3 Burning Pirates Questions

6-28-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Sometimes asking questions is as far as we can get on a subject. Oh, we’ll all have opinions, some will back those opinions by facts, or even individual versions of facts, but I’m of the belief that we needn’t be qualified to answer a question, in order to ask it.

Today I want to ask some questions I just can’t work my way into anything resembling a true definitive answer, and see if maybe thinking through them will help.

How Can Ji-hwan Bae be Left in AAA?

The first thing to consider when thinking on this question is of course, what is he doing that’s so impossible to ignore?

Well, in 278 plate appearances, all he’s done is put together a .319 AVG, with a .496 SLG and an .879 OPS. He’s racked up 15 doubles, 4 triples and even popped 7 home runs.


He’s a prototypical leadoff hitter. Fast as hell and as you all know that doesn’t always lead to stolen bases, well, he’s got that too with 18 already as we sit here in late June.

Maybe he’s a poor defender.

He’s played 2B, 3B, CF, DH, LF, and SS this year. His primary spots are CF and 2B but he quite literally can bounce all over the field, and even with all the jumping around his Fld% sits at .965. He’s committed 20 total errors in 4 seasons of minor league ball.

So nope. lol

He’s going to turn 23 on July 26th, so he’s not old. He’s not on the 40-man but we’ve seen that not matter much for several other players already this season right?

Maybe he’s a one trick pony. Someone that the shift would destroy upon arrival in MLB.

Oh my, nope that’s not it.

So that leaves thinking others are better, or that he’s left handed.

Let’s start with splits.

Against left handed pitching, .375 AVG with a .525 SLG and .944 OPS. Right handed pitching .292 AVG with a .482 SLG and .848 OPS.

So, that’s not it.

Better than him? I mean, maybe that’s not fair. Better is sometimes trumped by not wanting to be done with a guy yet. But this is a team that has given regular at bats to Josh VanMeter, Yu Chang, Kevin Newman, Diego Castillo and Hoy Park, each of whom have nowhere near this kind of production.

All of this adds up to me simply not being able to answer how the hell he can be ignored.

How about you?

Is the Starting Rotation Taking Shape?

Everyone who covers this team, nationally and locally spent most of the pre-season talking about how awful the starting rotation was going to be.

The season started out proving us all correct, but that’s changing a bit.

Let’s start with this, out of this rotation, who do you want to see more of? For me, Roansy Contreras is a no brainer. Mitch Keller has shown a ton of signs that he’s turned a corner. JT Brubaker has an awful record, but he’s pitched much better in his last 8-10 outings.

Jose Quintana is almost assuredly going to get moved and Zach Thompson has pitched well, but he’s the only one of the five who hasn’t managed to really get stretched out beyond the 5 inning mark.

I think what’s safe to say here is that 3 of these guys will likely be back in 2023, maybe even 4 if Thompson improves. Thing with Thompson though, I think even if he doesn’t hang as a starter I really like his chances to become a good bullpen piece.

The team will have to go get more help, just like this season. An upgrade to Quintana would be nice, I mean I might even consider just keeping him around for a couple more seasons, but the Pirates are the Pirates for a reason.

Before this year is out, I think we could see Mike Burrows, and Cody Bolton get a crack. Next year I think we’ll add names like Kyle Nicolas, JC Flowers, Quinn Priester, Omar Cruz to the call up watch list.

I didn’t even mention guys like Tahnaj Thomas, Carmen Mlodzinski or for that matter Bryse Wilson.

I still think this team would do well to add from the outside. Kids play and pitch like kids, and I think in 2023 this club has a legit shot at .500, with expanded playoffs, guess what else that puts them in the conversation for.

They’ve been incredibly lucky to not have many injuries to the staff this year, next year I think they’re in better position to absorb them to a degree if and when they crop up. This year, a major injury to one of the 3 I mentioned primarily, well that would simply be catastrophic.

All in all, I think it’s starting to take shape.

Most people look at the individuals and see this rotation as underwhelming, but like George Carlin said, I never had a 10 but one night I had 5 twos. For this club, ascending to average would be an upgrade, and arguably the best staff they’ve had here since, geez, probably 2018?

