Five Pirates Thoughts at Five – Spring Update Edition

3-6-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Good afternoon Bucco fans!

I don’t usually do these with a theme, but as we’re just about smack dab in the middle of this thing, it feels like a good time to focus on where we are.

It’s been a positive Spring so far, and to listen to the players, well, it doesn’t mean anything, but they don’t sound like they have these past 3 years do they? Maybe that’s cause there are so few of them who were here for all of it.

Spring isn’t about numbers nearly as much as technique, approach, conviction. You want to see good habits more than good numbers. If that third straight fastball on the outside corner got hammered, as long as the goal was hitting that spot 3 times, it’s a good outing.

I say this because while there certainly will be some numbers in my observations, they’re all rooted in what I’ve seen, and cross compared with what I’ve been told or read that players are working on. I don’t have that information for everyone, in fact, very few people who aren’t in the locker room do, but pitchers for instance, well they’re really open with reporters, especially when they got shelled working on something.

I can’t speak for everyone who covers baseball, but speaking for myself, covering Spring Training baseball is the hardest time of the year. First of all, you have the spotty coverage, and let’s face it, most of us are lucky if we make it down there for a week. Second, you always have small sample size, from start to finish. Even if I know what Hayes is working on, I can’t begin to guess what the pitcher he’s facing is doing, you get it? So in many ways, you’re constantly arguing with yourself about stats even mattering, or making sure everyone knows that non-roster invitee hitting .388 isn’t making the team.

Let’s Go!

1. Health Check

Thankfully, this will be short. According to reporters, Andrew McCutchen will be fine after being hit in the hand in Sunday’s contest.

Jarlin Garcia is supposed to undergo an MRI to look into his arm today. As of right now, he hasn’t been ruled out of the WBC but if there is even so much as a 2 or 3 week break, he’ll of course be held out. All eyes on this situation, because after Garcia the lefty mix goes straight to a Rule 5 draftee, and a bunch of NRIs. In fact, this type of situation to me would tell us something about the management. If he’s out for a significant amount of time, I’d like to think they would consider trading from the depth they have elsewhere to go get a replacement. Hernandez is interesting, but I don’t want to enter a season with a AA lefty being “counted” on to carry more than he should.

It looks like Ji-man Choi has gotten to the point where he and the team are starting to believe his elbow is fully recovered. This week was all about dipping the toe back in, and it would seem all tests have been passed.

2. Anyone Really Standing Out in the Pen?

This could be good or bad. You can stand out for the wrong reasons too and I think we’ve certainly seen some of that. Short sample size is across the board, so don’t expect me to reiterate it for each entry, but I know it’s there, and I know they all could get better or worse from here.

Good – Chase De Jong, Colin Holderman, Dauri Moreta, Jose Hernandez and Wil Crowe. Here’s the thing, Chase is the same pitcher he was last year, even as he tries to add another pitch to his mix, he gets results, and those results don’t match his peripherals. Meaning, he is doing well, and the numbers say he shouldn’t be, AKA, Lucky. At some point though, you have to believe what’s being shown, and the dude gets outs.

Holderman damn near hit 100 on the gun the other day, and honestly folks, he just looks filthy. A healthy Colin is a really good Colin. Hard hitting analysis I know, but what do you expect from 2 innings of work? Moreta has simply been impressive, he looks confident, and man, he’s got about 3 pitches he can use for strike outs, really encouraging. Wil Crowe is trim and confidently working through his repertoire on the mound. Yeah he gave up a dinger, but everything is going where he wants and he has the strike out working for him too.

Last one I’ll touch on is Jose Hernandez. I mean, a rule 5 guy, touching 98-99 and striking out guys with relative ease. the thing to watch here is his command. He can place heat at that velocity, and counter it with the off speed. Honorable mention here to Caleb Smith and NRI with a chance to begin with, but if Garcia is hurt, a front runner for a gig.

Bad – Jarlin Garcia, Tyler Chatwood. Garcia has a track record, and his performance could be injury driven, but bad is bad and thus far, he’s been exactly that. Tyler Chatwood is an NRI, and I try not to include them in these types of evaluations because if they were expected to be good they likely aren’t NRIs, but because he was a name many of us recognized, he’s just been a huge no so far. He’s arguably looked worse than anyone else they’ve put on the mound.

3. Any Prospects Stepping Up?

Endy Rodriguez – There’s likely not a less surprising name I could type. He’s only had 9 ABs but everything you’ve heard, yup. The important thing to take away from what he’s done is probably that he looks decent behind the plate. Arm looks good, receives the ball well, seems to frame relatively well although let’s be honest, Spring training camera work isn’t ideal.

Kyle Nicolas – Very impressive so far. He’s always had good stuff, but now he’s placing it, at least early on. He’s not a candidate for this year, at least not as a starter, but if he continues on this path he could really open eyes in 2023.

Carmen Mlodzinski – Oh man, so nice to see him look like the 2nd round pick he was. Carmen is finally fully healthy and looks like he’s finally grown into his body. Still walking too many guys in his SSS, but encouraging to say the least.

Travis Swaggerty – Bruh, listen, he’s hitting .250 ok, I get it, but just watching him, he looks different. Swinging with more confidence, has the OPS up at .875, playing killer defense. This doesn’t add up to lock to make the team, but he looks the part right now, and that’s more than I can say I’ve ever felt watching him play.

