Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

6-27-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates had an opportunity to win every game this weekend in St. Pete, but the time for moral victories is just about over. Time to start turning those aww shucks these guys played their hearts out sentiments into W’s, and unfortunately it’s also time for some very tough looks at the roster.

I spent considerable time talking to the roster decisions that are headed our way last week, but now that some of them are on the doorstep, well, we’re going to at the very least see this club force some youngsters to push their way back on to this roster.

I’d prefer they just move on from some guys, and maybe they will in the end, but there is just no way to return even half of the players they have coming back without upturning the apple cart and pissing off half the fan base.

Typically I’d try to help calm folks, but I’ll be honest, I know myself well enough to expect I’ll get heated if some things I see coming actually happen. A quick for instance, if Josh VanMeter, universally stated as the first one in line to return, replaces Yu Chang, nobody is going to do much more than shrug. If he replaces Hoy Park, some people who’ve actually been paying attention will at least have questions. Replace Diego Castillo and we’ll see some meltdowns. Take it out farther, have his return prevent Marcano’s return and it’ll be a red alert.

That’s one player, effecting the paths of what, 3 or 4 others? Hell I didn’t even mention someone like Ji-hwan Bae who himself should potentially earn a call up.

All of this could be chalked up to good problem to have, if some of the anticipated returning players were, umm, anticipated.

Let’s dig in.

1. First, Do No Harm

I don’t think returning some healthy vets is a bad thing, but I’m also not of the belief that the list of who should come back is all that long.

More than anything though, there are some of these youngsters that this team simply can’t even consider toying with.

Oneil Cruz must stay up here now for instance. I can’t see a path to send Jack Suwinski down.

A real cynic will tell you even a guy like Jack has more to learn that AAA could help with. He does strikeout, and too much for that matter, but I’m not sure AAA helps solve that, and I also don’t see a team like this getting away with sending down a guy easily in the top 3 for ROY so far this season.

Returning vets have a place, but there is also a step too far here, and detrimental to the cause moves like swapping a guy like Marcano out so we can make sure Josh VanMeter gets more major league at bats, yeah, I’m just not seeing it. Marcano is young and has a real chance to be part of the young core here. Josh VanMeter at best is a bench piece or returns something insignificant. Risk vs Reward just doesn’t add up for some of this stuff in my mind.

Let’s say they return Yoshi to the lineup. I think we’re looking at middle of July if/when they choose to do that, then he has all of 2 or 3 weeks to show his trade value.

So, the very best case scenario with Yoshi is he mashes for 2 or 3 weeks, and some GM believes that 2 or 3 weeks, combined with his couple weeks last year causing them to maybe give away a AA pitcher with some upside.

The alternative, and more likely scenario in my mind is that he would look very much as he did, with a couple homeruns, they’d see no real buyers for his services and essentially have to just move on.

If this move costs playing time for someone who matters or even losing a player like Rodolfo Castrro as a 40-man casualty just to see what Yoshi can do, I’m sorry, that does harm. Not world is ending harm. Not fire the GM harm. Just mindless harm. Risk vs Cost analysis has got to factor in here, but don’t be shocked if we see a rash of “injuries” or “needed training” for prospects anyway.

Like I said, there just isn’t a move on the table here that isn’t going to set someone off.

Speaking of, here’s the first of what is sure to be more than most want to see.

The pitching move is to get a starter for tonight, and I’m not overly shocked about Cal Mitchell, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who’s “happy” about this move. I and I’m quite sure most of you would rather watch Mitchell hit .193 than VanMeter hit .214. Especially while Yu Chang still remains.

Brace yourselves folks, this is gonna be hard to see and I damn near guarantee one of them will tick you off at some point.

2. Keep Taking the Series You Should

The Pirates open a series in Washington tonight and the Nationals might very well be the worst team in the league. Injury has certainly played a role, but at the end of the day, they’re a result of trying to keep one foot in the world of being competitive and the other in a retool experiment. In baseball, rarely will you survive long without firmly picking a lane.

Juan Soto is a generational player, and they’ll likely not get him inked. At his age he’s probably going to net the first 500 million dollar contact, and let’s be honest, we know the teams that are in that conversation. Someone could certainly pay a heavy prospect price right now though for a couple years of his services before signing him comes up.

