10-28-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
For almost as long as I can remember, my eyes have always wandered to the Pirates Minor League System, and everything that it entails; even when the team was competitive in 2013-15. From player performance and projections to coaching techniques and evaluation. All while soaking in as much MLB Amateur Draft and International Signing Period information as I can handle, which is a lot. It’s just something I enjoy doing, but I also realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Back in the day, since I was not very locked into the social media scene, this was not something that was very apparent to me. Sure, there would be a few callers on the local radio station who voiced frustrations about being tired of hearing about the next big prospect that was on his way to Pittsburgh. However, at this point it was more or less background noise, as I studied the Pirates Farm, and attended many games along the way.
Then I started blogging and podcasting about the Pirates back in 2019, with the majority of my articles focusing on prospects I had watched and/or closely followed during the previous season(s).
Rather quickly, I began to notice that the majority of feedback I received was from two polar opposite camps; with their flags firmly planted in the ground. On one side there was the appreciative reader that thanked me for the information, as they asked for continued articles on other prospects, or engaged me conversations concerning players that peaked their interest. On the other end of the spectrum responses were short, sweet and to the point. These fans were tired of hearing about the promise of prospects with the Pirates System, and didn’t care who they were or even how they did before arriving at PNC Park.
As I ventured further outside of my own little circle, to the Facebook Groups and Twitter Feeds I have become pretty familiar with over the past two years, this divide has only become more apparent; and if possible even wider than I first imagined.
Obviously, there are some fans that exist within the grey area, along with different levels of either pro or anti prospect within the two individual camps; which ultimately leads to certain people being labeled as unrealistically optimistic, unreasonably pessimistic, fanboys, miserable, apologists, out-of-touch, not true fans, etc.
Now, clearly we are all Pirates Fans or we wouldn’t be discussing the team at all. And we all realize that every player on our team-as well as all others-used to be a prospect. But, it’s not just not this simple. The process of identifying acquiring and/or developing talent is a lot more complicated. Especially, when there have been some hand-cuffs attached to the manner in which this practiced has played out in Pittsburgh.
Merely, go back and read Gary’s article on the list of top ten free agent signings made under Nutting’s reign, with arguably a couple left off. Not that updating the list to include any of them would paint a different picture.
The complexity of building a baseball team-particularly a competitive one-is somewhat astounding. This is not groundbreaking information. Yet, with each bit of information I come across, it seems like another layer is added to the labyrinth, that the Pirates and General Manager Ben Cherington now find themselves in.
The other night, as I was sitting down to watch the first game of the World Series, I found myself mindlessly scrolling through Twitter; eventually landing on a couple of tweets from one of my favorite follows-Jason Martinez, Mr. Roster Resource himself, from Fangraphs-concerning how the Braves and Astros built their 26-man championship rosters.
When looking at the numbers, there are two that concerned me for each team when considering how the Pirates could potentially need to build a contender; the first being free agents and the other beginning the number of players acquired since the end of the previous season.
The free agent concern is two-fold because this not only includes players from the MLB market, but also those signed on International side of things; neither of which the Pirates have been successful and/or active in by history. Once again you can refer to Gary’s list for Major League Free Agents, and only have to search as far as Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco on the International end, both of which are worrisome; with Gary’s list also feeding into at least part my apprehension about bringing in quite a few players in the off-season. The main hope here is that these could also come through trades, although prospect development would still play a major role in this because they would have to possess players-with talent-that other teams would be interested in.
As I considered all of the obstacles our team would need to overcome, my mind-and fingers-found their way to the Pirate’s Depth Chart Page on Fangraphs; with the projected 26-man roster, as the team heads in the off-season. Currently, the roster breakdown is as follows: Homegrown (7), Free Agent (3), Trade (8), Waivers (6) and Purchased-aka traded for cash after the had been DFA’d (2).
Now, I know this has been a part of-and a result of-Ben Cherington’s waiver wire watch, in an attempt to find cheap talent or reclamation projects; but, I also think it shows just how far off the Pirates could potentially be from actually competing, as well as the razor thin margin of error that he will have to navigate under the current system. A system that will cause the Pirates to rely heavily on homegrown talent, as well as prospects that have been acquired through trades and in the International landscape.
At the moment, we could delve into this even further, as we contemplate the number of players on the current roster that are seen as having a legitimate chance of being on the team, if and when they become competitive again. For the most part I have seen less than a handful of guys mentioned as being able to fit this mold, with the majority of people landing on three (Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes and David Bednar). Add in Oneil Cruz because he is in the projected lineup, and you have four. That leaves 22 spots to fill over the next couple of years.
So, where exactly will the bulk of those players come from? You, guessed it; the Pirates Farm System. A reality that I can only assume will not be extremely popular within the anti-prospect camp, because that means more prospect chatter; which I will even agree-as a self proclaimed prospect junkie-has gotten out of hand at times.
For me, this reality often leads to uncertainty surrounding how the Pirates will be able maintain this system, based in the unease i experience when I look at situations like this year’s (and future years’) Rule 5 Drafts and the number of players that potentially need protected; along with Cherington’s apparent vision of bringing along prospects on a similar timeline, that could lead to an eventual arbitration overload.
But, in all honesty, I am probably getting ahead of myself, as Cherington and Company have to develop them first.
You know, the third and possibly most crucial step in Cherington’s 4 point plan of identifying, acquiring, developing and deploying players/talent. Because without it, all of this prospect chatter is for not; and truthfully, I don’t know where else they can make up this gap.
A gap that eerily resembles the divide that exists between the Pirates Fans who have been characterized as unrealistically optimistic and unreasonably pessimistic.
Which got me thinking; maybe, just maybe, they are both on to something.