Hope Can’t Spring Eternal, Especially When Spring Never Ends

I understand why the Pirates put together a Major League roster like this, and I understand the culture of competition they wanted to spawn. Bringing in hungry players who didn’t get much of a shot with a cup of coffee if they even got a sip makes sense when the top level of your farm system is weaker than wet toilet paper.

Coming into the season they had four players in Indianapolis anyone could really reasonably look to as “help on the way” or even competition. Travis Swaggerty, Cole Tucker, Wil Crowe and Miguel Yajure.

Yes, yes, I’m not mentioning everyone who has been here, nor am I mentioning everyone who has performed reasonably well but those are the four most people thought would push their way onto the team.

Now, I had questions about Swaggerty prior to his injury, but it’s hard to argue he’d absolutely be here or close to here by now given what we’ve watched play out in the outfield.

Watching Newman and Gonzalez hit this season, again, it’s almost hard to believe Cole Tucker can’t crack this roster. I wish I could actually make an argument the team is being stupid by keeping him down, but he is indeed that bad.

Yajure has pitched a couple spot starts and if he wasn’t shut down due to injury, again, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be here on a more permanent basis by now. Instead Wil Crowe and Chase De Jong have taken more starts.

Fans are never going to find statements like the record doesn’t matter very well. Now, that’s not coming from the team at least not verbally, but it sure is reflected in their action. No, you’ve heard that from guys like me, because it truly doesn’t matter for the long term project, but at some point a left fielder hitting .151 after 100+ at bats like Ka’ai Tom just isn’t good enough and can’t reasonably be considered actual competition.

At some point, Phillip Evans has had enough time to prove other teams were wrong.

I didn’t expect a great season, but I think it’s fair to ask that we stop seeing Spring Training like usage and decision making.

In 2022, I fully expect AAA to look a whole lot more like AA does this year. A competitive team with players chomping at the bit, smelling the hot dogs and popcorn of PNC park just off in the distance. More importantly, I expect some guys who haven’t felt a bit of pressure to start keeping an extra close eye on their shadow.

The players I’m speaking to are Rodolfo Castro, Oneil Cruz, Mason Martin, Ji-hwan Bae, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell and Brendt Citta.

The likelihood that all of them make MLB isn’t great in 2022, but each and every one of them is a damn near lock to make AAA. Being on the doorstep and actually being on the rise looks a lot better than being stale in AAA, waiting for the club to get desperate enough to look past your warts and give you a shot.

That’s what we’re watching right now.

The best you can say for almost anyone is “hey, they can’t be worse right?” and unfortunately the answer in most cases is yes, yes they actually could.

Neal Huntington didn’t leave the cupboard bare, there is talent in the system held over from his regime, but virtually none of it rests in the level of the farm that supplies push.

How can you have hope when you watch a player like Ka’ai Tom just live on the roster, hitting the way he does, not even being a standout on defense when you are waiting for absolutely nothing?

The Pirates aren’t at fault for Jared Oliva or Travis Swaggerty being injured, but let’s be blunt, Oliva isn’t a lock to be much better than Ben Gamel right now. Swaggerty is probably the best bet to make the club out of Spring Training next season and honestly I’d probably still want to see him put a solid month together in AAA first.

If you want hope, it’s really that next year when someone is underperforming, anywhere but catcher anyway) there will be someone on the rise in AAA at least making you think OK, someone is coming. They may not be the final answer but at least they might be one.

That’s a physical result of work and development, again, not Cherington’s fault that the talent was so far away but we should also address the usage of what is here and is close.

The fact that at any given time, and the stars align, and Colin Moran manages to not hit the baseball with his hands, the Pirates have no more than 5 competent hitters with which to fill out a lineup card isn’t Derek Shelton’s fault. Resting them one at a time and only deploying a full strength lineup 2 or 3 times a week if we’re lucky is.

