The Pirates Rebuild is Still On Track

4-21-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I suppose I should start here, that headline up there still doesn’t mean it’s all going to work. It certainly doesn’t mean this team can expect to build a team entirely out of the system and win it all. What it does mean however is that the plan is working exactly as it was indented to up to this point.

Today, let’s talk about how and why I believe things are coming together.

The Path

Since 2020 I’ve said these things consistently. 1. They’re going to stink from 2020-2022, never once did I sugarcoat this for you, unpopular as it was. 2. They’re going to look better by the end of 2022 and it’d be a more fun season because of seeing more prospects come up. 3. In 2023 enough prospects will be here to potentially give the team a shot at .500 and the playoffs, higher percentage if they augment, higher still because MLB expanded said playoffs since my initial prediction. 2024 they better compete or Ben has failed his own intended target, spoken or not.

I’ve been called pessimistic by some, optimistic by others, and to be frank, I couldn’t care less which one you think I am, I’ll settle for consistent and honest.

Trading off from a weak pool of talent wasn’t going to return a bunch of can’t miss top 100 guys, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re kinda lucky they got 2 for Jameson Taillon and Starling Marte in the form of Liover Peguero and Roansy Contreras.

Drafts and pre GM change prospects hold the other top 100 spots in the system and that’s extremely typical in a build like this.

If you follow my stuff you also know I couldn’t possibly care less about system rankings. Most seem to have the Pirates in the top 5, yay, I don’t care. When I look at the system, I look for the setup, and duplication of efforts that increase the probability of successfully filling a Major League Spot.

AKA, Stacking prospects.

What’s Shaping Up Then?

Catcher – Henry Davis, Endy Rodriguez and Abrahan Gutierrez are three solid catching prospects. Endy in particular might well end up playing elsewhere, but until I see the team actually do it, the other two are right on track to emerge as catchers. I could toss Carter Bins in this discussion, but I really don’t need to. By 2024 at least one of these guys should make it and be a good player. Sure, more could, but one is enough to say this position will likely be filled.

Middle Infield – Geez, congested doesn’t begin to cover it. By the end of this season this mix could look like Oneil Cruz, Diego Castillo, Rodolfo Castro, Ji-hwan Bae, and maybe even Tucapita Marcano. Cruz aside folks this isn’t even the exciting group. Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero should both be here by 2023 pushing for playing time. Obviously all those guys can’t start at two positions. More obviously not all those guys will make it. But c’mon, that’s enough to believe SS and 2B will be filled right?

Third Base – Um, Hayes and for once I can say he’s locked up and here. Well toss in Jared Triolo too, that’s another guy who already has an MLB glove at the position and the bat has come along as well. Covered? I think so.

First Base – This one scares me. They have Mason Martin. I’m specifically talking about right now through who I see making the club by 2023 here but if Martin doesn’t make it, they don’t have many ready made answers. This may be a spot they have to go get, or maybe Michael Chavis earns himself a spot on this club. Either way, this one isn’t based on stacking, as you’d have to move a guy over there or get one should the one exciting prospect not turn out.

Outfield – Reynolds is here, and will be. After that, it’s a whole bunch of guys who look like they could be players but someone will have to emerge and take it. Travis Swaggerty, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Jack Suwinski, (maybe Cruz?), Connor Scott, Matt Fraizer, Lolo Sanchez, Fabricio Macias, all have a shot by the end of 2023 and it’s hard for me to imagine the Pirates not finding 2 out of that group. I could still see them needing or wanting to bring in someone else, but man that’s enough for me to feel a good base is being laid.

Pitching – Let’s face it, this is the real show right? More than anything else this is what the Pirates can’t afford. This is a franchise that has never in my lifetime had an honest to god top of baseball ace but once in the form of Doug Drabek so it’s not like they grow on trees here. Now, you look at today’s rotation, I can’t sit here and tell you any of them will be here when this team is good. All I can say is they have a couple with a shot. Keller, Brubaker, Wilson and Thompson all have pedigree and ability. They all have something else, time. We’ll know by the end of 2022 how many of these guys pan out if any.

Next you have to jump down to guys who aren’t in the rotation yet, or are in the next two levels. That’s Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Max Kranick, Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Omar Cruz, Kyle Nicolas, Luis Oviedo, Carmen Mlodzinski, Cody Bolton, and that’s were I’ll stop because someone could always emerge.

Is that enough? NEVER. Pitching is never enough, anywhere, no matter how much money you have. This team will not succeed by building a pitching staff 100% internally. That said, that’s a lot of guys to get through and not find 2-3 who you truly want to see in the rotation. Again, this is just by 2023. The system is far deeper than that in all these positions.

Bullpen is another issue but it’ll be made up of guys I just wrote in as starters and signings coupled with actual relief prospects.

You Know They Won’t All Make it Right?

Yeah, kinda said that like 30 times up there.

Again, it’s about the numbers game. This isn’t like looking at a prospect, pointing to the calendar and saying eureka that’s when we’ll be good. This is about looking at the ETAs of entire groups of players who should have a shot and supposing some of them will make it and become good players.

