Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

2-6-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Oh man, it’s so close you can taste it. Soon we’ll get our first clips of pitchers firing the ball and the signature pop of the mitt that might as well be a starter’s pistol for the season.

As a fan first, it’s exciting just to not enter a season assuming your team is going to be lucky to climb out of the basement. I understand being guarded, the team has certainly been awful for 3-4 years now, but try not to let it ruin this experience for you.

This time you do have legitimate prospects, and legitimate players having legitimate battles and it’s the first year of what should be a nice string of such Springs.

Let’s rock.

1. NRIs (Non-Roster Invitees) to Watch For

I’m not going to name them all. First of all, you’ve all seen the list, and it’s not exactly a revelation to tell you to be excited about Quinn Priester. I’m also not going to waste time on the plethora of vets brought in to compete. This is going to be a list of some lesser known prospects that I think you’ll watch and come away from it kinda excited to see them again.

Jared Jones RHP-Starter – Jared was drafted in the 2nd round back in 2020, and he had a first round grade on him at the time. He’s had limited success in his first two seasons of minor league ball but his stuff is filthy. I expect him to ascend to Altoona this year and his changeup will help the team decide if he remains in the starter role or transitions to the pen. If he moves to the pen, look for a quick rise from him, if he remains a starter, a couple more years is realistic. Either way, this is a big arm in a small package.

Andres Alvarez RH-SS/3B/2B/OF – Alvarez is a bit old for AA. At 25 years old it’s time to make his move. At only 5′ 10″ you wouldn’t expect power to be part of his game, and before last season, it really wasn’t. In Altoona he popped 20 home runs and posted an OPS of .768. The knock again is the age, many will suggest an older kid like this should be beating the younger competition he’s facing. Late bloomer possibility here, and much like Jared Triolo, someone who has shown his glove is versatile but the bat will ultimately tell the story. It’s an important Spring for Andres and for many of you, the first time you’ll hear his name.

Kyle Nicolas RHP-Starter – Since being acquired from the Marlins as part of the return for Jacob Stallings, this big armed kid has been intriguing. A plus fastball and slider offering make him formidable, but a changeup could make him someone to watch. Much like Jones he’ll need the pitch to come along if he’s to continue being seen as a starting option as he moves closer to the show. Word on the street is he’s put in a ton of work on the offering this offseason, so eyes peeled on Kyle. I don’t do this often, but this in my mind is a future MLB arm regardless of his role when he gets here.

2. Ji-Man Choi is Off to a Rocky Start Here

Ji-Man Choi was the first player of note the Pirates acquired this offseason and since then he’s seen the Bucs bring in competition for playing time at First Base, been the only player to not agree on an arbitration number before the deadline, and now the Pirates have gotten him dropped from the South Korean squad at the World Baseball Classic.

Now, the Pirates aren’t entirely out of line here folks. Choi had elbow surgery back in November and the WBC runs from March 8th through the 21st.

The Pirates objected to his participation because he’s still undergoing rehabilitation from the surgery and that objection was upheld by the WBC Disability Review Committee before the deadline of February 7th for last minute roster changes.

Back in January Choi was quoted by reporters at the Incheon Airport before reporting to the Sates for MLB preseason activities “I feel hungry because I have never put on a Taeguk mark before”.

After the decision dropped, Choi had more to say via Yonhap News. “I was healthy enough to take live batting practice recently, I am extremely disappointed and deeply hurt, because I was building up nicely for the national team training camp in the middle of this month and the first round of the WBC.”

The WBC is important to players, but MLB teams have a right to protect their interests too, and that’s exactly what the Pirates are attempting to do here. For those of you out there who are hockey fans, imagine Sidney Crosby has a wrist injury he’s been nursing and the team is trying to manage it to get him through the season, but he wants to play for Canada in the Olympics. Now, Sid probably has a bit more sway in this decision, but the Pens wouldn’t just shrug either.

The big question this raised for me is, if we’re worried about his physical ability to participate in the WBC from the 8th to the 21st, should we expect participating fully in Spring Training is also in question?

Maybe, maybe not.

It could be as simple as not wanting another entity overseeing a player’s rehabilitation. For instance, when Oneil Cruz tweaked an ankle in Winter Ball, the Pirates were really quick to shut him down, get him back to Pittsburgh and work with him to ensure his health.

Cautious? Sure. But even if Choi loses his arb case he’s going to make at least 4.65 million. I guess what I’m saying is, I get it, and my hope is Choi does too.

I’m absolutely not trying to paint Choi as a bad guy, nor am I trying to say the Pirates are villains, I’m just saying these two sides haven’t exactly agreed on much since he was acquired. That means exactly what it sounds like, I have every expectation none of this will matter, and Choi is not a long term solution here so they only have to pretend if it comes to that for like what, 6 months?

