Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

7-5-21 – By Gary Morgan

The team itself is now beyond the half way point of the 2021 season, and every step along the way has given us things to talk and think about. Today we’re going to continue to show that no matter how the team performs there are always topics and things to keep an eye on.

1. Who’s the Pick?

I’m admittedly not a draft expert. I let the experts do the evaluation and when we get closer, I start paying more attention. For over a year the narrative was that Kumar Rocker was the nailed on number one pick, and now it’s not a lock he goes top 5.

So let’s not mess around, I’ve done all the studying I’m going to do, and talked to all the people I’m going to talk to. For me the number one pick will be Marcelo Mayer, SS from Eastlake High School.

This isn’t a stretch, or a manipulation of the slot money thing. He’s largely the consensus number one pick and I still think they’ll get him under slot a bit. The slot for number one overall is set around 8.4 million and I think they’ll get this done for around 8.

As I’ve said throughout this process, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

There isn’t a great separation from 1-6 in this draft, that’s just fact and the Pirates flatly aren’t making this pick based on timelines. I have to admit, I did believe that would be a factor, but the Pirates are simply looking for the, or at least who they believe to be, the best player available in the draft.

Right or wrong on my part, after this pick there will be a chorus of voices praising it, bashing it, loving it, hating it, and all of them will be about as reliable as the scouting that was used to come to a decision in the first place.

The position Mayer, or for that matter Lawler, Watson, or even Davis play really don’t add up to a hill of beans. When drafting there are three real positions. Arms, hitters, and catchers. Where they play matters the day they hit MLB. If you draft a catcher high based on position, you better be at least 80% sure he’s going to stick there or that his bat plays if he has to move. Arms, you want to make sure they aren’t destined to be a reliever, and this one explains Rocker’s fall down the board.

2. What’s Up With Ke’Bryan Hayes?

I mean, the short answer is he’s a rookie.

As talented as he is, the league always pushes back. When he first came up, there was of course video on him and pitchers did what they do, but to Hayes’ credit, he took what pitchers gave him. They tried pitching him away and he hit the ball in that direction, with authority. They tried pitching him in and he brought the hands in and belted it with authority to the pull side.

Now that he’s had a couple months of work at this level to get eyes on, pitchers have learned his penchant for finding a way to get his barrel to balls all over the zone and have adjusted to a mix of pitches that start in the zone and finish off the plate, both inside and out, up and down.

This happens all the time to young hitters, and he’ll need to get back to the patience that makes him annoying to face. Taking walks and forcing them back into the zone.

Now, most of the time, that’s a tough ask for a guy who looks at his own lineup and sees he is one of two guys counted on to drive in runs, but he simply must. And I believe will.

What was considered rest was probably not more than a reset day, with some lab work.

He’s still a good player, he’s even still making decent contact, but he’s hitting the ball into the ground when he does, and that my friends is reminiscent of how he hit much of the time in his AAA days.

In other words, he’s fought through this before. It’s actually a positive thing to see him struggle a bit at this level. Learning to fight through the change of approach from the opposition is all part of becoming a total package.

Point being, I’m not awfully worried, yet.

3. The Trade Deadline

The Pirates have a ton of interesting storylines to follow as we approach the trade deadline. For teams like the Pirates, selling isn’t really in question. For others who have players running low on team control these discussions will be much more difficult.

Since before the season I’ve been keenly interested in the Chicago Cubs. Players like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Zach Davies and yes, even Anthony Rizzo will all be free agents next season if the Cubs don’t step up and do something about it. Even Wilson Contreras only has one more year of team control.

They sit at .500, 8.5 games back from the Milwaukee Brewers as we find ourselves at the halfway point.

The Cubs are at a cross roads. They either add and go for one more ride with this mix or move some of these guys to retool. Now, the Cubbies have money, so just because the season ends and these guys aren’t under team control is in no way a guarantee they don’t resign with the club, but it’s hard to believe Kris Bryant for instance goes from feeling hard done by to willing to stay for the next 7 years or so. Rizzo has back issues, so it might be the wrong move to retain him but it still remains an easy extension I’d guess. Baez has already been offered an extension reportedly and turned it down.

They have some decisions to make to say the least, but the Cubs have one major advantage, the types of contracts we’re looking at here at least for Bryant and Baez are probably only in the sights of about 8-10 teams in the game.

Obviously we’ll watch the Pirates closer than any other squad, but this situation stands to be interesting and I’ll have at least one eye on them as we approach the end of the month.

4. Clearing Out AAA

The Pirates moved Kevin Kramer to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday and moving players like this is important for making room to promote others from AA. There are some really pushing the pace on this. Cal Mitchell, Smith-Njigba, Mason Martin, Rodolfo Castro, Roansy Contreras and of course Oneil Cruz.

Now, there is a concern with Contreras and Cruz, forearm tightness and they’ll both be in Pittsburgh soon for evaluation. I’d certainly hope neither of these are serious but they of course will want to be careful with both.

More room will need to be made as well, and it’s in that spirit that I question the acquisition of John Nogowski from the Cardinals to play first base. Believe it or not, his AAA numbers are actually less impressive than Will Craig, and I’d rather see them continue the job of scratching guys off the list and moving them out of the way than bringing in more.

5. Re-Opening Weekend A Comedy of Errors

I understand the reason for trying to relaunch. It sounds like a good idea on the surface but the magic of Opening Day is that even the most jaded of fan can get behind the optimism of a fresh slate and believe at least for that day the team hasn’t shown it’s realistic landing spot yet.

Trying to do this when the team is 20+ Games under .500, was never going to have desired results.

The band choice left much to be desired, and while I understand to many this is a political thing, to me it’s really more about just not being a draw. Let’s face it, fireworks weren’t even enough so picking someone that makes anyone feel like you haven’t been paying attention to things like that was never going to help the situation.

If I’m the Pirates, I would have avoided all of it and instead just done something for the fans. Take a day and make the tickets 5 dollars, something that says, we get it, we just want you to come back and be with us. Bringing in a band who haven’t had a hit since the 9th grade picnic isn’t the kind of draw people want, and since you can’t give what people want, you know, winning, at least do something to make fans understand it really is about them.

I won’t talk politics, so I ask that you don’t bother me with them, and to be quite clear, having an entertainer involved in any way it would probably come up.

Bottom line, this should have been about making the fans feel understood, and filling the seats. Instead it became about a poor choice and a poor performing club.

The fans I’m speaking to most are the fans that willingly allowed the club to sit on their money while the world shut down, only to emerge and find out the club didn’t see them as special. Fans looking to use points or upgrades told they couldn’t yet as though there were a real threat of selling out.

This is the stuff that Travis Williams was brought in here to address and while I can’t blame him for a global pandemic, I will say the one thing this team needs more than anything are the few proud souls that didn’t give up on them and instead trusted their patience might be at the very least acknowledged when the darkness ended.

They have no greater ambassador to offer than winning, but since we can be reasonably assured that’s not coming quickly, I suggest they surround the diehards like they’re defending Fort Knox.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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