Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

1-2-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I’ve been writing this weekly feature since March of 2020. If you were to go read through them all, and there’s one for every week I assure you, you’ll get a picture of how this team has slowly evolved.

Oh there would be wrong predictions, some right ones too, but more than anything you’d see a weekly chronicle of that week’s biggest issues, guys in and out, changes being made.

I’m excited to think that this year, I might be following the culmination of all that painful baseball.

Let’s go!

1. Opening Day 2022 to 2023

I think at times you can get lost watching free agency and baseball’s offseason roll along. You can almost forget where you just were. Let’s refresh our memories a bit because I keep hearing this team is still going to lose 100 games in 2023, and honestly, I’m not sure how you can look at these and pretend it’s the same team.

2022 Opening Day:
C- Roberto Perez
1B- Yoshi Tsutsugo
2B- Hoy Park
3B- Ke’Bryan Hayes
SS- Kevin Newman
LF- Ben Gamel
CF- Bryan Reynolds
RF- Cole Tucker
DH- Dan Vogelbach

2023 Projected Opening Day:
C- Austin Hedges
1B- Ji-man Choi
2B- Rodolfo Castro
3B- Ke’Bryan Hayes
SS- Oneil Cruz
LF- Bryan Reynolds
CF- Ji-hwan Bae
RF- Jack Suwinski
DH- Carlos Santana

How about we compare the starting rotation.

2022 Rotation
Mitch Keller
Jose Quintana
JT Brubaker
Bryse Wilson
Zach Thompson

2023 Projected Rotation
Mitch Keller
Rich Hill
JT Brubaker
Vince Velasquez
Roansy Contreras

I’m not even going to try to convince you, or flesh out the bench. I won’t get into how much more they have for the bullpen or all the very real starting options that won’t even make this team. I’ll quite literally leave it right here.

They’ll be better in 2023, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re much better.

Get your head out of the payroll and really look. Be skeptical, everyone is to a degree, but don’t lie and look at that stuff and try to pretend it’s the same team it was, you’ll just look ignorant honestly.

2. 76 to 52

That’s how many fewer games every team in baseball will play within their own division this year with the implementation of the new balanced schedule.

It guarantees each team will play at least one series against every single other team in the league.

Every single divisional game will have extra importance placed on it. There will be 13 games between each division foe as opposed to 19.

Think about the importance something like an injury could have on these head to heads.

If you only have 13 with the Cards and say 7 of them are stacked together in a couple week span, one in which Goldschmidt was injured, man that could really change the complexion of the division.

I’m open to this because in general I like the idea of having a chance to see stars from everywhere instead of once every 4 years, but we also shouldn’t pretend it will have no side effects.

Teams within divisions tend to build their teams to directly beat other teams in their division, perhaps over time here we’ll start to see less of that. Like the Boston Red Sox who’ve always had to make sure they carry lefty starters for when they face the Yankees and that short porch, even while Fenway Park isn’t the friendliest place for them. Maybe they put a bit less emphasis there.

Interesting to think about anyway.

I’d love to hear your early expectations for how this will change the league.

3. Is 2023 Derek Shelton’s Last?

Derek is a lame duck, there’s no two ways about it. He has no contract beyond this season and this is also the last year this team will enter a season having expectations that fall short of believing a playoff berth is there for them, at least for this talent group.

When a coach gets to the point where his roster by in large has more certainty about their future than himself, things can start to get weird.

A player is told what to do by someone they see as inevitably in their charge for the next 5 or 6 years, and it carries weight, but when the player sees a bigger chance they’ll be listening to someone different, and maybe very soon, let’s just say messages can fall flat.

This could go two ways. One, the team that is visibly better with fewer pitfalls still fails to look professional and the team just moves on. Or, they look great and behind the scenes the Pirates decide just how much they believe by extending him.

It’s a big year for both Derek and the Pirates. Can’t afford to make a mistake here, and for the first time, I can’t sit here and throw my hands up in the air wondering how Earl Weaver would do better with this lot.

4. Cruz Still the Leadoff Guy?

I’m not so sure.

Cruz did well there in 2022, and I was very vocal calling for it last year. I wanted him to get the extra at bats, and thought it might help take some pressure of him to drive in runs and perhaps see a few more pitches.

That said, this is a team that needs run production, and we mustn’t pretend Cruz is anything less than one of their top options to provide it.

I can’t say this is a decision I’m 100% locked in on. We see teams all over the league do different things like that. Ronald Acuna Jr. hits leadoff for Atlanta after all, maybe that’s what the Pirates will want to do with Cruz too.

To me, Ji-hwan Bae is just perfect for the role and can set the table for Cruz and Reynolds to really feast.

This is going to be interesting to watch play out.

5. A Real First in 2023

One thing we’re going to likely see in this season is Ben Cherington’s first draft pick that actually makes MLB.

It’s almost comical how fans have continued to rail on a development system that hasn’t produced. I mean, the entire story has yet to be written for sure, but they also have a much better team put together and have yet to benefit from any of the plethora of high end draft choices made by this new administration.

I can’t say who’ll be first, Henry Davis, or Nick Gonzales but one or both should arrive this season in some capacity.

There are a ton of moving parts in a rebuild, not many compete for importance with making hay on high draft picks, this year we start to find out if they’ve done just that.

Of all the nice progress and upgrades the Pirates have made, nothing will truly change this team more than top end talent making the league and becoming fixtures. In fact I’ll go so far as to say some of them have to actually become stars.

Can’t see a path to all this working if they don’t.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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