3-28-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
We’re getting close to the start of the regular season, in fact there will only be one more Five Thoughts before we get there and the opening day roster is starting to take shape, yes, even if you don’t like the shape it’s taking.
So let’s have some fun and talk through some topics I have on my mind as we enter the last full week of Spring Training.
1. Is There Another Rookie We Should Be Screaming For?
Believe it or not i don’t mean Roansy Contreras. No, I’m talking about Diego Castillo. The Pirates currently have Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman backed by Hoy Park and Michael Chavis to cover Short Stop, Second Base, backup Third Baseman, backup First Baseman and backup Corner Outfield.
In order for someone else to make this team, even in April with expanded rosters because they will undoubtedly use the extra two spots on pitching, it’s likely the Pirates would have to decide that Anthony Alford is out and someone I just mentioned is able to cover the outfield when Allen, Gamel and Reynolds need a breather.
That’s probably fine for someone like Tucker, maybe could even be how Cruz gets the call, but someone who has really performed this Spring and rather under the radar is Castillo. Now, he would need in my estimation an injury or overt DFA of either Park or Chavis, but he sure looks ready.
First of all, he’s 24, so this isn’t a guy this team is going to sweat starting whenever they damn well please, and in 17 PA this Spring he’s really put up some nice albeit short sample size numbers including a .333 BA, .945 OPS. These numbers line up super well with what he put on tape this past season in all three of his stops, if not a little better.
Again, if the Pirates keep Park and Chavis, Castillo would be a tough choice to include in a swap for Alford. He’s going to be primarily an infielder, but coupled with a more permanent move of Tucker to corner outfield it could make sense.
I in no way call this a lock, and I’m certainly not trying to tell you to forget about Cruz in lieu of Castillo, but we might just have a prospect to be excited about on opening day regardless. The Pirates have certainly given him a good look this Spring, and he was an early addition to the 40-man shakeup too.
2. One Step Forward, One Step Back
The Starting rotation should be of paramount concern to everyone hoping for improvement this season, even if marginal. To his credit, Mitch Keller has straight shoved this Spring and looks to have figured out some of what ails him. Now, he still has to do it in real games and for that matter it’d be nice to see him do it for a nice stretch before we start lowering the temperature on Oscar Marin’s seat, but I also believe you have to, at least to a certain degree, celebrate the baby steps or you’ll miss the kid learning to run.
That’s a nice step forward, and bluntly, from a guy the vast majority of Pirates fandom already had out of the plans.
Then there’s everyone else.
Jose Quintana has had two starts, both awful. And before you start, of course I know short sample size sucks and of course I know he’s a veteran, yes, yes I even know he could be working on a new pitch or whatever too. Thing is, what he’s struggled with, are the same things he’s struggled with since his failed stint with the Cubs. That doesn’t instill much confidence in me that he’s going to have a resurgence and my greatest hope is that the Pirates don’t feel we need to work 2 million dollars worth of pitches out of him before realizing it. Hope I’m wrong, doubt I am.
JT Brubaker looks much the same as last season, with the velocity back to where it was early in the year, problem is the hard contact and long ball issue decided to come along for the ride. Look, he’s in this rotation, no doubt, but he has to get better at attention to detail on all his pitches. He’ll throw 5 of 6 really nice, well placed pitches in an at bat, but that 1, oh man that 1 is a meatball. Can’t have that, not in this league. That’s his challenge this season, and if he doesn’t fix it, he’s on his last shot at being a Pirates Starter.
Thompson and Wilson, well, both fairly as advertised. Lots of movement, good enough velo, just too aggressive at times. For an older pitcher, this is a hallmark of Spring, which we probably should acknowledge both are. Both of them have been to a multitude of Spring Camps and both probably feel more than at ease they’re making this team. Still, in their next starts and into the early season I’d like to see a bit more focus from both.
Crowe and Peters are probably next in line and they’ve both shown fairly well. Peters more so because Crowe still can’t get his pitch count under control. Both of these guys could potentially start in the pen or even be the 6th man if they chose to start the season like that.
All in all, I like this rotation better than the 2021 opening day set up, but not by much. Look for an infusion from AAA before June if I had my guess.
