5-16-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
As we sit here on the day after a historic victory while being no hit, and take a quick look at the Pirates record of 15-19, it’s probably fair to say, nobody has predicted everything they’d see with any real accuracy.
Not just the record, or some strange historic win mind you, I mean who’s been called up and when. Who’s been DFA’d and when. Who gets at bats vs who doesn’t. It’s fair to say, predictable doesn’t define this franchise right now.
Lets get after it.
1. The Clock is Ticking on Yoshi Tsutsugo
The Pirates signed Yoshi to a very reasonable 4 million dollar contract this off season at least partially based on the audition he had last season with the club. He hit a bunch of homeruns in that short sample but by season’s end that had dried up to a degree.
This season, he’s just not been effective. He’s not hitting for average, which if coupled with some homeruns would be fine. He’s not played good defense, because well, he’s not a good defender.
Yoshi doesn’t have one base hit to the pull side all season long in 2022, and even a team like this isn’t going to just sit here and keep trying all year to “make him earn” his contract. Now, it’s May, they aren’t going to give up that quickly, especially given the comments team officials made about LA and Tampa giving up on him a bit early. If the Pirates can’t move him or he hasn’t hit come July, they’ll cut bait, but I’d argue maybe it’s a good idea to consider waivers now.
If someone claims him, hey, the money is off the books and Michael Chavis or Mason Martin really get a nice chunk of time. If he goes unclaimed, well you can stick him in AAA and keep paying for the exact same amount of meaningful production.
There’s simply no downside. And I mean that even if he goes elsewhere and starts hitting. He was never going to be a story beyond 2022 anyway so really who cares?
Regardless, this isn’t Polanco who was being paid over 12 million. This isn’t some guy with a long track record that should have you believe he has the good stuff coming around the corner.
Hey, if the Cardinals can option Paul DeJong, the Pirates can DFA Yoshi. Again, this is probably premature, but nobody should be under the illusion that they’ll just stick with him all season regardless of performance. There isn’t anything tying him to this baseball team.
And yes, I do understand why they keep playing him. If he’s here, he must get time to try to become some form of productive, otherwise, see previous option I mentioned.
2. Jack Suwinski & Diego Castillo Have Had Successful Cups of Joe
Jack has had some success after being called up from AA Altoona on an emergency basis. He’s hit a couple homeruns, racked up some hits, drawn a few walks and handled himself defensively very well. His short time in a Pirates uniform has seen him build up a 0.6 WAR figure, but let’s be really clear, he’s fading a bit.
Young guys do this, as the league sees more of them, approaches become less throw it up there and see what he does with it, and more OK, he can’t hit this, or that. With a .254 OBP and .588 OPS, it’s pretty easy to see that Jack needs a bit more seasoning.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s been productive, and I’d consider this a success, but he’s also simply run his course, for right now anyway. It’s becoming hard to ignore how Cal Mitchell has performed in Indianapolis. In 115 plate appearances he’s logged 30 hits, 10 walks for a .294 batting average with an OPS of .875. His five homeruns aren’t to be sneezed at either, Indianapolis is arguably a harder place to hit homeruns than PNC Park.
There is nothing wrong with sending a guy like Jack back down to get eyes and opportunity on another prospect who’s performing. And it certainly doesn’t mean Jack can’t come back at some point.
Diego Castillo’s numbers are eerily similar to Jack Suwinski. 91 plate appearances, 2 dingers, batting average of .233, OBP of .264 and an OPS of .589. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. Diego too has had a real shot and he too is seeing the league push back now. He too has racked up a positive WAR or 0.3 and again, being sent down is neither outrageous or a death sentence. He’s shown me enough to believe he could work on a few things and come back better.
Some fans will label these guys busts when they get demoted, but reality is, this is the path for most youngsters, and watching this club over the next couple years, I suggest y’all really get used to it. Not everyone is Bryan Reynolds or Ke’Bryan Hayes, and more so, I’m speaking to how they jump on the scene, not how they evolve.
These call ups are valuable, but being sent down to work on a few things that will make them better is even more so for many.
And before you remind me that Cal Mitchell isn’t on the 40-man I’ll remind you Hoy Park is, Cole Tucker is, Heath Hembree is, let’s not act like that’s a lockout status right now despite their foolish and wasteful loss of Beau Sulser.
