11-29-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
A little over three weeks ago Jacob Stallings was announced as the first Pirates Gold Glove Catcher since Mike LaValliere, all the way back in 1987. Today he is one of the newest members of the Miami Marlins.
Isn’t it crazy to think about how quickly things can change? Honestly I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it actually happened.
Even when the rumors started to pick up steam earlier on in the day I wasn’t sure Ben Cherington would actually pull the trigger, unless he was totally blown away by the offer. Ultimately, I guess he was by the return of pitchers Zach Thompson and Kyle Nicolas, along with outfielder Connor Scott from the Marlins.
Once a burgeoning star within the the Chicago White Sox System, Zach Thompson had been relegated to the bullpen before the team eventually moved on from him in the fall of 2020. Signed to a Minor League Deal by Miami a short time later, Thompson found himself in the Marlins starting rotation mix at the beginning of June.
Over the next few months he would make 13 starts before the bullpen came calling again. However, this time it had nothing to do with performance as he posted a 3.16 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP across 62.2 inning of work. Thompson would go onto make 13 additional appearances on the season-once as an opener for his 14th start-finishing the year with a 3.24 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a 3.69 FIP; which shows his strong performance wasn’t based on any sort of luck.
With the Pirates rotation as it currently stands the 6’7” 28 year old could be easily projected to slot in the top 5 or 6 come Opening Day.
As for the other two acquisitions, they are clearly still prospects. Kyle Nicolas-Ranked 16th for the Marlins and now 24th for the Pirates according to MLB Pipeline-and Connor Scott-Ranked 23rd in Miami and Not Ranked in Pittsburgh-both come with upside, but are question marks as most players that have only reached Double-A and High-A usually are.
Nicolas was drafted 61st overall in Comp Round B of the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft, so he has a limited portfolio thanks to the cancelled 2020 Minor League season; yet it’s a pretty successful one as the Ball State product transitioned from High-A Beloit to Double-A Pensacola, and actually improved along the way in certain areas. For the Snappers (now the Sky Carp) Nicolas had a 5.28 ERA and a 1.358 WHIP. After joining the Blue Wahoos at the end of July his ERA fell to 2.52 and his WHIP dropped 1.220. Unfortunately, his K/9 also dipped from 13.0 to 11.4 and his BB/9 raised from 3.6 to 5.7, so it wasn’t all good news. However, with plus fastball (70 grade) that sits in the mid-90’s and can touch 100 mph, an above average (55 grade) slider with a strong break and an average curve (50 grade), the potential is there to become another strong arm in the Altoona Curve rotation in 2022.
The lone position player, Scott, is a former 1st Round Pick (13th overall) out of H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, who put together a decent campaign this past season in High-A after struggling through 2018 and 2019 between the Gulf Coast League, Low A and High A; with the later being a fairly advanced placement at the time. During his second stint at the level in 2021 Scott batted .276 with a .779 OPS, 10 homers and a wRC+ of 112.
Due it being a crucial 2022 season for Scott, as he is now 22 and will be Rule 5 eligible following the upcoming year, it is likely that he also fits in with the Curve; still having a lot to prove based on his first round pedigree.
Now, before you get the idea that I am trying to sell you on this trade, take a breath for a second. I don’t even know if I like it myself at the moment. I am processing it just the same as you, as I look through the stats and scouting reports, while pointing some of the positives and negatives that I discovered along the way; with one real negative that I haven’t even touched on yet. The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have a catcher on their 40-Man Roster.
Sure, many have been quick to point out that a veteran catcher will be signed-one actually has to be-or that Henry Davis could arrive as early as 2023. But, what if he doesn’t? What if he has a setback with his performance, or God forbid another injury? What happens then? What is the timeline for the rebuild at that point, or actually now for that matter?
In Ben we are supposed to trust, right?
This trade, and many of the other moves that have happened so far this off-season, don’t have me completely doubting the process. But, obviously I have some questions.