2-20-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
We’re about a week into Spring Training, and the first game will come this Saturday. Even while everyone makes a scene out of the date pitchers and catchers report, most players wind up arriving at almost the same time with a few stragglers actually pushing the boundaries of anything resembling a position player deadline.
Everyone is there, most players, yes even those dealing with arbitration or contract negotiations, nagging injuries, seem to be rowing in the same direction and speaking from the same pulpit.
Lets dig in as we begin the last week without MLB baseball games until October.
1. Things Change for Different Reasons
Spring always brings stories of metamorphosis. Players change and it’s never more apparent than over the offseason.
Ke’Bryan Hayes added mass, trying to fortify a body that has let him down for the past couple seasons of his career.
Jack Suwinski has almost completely changed his batting stance and swing. He’s opened up and is now standing much taller in the box. Not to mention his legs look like tree trunks.
Bryan Reynolds showed up with Sidney Crosby legs. If you know you know.
Will Crowe has trimmed, trying to avoid running out of stamina at the end of the season.
Andrew McCutchen looks trim and focused on the season in front of him.
Roansy Contreras knows more innings will be expected from him, and he too has bulked up.
Listen, all of this, sounds a lot like “best shape of their lives” right? I get it. But over all when you see this many players come to camp looking like they put in work all offseason, it’s not a bad thing.
Immediately the veterans look to be teaching. Rich Hill caught giving an eagerly listening Johan Oviedo tips on curveball grips after a bullpen session. Cutch bonding with Hayes almost immediately. Austin Hedges from the jump giving every pitcher feedback, and drawing praise from each. I mean wait ’til he actually knows these guys folks.
All of this can be chalked up to the hope of a new season, and it certainly is about that, but there is also a lot to like about what we’ve seen show up at camp.
2. What is the Plan with McCutchen?
To hear Andrew tell it, well, it sounds like he plans to DH primarily, and maybe play some outfield. To hear management discuss it, he could play outfield a decent amount and DH some too.
Feels like two sides of one coin, and it could be as simple as semantics, or, it could be that one side (the player) is preparing for his lowest level of involvement, almost like preparing mentally so as not to be disappointed, while the team is polishing up their show horse before running a race.
Reality is, no matter what the Pirates or Andrew have planned, I simply don’t see his body holding up to 130+ games in the outfield.
Doesn’t mean I’m right, doesn’t mean they won’t put him out there and see how far they can get, but in my mind, it’s not the best way to use Andrew and it’s not the best way to ensure he’s a factor all year.
Unlike most one year signings, we already know Andrew’s intention is to finish his career here. That doesn’t mean 2023 is it, but it does mean if he wants to put in another year, he wants it to be in Pittsburgh. We already know the Pirates agreed with him, even if only to get this deal done. Further we know Andrew doesn’t want traded at the deadline and the Pirates aren’t looking to do that either, both provided the caveat that Andrew could change his mind hunting a ring, and even then, he’d want to return.
Point is, Andrew seems ready and willing to accept he’s no longer an everyday player, and the Pirates would rather not push forward he’s anything less.
The usage of this one player will dictate so many other things. How much room do they have for OF prospects to get time? Do one of the first basemen signed wind up on the bench more than they wind up being the DH? With Cutch’s decreased range does he wind up in Right Field at PNC?
Sometimes Spring is about who makes the club. Sometimes it’s about how the hell do we use who makes it.
3. Wil Crowe a Sleeper Bullpen Standout?
One thing you want when you ask a player to change positions or move into a new role is that the player will at least not allow his own idea of what his path should be to get in the way of his success. What you don’t often expect is the player to embrace it so much that they change everything they were to become the new role.
That’s what Wil Crowe did in 2022. He went from a fidgety starter who far too often had to have the one pitch out of his arsenal of options that wasn’t working on a given day and overthought nearly every pitch into a bullpen pitcher who worked fast, trusted the catcher and more often than not hit his spots and got the job done.
He embraced it, volunteered for more and ultimately proved by season’s end that fatigue would catch up with him physically, but it would never affect his attitude or approach.
To tackle this, Wil showed up looking much slimmer, and this time he plans to last all season long.
