Timelines, ETAs, and Rankings are Great, but When Does it Start to Matter for the Pittsburgh Pirates Product?

12-10-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I mean, that’s really what this is all supposed to be about right?

We get lost in the fog of war sometimes covering a baseball franchise. Most people are happy with the talent being brought into the system by Ben Cherington. Most people are even ok with following out a logical timing for progression to declare when the Pirates might be good again.

All that said, those of us that follow this stuff closely, to the point we felt a twinge when Steven Jennings was selected in the Minor League Rule 5 draft the other day, well, it’s starting to get to the point where these things start to slam into each other. Some of those prospects are arguably ready right now, others are very close. The first wave is right there.

What do I mean?

Here’s the list of prospects that should either expand on their cup of coffee or make their debut this year for the Pirates.
Oneil Cruz
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Travis Swaggerty
Jack Suwinski
Diego Castillo
Rodolfo Castro
Cody Bolton
Miguel Yajure
Roansy Contreras
Max Kranick

And I might be being conservative.

Out of those names I’d say 2 of them have star expectations, Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz. That’s not to say nobody beside them can be stars, it’s just to say I don’t have that expectation for them. This isn’t the franchise saving wave but it’s certainly the beginning of a change and more than anything it’s the beginning of seeing results from the rebuild. In fact out of the 10 names there, 5 were brought in by Cherington, 5 were already here.

Point is, for the first time really since Ben Cherington took the job as General Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates, some of the actual prospects he brought in and others he inherited are poised to actually impact the major league squad.

They won’t all come up and stick. They won’t all complete the next step in their progression, that’s just simple fact, but think about what it means for this ballclub is even 3 or 4 of them do.

All along this process when you’ve heard me and a horde of others keep preaching about stacking prospects this is what it was about. Every time you or someone you know asked why they need another XX position player, or ask where someone is going to play because of another couple guys who play the same position. This is where that vision starts to become clear.

The dichotomy made itself clear last season.

See, last season the Pirates desperately needed Travis Swaggerty or Jared Oliva, the only outfield prospects close to MLB to pan out. Instead, both got hurt, and when Oliva got healthy his batting average didn’t.

That’s it though, there were 2, and 2 alone. The Pirates had to fill the holes with a host of waiver claims and trades for cash before finally lucking into a real live MLB player finding his way to availability in the form of Ben Gamel.

In 2022, the Pirates wisely held onto Mr. Gamel, have Bryan Reynolds and Spring will have to decide who plays the other position and the backup for that matter. For one position they have Oliva, Swaggerty, Smith-Njigba, Suwinski, Alford and Allen. All on the 40-man, and I believe all viable options who could legitimately win the job in Spring.

That’s what stacking prospects looks like. Just outside that is Cal Mitchell and Matt Fraizer one of which easily could have been added to the 40 this year, the other coming off a breakout 2021 with the power stroke. In other words, 2022 will present options, but 2023 will add more to the mix.

That my friends is what this is all about.

It’s one position, but we could easily do the same for the middle infield, the pitching staff, pick your position and we can have a discussion about it, well, save maybe first base. Catching might not be on the doorstep, but they have 3 or 4 legitimate starting caliber catchers working their way into the mix soon too.

Waves and waves of stacked prospects, and folks, I’m here for it.

Nope, it won’t add up to a World Series next year, but this is how you find answers as opposed to hoping for them. This is why you don’t worry about where Liover Peguero will play if Oneil Cruz sticks at short stop. At the end of the day, you’d rather have overflow talent than not enough.

Stuff like that can lead to, gasp, baseball trades to actually add to the MLB roster.

The bats are still ahead of the arms in this build, but some of this overflow could wind up being the remedy. Building from the ground up takes longer but you might just end up with exactly what you want if you take the time to do it.

For fans who like to only look at the MLB product and judge the GM based solely on how that squad does, there is nothing I’m going to say that’s going to convince you he’s done well. Hell, when I get locked into the day to day of covering this team I get frustrated with some of his decisions too. If you look just a level back this season though, we’ll be having different conversations and criticisms though.

In 2022 we might just spend our time and energy asking questions like, “Can you honestly say Swaggerty isn’t better than Alford?” or “Maybe Gamel would be a better bench guy, bring up the kids”. You know, stuff we really couldn’t bother saying last year when out of desperation some of us were calling for Bligh Madris to get a crack if only to see Ka’ai Tom off the roster.

2022 probably won’t amount to much of an improvement when it comes to the record, but it will mark the date when we started really seeing the rebuild get home. Oh, of course the job isn’t done, in fact outside those two who many see as really having star potential this isn’t even the super exciting guys. These aren’t the top picks like Nick Gonzales or Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, but it is a wave that has real talent. A wave that I believe will create measuring sticks for that next wave to have to beat out. And that’s what you want. You want Nick Gonzales to look ready in AAA, and yet not feel you have to pull him up immediately because a Rodolfo Castro is doing well.

That’s when things change, that’s when you know this whole thing is working. When calling these guys up isn’t about manipulation of service time, instead it starts being about injury and real depth, or god forbid, the prospect actually looks like he could be an upgrade over someone else.

All this to say, I’m looking forward to 2022 because this to me is like buying a gold mine that I’m 75% certain has gold in it and finally seeing something shiny within reach.

I certainly don’t have to like and or understand every move this team makes along the way, spoiler alert, I don’t, but I can’t deny that real talent is coming and I’m looking forward to having those conversations with all of you as we watch this thing start to evolve this year.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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