3. DFA Danger
This list isn’t going to be long, but we must remember the Pirates have to make room for a backup catcher and at least one more for the bullpen to round out the roster so that has a few players in my mind on the bubble.
Anthony Alford – Easy pick. He’s done nothing to change anyone’s mind this Spring, unless of course you were really excited to see him take hold of a starting role this season.
Jared Oliva – The outfield mix is muddy at best, but sincerely, when a spot opens up do you want Oliva over Canaan Smith-Njigba, Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, hell even Oneil Cruz? I can’t see it, this is a numbers game and the Pirates clearly aren’t going to give this kid a crack.
Anthony Banda – This might not come until May 1st when rosters contract back to 26 but the Pirates don’t need 4 lefties in the pen. They figure to have Peters, Fletcher and Howard already. In AAA the Pirates have lefties Blake Weiman and Cam Alldred who just had NRI stints this Spring backed by Nathan Kirby and Joe Jacques. To me Banda has about a month to prove his worth and if he pitches like he did last year down the stretch he may very well do so.
Hoy Park – I’m probably reaching here, but Hoy Park isn’t someone who should be blocking players like Cruz or Castillo from reaching the majors. He’s got a great shot to make the club out of Spring, but he might just be in a placeholder role. I didn’t even mention someone like Rodolfo Castro, Ji-hwan Bae or Tucapita Marcano. He’s a swiss army knife in a development system purposefully developing swiss army knives.
4. Greg Allen Ain’t No Prospect
Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a great fit for what the Pirates need today. He’s fast, he has some pop and plays a nice outfield, being a switch hitter is nice too in a lefty dominated lineup.
But he ain’t no prospect folks.
He’s 29 years old, still pre-arbitration and got his first shot at MLB in 2017 with the Indians (now Guardians). Nothing ever really stuck for him as he bounced in and out of the lineup before being traded to San Diego, where he was again given no chance. The Yankees played him in 15 games during the 2021 season and he got on base, did damage with the stolen base when he did, but nothing so special the Yanks had to hold on.
So he enters the Pirates plans right here as a bridge. If he produces, he replaces Ben Gamel as the guy who could start or be the fourth outfielder for a couple years, if he doesn’t, no harm no foul.
Not to backtrack but the very fact this team thinks they need Greg Allen is enough reason to believe Jared Oliva is never getting a shot here.
Anyway, enjoy him because he could be some fun and energy if he finds something, but don’t get confused, when one of the prospects is deemed ready, Allen isn’t blocking any of them, well, except maybe Oliva.
5. One Way or Another
This roster is going to turn over big time this year. Some I think we’ll see fairly quickly, some at the deadline and more than anything, after the season. Everything that has been done up until this time has been to build up the system and you’re already going to see some of that talent bursting at the seems to break through as we get into 2022.
Next year they won’t be so lucky as to avoid the Rule Five draft and they have a ton of guys that will need protected by December of this year. The very best way to handle that is to changeover the roster, and I believe that’s exactly what we’re going to see.
I think 10-14 players who should make the opening day roster won’t be here come 2023, and no, Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes aren’t on the list.
It’s part of the process, and depending on how some guys do, I could even see this offseason being about addition. Not kidding. In fact I think there are 4 or 5 projected opening day starters who won’t be here in 2023.
That’s what you get when your team has no financial commitment heading into a season.
I really want you to note this today, before we get going on the season because some of these moves are going to be met with the same old “they got good then that sumbitch Bob didn’t wanna pay ’em!” stuff, and I want you to know this is simply nature taking its course.
Some of it might look like exactly what you describe, but in reality the plan has been and will be getting a first big wave of prospects up here together, and that simply can’t happen without moving on from guys.
You’ll also note, I’m not predicting that every prospect will turn out for this to take place, I’m simply taking a look at who I see as a placeholder paired with who I see making a sincere push to become an MLB player this year and I come up with 10-14. I’ll elaborate on this and who I’m thinking in more detail soon but for now, if you’re irritated by the opening day roster, do realize it isn’t going to be the one they finish with, and more than that, if some should over acieve, realize the plan is still happening.