3. The Pirates Will Never Be Done Trading, but it’s Also Not the Same as it’s Been
This rebuild started in 2019, December of 2019 to be precise and ever since then, it’s been about finding out who, if any who were currently on the team would be here on the perceived improved club.
Mission accomplished. Bryan Reynolds, David Bednar and Ke’Bryan Hayes.
They’ll trade people of course, but it’s not the same as it’s been the past few seasons. For instance, will they trade Jose Quintana at the deadline? I mean, probably but they may also find that he innings he’ll eat are more valuable to this franchise than the prospect he’ll return.
Chris Stratton may get traded, but it won’t be because the Pirates don’t want to pay him and they desperately need more prospects to improve the farm system and hope to win. It’s instead going to be about not believing Chris Stratton is good enough to bank on, coupled with becoming a free agent. Prospects will be the return but nobody who is going to jump right into the Pirates top 15 or anything.
Those days are largely over for a minute.
It’s a weird gray area. I can sit here and tell you I wouldn’t rule out 90% of this roster as movable, but I’d also tell you it doesn’t have to happen for many.
I’ll go this way. Here are guys to look for being moved and why.
Jose Quintana – Obvious, he’s a traditional rental and if he pitches like this, he might actually return something worth caring about. Hey maybe even a viable AAA level catcher to help bridge the gap to Davis.
Ben Gamel – Last year of arbitration, but again, he isn’t going to net much and this team in my mind would benefit more from keeping his bat and presence on this roster for a few more seasons to provide a buffer zone for rookies to land near. A measuring stick.
Chris Stratton – He’s pitched a ton for the Pirates, probably most of the productive innings he has to give if we’re honest. He’ll get moved and he’ll return a lottery ticket type. Not unlike Watson returning Cruz back in the day. They should only be so lucky again.
Heath Hembree – Pray he looks better soon and this is his destiny. If not he’s a DFA. Pretty simple.
Duane Underwood Jr. – The Pirates straight abused him in 2021, and we’ll see if he can rebound this season. Either way, this is the type of guy you could see the club moving on from if only because nobody knows better than Pittsburgh how much of this guy they’ve used up.
Jake Marisnick – He’s been fun to watch in the outfield, but he’s also not a kid. Some playoff team might like a defensive sub who isn’t going to be around beyond October. He lacks the bat to be what Gamel could be here.
Yoshi Tsutsugo – If only. As mentioned above, long way to go before he should have as graceful an exit as a trade.
Now, is the list limited to these players, absolutely not, but we’re not in a place where this team needs to look at a guy like David Bednar and his big time value, drool a bit about how many nice prospects he could return and pull the trigger. No, he’s a guy they need to simply allow to help this team continue to improve by answering questions.
Point is, the heavy lifting of remaking this system is over. At least for now. They’ll have to draft and develop what they have well, but if the Hayes extension is a turning point for this franchise as they themselves claim it to be, we should expect less attempts to pile an already loaded system with more by way of shipping out everyone with a pulse. In fact, most of this team is now a product of that effort, with more to come.
The team being required to move everything for more prospects ended last year, now we’re largely onto only doing so when they actually want to or must in order to get something they really want. It may seem like no different to many, but it very much so is a shift that has to happen in all these types of builds. Otherwise, well, you simply aren’t building, instead you’re just playing musical chairs.
4. Roansy is Different
People love yelling about calling up prospects, and I get it, that’s what this team has been telling everyone to look at for the best part of 3 years but there is no rush on Roansy Contreras. He’ll get here soon, but if he were to throw 150 innings this season I’d be shocked.
His forearm tightness last year caused him to only throw 58 innings in 2021 and the most he’s ever thrown back in 2019 was 132.1. In other words folks, this isn’t a kid that is used to a huge workload. Not yet.
That doesn’t mean he won’t get the call, or shouldn’t. It certainly doesn’t mean he can’t help or won’t look good, but be really forward thinking about this one. He’s going to be handled very carefully, and with good cause.
In other words, why rush to get him up here when his expected innings won’t come close to getting him to the end of the season?
I can already hear your answer, he’s better than who’s here, and you’re right. That’s why he will undoubtedly get the call up again, but just be aware, he’s not going to be shoving 6 or 7 inning starts into September.
And no, it doesn’t matter that Nolan Ryan would have happily thrown 300 innings if they let him.
This year is all about getting the feet wet and above all else, ending his season healthy with sights set on a normal offseason with real expectation for 2023.
5. Should We Be Concerned About Poor Performing Prospects?
I mean, yeah, but not to the degree I see daily on social media.
