Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

6-6-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Starting to get fun isn’t it?

If you’ve followed along with us here on Inside the Bucs Basement you know this path has been there all along and the timeline is right where we expected.

Here’s why. It was never about identifying a few guys and claiming everything would change when they got here, instead it was about identifying that there were simply too many guys timing up that the team wouldn’t find at least a few who made it up here and started changing everything.

I still have them around 70 wins this year, it’s not like I’m calling a chrysalis a butterfly here, but you’d have to be blind to still be calling it a caterpillar too ya dig?

Can they overachieve and do better than that, certainly. Can the wheels fall off with some key injuries this team can’t overcome, of course. Again, this long range prediction that 2022 would be “fun”, 2023 they should be .500 or better and by 2024 competing for a division has been written in this space since 2020. All the bad, all the good, all the trades, all the wasted pickups, all the DFAs, non-tenders and slow footed call ups, well that’s just what happens on the path.

I never needed to know the how as much as do the math. There are simply too many prospects for all of them to fail. At the same time, to really get over the top, they’ll have to add from outside. Been saying that part for quite some time as well.

This was all here while some were telling you everything was going terribly. All the information was on the table while some were insisting the new GM had no vision because he didn’t sign anyone of note this offseason.

What this team has is a chance. A platform is being built this year and next Spring, well, let’s just say even if they are manipulating a guy next season you might not notice, because it won’t be nearly as glaring a need.

In case you can’t tell, I’m all rested up from a killer vacation and ready to rock, let’s dig in.

1. Rest Up and Feel Better, but We’re Also Not Sure We Need Ya!

Injuries happen in baseball. Almost constantly.

In fact, one of the things that often separates the good teams from the great teams is the ability to weather the storm as it happens. When a guy like say, Roberto Perez goes down to a season ending injury, you see immediately the team has no depth. Now if a guy like Ben Gamel gets hurt, well you see pretty quickly the team has enough to get by if not surpass the previous production. That’s how it works when you’ve constructed a roster well, and frankly, this club isn’t there yet everywhere.

So let’s talk about some of the guys who are on IL who this club is going to be forced to make a decision on as soon as they’re healthy.

Yoshi Tsutsugo – He was in a word, pathetic. Poor defender, power hitter not hitting for power, when he was hitting at all. If he has anything going for him it’s that there is only one prospect who has a shot at coming up here and he’s struggling too right now. Michael Chavis has shown he can play there, and he’s hitting. Daniel Vogelbach can, in a pinch, play first base. When and if Gamel returns, he’s started taking reps there too.
Diagnosis: DFA, barring injury to someone I listed, or a setback for Gamel, I just can’t see a place, and even that pretends Mason Martin never gets a shot this year.

Ben Gamel – It’s clear the Pirates have if nothing else plenty of outfielders they want to get eyes on. Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, Bryan Reynolds, Tucapita Marcano, but Ben Gamel provides something the rest can’t, veteran presence. I know many will consider Reynolds to be that, and he is, but not in the mold of what Gamel can provide.
Diagnosis: Find a way. Put him at first, send down the lowest performing rookie, whatever it takes, this is a valuable player and teams need experience to mix in with all the youth. These things tend to sort themselves out, like I’m not wishing ill on the kid but let’s not pretend Swaggerty has been a picture of health for instance.

Kevin Newman – The bat hasn’t played, but the glove has. Kevin is a guy who believe it or not has value, even if just as a glove off the bench. Here’s the thing, I said early on this was Kevin’s last season as a Pirate one way or another and as his injury is going to stretch into Oneil Cruz making his debut in 2022, well, let’s just say I don’t see it as a lock he comes back.
Diagnosis: Between Peguero and Cruz, Castillo and Marcano, Bae and Castro, man its hard to find a place isn’t it? I personally still value the glove, but if the Pirates think non-tendering him this off season is on the table, expect them to exercise one of his options at a minimum.

