Making the Most of Opportunity

4-17-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

In baseball, it can sometimes feel like everything you do is somehow part of a catch 22 situation.

It never really goes away either. Even if you’re a nailed on superstar who has never managed to make it to the playoffs, that first time you do, everyone will be watching, wondering if you’re one of the few that thrive in the added pressure, or one of the many who wilt.

When opportunity knocks, well, you best answer the bell, because in this game, it just might never knock again. You could get forced out by something as insignificant as poor timing.

Take a guy like Bryan Reynolds. He didn’t come up here with a whole lot of fan reaction. It was an emergency in fact, if I had to give you a comp, he was much like it would be if Jack Suwinski were forced into action this year. You’d hope he’d be good but given where he is in development you don’t expect it either per se.

Bryan’s likelihood of sticking when he was called up was lower than the Vegas odds for the Pirates winning the Series this year. He didn’t just need to do ok, he needed to excel. This was a team that felt good about their starting outfield when healthy after all, and he simply did everything in his power to force the team’s hand.

That’s not typical folks. Just isn’t.

More often it’s a player like Andrew McCutchen, who did have the expectation that he’d be called up. Enjoyed the status of a highly touted prospect and knew when his number got called he’d be given a fair shake at sticking. Now, as we all know, Andrew didn’t need the team to just be ok with him working the rookie out of his game, fact is it was there if he needed it.

Sometimes it’s a player like Wil Crowe. Wil grew up in the Washington Nationals system and wasn’t given a shot at the rotation until the weirdness of 2020 forced it. He didn’t really take advantage in the capital city and was shipped to Pittsburgh in the Josh Bell trade. His situation changed drastically. He went from a team that had some of the biggest names in starting pitching league wide blocking him to an organization mired deep in a rebuild with next to nothing to push him. This allowed Crowe to work all season and answer some questions about himself and potentially his role. On a team with more options, he’s either demoted or scurried to the pen last year.

Maybe he winds up resentful about the move last year. Maybe he thinks that’s still his destiny. Maybe he doesn’t embrace it like he has this year so far to make the most of the opportunity presented to him.

It’s really different for every player. Some like Jose Osuna for one reason or another just never ever convince anyone they deserve a shot. No, not you John at the bar who used to scream he could hit 30 homeruns if they’d only play him. Facts are, he never convinced an MLB manager he deserved more playing time.

Some like Jose Bautista take a change of scenery and a complete reinvention of his swing. I often hear him brought up as a huge Pirates miss, but the player he became wouldn’t recognize the player he was.

Some guys just seem to get an infinite amount of chances. Like Eric Gonzalez seemed to have two different managers believe he had more to give. They both marveled at the untapped power, and how close he was to putting it together at the plate. His glove was otherworldly according to Clint and Shelton alike. 2019 his injury cost him a shot and he was beaten out by Kevin Newman. 2020 he seemingly played everyday at some position and got the same pass everyone else did for that season. 2021, man it was getting hard to ignore that we were still trying with this guy, until one day the toy was removed from the box.

Cole Tucker feels like he’s on this track doesn’t he? With one big difference, he did come in with pedigree. He shows a flash of special every so often and it’s enough to tantalize just about everyone, but folks, at some point she always figures out it’s Cubic Zirconia and not Diamond. Have to feel like the club is about to go appraise this uncut gem soon.

Diego Castillo has been given sporadic opportunity thus far, but he’s done something positive every time out, even maintaining a 5 game hitting streak at this point. It’s really encouraging for him and the team I’m sure. He’s really the first example of this development system, and by that I mean the Cherington-Baker system specifically, coming up. He was starting to impress in the Yankees system, but not to the degree he took off and forced the issue since joining the Pirates.

Most fans didn’t even know his name as they rushed right past him and others to anoint Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero (on the advice of the newly minted 100’s of prospect experts out there). Now they do in fact know who he is, and to his credit, that’s entirely due to how he’s performed. He’ll earn more playing time and he’s also part of the reason time is finally running out on guys like Tucker.

Michael Chavis knows well how this opportunity game rolls. A top pick by the Boston Red Sox, Chavis has experienced more MLB success than almost anyone on this roster, only to find himself phased out of the plans on the team that drafted him based on inconsistency and health issues. Pittsburgh is his second chance, and he’s made himself as versatile as possible to make getting at bats as easy to do as he could. More than that, when he gets his chances he’s making the most of them. He’s hitting, he’s playing good defense, he’s juicing up his team with energy and on a team where the very best players are quiet leaders that’s not an unnecessary component to bring to the table.

It’s too early to know if he’ll make this opportunity count, but he’s certainly giving it a go, and it’s certainly worth noting he has just about all the same challenges Tucker does.

None of this happens if teams are unwilling to practice patience. As incredible as Reynolds and Hayes bursts onto the scene were, those kind of introductions to MLB are incredibly rare. And ask Michael Chavis, sometimes you can hit 19 dingers and still get brushed aside.

Baseball is a hell of a hard game, it’s easily the hardest path to the bigs, one thing that is never a guarantee is that someone is going to give you a chance. Opportunity is earned, but sometimes a path to earn it itself is less opportunity than will be provided.

Think about how many shots Anthony Alford has gotten, while doing almost nothing. Now put that side by side with Bligh Madris who did nothing but crush the ball in Spring Training, is aging out and got himself placed in AA Altoona to start the season.

Nobody will ever accuse this game of being fair, it isn’t. There are probably hundreds of guys who could have had productive careers but just never got the shot, or if they did, it hit as the exact time a slump popped up. It’s always amazed me how aware baseball is that short sample size doesn’t work in this sport, yet they allow a few bad weeks of baseball to outweigh 5 or 6 years of hard fought development. At the end of the day, winning matters at the MLB level. Come up at the wrong time like when your team is in the middle of a playoff run with a stacked roster and become Albert Almora Jr. Never get a chance because who the hell is really gonna sit? By the time you get one it’s out of desperation and you’re too old to matter.

Hell of a sport. Hell of a hard thing anyone who makes it has accomplished.

And we get the opportunity to watch it all unfold.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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