He was already an effective option out of the bullpen, but Wil could wind up being a really effective bridge to the back end and effective fill in for setup man. His pitch mix is really evolved, and paired with his elite barrel and hard hit percentages carving out a good role for himself won’t be an issue.
He’s part of an equation that could add up to a real strength for this club. The bullpen and the depth that won’t even make the club out of Spring and starters who find themselves pushed into a different role just like Wil himself was at one point have a chance to really change the fortunes of a team that lost 19 one run games in 2022.
I don’t need to tell you what even half of those going the other way would look like last year, but let’s just say we might not be focusing on Dylan Crews so much.
4. There is No Try, Only Do
When your target is small and the outer rings don’t matter, you better hit the spot when you shoot your shot.
This franchise is always going to bargain shop to a degree, it’s simply a reality, but taking into account the Bryan Reynolds situation and the fact they’re going to face many many more situations like this in the coming years, they better learn something from it.
Regardless of how this individual situation turns out, they simply must understand starting out with what could be conceived as a slap in the face, well, that’s not better than no offer at all.
In fact, there is one very clear message that was obscured by the quick trigger of CAA, Bryan Reynold’s agent. The Pirates want this player to be here, and they also weren’t planning on just running out his controlled years and trading him. If they were, they probably wouldn’t have kicked the hornet’s nest.
Think of it this way. Agents will always and forever ask for more, and teams will always and forever offer less than they should. The agent shouldn’t lose their mind when they see the offer, and the team shouldn’t lose their mind when they see the request. That said, it happens, and when each side is equally likely to leak those numbers to the press, perhaps each should use that knowledge to be a bit more realistic.
This is where the Hayes deal kinda bites the Pirates in the backside. He did take less than he could have, regardless of what you see his worth as, he’s simply not making what one would expect a starting level player to make over 7 years of playing the game. He took a team friendly deal.
Ben Cherington has of course seen this stuff before in Boston, but bluntly, that’s when he started running into trouble.
The lessons are there to be learned from, but until I start seeing it, I can’t help but have some knots in my stomach thinking about Roansy, Keller, Cruz, and whomever else emerges. Not everyone is going to take a sweetheart deal, not everyone should for that matter, but something I think is safe to identify, the Pirates starting point is too low, too often.
5. The Unsaid Plus About This System
The Pirates have done a good job adding talent to their system. No comment on if it’s going to be enough, no pretending I know who will be here vs who will wind up being trade bait, just talking sheer numbers at this point.
Some of those prospects of course are ready to push their way onto the roster this year, that’s good, and for many of the “rebuilds” we’ve seen around here, where they’d stop. The beauty of what the Pirates have set up at the moment, they still have a bunch of talent in the lower levels too.
Meaning, what we were calling the “Greensboro Cavalry”, well, most of it is now in Indianapolis, and looking at Greensboro in 2023, well, it still looks like a roster full of Cavalry.
This team has talent all through the minor league system, and they don’t have a ton of apparent holes at the MLB level because they went and filled them, even if temporarily.
I can’t say it’ll work, but I can say the job of building a foundation for this system, they’ve done well.
What separates teams like the Rays from everyone else who doesn’t spend much is how they sustain it. Part of that is building the foundation.
Keep your eye on the minors as this continues. It isn’t going to fall off the face of the Earth, and that my friends makes this different in and of itself.
This weekend my wife’s grandmother passed on. She was an incredible woman. A lifelong Pittsburgher, Veteran, and fiercely proud woman.
For me, beyond all the general family reasons to love your significant other’s Grandma, she was a huge Pirates fan. We’d talk baseball just about every time I saw her and without reading articles (yes, even mine), no listening to podcasts, not watching inside Pirates baseball, nope, just watching the games, she’d observe things you’d think only a scout would pick up on.
I never got the chance to talk with her about Andrew McCutchen coming back, but I like to think she’ll be looking down as he looks up with his arms spread wide to the heavens after a victory this year.
They brought him back Flo, I’m sorry you didn’t get to see him hit one more.
Rest easy, you earned it.
One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five”
First of all, my prayers go to you and your family on the loss of your z as grandmother. The potential of this team this season will only be realized if the manager is willing to use all the players. Shelton cannot continue to use a player if they are not being productive.
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