Hump Day Pittsburgh Pirates Q&A

3-22-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

We’re getting down to the wire on the offseason now, and with the Pirates trimming the Spring roster down to 40 yesterday, the picture is getting clearer by the day.

The Bucs are off today, but we aren’t. Lets go…

Question 1

How do we weigh Swaggerty’s Spring Training performance? I saw a post on Twitter that equated the types of pitchers he’s faced in ST to AA-AAA level. Does his not starting more games, or playing earlier make you feel he’s not in their plans to make the OD roster? – JW (@silkychubs)

Man JW, this one is tough. First, far too often we, meaning people like me, offer up the knee jerk that Spring numbers don’t matter. The problem is, at some point, they absolutely do. Diego Castillo never makes this club last year out of camp if he didn’t do what he did in Spring. Phil Evans the season before put together a Spring that mattered right? So it’s really hard to claim a 25 year old number one pick doing well isn’t important.

I’d also add in here, he can only face the pitchers that happen to be in there when he gets at bats. Results are obviously more important than many of us care to believe, but when you’re trying to figure out how to weigh his performance as you question, you really have to look at how he’s getting those numbers. Is he flaring balls all over the park? Is he hitting balls into the wide open skies of Bradenton and relying on misplays? Is he assuming every pitcher is working on their fastball and ambushing the first pitch every at bat?

All of those would be unsustainable and make the numbers much less impactful. Now, for me and what I’ve seen, Travis is waiting for and not missing pitches he wants to hit. That in and of itself is an indication of development. The exit velocity is real, and even if you’re a person who resents that stat being talked about, more velocity tends to mean more hits, more ability to hit the ball a long way. The Strikeout numbers are fine, and he’s even shown some situational hitting capability, meaning directional hitting based on the need to advance a runner or just get someone home.

Ordinarily, yes I’d think entering games late would tend to mean they aren’t in the plans to start, but Travis has started enough that he’s hard to figure.

Now, if it were just Travis doing well, I’d feel much stronger that he’s done enough, but Canaan Smith-Njigba has arguably been just as good, maybe even better from an OBP perspective. They’re so close, you almost have to jump to defensive capability and I’d give the edge to Swaggerty there. To start the year, I think they’ll take 1 of these 2 North, but it’s hard to fathom both not making it this year and getting a real shot.

Great question, hope I answered it well enough. So many factors involved there.

Question 2

Do you see the pirates extending Reynolds before spring break ends? – Billy Tissue

I get asked this one every week by someone for obvious reasons and I choose not to answer it because there simply hasn’t been much new reported. Here’s the thing though Billy, not hearing anything is probably really good for this process. From what I’ve heard recently, the two sides have a clear picture of where the other side is on this negotiation and the last public statements were fairly positive.

I can’t begin to guess when or even if this will get done, all I can say is everyone involved has been very clear they don’t see him going anywhere this year, which would seem to be a silly thing to run around saying if they didn’t at least feel pretty good about where they were.

I wish I had more for you, but in many ways, it’s probably better I don’t. Silence is what you want here.

Question 3

What are your thoughts on how the pitching has been? To me this is the most concerning. This was supposed to be somewhat of the strength of this team and it has really looked off a bit so far- Edward Brewer

Let’s hold off on my thoughts here for a second, I’ll circle back, but I want to start with your statement that this was supposed to be somewhat of a strength. I agree, it was, and is expected to be a strength, but my goodness, they’ve had 25 guys pitch in Spring who are actually on the Spring roster, more sent over from MiLB camp on top of that, only 13 will make the team. There are NRI’s mixed in there, rookies that likely won’t reach the league this year, minor leaguers who might not even be feasible before 2024 is over, so depending on when you tuned in or what was televised, your impression could be formed based on a travel squad sent to play the Yankees or home at Bradenton with 25 MPH winds swirling in the outfield and friendly score keepers not wanting to award errors.

Now, I’d say as far as starters go, Keller, Brubaker, and Hill have all done well. When you’re talking about a starter who at this point has 8 IP like Hill, the ERA means nothing, it’s more about how he looks and feels, what he’s doing on the side. Roansy hasn’t been here as he’s been at WBC so he’s only thrown 6 innings this Spring. Vince Velasquez had a great start not on TV and an awful start on TV all amounting to 9 innings.

The Bullpen regulars, all fine. Bednar hasn’t been here again WBC, but everyone else who is expected to make the club, fine.

I’d also remind that pitchers at this point have been working on new pitches, delivery tweaks, and not game planning. In fact, just yesterday Brubaker threw about 50% sinkers. He did well with the pitch overall, but after a while, guys know it’s coming and it’s more about him feeling good about throwing the pitch than getting the outs.

All in all, I still like the pitching staff, still feel it’s going to be a strength, I mean Ed the best way I can put this is the Pirates need to weed the garden so you can appreciate the rose bushes.

Question 4

As you kind of insinuated Gary, most of the young position players the Pirates need to take that step forward have not looked good this spring. They include Cruz, Suwinski, Bae, Marcano, and Castro. And most of the acquisitions don’t look strong – Conner Joe, Santana, Hedges, and Choi. Should I be alarmed at the current state of the rebuild? – Dale Merchant

Let me address the player specific portion of this question first, and you’ll understand why when I get to the last part. That group of players you mention first as needing to take a step, Cruz, Suwinski, Bae, Marcano and Castro. I’m not sure that’s really what even the Pirates would expect. Realistically, if you wind up with 2 long term starters out of that group its a win. Doesn’t mean they can’t make the team and stick, just means ceilings are fairly defined and even if reached, only 1 of those players, Cruz, is a damn near lock.