He also has suffered this year having just about no protection in the lineup. Don’t let Juan beat you even if it means 3 or 4 walks a game and wait for the Nationals pitching to implode. It’s a recipe even the Pirates can cook to a 5 star level.

This is the state of the Pirates franchise right now. They aren’t great, they aren’t even close to “built”, but they are a step above the worst of the worst, and when teaching kids to win, you must make hay.

3 of 4 from Chicago was good. 2 of 3 from Washington would be too.

In fact, we and they should start to expect that’s what they should achieve. Even when you have no clue who’s pitching game 1 until an hour or so before first pitch.

That doesn’t mean you show up cocky and looking past a team, hell no, who are the Pirates at this point to look past anyone, but you should walk in thinking you could sweep them. You should get pissed if you don’t take 2 of 3. That’s where these teams are, and at some point kids need to see things come together because they’ll need confidence to take into Milwaukee not expecting a 4 game sweep in the other direction.

3. Perception Almost Always Changes When Reality Comes a Knockin’

Before this season the Pirates outfield was a total mess. Bryan Reynolds, Ben Gamel, and, well, nothing else really. Oh they brought in this Allen kid, sure some of you thought Travis Swaggerty would probably be ready. Oneil Cruz was gonna end up there anyhow right?

Just about 3 months into the season now, here we are wondering how the hell this team is going to fit all the outfielders they have. It’s hard to even find a place for Gamel to squeak back onto this roster once healthy right? Let alone Allen.

In fact we were so collectively far off that Swaggerty the universal first man up came up for all of 9 at bats and it’s hard to fathom him coming back anytime soon as we sit here today.

None of that factors in the 2021 MiLB player of the year Matt Fraizer who’s struggled this campaign or emerging former number 2 pick Matt Gorski who’s just crushing balls out at two different levels now. This has gone from a wasteland to a mix of players so deep that most fans barely acknowledged Canaan Smith-Njigba breaking his wrist and being lost for the season.

These are all names we knew were in the system. All guys we thought would get a shot at some point. Nobody that I read saw it shaking out this way though.

So when we look at areas of the system moving forward, maybe think back to how this outfield mix has started to take shape. Perhaps there are more in your area of focus than you think, maybe less too for that matter.

Some of these guys aren’t going to make it, that’s sad but true. Bligh Madris who just about nobody counted as an option pre Spring has come up here like a ball of fire. But it’s been a week, that doesn’t buy proclamations that Swaggerty is tradeable now any more than it portends that Jack Suwinski won’t go cold and force the team to ignore all the homers for a .188 batting average.

Major League Baseball is the hardest sport to reach the Bigs from draft to debut, and it’s equally hard to predict.

If anything, maybe take this as a cautionary tale about putting too much stock in those rankings.

4. What Could Jack Suwinski Be?

We talked a bit above about how many outfielders have emerged, but folks nobody is close to what Jack has done.

The first thing I’m going to talk about are the intangibles. This kid has a flare for the dramatic, a sense for the moment. If he’s the guy at the plate and has a chance to get something meaningful done, he instantly is a different hitter.

I have to start there because here’s a kid who has 190 plate appearances and 60 strikeouts. Without talking to that intangible thing, how am I going to sit here with those stats and tell you he takes consistently good at bats?

Well, he doesn’t. He takes very rookie at bats from time to time, but what sets Jack apart is how he learns, adapts and more than anything how he rises to the occasion.

Since his call up, Jack could be seen in the dugout after just about every at bat writing in his journal. He keeps track of 3 primary things. 1. Who he faced, 2. What they Threw, and 3. How he felt in the box against them.

Funny right? I mean the team is already taking down far more detailed notes about all this stuff, but this guy feels he needs to do this on his own. It’s his process and so far it’s working. Maybe not in batting average, not yet at least, but in finding a pitch and putting a good swing to it, well, he’s doing that much more often.

He’s never been a guy who hits for average, in fact he’s never had a minor league season in which he hit better than .269 so I’m not thinking this is a guy we can ever expect to hit .300, but productive, yeah, I think he’s showing that’s possible for sure.

