Changes are Coming for This Pirates Roster

5-7-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have probably overachieved in the estimation of many as they sit here at 10-14. A record pulled down by the Cardinals and Brewers beating them handily and in turn the Pirates beating the teams they’re supposed to be competitive with.

As they prepare to face the hapless Reds, I think it’s healthy to talk about what’s worked, what hasn’t and maybe even some changes the team could make to do better against those top tier clubs and make even more hay against the lower group.

The Bullpen

Oh my yes, the bullpen is more responsible for those 10 wins than any other aspect of this club.

The question is, can this possibly be sustained? I mean, it’s easy to say no. Dillon Peters will give up a run, Wil Crowe is probably going to face adversity. Point is, a bullpen is a living organism, it evolves all season long with different guys being the hot hand at times, and problem child at others.

This bullpen needs some things that are missing though. They need a real compliment to David Bednar on the back end. Chris Stratton has done some very good things with his time in Pittsburgh and that comes to an end this year. Stratton will either be moved or simply not retained after this season. That doesn’t mean he can’t help, or even that he shouldn’t be used where he is, but until this team has a true counter for Bednar, he’ll always be stretched a bit too thin. More than that, we’ll always have those conversations about when the best time to deploy him is.

Blake Cederlind should he fully recover from TJ could be that answer and before he is completely ready, I expect to see some other options placed in the mix, like Yerry De Los Santos or even just the continued use of Beau Sulser. All in all, coupled with starters sorting themselves out a bit I think the bullpen has a good chance to be a real strength all year, and that’s not just wishful thinking, it’s instead the feeling that they’re good right now and there are reinforcements on the way.

The Starting Pitching

Problem area to be sure. So far Mitch Keller and Jose Quintana have been the best the Pirates have to offer, that ‘s fine, but having one of them be Quintana isn’t really all that exciting. He’s here on a one year deal, so he’s here to either build up trade value and get moved at the deadline, or he’s here to prove there is no market for his services ultimately. Either way, he isn’t returning enough to get excited about.

Keller on the other hand is encouraging, and an important lesson for Pirates fans too. He’s got great stuff, always has, but it’s taken parts of 4 seasons to get to this point. Keep that in mind, even as Keller’s place in the rotation remains a bit tenuous, getting the call up in no way means ready to contribute, or even the best version of the player.

I say that because when a pitcher comes up, let’s just say the ETA shouldn’t be confused with when they really help, at least not often.

To that end, I expect Roansy Contreras to come back up soon and take a starting spot from either Thompson, Wilson or Brubaker. I also don’t expect him to be dominant. Instead I expect him to learn lessons this year, hone his skills, and enter 2023 as a lock for the rotation.

Max Kranick, Cody Bolton have their names in the hat too, and that’s a really good thing. We also can’t rule out any of the guys we mentioned. What would really be good is if we can eliminate some from the conversation while others cement themselves. Ideally 2023 would be more about guys forcing their way into the rotation, as opposed to the rotation leaving the door cracked constantly.

The Positions

For the most part, not much has been settled. Third base seems to have a dude. Center field is in good shape. Roberto Perez has done well behind the plate.

Aside from that, Daniel Vogelbach has probably been the best member of the lineup. The Pirates have a ton of issues and I expect to see them working through them as the season rolls on.

At some point here, Oneil Cruz will make his case and come up. Now, where he plays is anyone’s guess. As I sit here right now, I don’t feel he’s a long term answer at SS, and no, I don’t care that he wants to be one. It’s certainly not about Newman or someone else I feel they’ve found, it’s just about the way he’s played there.

This doesn’t mean you should stop being excited about his potential, but maybe pump the brakes on him being coronated the Rookie of the Year. He has work to do, things to learn and at some point a tough conversation is coming. That aspect in and of itself will be a different kind of maturing. Cruz will have to accept it and do what’s best of course, but the team will have to do something good organizations execute flawlessly, handle a player who isn’t happily cooperating. Do this well and he remains someone to build around. Do it poorly and risk constantly tip toeing past him until you finally trade him in 2028.

The outfield has settled, with Jake Marisnick playing outstanding out there, Ben Gamel using all his veteran experience to be serviceable, Bryan Reynolds beginning to find his bat again and finally the emergence of Jack Suwinski. Travis Swaggerty was supposed to be the first, but he hadn’t earned it, and furthermore is again hurt. Canaan Smith-Njigba is of to a slow start and Cal Mitchell looks like the best of the bunch early on. In fact if there were an injury to anyone, right now Mitchell might be the callup and he requires a 40-man spot.

You have to go to someone like Ji-hwan Bae if you want to look for another AAA option, but AA sports Matt Fraizer who recently started turning his season around.

Here’s the really interesting thing, I could easily see every name I just mentioned added to this club by year’s end. That’s cool, and fun to watch, more though, it’s just getting undeniably closer.

First base is a black hole. Michael Chavis is easily the best they have, unfortunately he’s also their best second baseman. It’s that combination that makes me wonder why Chavis sits at all.

We are getting close to some moves. Feels like Tucker, Van Meter and potentially Yoshi Tsutsugo have really fallen flat in the early going. I expect each to get another stretch of time, but Yoshi is the only one I’ll understand.