Josh VanMeter – He started hitting before the injury, but after a horrific start to the season. Doesn’t play terribly clean defense. I mean, he’s just a guy. He’s also the closest on this list to returning according to team officials.
Diagnosis: DFA I just can’t sit anyone I just listed for Kevin Newman, to have Josh VanMeter play. Don’t see it. I’ll say this though, this team really seems to like him, so don’t be shocked if he finds a way back.

Heath Hembree – He was one of very few veteran signings this season, and man he was not good. He’s started throwing off a mound and let’s be real honest, that almost always looks ok for a pitcher doesn’t it?
Diagnosis: I think they’ll bring him back, but with pitchers needing trimmed to 12, I’m not sure there is room. Can you pick a guy who should go for him, I can’t. I think I’d DFA him, this bullpen has performed.

First base, Catcher and Starting Pitching are all areas this club is not spoiled for choice. Injuries to any of those spots and answers aren’t really apparent. As you look at the system, catching is there, just not close. The other two, well they have options, just not enough to me to say the math dictates they won’t have to add.

2. Pitching is Carrying This Team

This starting rotation isn’t going to confuse anyone with the early 90’s Braves, but they’re getting the job done. Meaning they’re passing off winnable games more often than not to the bullpen that has simply been stellar.

I’m not here to tell you this is the rotation of the future, or that they have to extend Quintana. I’m not even telling you this is the 5 that will finish the season. I am saying maybe we need to stop calling them the main issue on this club, at least until they get back to looking like it.

I’ve given Oscar Marin a lot of crap, but I can’t complain about how the pitching has performed overall in 2022, it’s simply been above the line, especially compared to where most of us probably assumed they’d be.

The bullpen has been just about unshakable. Anchored by David Bednar clearly but Wil Crowe, Dillon Peters, Chase De Jong, Chris Stratton, Anthony Banda and others have all stepped up and delivered quality innings. Duane Underwood Jr. simply looks like a different pitcher altogether. If the starters hang in long enough to hand a game within reach to this pen, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to stay in the realm of winnable.

3. Don’t Mistake Energy for Polish

The vast majority of prospects will struggle. Maybe not immediately, but at some point during their progression, they will hit at least a bump if not an all together road block.

As the Pirates have unleashed a fast and furious uptick of prospects coming up, it’s important to remember prospects are kinda like IKEA furniture to a degree. Most of them have all the pieces you need but they’re only as good as the assembly goes.

Now you have as long as you like to build it, but once you force that dowel rod into the wrong hole you might just always have a wobbly leg or a drawer that doesn’t quite fit.

When these kids come up here, some are going to look like a ball of fire. The league doesn’t know them, and they don’t know what they don’t know. Most of the time you’ll see it level off but almost always they will meet the league. Meaning the league will eventually develop a book and that book will remain the book until the player pushes back.

So when Jack Suwinski comes up and does well, then valleys out and starts the slow climb back up, know that only happens because the team gave him time to do it. They kept putting him in while he was batting .180 with 1 homerun. To his credit, he kept playing good defense, and continued to take professional at bats. More to his credit, he has seen what the league did and he’s adjusted. This cat and mouse will continue of course, but this is the development at this level many talk about.

Diego Castillo has been different than that. Diego has been consistent, and his consistency has led many to believe he is what he is, thing is, he isn’t done learning he just didn’t valley. The important thing with Diego is really about what they want him to be, a utility man. They’ve put him at every infield position so far and right field and he’s handled each capably.

Polish is what you’re starting to see from Ke’Bryan Hayes. Now in his third year, he’s seen the league push back, he’s played through injury, he’s fought the urge to ignore pulling the ball, he’s fought the urge to just hit for average and forego power. That’s what it looks like, and feels like. Some guys that might take a couple seasons, others, maybe 6 weeks. Every player is unique and no set schedule is in place.

Watch this stuff and individualize each situation. All these players have tools it’s up to them to learn to use them and the coaches to help them realize their potential.

4. Are the Pirates Done Trading?

Never.

I said this before, and yes, I understand why it pisses some of you off, but folks that’s just how this is going to be.

I will say, it’s different now. Specifically the Pirates asks.

