3-21-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Boy was it nice to hear the crack of the bat and see some of these guys do their thing on the diamond again this weekend. Baseball has not solved it’s problems but the game itself is still beautiful to watch. It’s incredible how quickly you can slip right back into the enjoyment of watching a ballgame and forgetting about who’s ready and who isn’t, and focus on just enjoying watching guys compete.
Let’s dig in and talk some ball.
1. Where is Travis Swaggerty?
We’ve seen every outfielder in camp with the exception of Travis Swaggerty. He could be just working on something on the backfields, he could be less than 100%. I asked Alex Stumpf the beat writer for DK Pittsburgh Sports and he said “Haven’t heard anything to suggest he couldn’t be in these games”.
Now, this doesn’t mean anything until it does, but seeing as we’ve already watched every single other option get a crack, some a couple, it’s at least a little odd. Swaggerty was supposed to be the closest outfield option in the prospect group and if he’s not that tells me that Ben Cherington was completely fine with Reynolds, Gamel, Alford and Allen and relatively no competition beyond that unless you believe they actually are open to one of the other youngsters winning the gig. I don’t.
To be clear, many of you, me included wanted to see a real MLB level corner outfielder brought in to stem the tide. Doesn’t have to be a big name, didn’t need to be someone who was going to ensure none of the prospects could leapfrog him, but I’m not comfortable with believing Alford is going to suddenly see his potential make it’s mark in MLB. Allen, I can’t say we know yet what he is but with four spots to fill and no clear cut prospect nailed on ready to make the jump, let’s just say I’m less comfortable than my already uncomfortable state.
Again, maybe this is much ado about nothing, but until we know, well, I just don’t know how you can’t be concerned.
2. Watching Tucker Has Been Pretty Cole!
OK, so I know you’ve already written him off, at least most of you. Hell, I had too largely as I happily jumped past him and Kevin Newman right onto the next in line.
Hold up, I’m not here to tell you two spring performances have changed my mind, let’s date a while first here right? The thing is though, we’ve waited a long time to see Tucker well, do anything.
We’ve begged for him to stop swinging with all arms. We’ve wondered why he won’t bulk up a bit. Heck some of us wanted to see the kid cut his damn hair like that has anything to do with it. Well, he’s shown up with a thicker trunk, the legs and posterior look more developed and he’s no longer rocking in the box, really getting his legs into his action and just making a different kind of contact.
It could mean absolutely nothing. It could also mean a whole hell of a lot.
This team needs a leadoff hitter, a second baseman, and desperately need to show this development system can take a talent and turn him into a player. Tucker alone could fill all those needs and even if you’re ready to move on, it’s always better to have players do well. For trades, options, hell even instilling some belief that you’re on the right track with the development system.
Hey, here’s hoping.
3. Kneel Before Zod
At some point covering baseball you come across a player who doesn’t fit into the conventional wisdom box. That’s Oneil Cruz for me.
Conventional wisdom says even if the result is good, you don’t want your power hitting prospect to take swings that force him to one knee, even if the result looks like a two handed jack from Griffey Jr.
Conventional wisdom tells us if we can get an extra year of control by simply waiting for June to call up a top prospect, like it or don’t, you do it.
Oneil Cruz isn’t conventional. He’s 6’7″ playing short stop, and getting to balls isn’t his issue. He swings at crap he should spit on and sends it 425 feet. His release is too slow for a middle infielder but his 80 grade arm makes it ok.
Point is, nothing about this kid is normal, so perhaps we should stop insisting the Pirates have to handle him in a normal fashion.
For instance, today against the Tampa Rays with a stiff wind blowing in he a crushed one beyond the beachers and onto the roof of a building beyond it. The very next inning he dropped a routine grounder for an error.
It’s going to be tough deciding that bat shouldn’t be in your lineup everyday, especially as power starved as the Pirates are, and maybe that’s reason enough to do something different. The DH gives them options here, and no, signing Vogelbach doesn’t matter for this conversation. If he has nothing left to learn in AAA, take a chance at letting the kid do his thing. Show the fans what your system is producing. Make him a living museum exhibit of the Bucs of the future!
Or play it safe, and assume this will just get added to the fans ire and do what you were going to do anyway.
Look folks, they didn’t plan to keep Bryan Reynolds with the MLB club, until he forced them to, it can happen. Now MLB has built in a reward structure for a youngster coming up on day one that returns a draft pick, maybe the traditional calculous has changed.
Either way, let’s let the Pirates screw this one up before we start acting like they already did.
4. Young Pitching has Impressed Largely
Everyone knows Roansy Contreras, and man he didn’t disappoint. After walking the leadoff hitter on 7 pitches, he took care of the side with 13 total, hitting 97-98 on the gun and looking every bit the electric arm we saw last season.
Ok, how about Adrian Florencio? Ever even heard of him? OK, he was the Pirates pitcher of the year last season for the Bradenton Marauders and posted a 2.46 ERA in 95 innings with a 1.053 WHIP. WOW. And wow was all I could say when I saw him take the mound this Spring. He was dominant. Fastball was cooking and the breaking stuff was electric, more than that it was right where he wanted it.
He’ll move to Greensboro this season, but I wouldn’t bet he’s there long, he’s 23 and looks built like a 5 year MLB veteran. From relative obscurity due to the timing of the 2020 lost season to what we just saw this Spring man it’s great to see. Super excited to see how he handles the promotion, and nice to see the Dominican Academy still churning talent.
Want one more? OK, how about Kyle Nicolas. That’s right, one third of the return from the Marlins for Jacob Stallings. Now, don’t hate him because you had to lose Jake to get him, this kid’s no joke. In fact if the Pirates decide he’s a reliever he could be here as early as this year. Leave him at starter and we’ll be talking about him next year as an option to crack the squad.
The stuff is simply electric and he bends knees like Oneil with a bat. Thompson could be good, Scott could be alright, but if this Stallings deal is a winner Nicolas will be the reason. It’s been one outing for the young man, but impressive doesn’t begin to cover it. Hitters didn’t even know what to make of his off speed stuff and the tunnelling at this stage is advanced. Eyes open, he should make AAA this year.
One thing about pitching, you can NEVER have enough.
5. Reynolds isn’t Getting Cheaper
All Reynolds has done this Spring is hit. Consistency, power, speed, man he’s got it all. This team needs a PR win and more importantly they need to actually win, extending Reynolds solves both problems. If they try and don’t get it done, hey it takes two to tango, if they don’t try, well, I’m not sure how you excuse it.
Facts are facts and I don’t need to be psychic to know one day the Pittsburgh Pirates will trade Bryan Reynolds, but if this guy doesn’t factor into whatever window you think you’re opening, I don’t know how you sell that. He’s everything you hope for in a player, and while the development system certainly will provide more players, nobody at this stage of a build should be looking for trading diamonds for coal, even if the composition is the same.
I’m a firm believer that when you go into something like this, one or two guys need to wind up being your foot in the dirt. For the White Sox it was Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu. For the Braves it was Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. For every team remaking itself someone is the guy. That point where you signal to the team, the fans and the league that the dark days might not be over, but you’re now climbing instead of descending.
Rational or not, this fan base isn’t going to relax until they believe this club is going to keep talent, so why not start with the best.
Get. It. Done.