6-20-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Is there something in particular you expect to see me touch on today? I mean I feel like there’s some huge story that I almost have to cover. Hmmm, I guess you’ll have to read and see if I hit on it.
My goodness baseball is an everyday chance to see something that’s never happened before. Yesterday it was Jack Suwinski, the first rookie to ever hit 3 homeruns in a game and have the third be a walk off. Insane to see, but be honest, as you were watching him hit in the 9th, you had a feeling didn’t you?
Man, I’ll tell you what, I’m feeling pretty spot on about this season. The record is going to underwhelm, but it’s gonna get fun.
Then not fun, then fun again. That’s what watching kids is like. By the end of 2022, we’ll be talking more about who makes the roster in 2023 and more than anything, we’ll be talking about some players we consider good, or at least want to see more of, on the outside looking in. Remember what that feels like? Been a while. Even in the last run there was very little pushing from the minors.
Lord knows you’ve suffered, and will continue to for a minute, make sure you enjoy it when it happens.
Now, lets dig in.
1. Don’t Look Now, but Keller Has Been Kinda Good
Let’s start at the beginning. In his last 7 games, Mitch has put together 3.55 ERA, 33 IP, 26 K, 16 BB, 1.36 WHIP. I’ll always warn you about small sample sizes, and this is no different, but there’s no denying he’s been really solid. More than that, he’s faced adversity and instead of falling apart, he’s picked himself off, dusted his jersey off and then went right back to what he was doing.
More than that, his post game interviews have started to sound different. In the past he’d absolve himself of almost all responsibility. Something like, I made good pitches, after giving up 7 or 8 rocket shots in 3 2/3 innings. Now he’s more than happy to tell you he made a bad pitch that got hit. It’s a total metamorphosis both mentally and physically and it all boils down to finally adapting his physical gifts to his pitch mix.
Adding a sinker has used his velocity effectively. Virtually sped up his 4-seam and tunneled his off-speed offerings.
The pitch isn’t perfected, in fact, I’d bet it’s nowhere near where he wants it to be, but it’s been an equalizer. Folks, there isn’t much that could be bigger for the overall health of this whole thing than finding a guy with this much talent and having him click.
7 games isn’t half a season, and we could be having a different conversation come July/August once the league updates their books to reflect Keller’s new pitch mix and usage percentages, but it’s a start, and so far it’s made him very productive.
Patience is quite literally the only way to do this. Well, that’s not entirely true, but there are a whole lot more players who develop like Keller than players who excel from the jump. Making good calls on these guys and being patient pays off. Other times you have to just move on, like we saw with Tucker.
Be right more often than you’re wrong and you probably win. Baseball.
2. Oneil Cruz is Here, Better Late Than Never
The Pirates played the game. The CBA tried to put lipstick on a pig, but neither side really did anything to get the Super 2 manipulation out of the game. 2 years from now when fans find out whether Cruz has reached Super 2 designation, I’m sure we’ll hear about this subject again, and hopefully Cruz performs at such a level that it matters.
For now though, the Pirates have just added a player who has game changing power, and that, aside from elite pitching is easily the most needed component this team could possibly pull.
We’ve been told, and I told you a while back, that Oneil will play primarily at short stop. For what it’s worth, the team seems to think he’s been playing defense better, and the numbers bear that out. I still think there’s work to do there, I still believe long term he’ll need to move, but for right now I’m nothing but thrilled to watch him play the game and worry about that stuff when they actually have options who field the position better.
What’s really exciting for me, is seeing some components start to come together. Without worrying about what position in the lineup everyone takes, You have on base guys like Hayes, Marcano, Reynolds, power guys like Cruz, and Suwinski. Other guys can have good games and whatnot, but I’m looking at those 5 in particular as everyday players and folks that’s a lineup that officially becomes more good than bad.
The offense has been a problem all year, so improvement isn’t going to be hard to see.
Bluntly, this is where I saw this lineup going (probably swap Jack for Swaggerty as far as my pre-season notions went), but I didn’t see this happening until close to the trade deadline. The Pirates haven’t really held anyone back, with the exception of Oneil Cruz, and folks, that’s about all the proof you need that this was about nothing more than manipulation.
Welcome back to the show kid, let’s get after it. And time to buy a real watch, that looking at your wrist thing is kinda over now.
3. Bligh Madris Got the Call Too!
Bligh is not a top prospect.
He’s 26 years old, he’s plodded along in the system. Suffered from losing the 2020 season. Took it upon himself to go play Winter ball in Australia and improve his game. Honed his skills and become a solid baseball player.
He’s hitting .304, with a .386 OBP, a .519 SLG and a .905 OPS. Not a huge power guy, but the gap power is real. Doesn’t strike out much, doesn’t really walk much.
Bligh is a good baseball player.
His issue? Well, he’s 26 and in baseball, that’s old, at least old to be making your debut.
I already touched on why that’s not his fault entirely, but let’s take another angle here. If Bligh comes up here and keeps crushing the baseball and playing good defense, well, you don’t think this team extends enough people anyhow right? Wouldn’t you take 5-6 years of those numbers? I sure would.
Sometimes when remaking an entire roster, you need a surprise. Someone who comes from seemingly nowhere. Not on anyone’s top prospect list, not on anyone’s proposed lineup for 2025, hell he himself probably started wondering what exactly this team was looking for from him, because if those numbers didn’t get him recognized, I mean, move him right?
