Prospects Aren’t Sure Things, Even When They Reach the League

4-14-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The new pastime here in Pittsburgh seems to be the constant cries for prospects to come up to the MLB team and then to ensure they play every inning of every game or fill the exact role deemed appropriate for each and every one of them.

Now, it’s entirely understandable. You see Mason Martin hitting in AAA and then turn around and watch Daniel Vogelbach or Yoshi Tsutsugo manning first base in the bigs and well, of course you want to see something else based on what has been put on your TV screen.

You see Diego Castillo hitting when he gets a chance and just can’t see giving any more at bats that should rightly be his to guys like Josh VanMeter, Cole Tucker or Hoy Park.

Again, I get it. The reaction is visceral and real. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you have no business feeling that way, I’m just going to offer some counterpoints because it’s rarely if ever as cut and dried as it’s made out to be.

I’ve already predicted that from this year to next year this team will have probably turned over at least 10 players, meaning I believe there are at least 10 players on this MLB roster who won’t be next year.

That’s not just hyperbole. It’s not even assuming all 10 of those guys will perform badly. Instead it’ll be a combination of control, prospect performance, 40-man protection needs and actual evaluation.

That last bit is the real important part of this discussion.

Diego Castillo is a 26 year old rookie, and he’s looked promising in his early season chances, but the Pirates have other guys they need to make decisions on and as one should expect, they’d like them to be educated decisions.

Let’s take a few guys many have expressed being tired of seeing and ready to move on from. Not coincidentally all of these guys are on my list of 10. I won’t even discuss all of them, but enough to hopefully explain why the team might not have seen enough yet.

Cole Tucker

Feels like we’ve been discussing Tucker for the best part of a decade, probably because we have been. He looked like his swing change and added bulk might help him become at least a bit player this Spring, and as a former number one pick, the team isn’t just going to flush him without thinking.

Next year if the Pirates should choose to keep him he’ll make the league minimum and won’t hit arbitration one until 2024. The bat simply hasn’t played at this level and nobody likes the idea of giving up too early on a guy only to have them turn out somewhere else. In fact, it’s just about the only thing Bob Nutting mentioned publicly as a change he expected to see with his new GM.

All that said, there are very viable options already here that can play where he plays, and I’d argue when it comes to the outfield, better. I don’t even have to dip into the next level to illustrate how easily the light hitting utilityman will be squeezed out by those guys.

This is either Tucker’s last year as a Pirate, or he’ll hit.

There is exactly nothing to be gained by sending him back to AAA to take playing time from the prospects I just mentioned, and should he actually start hitting in AAA, who cares, you’d still have the same answer about the majors right?

All that to illustrate why he needs to get playing time right now, at this level.

He’s either proving he’s worth trying to move or he’s proving he’s just not going to factor in here. Either way that takes at bats, and playing time.

Oh, I know you’ve seen enough, but you didn’t work with him heading into the off season to plan how he could improve, and watched him show up for Spring having done everything you asked. The Pirates did. His trade value is nil, yet he’d assuredly be picked up by someone and god forbid they unlock him.

This is a short leash, and quite frankly it’s already clear the Bucs are relatively tired of trying. That said, when you simply cut a guy like this, you cut into your depth and we’ve got about 157 games left.

Josh VanMeter

The Pirates created an issue here that quite frankly they didn’t need to create. He’s quite frankly never hit in the bigs, but he did tear it up in AAA. That’s more than Tucker can say, but I’d also argue that he’s already gotten more of a shot to show it in the show than Tucker has. In fact, should the Pirates eventually give up on Tucker, another fan base will be having very similar discussions about his acquisition.

Nobody has adequately made sense of this pickup in my mind. Obviously someone liked him from AAA or his time with the Reds. Clearly they don’t believe in Tucker and didn’t want to put full faith in Castillo, or Chavis, but even so, my god there are 3 guys who aren’t even on the roster I’d rather try out.

This team needs to be beyond bringing in other team’s problems at this point and this is a perfect example of buying a rusty chair at a yard sale hoping a can of spray paint will bring it back to life.

Regardless, he’s of course going to get playing time, otherwise why trade anyone for him, regardless of whether I’ve heard of the prospect they moved or not.

So Why Not Just Cut Your Losses?

Well, I touched on it a bit with both of those write ups but it’s partially about not wanting to be wrong, and it’s also got a lot to do with this team sincerely still being in the evaluation stage on 75% of this roster.

Let’s take a guy like Wil Crowe. Pitched all last season and delivered 116 innings in 26 games, 25 starts. His WHIP was an awful 1.569, his ERA was a terrible 5.48, and he gave up 25 homeruns. That’s a whole season of evaluation, plenty for most fans, not quite for a baseball club.

Now he finds himself in a different role out of the bullpen. He looks stronger. His velocity, not trying to last 5 innings, is up significantly. His pitch repertoire plays better as he uses all five of his offerings instead of hiding 2 or 3 for the second time through the order that wasn’t a given to begin with. And while it’s terribly early, he’s thriving.

In other words, you might know what a guy can do, but you might not know what a guy can do when put in a better situation. Maybe this early season performance will be an aberration, thing is, they’ll know because they tried it. They’ll know because they gave him more playing time. Rather than, you know, cutting the bum, as many of you would have preferred.

That’s the hope with guys like Tucker. They hope they’ve made some tweaks, and given him a chance to become more versatile so that if the bat comes around he could be a viable bench player that gives Shelton options. If he isn’t, they’ll at least feel they’ve done their due diligence.

Now why doesn’t Diego Castillo just start every game? Much of the same really, only in reverse.

For instance, in game one facing Adam Wainwright the Pirates felt it best to not toss a rookie into his first game on opening day against a battery that makes a living off making fools out of 10 year veterans. The Hayes injury forced it into existence anyway but he quickly saw why he didn’t start.

Part of onboarding rookies is about putting them in situations to succeed. If a guy is traditionally not great against left handed pitching, well, maybe you shouldn’t expect he will be instantly better at it when you bring him up. If a guy hits fastballs like crazy but hasn’t always found the off speed you might not want to have him face a guy who never touches 90.

Every week you’ll see them give him something new to look at. Something new to try. Maybe the next step is “let’s see what he does with three starts in a row”. Maybe it’ll be let’s see how he handles this guy who throws frisbee sliders from the right side.

Getting to the show doesn’t mean very often that the development is over. It certainly doesn’t often mean you no longer have anything to prove and should just be handed the reigns.

Patience is not something I’m going to preach to a fan base that’s been waiting this long for a winner, but it is something you’ll wind up having to find.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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