The Pirates Keep Kicking the Tires, but Are They Overdoing It?

Evaluation.

It’s been a keyword since Ben Cherington first publicly shook hands with Travis Williams and Bob Nutting. This was meant to be who was already here, as well as new guys they brought in. Now, my question is, if you bring in too many do you ever really get a full evaluation of anyone?

Recently the Pirates passed the franchise record for number of players to appear in a season at 56, and I’m under no illusion they’re done. This number could easily reach 60.

I mean, that says more about the roster as it was constructed to begin 2021 than an overall philosophy. In other words, I’m sure they weren’t hoping to reach this record.

I should also say, this is a direct response to having very few prospects who were close to making the show. Even if you believe they’d have been better off going that route, you have to understand that MLB franchises aren’t happy to risk a prospect they truly believe will matter on plugging a hole. Doesn’t mean they’re right, but it’s a thing almost all of them share.

So, let’s look at the outfield. I could do this for any number of positions but the outfield will adequately tell the story I’m trying to get out here.

We all knew this team had a big hole and back then we thought it was in Center. OK, we all thought it was in Right too but let’s calm down for a second and allow this story to unfold because with only one open slot they still ran through a gauntlet of failed prospects, players with stunted growth, heck players that didn’t even play there. I mean when you really look at it thank god they didn’t see it as two open slots.

I figure the best way to do this is to look at who they tried and how many games they actually took to, um, evaluate. And I’m not going to bother with John Nogowski’s 1 inning in Right.

Brian Goodwin – 0 Remember him? Didn’t even make it out of Spring, doing ok with the White Sox now. I don’t blame the Pirates entirely here, he clearly wanted nothing to do with proving himself on a team that had nobody.

Dustin Fowler – 18 Yes 18 games and 46 PA, that was all it took to know they’d not be using Fowler. Keep in mind here, I’m not trying to make the case they were wrong on these guys.

Anthony Alford – 16 And he got two stints, currently on the um, IL. Now in AAA, damn that’s a player. You guys like to call folks like this quad A players.

Troy Stokes Jr. – 8 And a whopping 20 PA. What a showcase of talent.

Ka’ai Tom – 39 Fan favorite Blaze got himself 117 PA with the Bucs this year easily the most of any of the cast off types.

Ildemaro Vargas – 7 Now I list him because much like every infielder they’ve brought in here he was asked to play 2 games in the outfield too.

Hoy Park – 15 He’s played almost everywhere, 8 times in the outfield. He’s also still active which makes him the first on the list who is still writing his story.

Wilmer Difo – 79 Again, he’s played just about everywhere, but 12 of his games have been in the outfield. He’s still here and done pretty well in a bench role but even he cleared waivers to remain with the organization.

Phillip Evans – 72 He’s played all over (sensing a theme?) and 29 of those games were in the OF. Might have stopped at 1 if Bryan Reynolds hadn’t been there to hook a brother up with sunglasses.

It’s kind of incredible I’m not done yet isn’t it?

Jared Oliva – 20 Of everyone I’ve listed, Jared is the only one you could have come into the season saying, hey, he’s a real prospect. He was hurt in Spring and he never really got much traction. He was up with the club a lot longer than his participation numbers would lead you to believe.

Hunter Owen – 2 I mean, what can you say, he got two games, super early in the season, got banged up and never came back.

Ben Gamel – 73 And all but 9 innings have been in the outfield. Those 9 innings at first base filled another hole I’m not going to get into. He’s stuck, first one on the list aside from Park you can really say that about.

Oh of course you have Reynolds (117) and Polanco (98) but they aren’t really the point here.

The point is, how do you expect to evaluate when so many on this list barely had what used to constitute a cup of coffee? I mean don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Alford, Fowler or Owen really required much more to fully decide, but why did Tom get double the opportunity Alford and Fowler were afforded? I guess you could say he was at least getting on base but c’mon, nobody serious thought we were watching a guy on the cusp of breaking out.

To me, this parade was an embarrassment. I’m all for kicking the tires on guys, but actually kick the tires ya know?

Thing is, I guess you could say they assumed Travis Swaggerty would be ready and promoted at some point. That’s a fair assumption, and thank god Cleveland cut Gamel loose after barely using him.

Can next year be different? I mean can we see holes and maybe not address them with a parade of guys we hope might manage to find their way to replacement level?

This team doesn’t need to go get a star, but they can find guys like Gamel who are already established MLB talents. Guys like that provide a real baseline for prospects to beat out. For instance, if next year the Pirates head into the season with Reynolds, Gamel and say Michael Taylor, they won’t be great, but Travis Swaggerty would have to actually do something to get his playing time. More importantly they wouldn’t have to desperately scour the waiver wire snatching up every dude who get’s cut loose by teams cleaning up their roster.

I’m not saying they should stop looking, but let’s start treating this like more of a professional baseball team than a proving ground for other teams failed prospects.

What they’ve done certainly isn’t wrong for a club in their position. But after 2 seasons of watching them try to find magic with no wand, maybe just give in and buy the trick kit from the book store.

Give these pitchers a chance at a competent offense. Give the hitters you do have a chance to play in a lineup that supports their efforts. 2022 isn’t going to be the finished masterpiece, nor does it need to be, but it should start looking more like progress is being made.

Injuries happen, that’s a different story. That’s not what caused what we’ve seen in 2021, and there’s no rule in rebuilding that you have to make sure everyone you try is a gamble. Sometimes setting a low bar is good enough. Nobody gets blocked, and at worst you tend to have a professional.

I’m not one of these guys who thinks the club needs to go get a big free agent at this stage, but I do think we need to stop feeling like everyone they try might not hit .250 in AAA.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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