There is no guarantee he’s here for more than a couple days. I’m sure he knows that. I’m also sure he knew to a degree this season was his shot to make a go of this as a career. To his credit, he put in the work. And as someone who’s followed him for years, trust me, he isn’t just working the glamour muscles people.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer kid, and I truly mean it. He’s humble, smart, self reflecting, and talented. None of that matters if you aren’t also a tremendously hard worker.
Congrats kid, prove everybody wrong again.
4. Lineup Flux Again
On a team with I believe 13 players making their MLB debut, of course there will be lineup changes right? That said, there has been a constant theme in the Derek Shelton era, lineups don’t ever have any consistency.
The Pirates played their 64th game, and used their 64th different lineup when they took the field.
To not even luck into having the same combination pop up twice to me is crazy and if I’m honest, likely intentional. Maybe I’m just an old guy here, but I hate this. I am a firm believer that players do better when they settle in, and not knowing where you are in the lineup, or who’s behind you, in front of you, well, that makes consistency hard to achieve.
Again, I get it, there have been an absolute barrage of roster moves and frankly that leads to having too many components for any real steady starting 9.
On the other hand, we have seen some locked in. Reynolds and Hayes primarily, but we’ve also largely seen Vogelbach not move and recently Jack Suwinski earn his way into the top of the order with a bit of stickiness.
All this to say, maybe all this shuffling is nothing more than not having enough guys who’ve earned it. I guess over time here we’ll see what they do but some of this should start to kinda fall by the wayside soon.
Marcano, Reynolds, Hayes, Suwinski, Cruz, Vogelbach is probably going to be the top 6 most nights, and you could probably add Chavis into that and shoot for 7. Hell I could even get to 8 if I add Heineman. I’d think that starts to look like a more consistent lineup, but we shall see.
5. We Now Reach a New Plateau for Move Making
There will always be a 26th man. Someone will always be the guy you’d least like to see in that crucial moment at the plate or that high leverage inning where you just have to hang a zero, but this roster, filled to the brim with kids is going to be a lot harder to just blanket chop from.
Think about it.
After Chang, the catchers, a couple relievers, maybe even Vogelbach, who don’t you want to see more of? Castillo? Maybe?
I’m not here to tell you this roster is even doing a bad impression of a ready to compete squad, but I am saying it’s no longer a roster filled with guys you know don’t matter or are headed out one way or another.
I say this because decisions and discussions are about to get harder, and more importantly, they’re about to be founded in actual baseball.
Let’s take a player like Ji-hwan Bae. Kid’s killing it this year. .304 AVG, .478 SLG, .851 OPS and he’s even shown pop. He’s just about to turn 23 so it’s not like he’s anything less than a real prospect.
He plays 2B, SS, and CF. And right this second he has Marcano, Cruz, Castillo and Reynolds in his way. You could bring him up for a utility role of course, but he’s also left handed, a commodity this team simply doesn’t need especially after calling up Bligh Madris and Oneil Cruz to an already left heavy roster. AND, I can honestly say he has a real chance to be an upgrade to Diego Castillo right now.
That’s just right now. Next season you can add Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero (if he doesn’t become an issue this year), and more into the list. Michael Burrows has been killing it, and when he’s ready, well the hope is you have to wonder where he fits. Next Spring we could be talking about a rotation with Keller, Brubaker, Thompson, and Contreras pretty much a lock. I’m quite sure they’ll at least go get 1 vet, even if it’s only a Quintana type. Then you have Bolton, Burrows, potentially Priester all pushing.
Whole lot more fun than wondering who they can scoop off the waiver wire right? Yet still hard in a way. Maybe Thompson who has been the lone member of the rotation to not really see his innings increase per outing shows himself to be a better fit in the pen like Crowe. Who knows. Point is, the discussions and decisions turn to baseball, and actual roster considerations. Heck, I didn’t even mention how very right handed the entire staff is, it’s the exact opposite of the position players really.
This all might just add up to some actual baseball trades too. Trading someone who hits lefty for a guy who hits righty with similar skills. Maybe this is how you fill the catching void or find that starting first baseman.
Whole lotta ifs here, I get that. By the end of the season it’s just as likely we look at Brubaker and say, well, no matter what son, at some point 0-13 is a record that just can’t be looked past.
But it’s hard to not sit back, look at what’s happening and really like the direction. We’re just about through the first wave, and one of them isn’t the 2018 first round pick Travis Swaggerty. Who had that on the Pirates roster bingo card for 2022?
Buckle up and get ready to think a bit harder than you’ve needed to in quite some time.
6. Bonus: Happy Juneteenth!
Seems to me many think this is a new thing, and while it’s a newly minted Federal holiday, my friends in Texas will tell you it’s something they’ve observed for quite some time.
June 19th is the day that General Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865, and shared the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been passed two years earlier.
The Civil War had ended two months prior, but lets just say news didn’t exactly travel fast back then.
We don’t have a perfect society, but celebrating something like this should bring us all together. I truly hope each and every person in their own way at least takes a moment to reflect today.
If nothing else, should it cross your mind that this was too long ago to imagine it needs remembered, man that’s only 22 years before the Pittsburgh Pirates were established and none of us forget to mention Honus.
And if I see one tweet comparing Oneil Cruz gaining his freedom to this holiday, auto block. All I’m sayin’.
Peace, and Lets Go Bucs!