Evidence of the Pirates Build Progressing is All in the Numbers

12-29-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

So very much of this game is built around numbers. There are averages, win totals, ERA’s, hell there are even prospect rankings and each position is given a number. Baseball is in its purest sense, all about numbers.

I’m going to talk today about a different set of numbers, yes, today we’re going to focus on the sheer numbers of viable players coming in waves, and we’re going to show how that’s evolved in just a couple short years.

So let’s get right to the point.

The 2022 number of internal prospects we can reasonably expect to be ready to contribute to the MLB club is by my count 8 or 9.

In 2021 that same number was 3 or 4.

Back in 2020 the Bucs were hoping 1 or 2 could help.

And here’s what makes that really cool, I see that number actually going up in 2023 complete with a much more well built MLB roster. That also doesn’t even factor in one free agent, meaning I don’t think that number increases because the team brings in a bunch of guys to clog up the works and force the prospect pool to congest itself.

These numbers don’t represent the number of guys who will come up here and earn roster spots for the next 6-7 years, but simply having those sheer numbers of potentials is a step in the right direction.

People tend to only really see, or believe a rebuild is moving forward when they see it happen at PNC Park, and I’m not here to judge, we’re rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates after all, not their affiliates. Sure, it’d be nice if they all did well and ultimately that tends to lead to success at the MLB level, but for most fans (probably not people reading an article on December 29th, during a lockout BTW) this whole thing isn’t real until they start seeing fruit where it counts.

Since the Pirates traded Starling Marte and drafted Nick Gonzales I’ve been saying 2022 would start to show some of this, and 2023 would really be the first team that is a true reflection of “they built this”.

If this system is built correctly, and churning the way it should, the franchise should have 4-5 guys just about every season who you can reasonably expect to debut and contribute. Keeping that rolling is a challenge few teams have accomplished. As a team improves, the draft position tends to at least gravitate toward the middle of the pack and eventually into the 20’s. That’s where the International draft and smart moves need to be made to ensure the pipeline remains healthy.

That’s probably putting the cart before the horse a bit here. They still have to tackle that actually getting good part first, but this path is fairly well defined. Neal Huntington was successful at the first part, developed a nice chunk of his playoff teams, made some good moves to fill it out, but he was unable to sustain it. In fact he panicked himself into making it worse at the end. The system is key here, it’s not just about getting good players, it’s about getting good players across the finish line. It’s about not having guys stall in AAA repeatedly. These are all things we simply won’t know have improved until we’ve seen it in action.

The Pirates have instituted new development camps, hired and expanded development staff, replaced and upgraded equipment and training tools throughout the organization, and shifted the focus to an individualized approach to instruction. There’s a list of just a few things implemented to make this effort pay off, but nobody can tell you it’ll work.

I can tell you its nowhere near as dysfunctional in 2021 as it was in 2018. I can tell you the prospects I talk to who were here all along frequently tell me they wish it was like this when they were in rookie ball. I can tell you this organization is no longer waiting for a laundry list of predetermined accomplishments to be met before they advance. All that, and I still can’t comfort you and tell you it’ll work.

All I can say is the numbers are trending in the right direction, they’re getting some unheralded guys who have taken to the training and earned themselves an opportunity, and what they’re building looks to be much more sustainable.

This stuff isn’t the same as signing someone who’s name you recognize to play second base and hit 23 homeruns, I get that. This stuff is more about developing players that exceed the replacement level MLB player in the first place. That creates real measuring sticks for others to surpass, and it creates real value to move for real MLB players to fill holes or even backfill the system when lower draft picks start becoming a regular occurrence.

Major League Baseball is in the process of deciding exactly how rookie deals will be handled and constructed, well, they will be when they actually start talking again anyhow, but setting up a cascading system like this should insulate this club from having a barren cupboard even if it means losing guys a little earlier.

This part of Cherington’s job isn’t going to generate a ton of excitement for the general public, and it’s hard to even promote because to 99% of fans the drills and exercises look exactly the same as they ever did. We aren’t privy to the analytics crew scouring through all the new data being collected, and we certainly aren’t hearing how that directly effects the individual plan for a player.

We have seen the club inviting journalists to these development camps though, and they’re leaving it up to them to decide for themselves that what they’re seeing is different. They aren’t selling this as much as lifting the curtain in the hopes it will sell itself, and thus far, it is for those willing to look.

Again, we’re in a lockout, so nobody participating is going to touch MLB this year in all likelihood, but watching guys who struggled with control last year, now hitting their spots without a drop in velocity is a positive thing. Building a development system is almost as important as acquiring good players.

Living in Pennsylvania, I think this analogy fits. It doesn’t matter how fast your odometer says your car can go if you drive on Pennsylvania roads you’re only going to go so fast. Well, it stands to reason, it doesn’t matter how talented a player is, if the development system is rigid and ineffective, they’re only going to get so good.

I like what I’m seeing on this front, and in all seriousness, this is the real track record Ben Cherington brought to the table in the first place. Building a system that produces MLB ready talent is a skill set almost as important as recognizing talent in the first place.

You know what, maybe some of you are right. Maybe this is a never ending rebuild. In fact, I kinda hope so.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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