Yes, I realize that we are less than two weeks into May, but I have already heard mentions of players that we could possibly see in a Pirates uniform at PNC Park by the end of the year; most of the time as a player added to the roster when this season is presumptively over at the beginning of September, which we all know is almost a forgone conclusion for the Pirates way before then.
For years this has been the practice, at the end of the Minor League season, for Major League clubs to call up their next line of prospects as reserve players to give them a taste of what could await them; but also to get a glimpse of how they could perform under pressure, to test whether or not they could be added to the playoff roster or to give the regulars a breather at the end of a long season.
Usually this happens as a fluid motion, with every player on the 40-man being available, at the team’s disposal, to pick and choose from. However, as of 2020 this rule has changed, and it had nothing to do with the COVID protocols. This alteration of the rosters took place after the 2019 season in order to allow 26 active rosters, as well as a mandated 28-man roster after August 31st.
With the constraints of a fixed number of players permitted to join Pittsburgh in September, it is clear that not every prospect fans, and some media members, are predicting to join the team will actually happen; so to say that this or that player could be a September call up is actually counterproductive at this point.
Obviously injuries, trades, acquisitions, designations for assignment and other roster moves will occur between now and then; nevertheless, there is a select group of players-most likely pitchers-that could find there way onto the Pirates roster, and fill those last two spots.
In his first two AA starts in Altoona, Roansy Contreras has pitched 11 innings, while striking out 22 and walking only 2. During his most recent start on Tuesday he didn’t allow a single hit in 6 innings. Already on the 40-man it has been made known by many that he should ascend to AAA-Indy immediately and be in the Pirates rotation by the beginning of June. Sure, this young man is dominating at this point and time, and could potentially move his way up a level tomorrow, however, there is now way to predict that this success will duplicate itself for the Indians.
In the same breath I have heard that Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell and even Liover Pegeuro or Max Kranick will make their debuts by the end of this season. Honestly, if you want to, insert almost every Minor Leaguer between AAA and AA in this conversation and it would mean about the same for 2021.
Now, we all know that some of these are more of possibility because they are on the 40-man, but I feel like most fans have forgot about the likes of Kyle Keller, Nick Mears, Cody Ponce and the soon to be activated Jose Soriano; who is a Rule 5 acquisition, and one of three players that must remain active to avoiding losing them.
Obviously, none of this is meant to prevent Pirates Fans from watching, reporting on and/or getting excited about Minor League Baseball, it is just a reminder that most of the players you are watching, and more than likely focused on, are two to four years away of making any realistic impact. It’s not being pessimistic, it’s the truth. Even so, we would undoubtedly like to see increased progress at times, but after over 600 days without competitive baseball for some, it is hard to imagine that many will hit the ground running and/or experience continued success with no setbacks. Yet, I feel like this what many expect.
So, keep on making your predictions of who will play at PNC in 2021, and I will keep on watching the games these prospects will most likely be playing in for the rest of the year; in Indianapolis, Altoona, Greensboro and Bradenton.