6-23-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Oneil Cruz is here.
I’m pretty sure someone broke all that right?
OK, so now that he’s here, the major first wave of youth has made it’s way to Pittsburgh and while there will likely still be more debuts to look forward to, the initial lurch toward youth has been accomplished.
So where do we go from here?
Today, lets look at immediate decisions the club has to make and potentially who’s left that could get the call in 2022.
The Bubble Players
The easiest way to do this keeps beginning here in my mind. Before I talk about returning veterans from the IL or other guys who should/could get a shot in 2022, I feel like going through this list is foundational.
Yu Chang (0 Options) – People have called for his DFA from the moment the Pirates acquired him. And he did himself no favors striking out 90% of his first batch of at bats. 15 games, 41 plate appearances, it’s a tiny sample size, but it’s also painfully clear Derek Shelton isn’t all that interested in forcing that AB number up. I can’t paint a picture of how this season shakes out in which Yu is in it. DFA is the only way here.
Hoy Park (3 Options) – Hold your hat, but Park has actually been good since his recall. Now, why is he still a bubble guy then? I’ll touch on it more below but it’s a numbers game and I won’t rule out he manages to convince the team to leave him where he is. It’s only been about a week though, so it’s really hard to say it’s enough to hold back on a move, but he’s not an automatic flush either.
Cal Mitchell (3 Options) – He’s hitting ever so slightly over .200. His defense is an easy step below everyone else they have out there. Not saying he’s a bad player, or that he’ll never make it, but arm strength isn’t easily solvable. Cal is easily the emotional leader of this wave of prospects. Everyone’s friend, everyone’s sounding board. Always calm, collected and works hard. But at some point, he may have to be the odd man out. At least for now.
Diego Castillo (3 Options) – Diego has been given opportunity. He made the team out of Spring, and he has played all 4 infield spots and two outfield positions. Hell he even has pitched, poorly. In 166 at bats, he has 5 homeruns, but he’s also hitting .193. I know his versatility is valuable, but at some point the Pirates are going to have to admit what he needs to work on can’t be done at the MLB level. He’s just not going to see the at bats required to really work on things up here.
Michael Perez (2 Options) – He’ll pop one over the wall every so often, has 3 this season in 71 at bats. But man, it’s just not good. I suppose I could put Heineman on this list but if they find one somehow, Perez would be the guy, clearly. Look for Carter Bins to start pushing. He’s no big digs either at the plate, but he calls a good game according to scouts, but he’s also barely hitting over .200 in AAA. The threshold for better than Michael isn’t high.
Bligh Madris (3 Options) – He’s done nothing wrong. That said, at 26 he’s just going to live on the bubble. Fair or not, his fault or not, 26 and playing well isn’t as sexy as 23 and playing well. That’s just baseball. And you all know I really like the kid.
Chris Stratton (0 Options) – He’s struggled, but he’s also one of the very few in that bullpen who has experience. The Pirates will undoubtedly look to trade him at the deadline, but if he has his own team thinking he might not have a spot, trading him might not be easy. The spin rate stuff is fun, and people love to act like that’s the only reason the Pirates stick with him but really over his body of work here he’s been effective. The Pirates will give him as much time as they can to make sure they can’t recoup value before pulling the rip cord here.
Anthony Banda (0 Options) – He’s a lefty. Wanna know why he keeps getting shots, there it is. A 5.89 ERA in 21 games amounting to 18,1 innings is simply not impressive.
Cam Vieaux (3 Options) – He’s 28 years old, but also a lefty. That matters folks. He’s only pitched in two games but hasn’t allowed a run. He could be a fixture in this bullpen, but he could also be a victim of room.
Tyler Beede (0 Options) – He’s been pretty good for a waiver pickup. Giving the team length in the pen, and he’s been fairly effective. He’s a bubble guy if only because, well, he was a waiver claim. If someone better is ready, he could easily be cut loose. But he’s not been a poor performer.
Returning Injured Players (Near Term)
Folks, before I do this, don’t think I’m listing guys that I think have to come back, this is more about making sure we remember they exist because one way or another, decisions are coming.
Yoshi Tsutsugo (3 Options) – He’s been awful and he’s now rehabbing from his back injury. It’s my belief the Pirates should DFA Yoshi when he’s healthy, but if they simply feel they have to make sure he’s a bust, use one of his options and do it in AAA. Mason could probably use a seat on the bench or a DH usage would be ok too. Let’s not see this in MLB. That said, what I think they should do, isn’t the same as what I think they will do.
Josh VanMeter (0 Options) – Josh was doing ok before the injury, but is he better than Park, Castillo, Marcano, man I can’t see it. Pirates might though.
