Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

3-27-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

It’s this week people.

Opening Day is coming up on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds at 4:10PM. Good thing too, because Spring Training fatigue has fully taken charge. Yesterday’s contest was a perfect example, losing 8-1 to the Braves while only playing 4 or 5 guys who will be on the MLB roster, 2 of which were relievers who only went an inning.

Play a game like that on March 1st, and everyone gets what’s happening, play a game like that on March 26th and to fans it’s just a bad loss and a forecast for the season, especially when it’s not on TV, and few will open the box score and wouldn’t recognize the names if they did. So, fatigue. Tired of seeing innings eaten by AA relievers and swings taken by 30 year old AAA players.

We even had a tie last week! It’s time for baseball that counts.

Lets Go!

1. Should We Worry About Wil Crowe?

The short answer is, yeah.

Early in Spring, Wil Crowe was talked about glowingly for coming to camp pretty dramatically trimmed down with a vocal emphasis on building up his stamina so he can cross the finish line standing instead of crawling this season.

He also started messing with some of his pitch mix, adding and subtracting here and there to his arsenal and playing with the spin on pitches too. Spring numbers are Spring numbers but man, 8 innings in 9 appearances with a 2.375 WHIP, well, I don’t want to act like that’s exactly how he’ll pitch this year, but it has to be concerning.

It might be time, probably past time to be honest, to get Wil pared down to using his best offerings as opposed to trying to be a bullpen arm with a starter’s repertoire.

Now, even if they do that and they get him using the changeup, sinker and slider as his main weapons, he needs to get back to having them find the bottom of the zone more often. Far too often his sinker floats back over the center of the plate after looking like it’s headed for a lefty’s hip. Far too often the changeup, legitimately his best pitch, simply doesn’t decide to show up on a given night, and I don’t care how well you throw it, if it winds up belt high, MLB hitters are going to punish it.

We can say a whole lot of things to discredit Spring numbers, and we’d all be right to do so. We often don’t know what they’re working on, we can’t promise everyone they face is an MLB player, but folks that works both ways. We know he hasn’t faced exclusively MLB talent, and he still put up 16.9 Hits per 9 in his Spring work.

He has 1 option and assuming he breaks camp with the club, I have to imagine the Pirates won’t be afraid to use it if Wil can’t turn things around in the early going.

2. AAA Roster Will be Impressive

Haven’t really been able to say that in quite some time. The AAA roster will have a solid 15-20 guys who could easily see MLB time this year, in fact they have roughly 10 I’d be shocked to see not get any MLB time.

The talent is everywhere, on the mound, in the infield, through the outfield mix, they even have this catcher some seem interested in.

Much of this talent was together in AA Altoona last year, some of them spent most of 2022 in Indianapolis and a few found themselves in the Bigs last year, but this team is not only going to compete for a AAA championship, they’re going to push and feed this MLB club all year.

Think about it like this, go through every position set, find me the spot that doesn’t have promise? First base comes to mind for me, but Matt Gorski, and Malcom Nunez are more unknowns than expected busts.

Left handed pitching remains a shortcoming too, especially starting quality, but all in all, as I look through the MLB roster, it’s full of ifs and hope, but backed by legitimate talent that stretches back to AA.

In fact, Miguel Perez the Indians Manager is even depth. A quality coach who’s risen through the ranks and lived up to his reputation as he’s done so. Eric Munson the Indianapolis Hitting Coach was an MLB Catcher, think that’s a coincidence? Think about what he’ll be helping to develop over the next two years.

I know minor league ball isn’t for everyone, and I know this team has forced everyone to stare down there wishing and hoping something good would happen, but finally, a good batch of talent is one step away and playing in a ballpark that doesn’t give you AAA success via dimensions or wind play.

Craig Toth will cover these players more closely than I will on this site, but mark my words, there will be players who earn a callup long before they get one this year. This is why signing veterans, and specifically long in the tooth veterans could wind up being brilliant, even if by accident. It might create opportunity.

3. Injury Tests That Depth Early, and Creates Opportunity

News broke today that JT Brubaker will likely start the year on the IL with elbow and forearm soreness. The obvious replacement would be Johan Oviedo and because it wasn’t clear he’d make the club, I’d classify this as a direct injury to opportunity event.

As happy as I am to see Oviedo get an opportunity, Brubaker had looked very sharp and was easily the most likely member of the rotation to lead the team in innings. I know how some of you feel about JT, but folks, the guy is every bit a 4th or 5th starter on just about any team in the league. He’s never going to look like a hall of famer, but he’s got enough stuff and specifically strikeout stuff to have a nice long career. Hoping this isn’t the worst version of what those symptoms can mean.

This is the same issue JT suffered with in 2019, since then all he’s done is lead the staff in innings pitched since 2020.

This does serve as an example of how much of this season will progress and the way so many of the players I talked about in point number 2 will eventually get their shot. That’s baseball and sometimes the group you have at “next man up” have more to do with how the season goes than your original or intended 26.

4. The 13 Position Players are Essentially Set

Barring a deal or last minute pickup of course, this is how it looks.