The power potential, especially in the NL Central is really untapped. He has 12 so far, and much has been made of his ability to hit them over the Clemente Wall at home, but nobody seems to mention he’s going to get to play in Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Chicago quite a bit too. If his meticulous self learning helps him as much as he seems to think it does, we should see some pretty sad faces in opposing ballparks in the coming years.

The Pirates have potentially found something here, and it’s ok to talk about it now. In 54 games he’s worked his way to a 0.9 WAR, and over the course of the rest of the season reaching 2 or 2.5 isn’t out of the question. That my friends is not bad for a rookie.

Could he be starting along side Bryan for years to come, certainly. Could he ultimately get surpassed by a more complete player, well, not if Jack has anything to say about it.

5. Oneil Cruz Won’t Be a Casualty of Returning Vets

The Pirates played all sorts of games in manipulating the time of Oneil Cruz, but here’s the thing folks, you don’t do that unless you’re convinced a guy is worth it.

See all that bitching and pissing and moaning you all did every day he was down there, the team didn’t miss it. They heard, they just didn’t care, because when you have someone this freakishly gifted, and you’re that sure he’s going to be at least close to what he could be, well, you stick to your guns and block out the whining knowing they’ll be cheers 6 years from now.

Bottom line, you don’t go through all that just to turn around and send him back.

You also don’t return your former starting short stop Kevin Newman and pretend Cruz isn’t more important.

We can worry about this stuff and I’m sure regardless of what I write many of you will, but the team has no intension of doing anything less than playing Oneil Cruz just about every day and just about every game at short stop.

We should also talk a bit about how he’s been as a short stop. The arm is killer, but not quite as accurate as you’d like. The range is insane, that’s just undeniable. Now, it looks strange, he doesn’t approach balls the way normal short stops do because he can’t, and his technique needs work. He still double clutches before throwing, crow hops before throwing, and once he irons those things out, I really should say if he irons those things out, he won’t need to show off the big arm nearly as much.

Aside from Kevin Newman last year, he’s the best fielder we’ve seen there in a Pirates uniform since Erik Gonzalez was floating around creating reasons not to DFA him.

I know many including myself have said they see him as an outfielder eventually, but look what I just wrote up there about the outfield, where does he go? Maybe one day that’s how it plays out, maybe first base, who knows, but for right now, this season, just watch him play SS with fresh eyes and see what he tells you.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. Much of this amounts to the inability to shirk the scarcity mentality, of having to rub waiver claims together to get a 20-year-old DSL pitcher with a 1% chance (if that) of making the MLB at all. It reaches a point of silliness. They’re past that but don’t seem to recognize it, or at least aren’t acting like it. The need to get playing time and MLB experience for the logjam of hitters absolutely trumps the extreme unlikelihood of getting a lottery ticket out of VanMeter, Chang, etc.

    I especially wanted Tsutsugo and Hembree to succeed–heck, doesn’t every Pirates fan want pretty much every Pirate to succeed? But they didn’t. Management chose correctly with Hembree and now Banda. The vexing part for me is that pitcher is the side where only a few prospects have matriculated, whereas the logjam for positions 4-9 on the scorecard feels unprecedented. Yet the roster decisions seem at odds on both accounts: shedding pitchers without much delay but acquiring more and more fodder to *deepen* the 4-9 logjam!

    Chang, VanMeter, and Tsutsugo should be gone, period. For all I care, if no MLB team wants them, then sell them all to NPB and KBO if the concern is recouping some kind of money (kidding, kidding, I know that’s not how it works). I agree that it’s time to seriously contemplate shipping out Marisnick, Allen, and maybe even Gamel. Newman I do think they should audition somehow–because of the track record, he is a guy who legitimately could fetch a meaningful (if small) return after just a few weeks to showcase the defense and subpar but tolerable offense.

    As he is, I just can’t entertain first base as viable. That’s an unacceptable waste of his extreme athleticism for the foreseeable future he has with Pittsburgh. Left side of the infield and outfield–that’s it.
    The description of the odd habits (incessant crow hops, always zipping the ball, double clutches, strange approach) combined with his frame and skillset just *scream* outfielder to me. But I retain some hope that they can work out his kinks at shortstop in MLB.

    Liked by 1 person

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