Kevin Newman (3 Options) – There is no doubt in my mind that Kevin will be back. The defense is an upgrade on the bench if nothing else, and Newman is another guy the team could look to trade. A trade simply won’t come along if he doesn’t play, and play MLB ball.
Tucupita Marcano (2 Options) – He’s just done well, both as a lead off hitter and starting 2B. can’t see much of a route to him not returning.
Ben Gamel (N/A) – He’s a vet, he’s a heart and hustle guy, and this team should want him back in the mix. Probably on the block but I like what he can provide a universally young team.
Zach Thompson (3 Options) – No brainer. He’ll be back as soon as possible and the team reportedly believes they caught the issue before it became a big one. I mean you guys all saw the short term answer yesterday right?
Jake Marisnick (N/A) – If Ben Gamel didn’t exist, I might pitch for Jake. I just think this is an element a team like this needs.
Greg Allen (0 Options) – I honestly don’t know when he’s due back. Not on a rehab assignment yet, but he has something going for him, he can hit right handed. I’m not ready to wash my hands here yet, but finding room isn’t going to be easy.
Dillon Peters (0 Options) – No brainer. When he’s healthy, they’ll find a spot.
Duane Underwood Jr (0 Options) – I believe this will happen today, and he too is a no brainer.
Nick Mears (1 Options) – The injured flamethrower is likely to find no openings, but next time there is an opportunity, he’s near the top of my list.
More Call Up Possibilities
We don’t have a complete picture until we’ve really taken this factor into account. It may even help us understand who could and should be on the block come trading time.
Carter Bins (Not on 40) – I kinda explained this earlier when discussing Michael Perez. All he has to do is show he’s a better option than Michael, and as Perez lives near .100 for an average, I’ll go ahead and hold out hope.
Ji-hwan Bae (Not on 40) – Arguably there is nobody more deserving. He’s versatile, talented, fast as lightning and a potential upgrade to any number of bubble guys.
Mason Martin (Not on 40) – He was the second hottest prospect name not a month ago. Now he isn’t someone you could even consider. That’s how dramatic his ups and downs are. Still has to be here, look how thin first base is folks.
Cody Bolton (Not on 40) – He’s 24, and had time robbed from him due to injury and 2020, but Bolton has looked solid. If he doesn’t get a chance this year, he’ll be in the mix come Spring.
Michael Burrows (Not on 40) – His ceiling makes him the sexiest player on this list. This could very well be a 1 or 2 guy in a rotation and if he gets the call, he forced it.
Eric Stout (On 40) – Lefty pitcher just had his contract purchased by the Pirates. He’s depth, he’s 29, but lefties just hit different.
Hunter Stratton (Not on 40) – Injury, and trades will make room for lots of guys, Hunter is one who could probably have made the 40-man before the season.
Liover Peguero (On 40) – He’s already been here, but he won’t come back unless the Pirates trade some guys or suffer a rash of injuries. In fact, I bet Bae is in line before he comes back. Not that he did anything wrong, just my opinion.
Travis Swaggerty (On 40) – I didn’t understand his call up or how it was handled. Right now I can’t see how he’s anything short of the 6th or 7th option in the depth chart when everyone is healthy.
So How Does This Shake Out?
Anyone who tells you they know is lying.
All I can really do is look through the bubble guys and the returning guys and try to come out of it with as much depth as I can possibly steal.
If I’m the Pirates I prioritize a few returns.
Newman, Gamel, Underwood, Peters, Thompson and Marcano.
Now if I want 6 of those guys back, I have to pick 6 bubble guys to go right?
Let’s do it like this, in pairs.
Gamel for Mitchell, Peters for Beede, Stratton or Vieaux, Thompson for whomever they replace Eickhoff with, Marcano for Chang, Newman for Castillo, Underwood for Banda
Don’t like that, I’m open to suggestions.
One thing I will say here, I simply can’t make room for Yoshi or VanMeter. Allen is tough, Marisnick I just don’t see, and Mears likely has to wait.
There is still scrap on this roster to clean up, but not as much as there used to be. They are going to lose some good players, maybe before giving them real opportunity, but such is life when running an entire wave of rookies into the bigs.
Take these decisions as they come and allow yourself to update your list of Bubbles/Returns/Probable Reinforcements often as you go, because you’ll see quickly when doing that, sometimes it’s as simple as not having options, or needing to showcase someone. Roster construction is a skill not enough GMs have, and we’re about to get our first taste of how Cherington and crew handle tougher decisions than they’ve faced yet.
For instance, I take no joy in putting Castillo on this list, but I’m grateful I can legitimately say there are better options too.
I’m sure we’ll revisit this, but let’s start from here. Super interested in your takes.