Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

9-20-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Hey, it’s too little too late, and yes, yesterday’s double painful loss in what would have clinched the team’s first sweep of the season is very fresh, but this team has been playing good baseball. They’re doing it with what I propose is their very worst bullpen of the season and easily their worst rotation, at least on paper.

Competition of course always is a factor, but let’s face it, playing bad or even equally to the Pirates bad teams hasn’t been a lock to secure victory. The point is this team is finally hitting, and it cures a lot of ills.

It doesn’t matter really, but they’ve at least given themselves a fighting chance to avoid 100 losses, and in the locker room especially for those who’ll return, trust me they’d rather not have every interview begin with “coming off a 100 loss season, how does it feel…”.

So let’s dig in on today’s five thoughts because there’s a ton going on.

1. The Pirates Promoted 8 Players to AAA

Well, first things first, here’s the list. Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell two outfielders who’ve had steady seasons with clear progression. Two infielders, one you know well already Rodolfo Castro, and one many of you have already filled out the Cooperstown ballot for Oneil Cruz. Three Pitchers, Roansy Contreras, Yerry De Los Santos and Osvaldo Bido, and finally a first baseman Mason Martin.

No real surprises here, everyone has earned this promotion and it starts to set up the picture for 2022 at the teams top development level. If any of them took me a bit off guard it would have to be De Los Santos, he had forearm injuries this season and only participated in 12 ballgames but his placement in AA was questionable to begin with.

This is exactly what I’ve been talking about, well, pretty much all season. This is what in my mind will make next season more fun. Next season when you’re yell typing at me that Oneil Cruz should be up here because so and so stinks, my first reaction won’t be to laugh. Next season real help is really and truly on the doorstep.

You may not have liked how they got here, but you can’t deny just that crop of 8 players alone makes things feel better next year.

It’s also worth mentioning that only two of these players were acquired by Ben Cherington, I mention that because when people including me say the minor league system was bankrupt under Neil Huntington, most of us very much so meant there was no help coming anytime soon. Welcome to “anytime soon”.

2. Can Tucker Do Enough?

People want Cole Tucker to succeed, he’s a genuinely nice guy and as I said on my Podcast last week, there’s nothing about Tucker that isn’t attractive except watching him play baseball. He had a good series in Miami and his numbers for September are better than what he’s been putting out there, but man 3 games does not a turnaround make. In September he has 16 hits in 85 PA, I’m sorry, I’m just not swayed. If he finishes the season out strong I can’t sit here and tell you I know what the Pirates will do, but it seems to me he’s competing directly with Wilmer Difo, Hoy Park, Michael Chavis, Diego Castillo, Kevin Newman and maybe even Rodolfo Castro for a role that each of them could fill. That’s a ton of hurdles to leap and I’m not sure much has potential to change.

I will say this, for the first time it looks to me like his swing change is really taking hold. He’s always done this weird (and in my amateur estimation, power robbing) rocking motion that made his swing almost all hands. Now he’s transitioned to using his lower half to generate power, yes, power is a thing even if it doesn’t translate to home runs.

It makes me think, if the hitting plan was simply not working for Tucker and guys like him, did the Bucs waste a year, hell did they potentially waste the talent of someone like Cole by stubbornly holding onto a hitting coach they clearly didn’t feel was getting through to guys, or worse didn’t like what he teaching?

All we as fans have to look at is what we’re seeing on the field, so when you see Tucker both in MLB and AAA doing nothing different, then suddenly see him change things once the hitting coach is gone, you have to ask, what in the actual hell were they doing letting this go on as long as they did?

By now you can probably tell this isn’t just a Cole Tucker question, he’s just the vehicle for discussion. You have to ask the same about guys like Alford, Newman, honestly even Hoy Park. This is why it matters so much that the coaching staff is evaluated even when they don’t have as much talent as you’d like. If you wait until they do you may be in a very bad way, playing a game of chicken or the egg.