Austin Hedges
Tyler Heineman (Technically could still be Delay, Heineman is just my choice)
Carlos Santana
Ji-man Choi
Ji Hwan Bae
Rodolfo Castro
Oneil Cruz
Ke’Bryan Hayes
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Jack Suwinski
Bryan Reynolds
Andrew McCutchen
Connor Joe

It’s built with movable parts, so there’s no saying this will even last a month. Joe, Suwinski, CSN, Castro, and Bae all have options, so plenty of room for shuffling for injury or struggle.

Jack has had a particularly awful Spring, and while I’ve consistently told you and anyone who’d listen he’ll make the club, I never said he’d last. That’s up to him to show Spring was worth ignoring, or confirm he’s really not in a good place. Even on his own roster, he’ll be fighting CSN and Bae for playing time from the jump.

I highlight him because he’s the only one of that group to truly have an abysmal Spring. Everyone else has shown something or have the reputation that they’d get where they’re supposed to get to.

He could just as easily come out firing from the jump and then everyone will wonder how any of the kids will ever get a shot, but you’ll just point them to point number 3 today right?

5. Let’s Be Really Clear About Who’s Being Manipulated

The Pirates have 1 player, Endy Rodriguez, who you could even approach assigning this tag to. He’s shown he can hit and while I personally do believe he still needs to work on his craft as a catcher for a bit, I’ll give you that he could learn up here and I’ll even give that learning directly from Hedges might even be smarter.

Nobody else though.

Luis Ortiz throws two pitches, and clearly needs to work on something off speed. That’s really the story, in its entirety. I can’t fathom how anyone thinks a guy who was just in A ball last year starting this season in AAA and having a glaring issue is being manipulated for service time.

In fact, I could easily, like barely trying mind you, make a stronger case for Michael Burrows than Ortiz.

Every year fans come up with their list of guys the evil empire is holding back, and every year they’re 99% crap.

Look, the guys you can actually assign this to, they’re actually kinda rare. The guys you can talk about and honestly see nothing they need to work on, even less.

Ortiz for instance, as I sit here, I can’t tell you he’ll come up when the Super 2 deadline passes, know why? Cause I can’t promise he’ll be ready. Ever hear me say that about Endy? Cruz? Hayes?

There’s a reason, because every year if you have someone like that, it’s painfully clear. A few people whining on Twitter does not a controversy (spelled correctly this time) make. The Pirates have exactly one potentially ready difference maker who isn’t making this team out of camp and it’s Endy and even with him I had to ignore some pretty obvious stuff and pretend he could back up/learn from Hedges while somehow still getting enough at bats and innings caught to be comfortable he’s learning and improving.

Much of this is fandom, you like a guy, you want said guy to get a chance, I totally get it. The problem for me is when people who supposedly understand the game and spend time talking about it and disseminating information pretend this stuff is a Pirates only thing, or even make it seem like they have a laundry list of guys they’re holding back.

These are facts, you can dispute all sorts of things about individuals, but these facts are universal.

  • Every team in MLB will on occasion hold a player back to get an extra year of service time.
  • Every year a few teams will ignore all that and bring up a phenom.
  • The owners and players agreed to keep this trash in the game. This time around they added in some very light incentive for not doing it, and I doubt it will change it much for the teams that traditionally worry about payroll.
  • Some players won’t make the league because their MLB team has fortified a position and made their promotion next to impossible. This isn’t manipulation, but it is something veteran players sure don’t mind. It also doesn’t send the masses into the streets with pitchforks.
  • Once a player reaches 24 or 25, manipulation is kind of a self defeating theory. You’re already going to be into their downside most likely before they reach free agency.

None of this makes it right or fun for fans but what makes it even harder on fans is when people pump you full of crap and act like the Pirates have 8 guys rotting in AAA.

You know all the weird takes out there that the Pirates will lose 100 games again in 2023? Well, if you wanted or if the team wanted to actually make that happen, they could have easily not brought in any free agents and gone with all kids. Bluntly, I wouldn’t even hate it myself, but the record would absolutely suffer and all the depth they have, yeah, gone.

Complain if you must, hate the obvious crap that manipulation is, but at least try to be real about what is, and what isn’t. For your own sake.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. 5. Terrific, well said. The most egregious instance within the division that I can recall was Kris Bryant with the Cubs–third-largest city in the country. I don’t remember the Bucs doing something that blatant.

    4. A year of cycling among them, yep, should not be hard for keen observers to figure.

    3. I guess that group was overdue for a significant injury. Brubaker is one of how many pitchers whose career trajectory has suffered a great deal from injuries. The league and PA need to quell the rash of injuries somehow, just too many.

    2. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this excited about the system top to bottom. AAA teams succeeding on the backs of legitimate prospects are hard for even some of the biggest naysayers to deny as indicators of good times likely ahead in MLB.

    1. Yes, I’m worried, as someone who’s been vocal about the potential I have seen in him as a reliever. They seem to be easing him into the regular season, which makes sense. I hope he can get a handle on things and show the moxie of early last season–even if just with results, strut not required. Ideally that mystery pitch mix would still be there, but yeah, if a pitch works too rarely, time to consider ditching it.

    Liked by 1 person

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