This entire season, and last season for that matter I’ve been telling you along with a chorus of other voices that everything the Pirates do is about answering questions about players.
Some of those have started to present themselves, but just because you can say you know who isn’t the answer, certainly doesn’t mean one who is has emerged.
For instance, It’s pretty clear Kevin Newman’s bat isn’t strong enough to allow him to keep the starting short stop gig long term. To his credit he’s shown himself to be an excellent defender, probably better than anyone believed possible if we’re honest with ourselves.
So, having that answer is really nice to have. His glove more than plays at this level and for that reason alone he’ll get more opportunities. If there were someone viable pushing him out of the way the conversation might be different.
Cole Tucker hasn’t shown to be better, even if he figures out the bat, his defense isn’t nearly where Newman’s is. Eventually he will get a more extended look. At some point a decision will be made on Adam Frazier, they’ll either trade him or extend him. I think we all know which is more likely, but until it happens, the fact remains, he’s here and nobody is taking playing time from him.
I think what we know really is that despite not being the best fielder, Oneil Cruz is the most exciting short stop option on the way. He’s in AA of course and in 121 PA he’s racked up an OPS of .895 with 13 XBH, 6 of which are home runs. Importantly he’s also drawing walks, with 11 so far. It’s important because for instance the most walks he’s ever drawn was 36 and that came in 438 PA. IT also came with 132 K’s, so he clearly had some work to do. The strike outs are still a thing, but he’s getting that ratio more in check so far slashing 11/31 BB to K line so far in 2021.
All that is really good news and I’m confident it will lead to a promotion sooner than later, but the glove is an issue, at least at short. He’s committed 9 errors in 90 chances for a .900 FLD% which obviously won’t fly at the MLB level. Now, we look around the league and see players like Tatis Jr., he’s committed 15 errors in 164 chances for a .909 FLD%. Or Javy Baez who’s committed 13 errors in 233 chances for a .944 FLD%.
The moral of the story is if the bat plays, the player plays.
Is Cruz the short stop of the future? It’s hard for me to say that, but I do think he’s the next one. The team seems committed to keeping him there, and they’ve had opportunity and need in the outfield so you can’t really say this isn’t purposeful at this point.
No, I haven’t forgotten that Liover Peguero exists. I think he’ll wind up being the guy when his time comes but we have to keep in mind that the road to MLB is rarely linear. We’ve already watched Nick Gonzales have his season derailed this year so it’s not like I’m just predicting doom.
Thing is, you have to have players every year, and just because someone isn’t going to be the starter in 2024 certainly doesn’t mean they can’t be the guy in 2022. In other words, you don’t have to believe Oneil Cruz is the shortstop on this team in the middle of the decade to understand he might just be the shortstop that gets them there.
I could do this all day.
I think it’s pretty clear for instance that Gregory Polanco isn’t going to force the team to make a tough decision. Paying him 3 million dollars to get him to go away after the season isn’t going to cause anyone to lose a wink of sleep.
So why keep playing him right?
Well, who’s pushing? Anthony Alford? Dustin Fowler? I’ll be honest, they could do something like that and it wouldn’t phase me, I just don’t see anyone short of Jared Oliva as a viable option to “improve”, at least this year and he’s been injured. Travis Swaggerty had a solid shot of making his presence felt this season but he too fell to injury and by the time he touches the field again he will have not played more than 12 games past A ball, only 12 games of baseball period since 2019.
Another answer, Polanco isn’t going to just find something, he isn’t going to suddenly emerge and become a guy the Pirates want to keep in the fold. Having him play right now isn’t even really about possibly trading him, c’mon, you’ve watched what he’s put on tape. That’s the state of the Pirates outfield pipeline. Some answers live in AA, Smith-Njigba, Mitchell. AAA has some older prospects like Bligh Madris and Chris Sharpe along with the aforementioned Jared Oliva, but they’re not pushing Polanco out of the way. His ability to hit homeruns has largely been dormant in 2021, but his capability is still there. The allure of someone who can hit a homerun, especially if you have to pay for it regardless is just too much.
Question answered, with no real solution. Not yet.
These are things that fans will grow tired of long before team executives will. We like to think because we see a stretch of at bats or one dumb fielding mistake that’s all we need to see. That’s just not how this works. Not at this stage.
In the future, as Ben Cherington continues to build up the farm system we’ll start to see the meritocracy take over. That said, it’s important to remember that a meritocracy doesn’t mean a player failing to reach potential always prompts a move. It’s a constant push-pull. If there’s nobody pushing it hardly matters who’s failing.
Sometimes organizationally there simply isn’t a good answer. That’s the real legacy of the Huntington era, and when people say the system was bankrupt, they aren’t saying there was nothing at all in the minors, they’re saying there are far too many positions that simply don’t have anything even close to impacting the actual Pirates.
Keep answering questions, absolutely has to happen, just don’t expect answers to make themselves apparent before they’re ready.
If things weren’t like this, it’s very likely Ben Cherington isn’t the guy fixing it.