Prospects have to perform in order to get the promotions they need and the call up to the bigs they eventually seek. That said, when a prospect is in the first month or so of playing at a new level, not all of them are going to immediately take to it.
It’s why I always caution fans, and any of you who’ve read my work for any length of time know this, you simply can’t pay any attention to the ETA’s that get listed for prospects.
Those ETA’s don’t factor in injuries, bumps in the road, being blocked, hitting a snag that takes months to work through, slow starts, you know, real life.
Let’s talk through a couple right now by way of giving you some examples.
Nick Gonzales – He’s struggling right now in AA Altoona, and I’m not here to make excuses for him. I will say, I and many others warned you that duplicating his power output from Greensboro to Altoona was not likely. Most of his 2021 power came at home and that ballpark is strange, inflatingly strange in fact. He immediately struggled in 2022, but not just with power, he has struck out at a very heavy clip, 46 in his 126 plate appearances to be specific. Well, most people ignored that issue last year because despite having 101 K’s in only 369 ABs last year, he managed a batting average of .303. People also tend to ignore the way it is trending for a guy, and it’s very much so been better the last week than it started. His skill set remains intact, and lets just say a month of by far the worst OPS of his professional baseball career shouldn’t scare you into bust territory quite yet.
Liover Peguero – Here’s a guy who hasn’t struggled to make the jump with the bat, kid is straight killing the baseball in Altoona, hitting .322 with an OPS of .877 in 125 at bats. So why is he on this list? Well, defense, and to be frank this is primarily box score warriors. He’s created 10 errors at short stop this year and that follows his Greensboro effort where he laid down 23. Not good. Thing is, really watching these errors this season, man, it’s really not that bad. In fact, I’d be fine giving 4 or 5 more errors to Aaron Shackelford and off his ledger. Point is, he’s not missing his target by a mile. He’s fielding just about everything that comes his way. His range is elite, his arm is elite and unlike Oneil Cruz he isn’t throwing singles into doubles with regularity. The number isn’t great, but honestly, for those watching, he isn’t seen as a problem in the field.
Oneil Cruz – He’s struggled at SS, but he really always has a bit. Much like Liover, he could get to balls and the arm is scary strong, difference is when he misses, he really misses. Despite all the hooplah about him playing outfield, and the few clips that make him look lost out there, he’s actually held it down quite well and that arm if he takes to it is going to make him a weapon out there. If you want to worry about Cruz, do so at the plate and even then, treat it with the recency bias the Pirates will. They aren’t looking at his totals for 2022 as much as how he looks right now. How’s he been the last week or so. Is he picking it up? Is he working on the things we want him to work on? His 18 walks and 38 K’s in 139 plate appearances say yes. They wanted him to spend significant attention on drawing more walks and being more selective. Sometimes that leads a kid to be less aggressive and that lack of aggressiveness leads to taking balls he shouldn’t. See Bryan Reynolds early season in Pittsburgh. Point is, in the past two weeks he’s really started to find a balance and it’s reaping rewards.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is, box scores are cool, but a month in they can be very misleading. If you were a top prospect on April first, changes are you still are on May 16th, and there’s a very good reason for that, teams expect struggles, in fact sometimes they force them. For instance, you might take a pitcher who’s throwing 79% fastballs and mowing down everyone he faces and tell him OK, next time out 15% fastballs bucco. Let’s see how it goes. You do that to teach that the other stuff doesn’t play and needs work, or even just to show to the extreme how much they’ve been leaning on it.
You might take a guy who’s been raking but averaging 3 pitches per at bat and tell him he has to take the first two pitches for a week.
You could have a guy hitting .295 but the one thing the team wants to see is how they hit curveballs and he hasn’t made contact with one all season yet. So while you read box scores and yell for him to come up because he has to be better than player X on the big club, you have no clue about this very real hole and at the big league level it won’t matter how well he hits fastballs because after a week he simply won’t see one if he can’t hit a breaking pitch.
I’m not saying you can’t trust a single stat you see, but you have no idea what these guys are working on, let alone what constitutes success to their plan. Everything they have to go through on the way up will crop up again in the bigs, and more. Preparing players to be big league players is not linear, you’d do well to remember that, and you’d do better to watch a game or two instead of a twitter clip of a homerun and a declaration they’re better than someone who’s stuck in the league for half a decade.
Cliché but true, this is a process. You and I just aren’t privy to all of it.