Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

7-18-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Well, I’m back in Pittsburgh, just in time to have no Pirates baseball for a week. That’s good though, it gives us time to reflect and digest what we’ve seen thus far and fully appreciate the draft. I know David Bednar is an All-Star and I’m really happy for him but I barely care about the event, even if the Pirates were to have 5 players involved.

Lets dig in and see where the thoughts take us.

1. Termarr Johnson – Number 4 Overall Selection

Before I begin, Termarr already got love from our draft coverage team. First Craig with his top of the board review. And also Joe Boyd with his draft comp piece which is always so much fun.

I’d love for you to take a moment and at least read what they had to say about this young man before the pick was made. It’s important, because today, most will glow about him, including me, but these two guys took a look before the selection and had some really interesting observations.

These are my thoughts though, so I guess I should share them. I like Johnson, as far as high school bats go he’s easily the most evolved. The best way I can put it, the Pirates were picking 4th, so I expected them to get no worse than the 4th best available talent, and I think they got number 2 or 3. I’m a little concerned if he hangs at 2nd, because I don’t think he has the arm to transition to the outfield or the left side of the infield. There is risk in that, but much less now that there is a DH in the NL.

I’m not sure about his glove long term, nobody really is, but I see no reason why he won’t evolve into quite the hitter.

Immediately I saw a chorus of people questioning “what will the Pirates do with Nick Gonzales now?”

All I really got for you here is LOL.

That’s not how this works, at all. First, you could be looking at 3-4 years before this kid is even sniffing around the edges of MLB. Second, as I always say, if they hit, they’ll find a place for them to play. Short Stops, Centerfielders, Catchers and Pitchers, that’s the bulk of the draft board. Sure you see a 3B every now and again, but for the most part you see those 4 and there’s a reason. They all either have the specialization needed, or they’re the best athlete on whatever team they played on. It has so little to do with where they land in MLB it’s almost laughable.

My advice to everyone is don’t worry about things like that until they become something to worry about.

For instance, let’s say next year, Oneil Cruz, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales and Ji-hwan Bae are all ready and capable of playing middle infield. Then my friends, it’s a problem, and even then with the DH and the athletic ability of those 4 they can find 4 places for them to play. You know, not that any of them could beat out team favorite Josh VanMeter. (sorry couldn’t help it)

Point is, the problem I just illustrated is very likely to happen next year, so pardon me if I’m not hung up on who the fan base has already decided is cannon fodder because of a new draft selection.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. You’re selecting three things, bats, arms, catchers. That’s it.

The Pirates added a potentially elite talent to their pool of bats, that’s what needs to be taken away. Now comes the fun part, developing him. Many of last year’s picks aren’t even in Low A yet so clearly the Pirates aren’t in a hurry to rush everyone along.

One final note, this selection was not the “last piece of the rebuild” as I’ve seen may suggest. It’s likely the last time they’ll choose this high for a minute, but it’s not the scale by which to weigh the success of this rebuild. By the time Termarr is here, if he’s here at all, he’ll add to an already built team. The bulk of what will compete initially is already at least in Altoona at this point.

Be excited they added talent. Don’t try to use him to push another top 100 prospect out the door before he’s had a shot of his own.

When Nick Gonzales was drafted, a college bat mind you, many were filling your head with crap like he’d be in the majors on opening day in 2022. He’s currently on the IL with AA Altoona and not hitting well when healthy on top. I don’t say this stuff to depress you, or temper your excitement, I tell you this stuff because it’s realistic. See, I’m not someone who has to back track and tell you Gonzales is underperforming or disappointing, because I never tried to pretend he’d be here already. To me, his progression is wholly expected. At some point this message simply has to start landing, the evidence on my side of this stuff is stacked.

Look around social media today, fans and “experts” alike will try to tell you Termarr will be here in 2 years. It’s simply unlikely.

2. Nothing Else Matters

It’s not just a killer Metallica jam, it’s also what the Pirates have done to the fan base. Nothing this team does while Yoshi Tsutsugo and Josh VanMeter remain on the club is going to be met with the appropriate response.

Michael Chavis has a great day at the plate and in the field, here’s a little praise for him and a barrage of questions about why Yoshi and Josh are on this team.

