Trouble With the Learning Curve

11-4-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

When you’re building a team, and doing so internally to a large degree, it’s key that the jump from Minor League ball to MLB ball is as seamless as possible.

There are a ton of factors that youngsters struggle with when they make the jump. Pitchers tend to have stuff they’ve rarely seen, and even if they’ve seen it, they certainly haven’t seen it consistently applied. The internal clock in the field is a good half step faster at the MLB level.

Language can sometimes be a barrier. Roles are often different. Meaning a guy has been a starter for 3 years in the minors and suddenly he’s asked to pitch the 6th inning down 8-2.

The Pirates are entering a season where a whole swath of this roster should have just kicked the rookie out of themselves, but to take the next step it’s clear the MLB staff has to improve at conveying the messages these guys need to hear, and helping them improve.

This time of year, with the World Series going on and free agency lining up, 40-man decisions starting to enter the consciousness of everyone a little story like Hitting Coach Mendy Lopez being promoted from the Bradenton Marauders to the Big League Club is just bound to get lost in the shuffle.

Now, as soon as I wrote his former title for Bradenton I know most of you will jump to thinking he’s replacing Andy Haines, well, he’s not. What he is doing at least from a primary function standpoint, is help coach the infield defense. This used to be Joey Cora’s responsibility, and last year it was handed to an already stretched thin Don Kelly.

So what they’ve done here is quietly admit they didn’t handle this well. The focus on defensive excellence simply wasn’t the focus it was in the first two years of this management group and it showed. It’s easy to blame the play of rookies like Oneil Cruz or Rodolfo Castro. You could easily point to first base being devoid of a qualified first baseman, but you’d also have to acknowledge that Michael Chavis wound up being above average over there statistically speaking.

Lopez has been the Field Coordinator and Manager for the Pirates in the Dominican Summer League back in 2014 through 2016 in addition to his work with Bradenton and his ability to communicate directly with Cruz and Castro could really help hammer home messages.

Further, they might not be done. Alex Stumpf over at DK Pittsburgh Sports has reported that the Pirates are on the market for a minor league manager. The level wasn’t mentioned but Alex believes Kieran Mattison the AA manager and Miguel Perez the AAA manager both make a bunch of sense to be added to the MLB staff.

This makes a ton of sense as the Pirates will again have quite a few players make their debut in 2023, and having a familiar face waiting for them in the Majors can often help the transition.

The only tangible goal Cherington uttered since the last pitch was thrown in 2022 aside from his prerequisite “get better” babble was that they needed to smooth the transition and success rate from the minors to the majors and moves like these are targeted to help with that.

You have to figure at a minimum Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Travis Swaggerty, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Matt Fraizer, Matt Gorski, Endy Rodriguez, and more have a chance to make the show in 2023. And no, I can’t tell you where they all play, no I can’t tell you when either, but I can tell you they’re all on schedule if not already held back or made really short debuts last year.

When they get their shot, it’s more important than ever they hit the ground running. Why? Well, for one thing, if some of these guys get a shot it’ll be because they performed so well in AAA that they left the club little choice, and at most positions last year’s rookies have already likely found their footing. We’re officially to the part of this thing where injury or overt incredible performance in the minors are the path to the Bigs, as opposed to desperation.

Lets use Nick Gonzales as an example. This is Ben Cherington’s first draft pick as Pirates GM, and regardless of that, it might just take an injury to Castro or Bae to give him a shot. Take all the Super 2 BS and extra year crap out of it for a second, because with this player it simply might not be about that entirely. Castro gets injured and is out for like 20 days, Gonzo gets the call and in those 20 days he gets 7 or 8 starts and some pinch hitting opportunities. Reality is, unlike Castro himself, Gonzo is not likely to get to struggle for 3 months before finding his game.

The transition period simply has to improve if only because the audition period is about to shrink depending on position.

In fact, that’s how you’ll know if this thing is starting to take root. If you find yourself next season spending less time looking at AAA highlights and dreaming of those guys getting here and turning things around because instead you want to see more from guys currently here, man that’s what this is all about.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t see this team as taking some 30 game jump in the win column, but I do see some guys who were rookies in 2022 looking like players in 2023, and the more of that we see the less praying for the future we’ll do.

Ben Cherington has since his arrival reconstructed the entire development system, the results have certainly been mixed, but it’s good to see him add to it last year finding someone like Dewey Robinson, and now focusing on a real pain point that transitioning to MLB has become.

Results matter, but at this time of the year, good intensions are all we have to report.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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