3. Sorry, 2022 is Not the Time to Guess

I know some of you really want to see the payroll take a big jump in 2022, some of you even assign that to goodwill, but I’m not there. Take a look at those 8 names I listed up there as having just been promoted to AAA. Take a look at the team that will return most of what is currently here.

There are spots where they can, and should improve the roster. Back up catcher, corner outfield, pitching, all of it, but if you go out with the intent of patching holes you don’t have yet, it would be like randomly replacing 30% of the shingles on your roof and hoping you caught the problem spots before they showed themselves.

Again, the point of bringing in this glut of prospects is to have them reach the Pirates and be the solution. The free agent aspect of this whole thing comes when you feel you’re 75% there and you simply don’t have answers coming.

Mason Martin is a perfect example here. He’s got power, he’s also got a strikeout problem, and while that doesn’t matter as much in this game today, it does still matter. Could even prevent him from ultimately being an answer. Doesn’t mean he won’t get a shot, but you also don’t want to Will Craig the guy by going out and signing an Anthony Rizzo or whomever your flavor of the month first baseman is.

Decisions like that come when the team is close and you look over at first base and say, damn, it’s just not good enough, let’s get a guy and patch that hole. The rest of the payroll is low enough that you can easily do it and you have plenty of prospect capital to buy it.

Be patient my friends, spending is much closer to mattering than it was when we started this journey, but not quite there yet.

4. #Fair Ball

Members of the Mets and Phillies minor league system were seen wearing wrist bands that said #Fair Ball over the weekend and the cause is fair pay and treatment of minor league baseball players. In fact Andrew McCutchen was seen wearing one in an MLB game for the Phillies too.

First, let’s mention how rare this is. As someone who interacts with my fair share of minor league players, most of the relationships develop as such; 1. They speak incredibly positive about the organization. 2. They begin to trust that you don’t have a big mouth. 3. They open up about how hard it is to be an MiLB player.

This can look like little complaints about not being communicated with, not understanding expectations or it can be things like sleeping in a van, working a part time job instead of training during the off season, not being able to afford the fuel they need to train. In other words, they can afford McDonalds but need fresh, healthy produce and protein.

This is a bigger deal than just a few players speaking out, with the upcoming CBA, MiLB players hope to get a seat at the table and some form of union representation. Any MLB player taking up the cause is big, especially a former MVP. For years MLB has successfully lobbied Congress to prevent themselves from being held to the minimum wage standards in the United States and the chickens may soon come home to roost.

Some organizations do it better than others, there is no regulation, well, none that matters anyway, but some organizations don’t even provide all the equipment these guys literally need to do their jobs. Imagine the equivalent of playing high school football for 5 years.

OK, so Henry Davis will be just fine no matter what he gets paid, he’s got a cool 6 million to take him through his journey, but if you signed for $25,000 as a 16 year old kid and gave 75% of that to your family before going off to turn your dream into a reality, let’s just say you aren’t going to exactly grow your bank account.

It’s a problem, and has been for a long long time. Good to see some support for it and here’s hoping none of the players involved pay a price. One thing I know for damn sure, they all fear the team hearing them complain, so we, and more MLB players need to do it for them.

5. What Could Have Been

I can’t and won’t make excuses for this team’s performance this season, instead I’ll lament the opportunity to learn the Pirates missed out on with some key players.

Travis Swaggerty almost certainly would have been in MLB at least for a while, Miguel Yajure one must imagine would have pitched at least as much as Max Kranick, Michael Chavis could have really taken hold of second base.

Injury is that part of the game you can’t ever truly account for, and when it happens to prospects you expected to get eyes on, man it really stinks. I didn’t even give you a complete list, but you know the names. And it was inordinately built with players who had a real shot at getting a taste.

Again, this wouldn’t have helped the record, but it sure would be nice to head into 2022 knowing Travis Swaggerty is potentially an answer instead of just hoping. Sure would be nice to know Yajure is what we saw in his few spot starts after he got a consistent look.

You really can’t control that stuff, but what an unfortunate turn of events.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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