Kevin Newman comes back from the IL hitting over .300 and playing good D, swell, but why is VanMeter here?

Now folks, there is always going to be that guy. For the Yankees right now it’s Joey Gallo or Arron Hicks, both clearly better players than either of our hated number but every team, at every point in history is going to have that. These two are special if only because they still seem compelled to give them regular playing time.

Look, Yoshi just can’t hit, at least not for impact. VanMeter just simply doesn’t have enough ceiling to worry about even if he does discover something here. I get it, and lord knows I’ve certainly engaged in this topic, but more than anything, we’re allowing them to prevent us from seeing anything else clearly.

I’m not changing my tune. There was little to gain even if Yoshi came back raking. There is little to gain by unlocking VanMeter because at the end of the day, he has no business blocking anyone the Pirates might want to play at second base and he clearly can’t handle first base.

It would mean more to me, and quite frankly illustrate a better picture of this management team’s ability to make decisions if they just cut bait now instead of waiting to be shown nobody wants these guys.

At the end of the day, that’s really what this is all about isn’t it? We simply don’t want to believe that this general manager sees either of them as viable players. Playing them right now, since there are other options, can lead you nowhere else.

It’s more about having your confidence in his ability to get this done than it is having two players who aren’t good. We’ve had plenty of those. Now that there are better choices, nobody is interested in seeing them purposefully ignore that and still play them.

3. Trade Deadline Two Weeks Away

Things should start to heat up following the All Star Break. There are huge chips out there of course like Juan Soto or even Correa potentially, but folks, the Pirates aren’t really in this deadline, not for anything big.

They already didn’t want to move Reynolds or Bednar, and I’m more convinced from talking to folks that they are even more steadfast now.

The main players to look out for are Ben Gamel, Jose Quintana, Kevin Newman, Daniel Vogelbach, and I’ll leave it right there. Those are the most likely guys the Bucs would move, at least those they’d have a desire to shop. A team could come along and look for Stratton, Crowe, Underwood, relievers are always hot.

Vogelbach has really done well here, and a quality lefty bat could really draw some interest. He’s arguably the biggest return candidate the Pirates have. His performance coupled with his cheap option for 2023 make him someone who could cost a bit more.

Quintana is going to run into innings trouble this year. In other words, if the Pirates were to not move him, he’ll wind up being shut down anyway I’d wager. Point is, if you can get an offer, take it.

Kevin Newman has performed well since his IL stint and he’s got a history, some good, some bad. Teams might very well be interested, but I’m not sure of either what the Pirates would want, what their intensions are with him or for that matter what another team might deem appropriate cost. I think we’ll sit back and have to wait here.

Gamel should have a market, but lets be real clear. He’s not really a quality glove, at least not by the numbers, both OAA and DRS are underwhelming. The bat plays but not well enough to be a consistent DH. I love him and what he brings to THIS team, but what good would he do on a team like say the Dodgers? I don’t think he returns enough to bother, and I’d rather have him around the rest of this season.

All in all, it’s no that the Pirates have nobody another team would want, it’s more that the Pirates are at a stage where they too want those players.

Kevin Newman interests me the most here. They don’t have much time to make a trade happen for the deadline, and if he remains a Pirates player past August the Bucs will be forced to consider either tendering him a contract to send him to arbitration, or let him walk for nothing. Say what You will about Kevin, but he’s not a player you just let walk for free. You’d have to tender him even if you ultimately wanted to trade him so a decision will be forced, and a smart team gets something for a Newman type, a stupid team loses him for nothing.

I’m not going to waste my time pretending Yoshi, or VanMeter have a market, they just don’t ok. If Yoshi hit 10 homeruns from this Friday to the following Monday he’d retrieve nothing of note.

Want a surprise? Well if there is one it’ll be a bullpen arm. Underwood might be a smart move, the Pirates beat the crap out of his arm in 2021, and he’s been on and off the IL in 2022, but using him less has allowed him to ramp up to 97-98 and the stuff plays. With a ton of control, this is a guy who really could draw some interest, even if 90% of you think he’s stinky.

4. Bryse Wilson is Going to Get Another Shot

Likely this will come from opening a spot formerly held by Jose Quintana, but we could first see him step in for Roansy Contreras. Either way, he’s been good in his call ups and he looks to be in shape, which he sorely wasn’t this Spring.

