The road to building a winner is rarely linear as Craig illustrated well in his piece yesterday. Recently, we Pirates fans have been given a stark reminder of the twists and turns I’m speaking to today.
Before the season started it wasn’t uncommon to see someone tweet out a projected starting rotation for 2023, or even 2024. You’d see dream lineups like Keller, Priester, Thomas, Malone and Mlodzinski.
What a great day it will be, right?
Well in just 24 baseball games we’ve already seen some potential cracks in that Emerald City view at the end of the road. Look at what Mitch Keller has done this year versus what JT Brubaker has done.
Oh wait, we didn’t even think about the possibility Brubaker would turn out did we? Certainly didn’t consider Keller wouldn’t be the stud he was supposed to be.
We also didn’t mention Cody Bolton, Wil Crowe, Miguel Yajure, Jared Jones, Roansy Contreras, Luis Oviedo, Jose Soriano, Max Kranick, Omar Cruz or Michael Burrows. There are more, and I mean more I personally think will start to crop up on the top 30 prospect list very soon.
The draft pick the Pirates will choose in 2021 will be in all likelihood yet another pitcher, this one with almost unmistakable pedigree.
They’ll probably trade for more of them too. That aspect of all this isn’t over by a long shot.
So what am I getting at here?
Simple, the reason teams need so much pitching when building isn’t just because some of them will get hurt, it’s because some of them will never get here.
Every guy I mentioned in this article with the exception of JT Brubaker and Mitch Keller are top 30 prospects. Each and every one of them has a high ceiling. Each and every one of them could get hurt, underperform physically, lack the mental fortitude needed to become a MLB player, or potentially themselves be moved to patch a hole not covered by drafting and acquiring at other positions.
Every single one of them could be part of the team that wins here in Pittsburgh, they’re all that kind of talent. For some of them, that will be in a bullpen role, one that seems like a stepping stone when they start but quickly becomes their permanent home. Clay Holmes is a perfect example of that. (And yes this now technically means I’ve mentioned 3 guys who aren’t in the top 30)
As we anxiously await the great savior to be drafted in a couple months, we should come to understand, the magic is in the numbers. That’s the safety net being built.
Quinn Priester has a highly developed pitch mix, and when Baseball America says he could be the top pitching prospect in all of baseball by the end of 2021, I buy it 100%. He has the goods. In fact his slider is almost as good as this kid I used to watch in Altoona, oh what’s his name now? Kid blew my socks off, really.
Oh! I remember, Mitch Keller. Yeah, that Mitch Keller. He controlled it effortlessly. It mystified every hitter and even if it didn’t they couldn’t touch it. He painted corners with his fastball, he dropped his slider on the edge, he was in command. At the same time, I liked Brubaker more, and I didn’t even know Craig yet so trust me I didn’t just agree with my partner.
And then he got to MLB. He’s on his second pitching coach now and each spoke highly of his stuff and how he practiced. Each spoke about how he just needed to trust his stuff. Even at the end of 2020 when he tasted a little success it was while walking or striking out everyone he faced.
The success Mitch had throughout the system and some of his foot down performances in the Bigs seemed like a sure fire bet he’d be here for the long haul. Even prompting many to suggest him as a big extension possibility.
Now, I’m not ready to wash my hands of Mitch Keller. He’s just too talented to give up, not yet. Neither should you quite frankly. Yes, even you’re a guy who played some baseball in college and think you’re two stained Hawaiian shirts away from being an actual scout.
This is a process, one that isn’t going to allow you to look 4 years into the future and pinpoint the picture. That’s baseball.
If you told Angels fans 4 years ago that one day Jose Soriano, one of their top pitching prospects would get injured and have surgery, their club would leave him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and they’d never see him on the mound in LA I’d have to imagine they’d have scoffed.
The Yankees fans probably liked what they saw from Miguel Yajure last year too. It’s probably not as prevalent in NY as it is here for obvious reasons but they have some rather prospect heavy, nerdy fans who raved about the kid. Look it up, article after article about how they didn’t need to go get another starter because they had Miguel. And they found that kid for 30K, not a top ten pick.
Its hard watching a pitcher like Keller struggle, it can be demoralizing to your overall picture of what this club is doing, where they’re headed. Just remember, he isn’t done yet himself, he may yet turn out, and also that there is a very real reason why this team doesn’t just pick 5 guys and cultivate them.
History shows the Pirates will need more options than that, and for once from that list I just put up there you can see they actually are setting up to have it. Just understand, they won’t all work out, they won’t all be Pirates when they do, and this isn’t a small to mid-market speech, this is just prospect development.
Another aspect of all this that I didn’t really speak to but certainly plays a huge role is the actual success of the organization to develop and identify talent in the first place. As I write this, I certainly can’t tell you Ben Cherington and crew have this on lockdown, we haven’t seen one pitch in MiLB after all, but rest assured, the last one certainly failed the franchise in this area.
I already spoke to the very real challenge it is to turn potential into prosperity, but the Pirates under Huntington rarely turned anything out that wasn’t self motivated by the player, add up all the deficiencies and you have a game of chance with even longer odds of finding a guy and getting him across the finish line.
Failure is part of the process for more players than it isn’t. That’s just fact. Having options means you can probably count on having a very good starting five and bullpen by 23-24, but maybe you should refrain from giving them names just yet.