Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

1-17-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

We are all snowed in here in Western PA, and the Steelers are officially done playing football, so is Ben Roethlisberger. The Penguins take center stage now with their own set of aging stars and here we are talking about a team still trying to develop enough to make some noise.

It’s also Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and look, I’m a middle aged white guy, I’m not going to pretend I have some kind of inspirational take on why the man was so important, but I hope everyone takes a few minutes today and just read or listen to some of his messages to the American people. I think you’ll find why his voice is so sorely missed today.

Now, onto baseball.

1. What Did You Expect?

The owners made a proposal and I wrote a little breakdown of what it included right here, but many of the comments from readers focused on what they really need, a cap. I get it, completely, and anyone who’s followed either Craig or I, our writing or our podcasts knows we entirely agree, but this proposal is still everything I expected.

It was a fishing expedition. The owners moved to a microscopic level toward the players on almost every issue, and the players will assuredly come back with minimal movement of their own from their original asks. This will provide nothing more than intel really. It’ll show what’s really important to them, and their willingness level to compromise.

Again, I get it, a cap system is the real fix for this league, but consider this an opportunity to really show how far apart they are. For instance, if the players come back from the owners Tax Threshold figure of 214 million and aggressive penalty for exceeding it with something much closer to their original ask of 248 and they seem firm on it, expect some owners to start feeling an agreement isn’t happening. If some owners start to feel that way, chatter of going nuclear will start to ramp up. Nuclear of course meaning full blown systemic change. If it appears the player are willing to, um, play ball, we’ll probably get an agreement that changes very little on a 3-5 year term. Essentially just a “let’s just get back to playing and we’ll figure it out” philosophy.

It’s so early, I choose to just let this play out before panicking about what is and isn’t included or when/if we’ll be playing ball. Next step is seeing what the players come back with.

2. Who Are the Pirates DH Candidates?

As I look at the roster, man, it’s slim pickin’s. My gut says Michael Chavis and Yoshi Tsutsugo could see time there, but I could also see Derek Shelton use it as a rest spot for just about anyone.

Another option is of course someone slated for AAA, like Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Maybe even Jack Suwinski over time. Truth be told, I don’t see anyone who fits this perfectly.

I wasn’t upset to see the Pirates move on from Colin Moran, but he could have fit quite well into that position and they certainly had room to afford it. That said I can’t really claim they lost someone who would put up impressive numbers as a DH either.

Maybe it’s nothing more than a spot to keep open for the shear flexibility it provides in calling up prospects. Not ready to have Cruz take over at SS, ok, well let’s start letting him get at bats up here. Don’t think Castro has a natural spot in the field, well, maybe he fits in as a good option to fill this spot while he works on the fielding aspect of his game.

Interesting, and a problem many NL teams will face. You could see teams like the Phillies decide Realmuto is more valuable as a hitter than catcher. Maybe the Mets do the same with Alanso. Joey Votto is a fine defender but at his age maybe getting him off the field at least some of the time would do him well. I’m sure all of you have watched at least a little AL ball, but living that style is just different, and it raises questions and gives you flexibility to have two or even three guys who typically would battle each other for playing time keep themselves in the lineup and progress rather than be permanently blocked.

3. Last Chance Cafe

There are several Pirates players that simply have to be on their last shot. This is both a reflection of where they are in their careers, and the very real talent that is on it’s way. Some players have to be on their last go here and if it doesn’t click, one way or another the team should move on.

I have to list some guys here. Anthony Alford has exactly one more chance to prove he’s a major league talent. He’s already at the point where even if he finds a way to stick the landing, he’s already long in the tooth. At this point he’s going to either prove he’s someone they could move for someone else, or that he’s never going to beat the Quad A nameplate. Cole Tucker has to show he deserves a place on this team. The first round selection isn’t enough anymore, it’s been the better part of a decade now. the bat either shows up, or it doesn’t and the Pirates have too many options to continue praying he finds it. Kevin Newman has excelled with the glove, but the bat simply can’t remain a liability. He’s into arbitration already and trust me when I say the glove won’t be enough to reach Arb 2 in Pittsburgh.

Michael Chavis, and Hoy Park have both gotten to the age where they too must show something. Chavis was a top prospect and experienced some success in Boston, but he hasn’t recaptured the magic since. Park is a late bloomer and took off in AAA, but he needs to show something in MLB or risk losing his spot on this club.

2022 is the year of answers, and for some of these guys the answer is not going to keep them in black and gold.

4. Instagram Heroes

I love watching the videos from prospects. Working on their swings or pitching technique and posting things they consider progress is really nice to see, but that’s all it is, nice to see.

Every player thinks they’re getting better. Every player can throw 20 pitches and pick two that look better than what we’ve seen in the past. Each and every one of them can legitimately show they’re working hard.

I see a lot of folks really buy every one of these snippets hook, line and sinker, but always keep in mind, these aren’t coming from the team, they aren’t coming from scouts, they’re coming from the player. That doesn’t mean they’re being disingenuous, but it also doesn’t mean they’ve completely conquered a problem that’s been plaguing them.

Take for instance, Mitch Keller. He posted some very encouraging videos of pitches, and talked about changing some of his mechanics. The shape of his curveball looked great in his video, and the uptick in velocity will surely be welcome, but I still saw no movement in his fastball, and he could hit triple digits, with no movement or better control of the pitch, he’ll still get lit up like a downtown Christmas tree against MLB hitters.

Take these videos for what they are, nice. Never mistake this for being close to seeing things through the eyes of a scout.

5. Sooner Than What?

For the 3rd time, Ben Cherington has mentioned in an interview that the Pirates would be competitive “sooner than most think”. That’s not me paraphrasing, that’s a direct quote and I can’t help asking, what in the actual hell does that mean?

I mean, maybe he’s been reading my facebook comments and since 90% of them say NEVER, he can rightly say sooner equals 2029. If I had to guess though, he means within the next season or two.

Now if he means 2022, he better come out of the lockout with a fire in his belly to start signing players, and I think we all know that’s not going to happen. Even simply looking at the construction of the roster currently tells you that, if they planned on doing something along those lines they’d have 4 or 5 open spots on the 40 to fill yet.

If he means 2023, I suggest he best not slow walk some of the guys I see starting in Altoona this year because real impact isn’t something I’d bet on with rookies.

Maybe he looks at this rotation, or the mix of options he has for the rotation and thinks they have a chance to compete. I’ll be the first to say I honestly feel it’s better than it was last year, but it’d be a stretch for me to think anything I consider competitive is happening.

Hey, at the end of the day, it’s a relatively safe statement. Inevitably he’ll be proven right so long as he eventually gets the job done there will always be someone who thought it’d take longer, but I’d just as soon he keep his head down and show progress on the field as opposed to project it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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