Regardless, if he’s serviceable, the Pirates won’t feel the loss of Quintana nearly as much. If he isn’t, well, Michael Burrows or Cody Bolton will get a bite at the apple. It’s my belief that right now the Pirates would prefer Bolton complete an entire year of AAA. He simply hasn’t pitched much in a few seasons, and calling him up would be short lived at best before a shut down.

Modern baseball isn’t about having 5 starters and 8 relievers. It’s instead about having 8 starters and 16 relievers, preferably with options. A pitching staff stretches into AAA for every team in the league and the Pirates are in better shape here than they’ve been in years, but it’s still not ideal.

Bryse for his part has looked very good in his 3 most recent outings. Having someone like that sitting in AAA is essential to not feel the injury bug, and help stagger innings for others. Next year they’ll need to have even more, because no matter what, we’ll be looking at games that matter a heck of a lot more than they will this September for this club.

I say this for a couple reasons, the main one being, Quintana isn’t going to pitch straight through to October in the rotation anyhow, I just don’t see it. And so you aren’t shocked when this is their choice for his replacement. Next season he could be nothing more than a bullpen guy, this year he gets another shot at proving he belongs in a rotation.

5. The Arms Race is Real

The Pirates took Johnson at number 4 for one simple reason, he was the best player on their board. Now it’s on to the part where they go heavy on pitching, and it’s already started.

The 36th pick was RHP Thomas Harrington, the 44th pick was LHP Hunter Barco, with 83 they took Jack Brannigan a RHP and 3B, followed by number 110, Michael Kennedy. Now, I’ll stop there because the draft is still going on and well, I just have to stop somewhere.

Point is, the Pirates organizationally lack a couple big things. Power, although this has improved over the past three years, and left handed pitching/pitching in general. Well, the best way to attack both is to draft them like you don’t have any.

I hate to keep going back to how to handle MLB drafts as a fan and I apologize, please don’t take this as an assumption none of you get it, that’s not my intent. As more people get interested in what’s going on though, we must acknowledge that people who follow say the NFL more closely are seeing a flood of pitching like this and immediately asking themselves where they’ll all fit. All I can really do to help those types of fans is to simply say, Imagine every single one of these guys is a 7th round selection, and all of them will be considered projects that will have to go to the practice squad for at least 3 years before they manage to make their way to the special teams unit, if at all.

Sure, we can look at where these guys were rated on the national boards before the draft and feel the Pirates stole a guy here or reached there, but in reality, these are all projects. Some have a 60 grade slider, some have a developed changeup already in high school or early college. All of them have warts or at least questions about how they can develop.

Some like Kennedy are floor picks, meaning he maybe isn’t going to be someone who becomes an all star but he has a better shot of making the show because his baseline is higher than others. Others like Barco have a very high ceiling but have health questions and a floor that has him missing out on ever making it if everything goes wrong.

That’s reality. Just like last year, the Pirates made 20 picks, signed 19 of them and 11 of the overall choices were pitchers. I expect this year to be even more out of whack than that.

Two things this team can’t afford to expect to sign from outside the organization is pitching (at least not impact pitching) and power, and that’s what you’ll see them draft, time and again as we move forward. It doesn’t mean their drafts are unbalanced, it just reflects how silly it is to expect even 10% of them to reach the majors.

Fewer still will stick.

The MLB draft is the least exciting in all of sport if only for the simple fact most of what you see beyond the first round won’t be seen for years to come, if at all. That doesn’t mean these picks are all crap either. Mike Burrows for instance was an 11th round selection back in 2018 and he sits right now as the Pirates top pitching prospect who’s close enough to smell the league. JT Brubaker was a 6th round selection in 2015 and he’s just now in 2022 starting to look like a real starter. Mitch Keller, a 2nd round pick in 2014, now 8 years later looks like he has finally turned a corner and might become a reliable starter.

Oh yes, these picks matter. You just don’t know which ones yet, and it’ll be up to each young man to show he has the ability, fortitude and stamina to turn those sexy tools into a major league baseball player.