3. Johan Oviedo Will be Given a Real Shot to Make the Rotation Out of Spring

I’ve put forward what I see as the opening day rotation of Keller, Contreras, Hill, Velasquez and Brubaker countless times now but recent conversations I’ve had lead me to believe Oviedo isn’t entirely out of the running.

For one thing, the Pirates really like him, and while inconsistent, they liked what he did when the team called him up in 2022.

Most of the reason for continuing to stick Velasquez in the rotation is the reported “promise he’d get a shot at starting” but I’m told that was really more of an assurance the team wouldn’t be closing the door to the possibility.

Small wording change, but significant.

The Pirates like Ortiz as well, but Oviedo is widely thought to be more MLB ready. Further, I’m told they’d like to see Carmen Mlodzinski or Nicolas get an opportunity to start in AAA sooner than later which would lead me to believe even if they run with a 6 man rotation in the system again as they did in 2022, one of the current projected starters needs to either go to the AAA bullpen and or make the MLB squad.

This all makes sense, but if Velasquez is indeed destined for the Pirates bullpen and or piggybacking, one would think that might spell trouble for Stephenson, DeJong or Underwood making the club.

They’ve only got so many spots for these types, and if Vince isn’t a starter, it’s going to have a chain reaction.

All of this of course supposes they all stay healthy, which isn’t a given, but if Oviedo makes the club it’s not because he was the second choice, it just means he took advantage of his opportunity.

I should also add here, the Pirates are adamant that they have identified some things they really think could help Vince, if that’s true, and hey who are we to question it, they were successful with Anderson and Quintana, that could obviously change the game.

Point is, the assumption of the starting 5 I’ve been running with, may not be as set as I’ve been portraying.

4. What Does DERP Mean?

For years and years I’ve been replying DERP to comments that make no sense, questions that don’t pertain to the subject, overt misquotes of what was stated inside the piece, and for most of that time people have asked me what it meant.

Some have guessed it was from South Park, and I won’t lie, that’s where it came from originally, but how it became my standard response is a bit different.

DERP for me became Didn’t Even Read Partially.

Here’s an example. Write a story about Ji-hwan Bae, and I mean all about Bae, nothing else. Comment is “The Pitching Staff is going to suck!!!”. OK. DERP.

It’s not about your comment being wrong (even if I believe it is) it just has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject.

Now, I don’t particularly care who reads and who doesn’t, but if you’re going to comment, well, let’s just say, most of you have no idea how easy it is to recognize when you haven’t read.

I have to admit, I started doing this when Craig and I were maybe pulling in 100 views and now that our numbers are much much higher than that, the joke has long since gotten old.

5. Steve Cohen and the Mets Aren’t a Problem

Every owner is entitled to run their team as they see fit, and Steve Cohen is 100% operating within the rules MLB’s collective bargaining agreement affords. He’ll pay a hell of a price for doing so too as his luxury tax figure will be staggering.

This is new for baseball. Not spending, that’s always happened but for one team to just entirely ignore the luxury tax threshold, well, let’s just say the other owners were taken off guard a bit.

Couple things here.

First, spending money alone doesn’t equal championships. It’s a truth that has always been part of sports, but in Cohen and the Mets case they’ve invested heavily in some very old top of the rotation pitchers.

They’re great pitchers, but man it’s got to at least be a little scary right?

Second, they still might not have a better roster than the Braves.

Now, rich people almost unanimously hate one thing, spending money and not getting what they want.

Cohen is the loudest new owner to join the league in quite some time, but he’s not the only one who came in believing he could just “do things right” and win it all quickly.

Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.

If it doesn’t, I think you’d be foolish to expect he keeps going like this for half a decade. If it does, then maybe the jealousy or ire from other owners might matter for changing the system.

All that being said, I hold him no ill will. I’d kill to have some idealistic and altruistic fool buy the Pirates and just start tossing fliff around not even counting it. The game always levels this stuff out, and NOOBS tend to learn pretty quickly that all that development and draft crap they didn’t want to hear about when they got there, kinda matter after all.

Keep in mind, this isn’t the system I’d have ratified, but it wasn’t my choice either.

In college basketball right now Jim Boeheim just got himself into trouble by criticizing other teams for “buying” players. NIL deals have become sanctioned recruiting tools in today’s game and Jim himself used to quite literally buy players back before there was a legal mechanism to do so.

Point is, when something new, or someone new comes along and upturns the apple cart, the old guard tends to get bristly, and that’s all this is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll loudly be chanting Muck the Fets with everyone else when they come to town, but not because their owner did anything wrong.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

2 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. We know that pitchers get hurt and underperform as well. I see a strong possibility that Velasquez gets regular bullpen work in April if Oviedo beats him out in the spring and still becomes a SP pretty quickly due to injury or lack of performance elsewhere. As cautious as the Bucs are, I can see plenty of 4 inning starts from the rotation in April to play it safe after the offseasonand save IP for later in the season.

    Liked by 1 person

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