Bae, Castro, Cruz, and even Marcano could all find their way up here and the sooner the better in my mind. Use 2022 to answer questions, not ask more that needs solved in 2023.

Coaching

I can’t say we’ve seen enough to really get excited or pretend we know anything. If you’re waiting for a consistent lineup from Derek Shelton, I’d say stop. I just don’t think it’s in his DNA, even if he has a full compliment of talent.

If you hate how he handles the pitching staff, I’d suggest you really hate how the organization is handling the pitching staff. In other words, I think they could hire Dusty Baker tomorrow and Bryse Wilson isn’t going past 5.

Oscar Marin, well, I’ve told you for 2 years he is tied to Mitch Keller, so seeing Mitch evolve and become something probably saves him and it’s just too early to judge Haines for anything.

I’m underwhelmed by the coaching so far, but it’s really hard to go too hard in the paint here. It’s incredibly early, and the talent level is still very much so a 10-14 team, if not a bit under that.

All of this to say, this entire thing is going to continue to evolve all year. Lets enjoy the wins, and lets never stop evaluating because the turnover we’ll watch is truly going to be remarkable.

Of everything they need to sort, nothing trumps that starting rotation. It’s the single thinnest position at the moment and if they don’t find 2-3 who stick from this group, they’ll have to spend money to improve it next year early on because many more bats will be here or close.

Biggest questions aside from that are probably when does Cruz come up and where the hell do they play him. How long of a leash do they give Yoshi? Who emerges from the rotation.

This is the fun part people. If I have one complaint, it’s that this team takes too long to learn, or even try to at times. I suggest it’s time to put the pedal to the floor.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Changes are Coming for This Pirates Roster

  1. Good read, thanks.

    PITCHING
    Peters couldn’t find the plate yesterday, which ordinarily shouldn’t spoil his fantastic start to the year … but it was against these historically terrible Reds. Likewise Mitch Keller’s immediate squandering (Suwinski catch aside) of a four-run lead in the bottom of the first could mayyybe be dismissed as one bad outing (though I’d say it’s still regression to the norm) … but it was against these historically terrible Reds. And it was yet another of a long list of outings where his bad line *should* have been even worse. That’s not to discount your point about the time it typically takes to find success in MLB, but I am pretty reluctant to say a guy has found it when he has more often than not given up a run per inning. I know you wrote this before he faced Cincinnati, but even through five starts I’ve not been inspired. It’s very easy to make the case that Wilson has pitched better, and although one can quibble and point to luck or errors or whatever, the numbers say even Brubaker has been comparable to Keller at worst, maybe slightly better–which is to say less awful.

    ANSWERING QUESTIONS
    Which brings me to my take on answering questions: To me they’re at best still searching for better answers to questions about (mostly non-pitcher) players that got answered in 2021–they just didn’t like the answers. Alford was a prime example among numerous others. Newman was an average-level hitter in 2022 before his injury, to be fair, and I wouldn’t give up on a Gold Glove candidate without this last shot to reach that level with the bat. But as much as I get wanting to be beyond sure about a first-round pick, how many of these cars like Tucker do they have to chase day after day to realize they need to stop chasing them? .175/.175/.228 for a guy who has never come remotely close to mediocre numbers in parts of four MLB seasons–and it’s not like he was some bopper in AAA. Even Alford at least had that going for him.

    All that to say: Yes, I agree, it’s time to see more prospects emerge. (Fun fact: At the moment, Suwinski ranks eighth on the team in bWAR … at 0.4. I don’t even want to say whose solid 2022 debut this week landed him tied for ninth.)

    HITTING COACH(ES)
    As for the coaches, I agree it’s early to make decisions, but I certainly have concerns, which I’ll spare for Marin because they’re just as bad as we’ve discussed for years, as you wrote. Vogelbach, Chavis, Roberto Perez, Newman, Hayes, Reynolds, Gamel–that’s the list of decent or better hitters to this point, and half of them (Reynolds on the line, expected to surpass it) are merely decent. And although I do believe he can use this week to turn a corner, the Reynolds slump remains concerning: A nice offensive series at the Great American Bandbox against that terrible Reds team and the lackluster Tigers prior shouldn’t inflate the standing of anyone. These are all decidedly veterans who’ve had some kind of hitting success in the MLB before, even if one wants to point out the service time of Chavis and Hayes. I don’t know to what degree we credit Haines with any of them.

    I do know we’ve not seen a prospect or project maintain a high level yet (acknowledging few of the former have been recalled), and although I think Castillo’s cooling can be dismissed as MLB punching back, Tsutsugo alarms me. At first I thought it might not be a pattern, but now I recognize it’s happening every time he loads: He’s “stepping in the bucket,” as my high-school hitting coach taught me. I know he’s largely a pull hitter, but he’s stepping so far toward first base that he loses most of his power for anything that isn’t a golf shot off the foul pole, and he cannot make meaningful contact with the outside half of the strike zone. I could be wrong, but in my experience, a hitting coach worth his salt does not allow that to last as long as it has with Tsutsugo.

    FIELDING
    My other concern is the fielding, catchers aside. The coaches in charge of that shook up in the off-season a little, but not a lot, unless the roles have shifted drastically among returning coaches and I’m unaware. Pirates lead the league in errors, which doesn’t discount great play from Hayes and corner OFs, but it’s concerning.

    Like

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