Those are the guys who’ve stood out to me. There have been moments from others, but nobody who’s blown my doors off or showed up looking far superior to what I expected to see. If you want someone like Drew Maggi mentioned, you’ll have to convince me the definition of “prospect” includes guys like that.

4. Most Concerning Things So Far

There have been more items here than I’d like to see. As with everything, it’s early, but I can’t help but point out a few things.

Jack Still Can’t Stop Striking Out – 13 plate appearances, 7 Strike outs. If he were say Matt Fraizer, I don’t say much here, but Jack is supposed to be counted on this year in a starter’s role, in fact the Pirates have moved Reynolds to left field largely because Jack can handle center, but he simply can’t keep striking out this much. He’s changed his stance to be more open, but unfortunately thus far it hasn’t really helped him make contact. Keep in mind, I’m not looking for numbers this early, I’m looking for approach, patience, adjustments and sadly all I see is a stance change early on. If anything, this stance isn’t likely to help with covering the outer third of the plate, so I’d really like to see some improvement this Spring as it plays out. He can hit 20 homeruns and strikeout a ton, but it won’t make him a long term answer out there.

Johan Oviedo Doesn’t Look Right – We’re talking 2 innings here folks, and for a starter in Spring looking to transition from a 4 seam fastball to a 2 seam sinker style fastball. Problem is, it’s not much different from the 4-seamer from a vertical break standpoint, and more than that it seems every ball off the bat is a screamer. There was buzz that the Pirates wanted him to push to make the rotation out of Spring, but as we sit here, I can’t even say he should be considered the first call up. Too many things don’t look polished for that line of thinking. I’ll say this though, for those of you who think signing vets as placeholders is a bad idea, this right here is why you do it. There’s talent there, he just isn’t where he needs to be, again, it’s early.

Left Handed Pitching – Color me shocked. I never felt they had enough, and with Garcia potentially injured, the absolutely don’t have enough. The chances they will have to break camp with at least 1 NRI lefty, well, that’s not ideal. If it turns out this is a long term injury here, they may have to consider pulling together a baseball trade. Take one of the fringy OF or middle infielders and see if you can’t buy yourself a lefty. It’s one thing to have this injury happen in June and feel stuck, but in March, fix it. As it stands, aside from Jose Hernandez, I could make an argument that Tyler Samaniego a AA lefty has been the best option so far and he’s only gone an inning and it was late against other AA and AAA players.

5. Things That Make Me Feel Positive

Ke’Bryan Hayes – Folks, if you haven’t gotten a chance to see any of his games this year, it’s more than a stat sheet. He looks bigger, he looks focused, and more than anything he’s taking great at bats and punishing baseballs like he hasn’t since 2020. Wrist and back completely healthy, Hayes is exploiting his power capability to both gaps and covering the plate like few on this team do. Again, 7 at bats, I’m not looking for numbers here so I’m not looking at an OPS of 1.286 and telling you he’s going to be what he was in 2020, but I know what a good Hayes approach looks like, and what we’ve seen so far is that. I know what explosiveness from the bat looks like, and he’s been bringing the thunder. Of everyone on the roster, he’s the one player I have nothing negative to say about as of yet, a literal perfect start.

Liover Peguero – It’s funny, he’s entering his second year on the 40-man, so mentioning his name as a potential player to win a spot shouldn’t be out on a limb, and yet, it seems everyone is completely set that he’ll simply be the starting AAA SS. Even I have to say that’s likely, but folks, the bat plays, and if Cruz is indeed to stick at short, finding a new place for Liover to play is going to have to be a thing eventually. Either way, it’s been good to see him clean up some of the things that have plagued him at the plate. He looks more patient, and if he holds firm with that approach, he’ll be hard to hold back for long.

Connor Joe – This is good and bad. Of all the veterans brought in to fill roles on this club, nobody has looked more put together and complete than Joe. He draws walks, he doesn’t strike out and he’s more apt to hit doubles than homers, but I think one thing when he comes to the plate, professional hitter. I was not a big fan of this acquisition, but watching him so far, it’s super easy to see him carving out a nice role for himself off the bench and even start for a stretch if need be. From the right side it’s super valuable for this club, and it’ll help take the pressure off Andrew McCutchen a bit too.

Oneil Cruz – 10 plate appearances, 1 strikeout. At least someone took the cutting back on K’s speech seriously. He’s special, what can I say really. When you can flick your wrists, hit a ball off the end of the bat and it turns into a 375 foot opposite field homerun, AND limit strikeouts, well, you go from worrisome to frightening. I’d also add, defensively his footwork looks much cleaner and according to staff, nobody, not one other player has put in more extra work in the field both last year and this Spring. He wants this position, and he wants to be more than a HR or nothing guy too. Pittsburgh fans, you know what happens when talent meets will to put in the work? Of course you do, you just haven’t seen it on the Pirates all that often.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

2 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five – Spring Update Edition

  1. Good stuff. Suwinski is ready for MLB, period. I’d be happy to see TSwag play his way to be the opening day Cf with Suwinski at AAA. I think he’s Mason Martin Part Deux.

    Liked by 1 person

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