I understand modern baseball is all about strategic rest. Like it or don’t we can’t turn back the clock, there will never again be a Cal Ripken Jr. This isn’t just an evolution of how modern athletes are handled, it’s an evolution in how modern athletes want handled by in large. Now, I can tell you, Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds would literally never sit if they had their druthers but the team and trainers feel sometimes players don’t know what’s best for them. If you don’t believe me look at their faces in the dugout as they watch their team get shut out two consecutive games in Colorado.

I’d love someone to explain why this one by one rest system is better than the old fashioned Sunday lineup. The way Shelton is handling this admittedly light roster is creating a team that struggles to compete a majority of games and I don’t like it.

His handling of the pitching staff smells a lot like Spring Training too. It seems unflinching at times that a guy is coming out regardless of performance, and determined at other times to keep a guy in again, regardless of performance.

I’m not a guy who has called for Shelton’s head. Mostly because I don’t know how much of his decision making is in his hands and even if the answer is 100%, they’re asking him to build the Hoover Dam with a sand shovel.

But as we look toward 2022, I think it’s critical we are able to judge Shelton’s performance with clear glasses. There will always be excuses, some will be valid, others will be manufactured. I’d like to think a whole lot of what we’ve watched this year up to and including the quick trigger moves to seemingly pick up every DFA’d player who comes available to the micromanaging of every arm on the roster not named Tyler Anderson can be partially blamed on the plan to help everyone get through the very real difficulties caused by COVID and the lost season.

At some point, I’d like to make sure we aren’t going to waste a season of competitiveness because we pretended all of Shelton’s errors were beyond his control.

2022 is a big year for all those reasons and more. First of all, it has a potential to be more competitive, but also because next season you’ll have to look the fan base in the eye and tell them someone hitting below the Mendoza line has to stay while simultaneously acknowledging a more viable option is actively pushing from AAA.

That list I provided of AA players I expect to be pushing from AAA next year isn’t even complete, Roansy Contreras could also be pushing for a shot. This is all good stuff, but let’s not let Ben Cherington completely off the hook either, how about bringing in some actual free agents who have played in MLB and aren’t trying to rebound from career lows?

Give me more than an over the hill third baseman who can’t field the position anymore. Give me more than a career curtain jerker who has no real track record that translates from AAA. More importantly, give your coach some options. Wilmer Difo isn’t great either but even as we sit here discussing 2022, on what planet is he AAA quality and Ka’ai Tom sits on the bench in MLB? I mean again it isn’t like benching Bryce Harper for Kevin Pillar but c’mon, let’s put the best we have on the roster shall we?

Pirates fans will deal with a lot, lord knows practice makes perfect, but it’s time to stop evaluating other people’s failed prospects and start burning through our own. Cut Ka’ai Tom and get me ANYONE. Get me Kevin Kramer, he used to be supposedly ok at baseball. Get Difo back up here. Drag Fowler’s corpse up here and give him a last chance. None of them matter, but leaving them in AAA while we actively watch some of the things we’ve seen makes little sense to me.

If this year must be like this for all the reasons I put forward, hey, what can we do, I get it. But don’t ask this fan base to again get on board with a 2022 filled with platitudes about competition while simultaneously not having anyone to compete.

2022 is time to start acting like a MLB club, after all if you ever want prospects to perform like MLB players, you might want to let them play with more than a handful of them.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “Hope Can’t Spring Eternal, Especially When Spring Never Ends

  1. If there is a season in 2022 (and that is a big if) then I think you need to start rolling the dice on the prospects to see what the Pirates have for 2023 and beyond. To me that means having the AAA guys start coming up for more than a cup of coffee in the majors and having the A-AA blue chip prospects start being treated like AAA-AAAA players (40 man roster and Rule 5 considerations aside). Only BC can make “the future now” so why not really start kicking the tires on Kranick, Priester, Cruz, Gonzalez, Peguero, Rodriguez, Yajure, Swaggerty, Yean, etc.? Sure 2022 might be as bad as 2021 with underdeveloped prospects but I say go for it!

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  2. Agree with this, cut Tom and bring up anyone close to being ready or Tucker since he would be better in outfield them some of them.

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