If you told me I could take 20 swings to land an island shot at Augusta National I’d like my chances a hell of a lot more if you told me I had one or two cracks at it. That’s all this is.

Again, not a guarantee, certainly not supposing this club will be able to actually compete without going out and spending actual money on actual MLB players, but the goal of a rebuild such as this is to create a system that feeds the initial core and provides ample reinforcements for years to come. Not to magically be the first team in MLB history to completely build their own championship club internally. It’s just not how this game works,and it’s foolish to pretend it every will. Even the Rays as good as they are go outside for help.

But Some of These Guys Aren’t Doing Well!!! Angry Face Emoji!

Right. The first thing I’d tell you is calm down, it’s been like two weeks. There aren’t many good decisions made in baseball based on sample sizes as small as what it takes to fill a fan with overt excitement or certain doom.

Many of these guys are playing in a new level of baseball for the first time, and for some that will be a huge jump. Some pitchers are working on a changeup for the very first time, or transitioning from a curveball to a slider. Some have just added velocity and get carried away with the new toy.

Some like Nick Gonzales are experiencing a fair ballpark for the first time. Well, at least on his home slate. It’s going to change some things folks. That’s really it. Some will fight through it and emerge. Some will stall out and never climb the mountain.

It’s why some of you would see me get so irritated when some idiot types up a 2027 opening day lineup. Not one person in the world knows what that’ll be. Nobody in the world could even guarantee Henry Davis will make it and thrive. He’s got a good shot, but nobody will know if he’s a star for a while. That’s how this works, and it speaks to stacking options. You never ever have too many Short Stops, or Pitchers, or Catchers. You just have too many guys who aren’t separating themselves.

For instance, in the span of 2 weeks we’ve gone from the collective fan base at large losing their minds that Oneil Cruz didn’t make the opening day roster, to everyone suddenly being really quiet about it because he’s had a rough start to 2022 in AAA. To nobody who bothered to really look’s surprise, he’s struggling with strikeouts swinging at breaking stuff (you know like he shouldn’t even though it resulted in a couple shoestring homeruns) and with his talent, he’ll come around.

Hell, I already had a dude on Twitter tell me he was worried about Bryan Reynolds start to the season. Guys, it’s baseball, it’s ok that you don’t know how an entire season will play out yet. If Bryan was hitting .676 right now I’d be telling you to chill out.

Doing good is always better than doing poorly, but talk to me in a month when we have some real data. Right now you can’t even quote an ERA or AVG without me laughing at you.

Why Should I Believe Your ETA When Cherington Won’t Give Us One?

Well, my job isn’t on the line. If anything He’s got more incentive to mislead you than I do. Look, my numbers, if that’s what you think motivates me, would be better if I told you they were going to be awful forever or terrific next season. The sweet spot I swing for is a slow burn.

Those of you who loyally follow this site or our podcasts, well, you don’t want to be given a line. I feel you wanted treated like the adult you surely are. That means being capable of handling the truth.

Truth is, this build has gone exactly as we’ve been telling you it would. And the timeline hasn’t changed one iota. I’d never ask Ben Cherington what his timeline is for one simple reason, I don’t really need his opinion to see for myself what’s happening and form my thoughts on when things will come together.

For some reason people convinced themselves that in 2022 this team was supposed to take some major leap, and while I’ll tell you they certainly could have taken steps to make this version better, more watchable, they didn’t, and that doesn’t effect this timeline at all.

More than anything, when you’re doing something based on drafting, scouting, development and deployment and historically the organization hasn’t been good at any of those, you’re going to wear the stink of what came before you until you show it’s different. I don’t expect many of you to believe it’s coming together any more than the team should.

I’m just reading tea leaves and to me, a competitive team is on the horizon, even with failure, injury and surprises baked in.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “The Pirates Rebuild is Still On Track

    1. Really any question in baseball that starts with any chance is going to get a yes. That said, I’ve heard nothing about wanting to see him there from the team. I believe he’ll come up as a SS and corner outfielder until or if he proves neither of those positions work for him.

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  1. As I recall a team TV ad campaign playing in the background many years ago, “Steady as she goes.”

    I think first base is the best position to have too few answers for–always should be easy to move a guy there if needed, and some are just about always available in trades and free agency. Pitching is the big concern, for the reasons you mentioned, but also because they simply do not appear to have any answers in the rotation yet, and if the group moving up to Greensboro this season doesn’t have top-end candidates emerge, that leaves Contreras, Priester, and maybe Bolton. They absolutely need to find at least one, maybe two answers, this season–even if those guys have a smaller window with the competitive clubs we should see within a few years.

    Reynolds has looked downright uncomfortable at bat so far, very much not like Bryan Reynolds. He’s looked overmatched too often, like he’s guessing–taking meatballs and chasing stuff well out of the zone. I hope it’s as fleeting as it should be, but I can’t so quickly dismiss this as a common slump.

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