so I would assume the Pirates have the desire to see him make the big league club out of camp, but at what cost. The player he already replaced in the form of four time, twice with the Pirates, DFA’d former top prospect Carson Fulmer, has a similar skill set and comes with nearly the same pedigree; although Underwood’s projections are more promising, if that’s what you are into. However, beyond that it isn’t like there aren’t a number of those guys at the moment on the roster, including some with options. I also have a hard time believing there weren’t better or at least equal alternatives in the free agent market.
Where at least part of this move doesn’t totally defy logic is Underwood Jr.’s tie to fairly recently hired Director of Coaching and Development (aka Farm Director) John Baker, who had been with the Cubs as a special assistant in the baseball operations department; holding the titles mental skills coordinator and head applied mental skills coach since 2015. During this time it can safely be assumed their paths of crossed and that Baker has some insight into Underwood Jr.’s performance/usage, development, abilities and potential.
In spite of this, it doesn’t change my current stance on the trade, which continues to be cautiously pessimistic and confused based on the possible negative repercussions of such a move; where the upside doesn’t quite match the risk.