Frequently Asked Pirates Questions, Answered. 7-2-21

7-2-21 Gary Morgan

Well the first one of these I put together went over very well and spawned a new batch of questions, so let’s see if we can’t knock a couple more off the list and deliver some quicker satisfaction to folks asking.

Are the Pirates Going to be Better in 2022?

This is a question I’ve been asked, man, probably starting in Spring Training. It’s so hard to say. There are factors I just won’t have the answer for, such as do they sign a better class of free agent? Now, it’s the Pirates, so I suppose I have to admit I have a pretty good idea though don’t I?

It’s probably more interesting to look at it from the perspective of organic growth anyway. This is the goal right? Gathering prospects, developing them and supposing they add up to a better baseball team is the path we’ve all been told the club is on so let’s think about how they’re looking.

As we, and seemingly everyone else have chronicled repeatedly, AAA is really short on position players. Here is the list of what I see playing a role next season in Pittsburgh. Max Kranick, Miguel Yajure, Geoff Hartlieb, Cody Ponce, Travis Swaggerty, Mitch Keller and maybe Nick Mears. I’d add Jared Oliva but technically he’s in MLB as we speak.

The rotation might not be too bad. Heading into Spring with no additions mind you some combination of Brubaker, Yajure, Kranick, Keller, Brault, Kuhl, Crowe, De Jong and Ponce should be in the mix. Couple things here, one I don’t think the plan was for Kuhl and Brault to be here still come 2022, but a combination of injury and ineffectiveness would seem to pencil them back in. I could be wrong here, we haven’t seen anything from Brault, if he comes back in late July as planned and puts a couple months of solid starting on paper they could very well move him in the off season.

I mean, that’s a pretty deep group. Many of them middle of the road, almost all of them with question marks, but also not a bad mix by any stretch.

I expect Luis Oviedo to be demoted to AAA and stretched back out into a starter, they could even go with AA here to be honest, but I believe that to be the intent once they’ve fulfilled his Rule 5 status. Roansy Contreras should also be in AAA, honestly could be any day now if not should be. Being dominant at a level isn’t always an immediate call up but he’s simply not being challenged at this point. Injury has really hindered most of the other pitchers I saw as potential help for 2022, but I’ll hold out a tad of hope for Omar Cruz.

So it looks like they’ll pitch at least ok.

Position players are another thing. aside from Swaggerty and Oliva you really have to look to AA. Have to imagine Oneil Cruz is in the picture right? Overt optimism would have me list about 3 or 4 more but I’ll stick with who I really believe could get a promotion very soon and have a chance to get established before the end of the season. Cal Mitchell hits that mark and Rodolfo Castro as well. As I said there are others but none I’m comfortable putting forward with any real gusto. If you still want to believe in Cole Tucker, ok, then you better hope I’m right about Erik Gonzalez and wrong about Castro.

This off season we will probably hear rumblings about Colin Moran being moved, but I don’t think it’ll happen. I could see them not using Erik Gonzalez’ last year of arbitration. Ben Gamel has a year of arbitration, I could see them using that one because he’s the type of FA they’d seek anyhow.

So, without signings, better will be a stretch. They might pitch better, a little. But man I don’t see them hitting much better. Every season the real help gets closer and I should stress this is a WAY too early look at what we could see next season, but you asked. And yes, this is largely what I saw before this season started. Minus my belief that Keller wouldn’t be a giant question mark by then.

So When Does the Window Really Open?

I think this is a tougher question than it should be. Mostly because I don’t know how Ben Cherington will deploy his dollars (yes assuming he has them). For instance, when he’s gotten to the point where his real talent was on the doorstep in Boston, he brought them all up and augmented holes with pricy free agents, let’s be blunt here, that’s not going to be the formula here in Pittsburgh.

I feel like I don’t need to rehash 2022, you guys just read all that right? So clearly the window isn’t opening next year, but by the end of 2022, we’ll have a good idea of who’s close to making an impact on the 2023 club.

I think that’s the first year where many fans will really be able to look up and say “hey, this is starting to look better” and while I won’t go so far as to say they’ll be in the division hunt, I do think they should threaten the .500 mark and also get back to 10-15 draft position, firmly back in the middle of the road.

From there it’s really all about how quickly Greensboro guys fortify what the Altoona guys have started putting together. Some will be faster than others, in fact some of them will rocket like Max Kranick just did. I didn’t expect him to sniff the majors this year if I’m honest. That’s the fun, not knowing.

My best guess for when I’d bust open the doors and say watch out NL Central would be 2024.

That said, I think 2023 will be much more fun to watch and root for. The other thing that will make this fun is the fact that I see them getting to this point while still having invested very little in the MLB payroll and the system won’t be barren. We’re on the cusp of for instance adding another batch of talent via the draft and the trade of a couple more players.

That sets up well for a much longer window if not, gasp, consistent competitiveness.

The X factor is how they spend.

Could they lock up Reynolds and Hayes long term? Could they go get some real free agents? Will they?

Those are things people will ask of course but the answers on the record from this front office are sure to be very vague. I’ve built this entire timeline based on nothing but internal growth and development. If they do something not Piratey and bring in some real talent at the MLB level, shifting is possible. Before 2023 though, I can’t see them being able to bring in enough to really make a difference.

Even in 2024 I expect Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero and of course a few others to be Rookies, maybe even rookies with a cup of coffee under their belts, fortified with veterans like Hayes, Reynolds, Brubaker, Stallings, and some young guys like Castro, Swaggerty, Cruz and the like it should make for a diverse team with multiple players on spread out timelines. Meaning an overt teardown won’t be right around the corner either.

Thing is, I don’t even see this as a dream scenario where every single thing needs to go right. All the pitchers I listed as being factors for 2022 won’t be costly or nearing the end of team control. They have wiggle room and again, we haven’t even seen all the talent that they will continue to amass.

So, long way of saying, I’ll tell you when the window opens, 2024, but I won’t tell you when it closes because if they’re building what I think they are and the way I think they are we won’t be back to this process for a while.

Keep those questions coming everyone, this format allows me to really dig in and deliver the best answers I can. Nothing is too tough unless you think I have an X-ray machine that reads MLB franchise books.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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