I’m not here to tell you 2/3 of this rotation will be here when you or I consider this team a “competitor”, but I am here to tell you they’re much closer to competent, with a few elite’s toward the top once they develop fully.

Out of everyone I mentioned, aside from Quintana of course, there is only one lefty, Omar Cruz, and folks, that’s an issue. Organizationally speaking, left handed pitching is critically thin and that’s where some of that depth in the outfield and infield could help the Pirates, even if they never play an inning in Pittsburgh.

Overall I’m pleased with the progression. How about you?

We’re Happy to See the Kids, but How Much is Enough?

The first thing we should acknowledge here is that this issue isn’t evenly applied or thought through.

As fans, we tend to decide before a guy comes up whether he matters or not. Bring up a middle infielder not named Peguero, Cruz, Gonzales or maybe Bae and for the most part, fans don’t see it as likely you’re the future.

That’s completely normal, in fact it’s not even wrong per se, but it does change your patience level for watching a prospect.

Maybe I’m missing the point on some of these. For instance, a 26 year old getting his first taste of MLB, Bligh Madris, if my theory is correct should be met by jeers really. Now, he burst on the scene instead, looking mature and turning himself into someone I genuinely think most fans are pulling for.

This is over kids like Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, hell I haven’t even seen as many crying or Matt Gorski lately.

In fact, I got the impression most fans were ok with Cal getting the demotion call yesterday. He’s barely scraping .200, not hitting for a bunch of power, striking out a bunch, but let’s be really honest, so did Jack Suwinski. The team and fans alike seemed more than ok to continue sending him out there to figure things out. Travis Swaggerty got himself all of 9 at bats and an error before finding his way into a demotion.

I guess I just wonder what it is that makes us decide someone is worth the time and patience investment while someone else isn’t?

If it was where they were picked, I’d think there’d be more of an outcry when Swaggerty was optioned. Cal was a 2nd rounder so it’s not like he’s lacking pedigree.

I see people not ready to say Diego Castillo might need more AAA time, but he’s had 196 plate appearances and he’s hitting .192 with 7 homeruns. For comparison sake, Cal had 88 plate appearances and hit .193 with 2 homeruns.

I’m not asking why you feel the way you do as much as asking myself why I do. I’m torn on sending Diego back down, but was completely ready for Cal to head back and get more reps. I’m all about Bligh but didn’t even blink when Swaggerty was sent down.

I was done with VanMeter before he started almost to the same degree as I was with Yu Chang.

Is it as simple as if we’re going to watch prospects, we’d rather them be the Pirates prospects than someone else’s failed development project?

I guess, but that certainly doesn’t explain all of them. Can’t even use the excuse some of them have worn out their welcome can you. Like Hoy Park is just about 2nd or 3rd on just about everyone’s demote list, and he’s been nothing short of good since his call up. Forget that, all season in 49 plate appearances he’s hitting .238 with 2 homeruns. Easily better than several guys people want to keep in front of him.

At least for Park I can say people saw enough last year potentially, but it just makes me wonder how we all form these opinions.

More than anything it makes me wonder why for some 300 at bats is a small sample size but for others 30 is enough to DFA.

Any thoughts on this one?

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

4 thoughts on “3 Burning Pirates Questions

  1. Bae is a victim of the 40 man roster and the glut of IF that need to be sorted. Yes, he has proven to deserve the promotion but as these injured players are brought back they have no space unless they immediately cut bait with them. I’m not against that but trust there is a plan of some sort, even though we can’t see it. I hope by August to see an IF of Hayes, Cruz, Bae, Chavis/Gamel with an OF of Suwinski, Reynolds and Marcano.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, though as Gary’s noted aplenty, there are never-weres with just no business on an MLB roster. I wouldn’t bat an eye designating Chang, VanMeter, and Tsutsugo today. Castillo has not hit well enough to maintain a spot. Park’s .250/.281/.464 since his recall two weeks ago, not the worst but below average for sure, though I’ve wanted to see his “helium” pay off as a super utility–even if he’s not a regular starter. I guess it depends how far away the 60-day guys are, but there’s room.