Some of the players selected today could just be finding their way in 2030 and that would be considered a success. That’s right, 2030. The MLB draft is not about today, it factors in no weaknesses of the MLB club, it doesn’t suppose what the team will look like when any one pick arrives. It’s all about amassing talent, identifying tools, and hoping against hope that a percentage of them will toil through the largest and hardest development system in the sporting world to ultimately get in some cases two innings in the Bigs where a chorus of Twitter geniuses will call them a bust. Some will work for 8 or 9 years to get to the show where they’ll take 20 at bats and have fans decide they know all they need to know.

Keep your head screwed on straight, and honestly, ignore the people that think they know the winners and losers of this draft even as it is going on. Truth is, if we’re talking about Hunter Barco at all in 5 years he’s likely done well.

I’ll leave it here. If you want to see typical overreaction and misguided “evaluation” do a quick twitter search of Pirates 7th rounder JP Massey. Truly hilarious and paints exactly the way most of these guys are seen. He has a terrible ERA, and that’s all it takes to have him a “terrible pick” but he was drafted for his size, 97+ velocity and developed slider that many draftnicks compare to Max Meyer. He may very well suck, but the ERA wasn’t even looked at my any credible scout, believe me.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

2 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. So much better than reading the BN is cheap and they aren’t trying to win rants on other blogs. Thank you. I also enjoy the lack of comments because that means those rants aren’t there either. I would say I hope that you remain a little known blog for me to enjoy but know that’s counter productive to your goals. Best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with Tony, from a “selfish perspective,” hahaha.

      1. Here’s hoping he’ll be capable of more than second base, but yeah, I think it’s safe to say he should be a good MLB hitter.

      2. I’ve seen these comments too, and I get it: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

      3. Quintana I’d hope could fetch an Anderson-lite return.
      Newman I’d expect to return whatever is the going rate for a light-hitting bench utility with good to great defense and some control, which is likely not much, but I’ve been surprised before. Plenty of teams should be interested, especially with his hot bat. I am not sure whether a team believing in that hot small sample or the Pirates not taking advantage of it would be more foolish. I think his impending 29th birthday takes the sting out if he’s truly finally found the offense (which I doubt based on the constantly unimpressive walk rate and zero homers).
      Gamel I’ve been torn on, but you’re absolutely right that he’s definitely not impressive defensively, so it’d have to be a team with an outfield injury looking to add on the cheap. If they’re not going to re-sign him, I’m not sure of the value from having him play out the final two months, albeit with the caveat that . White Sox, Rays, Mariners, Phillies, Red Sox, Padres, Dodgers I currently see as potential suitors, though interest drops off dramatically after those first three.
      Vogelbach is as simple as who wants a high-OPS DH. There has to be interest, but I imagine the lack of meaningfully playing the field (yet still committing an error) and molasses speed will hurt the value some. He’s such a one-dimensional player that I think selling high now would be prudent.
      Underwood’s another bullpen arm they’ve beaten the heck out of, huh? I don’t expect he’d be another Holmes, but I’m concerned he’s finally unlocked something–and without enough track record to command the value that unlocking would be worth. At the same time, that arm could blow from the misuse at any moment, and this is easily a career season so far.
      Stratton would be selling low. They need to get him right. In the same vein, others I’m unsure would have a market worth selling into, rather than keeping them and hoping their bullpen performance continues well.

      4. I acknowledge I’m no pro athlete, but in 2022 I just don’t get how a guy shows up out of shape. Wilson has disappointed me for sure. I’m all for giving him the rest of the season and want him to succeed, but he has to be better.
      Against the Brewers July 2 he allowed far too many baserunners (11) and benefited from at-em balls and GIDPs, though credit him with resilience. July 7 I can give a pass on the homer because of the venue, even if it would’ve sailed out of most parks, and that should’ve been the lone blemish anyway–that start was strong. They seemed to want to get a bunch of guys work yesterday, so we can discount the shortness of the outing to a degree, but five baserunners in 3.1 IP was high–some of those hit hard. So I’d say a couple of passable starts and one strong start.

      5. Spot on. Great pitching is the most difficult element to develop, the most important part of winning, and keeps getting more expensive. In the free agent era, the Bucs have never signed a pitcher long-term (i.e., well beyond arbitration or four-plus-year free-agent deal), to my recollection. They might never, which makes it paramount to draft and develop internally.

      Liked by 1 person

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