Five Pirates Thoughts at Five – 6-28-21

Well, I’m back in the Burgh and on cue my air conditioning broke on just about the hottest day of the year. At least I was able to cool myself down in the bliss of beating the Cardinals 3 out of 4. I hope you’ve all had ample time to calm down after the latest Two Guys Talkin’ Trades that featured the value and packages that might be required to get the Pirates to move Bryan Reynolds. If you really put your thinking cap on this was actually more of a piece about why he’s staying and less about why he should be moved.

1. Youth Movement

Max Kranick is almost 24 years old and he just made his MLB debut yesterday for the Pirates. His performance was literally perfect. I’ve had multiple people ask me why the Pirates held him back or slow walked him in his development.

In 2019 Max pitched in Single A, he, like so many others, missed 2020 due to COVID but in the training site he and the Pirates worked on completely remaking his throwing motion. He and his family took what he learned and at home built a pitching lab complete with Rapsodo device and a homemade mound. He changed his pitch mix and added velocity to his arsenal. Spent a little over 2 months in AA this season then a stop in AAA before ultimately making his debut in St. Louis.

That’s not slow walking a guy. That’s developing a guy.

If you want to be encouraged by exactly what has changed in the system, Max is the poster boy. More than that, he’s a perfect example of why you don’t just look at the depth chart in the minors and project who is and isn’t going to be part of the team in the future. I’ve seen countless “rotations of 2023-2024 and not one had Max in it. In fact despite what we’ve seen this season I’ve seen few if any who had JT Brubaker in it. I should also toss in here, as good as his debut was, there is next to no tape on him and the Cardinals are struggling mightily right now at the plate. That’s not to diminish what he did, it’s to put a bit of pump the brakes in here.

A good development system will do that, it will create an environment where the talent is brought to the forefront, even for guys not drafted in the first round. In fact based on track record, let’s just hope first rounders become more of a guarantee to at least make it to the show, certainly can’t say that’s been there can we?

All that being said, and despite my actual belief that Cody Ponce is also a worthwhile prospect, I can’t understand sending Max down for Ponce. Not after that start. Again, nothing against Ponce, just seems to me you’d want to let Kranick build on success a bit. Guess we’ll have to wait until someone gets asked and hope they answer.

2. Desperately Wanting

The market for Adam Frazier is heating up. He’s now been credibly mentioned as a target for the White Sox, Nationals, Giants, Yankees, Mets, Braves, Red Sox and A’s. Here’s he thing, I’m sure there are even more. Adam isn’t a rental, and that opens the door for teams that aren’t necessarily in win right this second mode too.

I’m not going to do a better job than Justin and Joe did describing the value for Adam, but I can say in the month and a half since they wrote this piece the market has expanded.

Here’s why that matters. The more teams that are in on Adam, the higher the winning package could be. Want to sell something for top asking price, you better get a bidding war going, and every time Adam has another 3 or 4 hit game with a hustling double the fervor grows. He has missing piece written all over him and that can be nothing but good for the Pirates.

I’ll never be happy to see a player like Adam go, I love his game, his attitude and his results, but I can’t ignore just how disproportionate his return could get.

3. Baseball America Top 100 Additions

The new list is out, and the Pirates added another to the top 100 in the form of recently acquired starting pitcher Roansy Contreras. This means the Pirates now have 5 players in Baseball America’s top 100. Cruz at 38, 39 Gonzales, 58 Priester, 87 Peguero and at 99 the newest member of the club, Contreras. Only the Padres with 7, Blue Jays and Marlins with 6 have more.

It’s incredible that the Padres who have acquired more top trade targets than anyone over the last few seasons are still in this position, but it also gives them ample ability to bring in more if they feel they need it.

Chances are the Pirates will be adding another to this list after the draft in a couple weeks but so will a few other clubs so this could be a fleeting entry to the list for Roansy, and it won’t have anything to do with his performance. It also won’t change the very real talent he is.

For those scoring at home, that’s three Pirates prospects Ben Cherington has either drafted or acquired via trade out of the five the Bucs have on the list. Now, these are just numbers, no reflection on how long it will take to make the big leagues or guarantees they pan out after all Mitch Keller was number 7 on this list just a couple years ago, but it stands to reason the more you have the better chance you have of grooming a special player.

Be excited, it’s ok.

4. Raise It!

I started covering the Pirates at a weird time. It was toward the end of 2019 and my first two months were largely spent calling for the owner’s head or that he would fire everyone, preferably both. Well, I got one.

What happens as you build an audience is that you discover there are X amount of people who are always engaged, and I truly mean always. When the team wins, even marginal runs like the 6-3 stretch they’re currently on you see a big uptick in interest, when they go on a 10 game losing streak the numbers dwindle to the precious few diehards I mentioned.

Now, I’m just a blogger, so I clearly am not alone a barometer for interest in this club but I do think proportionally this is in general how the team is followed. Some people like the journey, some people just want the destination. I completely get it.

What I can say is winning is good for business, both mine and the team’s.

Folks often assume the Pirates being in full rebuild mode was an easy sell by Ben Cherington and Travis Williams to Bob Nutting, but without watching what half measures and short sighted approaches by the previous regime I’m quite sure he doesn’t go for it. He isn’t a baseball guy, couldn’t evaluate a player to save his life, but even he understands the ebbs and flows of how winning effects a fan base. He’s saving money right now, but he’s also losing it in the process.

Rebuilding is a risk, even if your GM has done it successfully in the past. I recommended before the season that the team should bring in more valuable free agents. Now I recommended that based on creating more assets to move so they could accelerate the process potentially, but this could also help with winning a bit more.

There is no such thing as a painless process here, and listen, I don’t trust this owner any more than you do, but they could make it easier on themselves, with an investment of even 20 million more.

Next season I want to see less Ka’ai Tom/Anthony Alford/Dustin Fowler/Ildemaro Vargas, and more Ben Gamel/Tyler Anderson types. It’s time to start letting this young core experience some success on a more regular basis, and that just won’t happen if for the third straight season this team acts like the entire season is Spring Training. That goes for the coach as well, I’d like to think in year three we could evaluate his performance sans the excuse he doesn’t have MLB options.

If they want to take a crack at young players who haven’t had a chance, make them some of the ones already here like Tucker, Kramer, Sharpe, Oliva.

5. Head Into the Break Strong

The Pirates have the Rockies, Brewers, Braves and Mets heading into the All Star Break and they have a good shot to take advantage of a weak Rockies club a nicked up Brewers squad and two underachieving unites in Atlanta and NY.

The record doesn’t matter, but again, winning matters for the players you plan on having around when it does.

The Pirates aren’t the worst team in baseball, and when healthy they have the ability to show that much more often. I don’t see this club threatening .500 again this year but that doesn’t mean they have to compete for the number one pick again, in fact I think that’s growing more out of sight as the days go by.

The most likely trades are Adam Frazier, Richard Rodriguez and Tyler Anderson the most irreplaceable being Frazier. They aren’t going to get better this season for that one reason above all else, but it also won’t make them close to as bad as Arizona.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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