      Liked by 1 person

    I’m pleasantly surprised the SPs haven’t been the undoing as often as I expected.
    – I like Contreras more and more. He’s met the hype so far, from what I’m seeing.
    – Brubaker I see as kind of a wash, and he’s about to turn 29, so I’m not sure what more’s there to unlock, though I recognize the 2019 injury set him back. But hey, a solid chance to win around half the times a pitcher starts will have a place on most teams.
    – Except for the Colorado start, I feel like I’d just be nitpicking to find imperfections in Thompson’s May and June–hope the injury doesn’t disrupt that too much.
    – The combination of high expectations and not getting my hopes up probably tempers my approval of Keller. To me it feels like he’s progressed from bad to average–which is certainly useful, just not to the degree hoped from him. His Tampa Bay start was a microcosm of that: I appreciated the three 1-2-3 innings, but boy did he not do himself favors in that bottom of the second, even before the balk. The fifth he escaped, which was fine, and the hits that inning were at least grounders. It reminds me of when Morton had immaculate starts … except for that one big inning, time and again.
    – Yajure’s start was nice in a tightrope-walking way, but he has to be better and should be capable of it. This is an opportunity he needs to take advantage of. I really liked what I saw against the Tigers and Giants last year, and although that’s a small sample, he seemed to have a better feel than I’d expect from a 23-year-old. (On that note, I think sometimes people forget he’s just 24 in his third year of MLB action, albeit limited.) I hope to get more insight about what the team’s plan is for his development at this point–a good test case for what they’ve been doing in the upper minors and majors with BC acquisitions.

    I’m a sucker for an underdog like Madris, guilty as charged. I absolutely believe draft round and hype determine how much rope and how many opportunities players get–look at Tucker, for example. So I’m concerned Madris will have to stay red-hot to avoid getting demoted and maybe even designated. He’s on the old side for a prospect but not 27, which to me is that “overripe” threshold most of the time. We didn’t expect Suwinski to succeed–let alone force himself into ROY conversations and remain there at the midway point–so who knows with Madris either?

    I am OK with Mitchell’s demotion (and would be with Castillo’s for the same reason) because he simply hasn’t performed, and there is just too little time not to give someone else (such as Bae, not VanMeter) that shot. That doesn’t mean any of these guys shouldn’t get multiple shots, but for most players the back-and-forth between AAA and MLB is an inherent part of the journey.
    Swaggerty I felt like they wanted to give a taste as motivation. I can understand frustration you expounded on in a prior post–“What more do I have to do?”–but the reality remains he’s lost an awful lot of in-game experience from the injuries and lost 2020 MiLB season. He’ll have more chances too, but as it stands he’s just getting to 250 minor-league PAs beyond High-A now. His surge in AAA weeks ago was really the first sustained surge beyond the NY-Penn League.

    I do think there’s something to whether prospects come up with the Pirates (at least part-way in trade acquisitions’ cases) versus waiver and buy-low projects. But for me I don’t think it’s pure sentiment or tribalism, though I acknowledge my desire to see every Pirates player and prospect succeed regardless. I think it’s three things:
    1. The projects typically got some number of legitimate shots with other teams, who on the whole have a much better track record in development than Pittsburgh across the last 30 years, to put it mildly. Prospects within the system have not, and again, who knows what that chance could surprisingly turn into (Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds, and now Suwinski, to name just a few)?
    2. Although Chang is not quite at the 27 threshold I mentioned, he’s within a year, and VanMeter has reached it. The likelihood of another Bautista or Turner is so low that it’s not worth chasing lightning in a bottle. Tsutsugo was lightning in a bottle late last season for a matter of weeks–perfect example to illustrate the point.
    3. These guys very rarely have impressive track records in the upper minors beyond a one-year flash in the pan, and they obviously haven’t had success recently, otherwise why would a team waive them or trade them for a song? Chang had a meh half-season in Cleveland last year after the only time since Rookie that he showed good contact and on-base rates throughout his pro career–and even that was only a 15-game sample in Columbus. VanMeter smacked around AAA in 2019 and 2021, but if it didn’t translate to the MLB at the Great American Bandbox, then why in the world would it do so at PNC Park?

    As for 30 vs. 300, it depends on the quality, I guess. But again, I’m not banishing Mitchell or Swaggerty, just getting them more playing time (in theory) in the minors to prove they’re at least at a “Quad-A” point in their development.

    Liked by 1 person

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