This team still needs starting pitching in the system and preferably close to the league, and on top of that they still need low level prospects, preferably with very little time on their clock, meaning you shouldn’t have to make a Rule 5 protection call for a minute.

People suggest things like David Bednar or Bryan Reynolds but that’s simply not where this team is in this build. Ripping open holes in parts of the boat they’ve plugged doesn’t make a bunch of sense.

Now, a guy like Chris Stratton could be available, Jose Quintana could be up, maybe even Ben Gamel. Each of these guys is playing in their walk year. They all can go after this year for nothing, be retained or moved for prospects to keep the system stocked as players start graduating.

Opening a window is a given at this point. There’s enough coming that they’ll be a competitive team, but if you want more than a window, they have to make smart moves and letting talent walk for nothing isn’t smart.

Now if by some chance this team is like 3 games out of a wild card this year (I know, I know, it’s just a discussion ok) then maybe you look at all these kids working and learning and say, know what, Quintana is going to give us a shot here and these kids need to see we support them. Insert any name you want there honestly, same convo.

If anything you could see this club deal some guys from depth to find prospects or actual MLB players who could help for a while. Not particularly this season but maybe you eat salary in exchange for a prospect and get yourself a vet starter for the next couple seasons. Who knows.

One thing I know for sure though, you can’t look at the seemingly endless stream of logjammed prospects and think trades are over, they simply aren’t.

As it sits, this window will be long open by the time 2021 draft picks start matriculating to MLB but you have to start preparing for that group to be just as impactful as this one looks to be.

That’s reality in this market. Extend a guy like Hayes, maybe don’t extend a guy like Peguero. Point being, you can’t get everyone inked for 8 years in a town like this, and if you expect that I encourage you to not get caught up in a wishful thinking situation that will never lead anywhere.

And no, I’m not singling out Peguero, just picking a name out of a hat to illustrate a point. Some of these guys are destined to come up here, help, and ultimately be moved out for another guy who’s ready and returning more guys to back fill the lower levels. The Tampa model says to do that much earlier than most teams would, the Pirates are likely to do it in Arb 2 year or final arb year.

Never is your answer. And the owners name won’t change that.

It’s not what many of you want to hear, but it is what you need to hear.

5. Oneil Cruz Will Soon Get the Call, and He’ll be at Short Stop

The Pirates still have a desire to train Cruz to play the outfield, and that’s largely because he’s on pace for just about 50 errors playing short stop. That said, look at the club, he isn’t going to find playing time out there in MLB, not now.

I also think he’ll commit enough errors to cost himself that position over time, but when he comes up I just can’t see a way he isn’t going to play the position to start.

He could be a DH but it’s a waste of an arm. He could probably transition to first base, the team needs it, but that’s not something to teach right now. Outfield is still a possibility but I honestly think it’s going to take Cruz seeing for himself that it’s an issue. It’s going to take an irritated pitcher getting in his face (They might need a step stool). It might take a coach flatly telling him if you’d like to play professional baseball here are your options and SS isn’t one of them.

If anything, I’m irritated the Pirates let this go on so long. It was clear as day he wasn’t a short stop as far back as 2019, but they continued to ignore the elephant in the room until it got so far along they have little choice. And I specifically say Pirates because this spans two regimes.

This is all part of development too of course, but as I always say, if the bat plays, he’ll play. Where is largely irrelevant until he hits his way into needing to be a regular.

Yes, young pitchers need a consistent defense but you just saw with a much lesser prospect named Castro that they’re willing to deal with it in an effort to let someone just play. It may not be smart, but it has precedence and I think we’ll see it again for this young man.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. Not sure that I agree with the statement that the club ignored the inability of Cruz to stick at SS. We have no idea what conversations were held that we are unaware of. Additionally, after the car accident, I am sure they didn’t care to provide another distraction. Generally the piece is spot on. I’d be happy if the were able to extend both Q and Gamel for 2 seasons. Q may be a bigger risk but an innings eater could hold a lot of value in 23 & 24. I think Gamel’s ability to play both outfield slots and 1B make him an excellent bench piece that should get a lot of looks.

    Liked by 1 person

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