Even if all 5 had set the world on fire this Spring, I’d be telling you to calm down, and probably reminding you the team can’t even make room for all 5 of them on this roster.

Now onto the vets, Hedges doesn’t hit anywhere, so if they or you, expected him to suddenly hit, I’m sorry. Joe has been decent, Santana has a track record and so does Choi. I’m not concerned about any of them, I also don’t think any of them have anything to do with the “rebuild”.

You’re going to hate this, but damnit, this is a bridge year. (Ducks)

Think about it, you’re wondering about all these players and equating them to rebuild success, only 2 of them are young players brought in here with a chance to become regular and long term contributors. We haven’t seen even one of Ben Cherington’s draft picks crack the league yet. Not even one at bat. Not one pitch.

All those vets are here for the first list of players you named off. They’re here because relying on kids with no experience on opening day would almost guarantee another really bad if not 100 loss team. As the season goes on, they’ll start to trickle up here and supplant the vets, some of the picks will finally start making it to the Bigs too.

I’m not worried because I didn’t expect to be there yet. In fact, they’ve done far more in free agency than I thought they would. In other words, I thought they’d probably go get a vet pitcher and 1B, grab an old catcher and call it a day. I’m glad they didn’t, but 2023 was always nothing more to me than “fun”. Next year, I expect many more kids to be entrenched, they might even surprise us a bit and in 2025 I expect them to really push. I’m sorry though, I’m not ready to call the rebuild in danger before any draft picks have arrived.

Let me add this in too. Your list of kids who were supposed to step up, clearly hasn’t happened, but Travis Swaggerty and Canaan Smith-Njigba sure have. So, maybe it’s not quite as bleak as it looks, cause I can’t even guarantee either of them will make the club.

A dead rebuild looks more like the Pirates in 2015. No more bullets in the chamber prospect wise, desperately trying to hold together something good with glue and toothpicks. This is a group of near retirement vets holding a place the team (and the vets if we’re really honest) fully expect to be taken over by kids by the end of the year.

So, overall Dale, I guess I reject the premise. 2023 is a paving stone on the way to the developing team, and to their credit, for once they decided to give those youngsters a chance to win a bit more by playing with vets, and let fans enjoy some competitive ball again on the way to brighter days.

All that said, if the vets just flat out stink, the Pirates will have to be agile and make the moves they need to make, even if they cost them. Will they? My guess is not often enough, not early enough, but I also trust the expected numbers from guys who have 10+ years of data to point to what they’ll likely provide.

The faster they let these changes happen when they show themselves, the better 2024 will look, the more experience kids rack up in 2023, the less guessing we all do next Spring.

Question 5

Bucs got some tough decisions. A lot of young guys and guys they brought in are playing decent. Who do you send down? – Dan Helgert

Before I start here, it’s incredible how differently fans see things. Compare Dan’s question to Dale’s. One thinks a lot of the young guys and guys they brought in are struggling, the other thinks they’ve been largely decent.

They have 40 guys on the Spring Roster at this point, so listing off 14 guys who will get sent down or cut would send me off listing a bunch of guys like Zamora.

So I’ll do it this way. Let’s look at the really hard decisions. The outfield mix I think we’ll see 5 brought North. Cutch, Joe, Jack, Reyonlds and one of Swaggerty or CSN. I give the edge to Swaggerty here, but not by much. Neither would upset me and the one who doesn’t make it need only keep doing it in AAA and he’ll be right back. They have 4 catchers in camp still, Plawecki, Hedges, Heineman and Delay, obviously 2 of those will be sent down, I’d go with Plawecki (who probably has an out clause) and Delay. Relievers are a challenge, If they decide to go with 2 lefties it puts someone like Yerry De Los Santos or Dauri Moreta in danger, and even if they only take Hernandez North, one of them won’t make it most likely.

Here’s what I think we’ll see.

SP – Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Rich Hill, JT Brubaker, Vince Velasquez

That’s 5 and if I had my way VV would wind up in the pen, I just don’t see them doing that on Opening Day.

RP – Bednar, Crowe, Underwood, De Jong, Holderman, Moreta, De Los Santos, Hernandez

That makes 13

Head over to position players and I’ll start with the ones I feel pretty sure about.

Oneil Cruz, Bryan Reynolds, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Santana, Ji-Man Choi, Jack Suwinski, Rodolfo Castro, Austin Hedges and Ke’Bryan Hayes.

That puts us at 22 and the bench. Now don’t get hung up on who starts when, or where quite yet.

Tyler Heineman, Mark Mathias, Connor Joe and Travis Swaggerty is where I land and we arrive at 26.

I could be wrong, this isn’t a prediction as much as “what I’d do” but I think that’s what you asked anyway so there ya go.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Hump Day Pittsburgh Pirates Q&A

  1. Wow your 26 looks like same old same old, not much run production and the bullpen could be iffy. Starters will keep them in some games ,but the lack of offense and the bullpen makes them a 69-93 team. Now if they have a better August and September with the younger players coming up and playing well I’ll be happy.

    Liked by 1 person

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