The 2022 Pitching Staff Needs Investment, but What Kind?

9-8-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I just finished writing my Five Pirates Thoughts at Five on Monday, an entry I had talked about needing to not go into 2022 with the same issues or holes on the roster. Having prospects you believe in is great, but that’s different from relying on them.

2022 is a year where the Pirates will have to strike a balance, they still need to make room for young players to have opportunity, but at the same time they must also secure some semblance of professionalism for the few answers they’ve already found. It’s either an investment of time or money, maybe both.

Pitching is really where this issue shows best, because they have a ton of guys who could factor in, loaded with even more excuses or explanations as to why they deserve more time. Of course there could be trades, maybe even should be, but we simply won’t know that for a while and for the purpose of this piece, let’s pretend everybody stays.

Let’s also presume the league will land on 12 or 13 pitchers as a rule.

One of the things I think this club needs this off season is 1 or 2 starting pitchers. I’ve said it over and over, so have many of you. In fact I get that comment from you all just about every time I write a game recap.

So let’s start with what they have.

Bryse Wilson, Steven Brault, Dillon Peters, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Miguel Yajure, Wil Crowe, Max Kranick.

Those are all guys who appeared this year, and the team probably wants to see more of. You can and almost assuredly do disagree with a name or two there, but the team will at least head into next season thinking their starting rotation comes from this group.

Toss in prospects who could truly challenge for shots at it next season like Roansy Contreras, Cody Bolton, and a stretch here, Omar Cruz.

That’s 11 pitchers, who will first, need protected, and second aren’t good enough to constitute an MLB starting rotation. At least not based on what we’ve seen so far, you have to leave room for improvement.

Now, assume they’ll augment this group, because even this season that has been horrendous, they added Tyler Anderson, Chase De Jong and Trevor Cahill prior to Spring Training ending. I’m not even going to hazard a guess at this point as to whom that might be, but I do assume they’ll add at least one, maybe two.

So it stands to reason, some of those 11 I listed aren’t going to get an opportunity, at least not immediately. Some of them are easy, like Wil Crowe, hell I didn’t even mention Chad Kuhl even though the team and he haven’t admitted this is a full time move to the bullpen.

Chase De Jong who was injured is probably not in a class with the rest of that group either. Point is you can whittle this list down pretty easy to 5 guys you individually think should start, but it’s still going to force some holding back of guys you want to see, or quick decisions on guys the team would be borderline irresponsible to give up on already.

Spring will be a competition, and I suggest some of these players will wind up finding a role in the pen, but if they bring in two vets to take a slot that would mean only 3 of those 11 get a shot out of the gate.

So who are the locks?

Bryse Wilson, Steven Brault and Mitch Keller probably fit that bill for me. Bryse has just plain been solid, the first real example of an actual baseball trade by this organization since Cherington joined the ranks and he’s looked like a good acquisition so far. Steven (should he remain on the club) has more experience than just about anyone on the staff, and after a normal and full off season the hope would be he gets back to what he’s been here, someone you can count on for most of his outings.

And that leaves Mitch, yeah, I know, but I simply can’t see how he doesn’t get next year, at least at the beginning. It makes sense if you let it, sending him to AAA doesn’t help him, more importantly it doesn’t help add or subtract him from the list, moving him to the pen is premature but after a poor start could be warranted.

Notice any names I had to leave off for mystery free agents? JT Brubaker who had a strong first half and hit a wall after he surpassed his largest inning load. Miguel Yajure who probably would have been here on a more permanent basis already if it hadn’t been for injury. Dillion Peters who only has 4 starts with the Bucs but has looked nothing short of solid.

It’s tough.

You don’t want JT in the bullpen, he’s a starter and he’s also not a guy in possession of traditional bullpen stuff. I mean sure, a long man, but how many of those do you need?

Max Kranick has some things that make him super interesting, he jumped all the way from AA to MLB, a 97 MPH fastball and a decent handle on his breaking stuff. He needs refined but this isn’t a guy you flush. He is a guy you could reasonably start in AAA and call on later, but he’s arguably in the same boat as Yajure.

So again, there’s a balance, you don’t want to hold guys back, but you don’t want to go into a season relying on a bunch of potential. Look at the benefit this club got from half a season of Tyler Anderson.

I’m definitely not saying they should avoid bringing in competent starters, but I am saying this gets weird quick. The point of building is eventually to get what you’ve built to the Bigs, so somewhere along the line, you kinda have no choice but to trust the youth.

So what’s more important? Continuing to try kids out, or bringing in more proven commodities so the team starts feeling like it’s headed in the right direction?

Most teams will lean toward the proven commodity, and I’d advise the Pirates to do the same, but don’t be shocked if that drags out the process a bit on some younger guys.

Even something as simple as upgrading a roster from the outside creates an entire ecosystem of questions, concerns and in some cases other moves. The economics of baseball are one thing, but these types of decisions are just as important. This is where you show your chops as an evaluation system, where you show how much you trust your development.

Rarely are these things as simple as here’s a hole, we need to fill it. How do you think they should proceed?

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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