A Not So Gentle Reminder About Rookies

7-22-21 By Gary Morgan

2023! All these prospects will be here and the division is ours right? Top ranked farm system, filled with talent, and probably more coming, this should be a done deal.

Probably not quite so easy.

I’m not here to dash your hopes, but for every Bryan Reynolds who comes in here and looks like a pro from minute one, there are ten who struggle.

Getting guys here is part of the process, and yes, we should all hope and expect that this management team has changed enough of the development system to ensure players are more prepared. That still won’t change the reality of baseball.

Look at Ke’Bryan Hayes for instance. Let’s go ahead and lump his first month back in 2020 into his rookie campaign. Look at it that way and he’s had an outstanding start. 3.3 WAR, .312 Average with a still emerging power tool and 9 homeruns.

Incredible start.

All that being said, you can see while watching him that he’s fallen off a bit. He’s still having an above average start to his young career, but it certainly isn’t what we saw in his first month is it?

Let’s be clear, Hayes too is best case scenario.

More often you see players like JT Brubaker. He had a nice start to the season even partnered with Tyler Anderson to provide the only tangible anchors of consistency in a rotation expected to have few.

He’s had hiccups, and recently he’s had more than hiccups. His approach to pound the strike zone that worked so well for him early on has now been scouted and he’ll have to learn how to combat that by learning the difference between pitching and throwing. It’s a process, one that some guys never learn.

So if you want to say Brubaker is not going to work out as you watch this season pan out, I suggest you take a step back and realize this is the natural progression for most young pitchers. Not to be confused with Mitch Keller, because the real difference isn’t some set of numbers or outcomes. Sure that’s part of it, but what you want to see is learning. That was the real issue with Keller, nothing was changing, no evolution was taking place. Doesn’t mean he’s done, or they won’t help him find things that need to happen, just means it wasn’t taking place.

You want to see signs that Brubaker is seeing things need to change, watching him learn that sometimes he has to play the edges a bit more. That slider that catches the outer third for a called strike, well, sometimes you have to show it’s going to start in the zone and break out. That fastball upper third to catch a batter sleeping, well he isn’t sleeping anymore, best make that upper third and in.

It’s a learning process that you have to be willing to take on. Some guys get stuck on the memory of early success and prevent themselves from continuing the journey.

The Pirates in this current system, and yes, regardless of the owner, are not going to go out and buy a ton of guys who have already gone through this. Even if you still don’t buy that and think another owner would, surely you at least can see not enough.

Reality dictates, and frankly history as well, that the young prospects by in large are going to all to some degree go through this. Rarely does a young player jump on the scene and dominate from the jump. They show flashes, they show periods of domination but almost without fail they hit a wall.

Sometimes that wall is based in fatigue, the MLB grind is another level from anything they’ve ever experienced. Sometimes it’s a sudden realization that for the first time in their lives they aren’t quite as special as they’ve always been.

It’s not unlike going to college, acing all your exams, finishing top of your class and when you start your first job you realize pretty quickly that woman with 25 years of experience has something you couldn’t learn at school.

As the Pirates finish out this year, the more rookie they can work out of these guys the better. You want Brubaker to get his growing pains out of the way now, not next year. Next year for him needs to be about building.

You want Max Kranick to continue getting his feet wet so next year he has something to start from. Ke’Bryan Hayes needs to spend the rest of this season fighting his way back to recapturing his approach, so next year he can start becoming the force he came in as.

I say all this because when the rebuild really starts to pry that window open, youth is going to be everywhere. Rookies and 2nd year players trying to find their way.

Most of them aren’t going to walk in here and slam the door open. Every one of them has real talent, every one of them will need more than that to become winners. Look at those ETAs all you like, it won’t change this fact, it won’t alter the process.

Patience will be paramount, not just for us but the coaches and management as well. Even Roansy Contreras who lit AA on fire this year will probably struggle once he arrives. Maybe not right away, but at some point the best hitters in the world will find a way to hit him. How does he punch back? Does he continue to learn or does he hit a wall?

What if Mason Martin gets here and only the strikeouts follow? I mean that’s not the goal but will you scream to DFA him or will you understand it’s part of the process?

This talent is all great, it all has to be developed as many of you keep telling me. Well, it’s my turn, development doesn’t stop when they get that call. Rookies haven’t finished their journey, in fact if they are indeed to become successful MLB players, forget stars, just players, it’s just beginning.

I’ve been careful to word my projections and I’ve done so for a reason. I keep saying 2023 looks more fun and they’ll win more games, but I word it that way because I also think 2023 is going to have to beat the rookie out of most of them.

In fact, that’s exactly what I think we saw with the White Sox last year. They arrived early because a ton of rookies and young players came together and overperformed. Some of them are going through it now.

This is known all over the league. Why do you think teams like the Padres who think they’re ready to contend go out and get Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove instead of trusting rookies?

The Pirates already got away with this once. Remember rookie Gerrit Cole? Well, while most of you spent your time talking about him not being good enough, he was actually experiencing more success than most youngsters do. And you were right, it wasn’t good enough, but by 2015 he was leading the staff.

Doesn’t mean the team can’t win for 4 more years, but it does mean you can’t force fruit to ripen. Try all the tricks your mom taught you, stick those avocados in a paper bag on top of the fridge, put those bananas in the fridge, at the end of the day you still have to wait.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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