Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 5-3-21

Rough week for our Buccos, but that’s going to happen when any one aspect of the club falters. What separates the bad/good/great teams is the ability to survive and win when some facets of the game fail.

A team with less talent like Pittsburgh can beat anyone if they pitch, hit and field, but their likelihood heads south really quickly if any one of them takes a nap, let alone all three.

1. Outfield-A-Rama

Anthony Alford. Dustin Fowler. Ka’ai Tom, Phillip Evans, Wilmer Difo, Adam Frazier. That’s the list of players not named Bryan Reynolds or Gregory Polanco who the Pirates have tried in the outfield this season.

Frazier was only stuck out there to keep a pinch hitting Colin Moran in a game, so he probably doesn’t count.

Alford and Fowler played relatively good defense, but just couldn’t hit. Quite literally Wil Crowe might swing a mightier stick, at least from the sample sizes we saw. Phillip Evans will do a decent job wherever you stick him, but he isn’t exactly a buttery outfielder, and we’ve watched him look pretty slick in the infield so it’s not like he has no glove.

Wilmer Difo up until Ka’ai Tom showed up was the worst outfielder I’d seen in person at PNC. Tom can’t play anywhere else, but in his 3 games, well, you watched right? Believe it or not the display he put on has not led to one error for him, but this is where fielding percentage just simply doesn’t tell the story. He looks awful out there. Breaks the wrong way, takes a bad path, every flyball is an adventure. And unlike Evans, it’s about more than neglecting to bring his sunglasses.

When Jared Oliva is healthy, I see no way he doesn’t get a call up. He’s a real outfielder, a real prospect, and I’m prepared to end the merry-go-round. Let him play, and don’t worry about the bat. Just lock up the defensive aspect of the game out there. Over time he’ll pitch in enough.

You can’t have Reynolds out there who does a fine job in CF even if it isn’t his best position bookended by Polanco who can’t throw and doesn’t always catch and a nameless faceless figure on the other end who can’t catch cause he isn’t there when the ball is.

Embarrassing doesn’t adequately state the Pirates Outfield right now and I find it hard to believe Troy Stokes, Brian Goodwin (too late) or a cheap FA wouldn’t be better. Catching lightning in a bottle is nice but none of what they’ve tried even looks like dark clouds at this point.

2. Wil Crowe Has Earned More Time

He might just get it with Kuhl being on the shelf. By putting Chad on the shelf and making it retroactive I was led to believe he’d get little more than a spot start. He’s now started two games and while that’s created an 0-1 record for him, he’s left the club in position to compete both times and yesterday he admittedly had nothing working aside from his fastball.

I want to see more.

By the end of this season the rotation will include both Crowe and Miguel Yajure, for me I see nothing to gain by sending Mr. Crowe back down, not now.

Don’t get me wrong, if they want to work on things with young guys to get them in the best position to succeed upon arrival, I’m down. But when those players get a shot and do better than who the club keeps trotting out there, let the youth movement happen and get out of the way.

3. Time is Running Thin for Some

We still don’t have a handle on when Ke’Bryan Hayes will return to action. The latest we heard is the club is still not seeking a surgical solution and he’s on the trip with the club out west. Seems to me that means they think he could be back at some point during the trip.

The most important thing here is that Ke’ is in no danger of making this injury worse than it is and they also need to be reasonably sure he isn’t going to reaggravate it and have to go back on the shelf within a week.

Assuming they avoid that, the club will have to make a decision when he’s back.

They can drop down from 14 pitchers to 13, which I see as unlikely, or they can DFA Wilmer Difo the NL’s leading pinch hitter and versatile infield glove or Todd Frazier, he of the 1 for 20 start.

Think I should add Ka’ai Tom to that list? Well, unless Hayes is going to play in the outfield, the two aren’t related. I mentioned in point one the future solution for his roster spot if he doesn’t start to show better.

None of that will make the reality of this decision go away. The clock is ticking in my mind on one of those two veterans and if you take name value out of the situation it’s not a really hard choice.

Let me get out in front of you. No, this won’t be because they don’t want to pay either of them. Only in Pittsburgh could you replace a flailing veteran with a potential superstar in the making and have people think ill of the decision.

4. Oviedo: Found

He’s back and fresh off a stint in the lab. This is an aspect of development this team hasn’t had before, the lab concept is something that has paid dividends for other clubs and the Pirates are fully on board.

One of my favorite baseball people is Eric Minshall who Craig introduced me to, former pitching coach in the Pirates system and currently instructor at the Cincinnati Throwing Club where they break down pitchers and help them find more velocity and consistency. Programs like this are routinely sought out by pros and armatures alike.

Many people ask me why do players have to go do things like this independently of the club, and the Pirates have now brought that ‘lab’ concept to every level of the franchise.

It’s not just for pitchers either, they have hitting labs as well and that’s exactly what the club did after Spring with Jared Oliva and Cole Tucker before Oliva was injured.

For Oviedo, the club wanted to change the shape of his slider. The movement was great, but he wasn’t fooling anyone with it because he was changing his arm slot to achieve the East-West movement, to create more deception they altered his slot to line up with his fastball more closely and create more of an East-SouthWest movement. The instruction took, and he racked up much more swing and miss on the pitch in his 2 inning outing against the Cardinals on Sunday.

We keep looking for signs that this club is getting better at development, this is one of those signs.

5. It Feels So Great to Have Minor League Baseball Again

Following the evolution of prospects isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who love it, we’re sick to death of working with stale numbers. Can I say that Travis Swaggerty is 2 years better than he was in 2019? No. The training site was apparently great for him, enough so that the Pirates decided he could skip AA entirely and thrive through the bump. Maybe they’re right, but who knows really.

We’re watching prospect lists developed and let’s face it, they’re guessing too. Sure, it’s an educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. This isn’t to say in any way you shouldn’t trust the top 30 or top 100, but it is to say, the relative possibility that someone who wasn’t already on the radar jumps on to that list isn’t likely without ball games being played.

Now we can actually start to see some of these kids and stop guessing. More importantly, we can stop guessing about the ability of this franchise to develop all the talent they’re bringing in. Aside from will Bob spend when Cherington needs it, there is simply no bigger question facing the club.

Welcome back MiLB, we missed you more than you know.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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