Hump Day Pirates Q&A, Friday Special!

3-31-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Craig and I were so busy on Wednesday finishing up the Season Preview, I had to skip this piece so now that we have a game to digest, I figured lets open it up and see if we can’t whip one together for ya.

Let’s go.

Question 1

After yesterday’s performance, has the debate of who will be the primary 2B intensified?
I like Castro and feel there is a place on this team, same with Bae and I feel they both have enough versatility to carve out regular playing time – But the question of who is the starter remains, especially when given the matchup quote we were fed yesterday. – J.w. Sanders

Phil was thinking the same thing…

After yesterdays show, it’s hard not to get excited about Ji-Hwan Bae and his role in this Pirates future. What happens to Castro if Bae steals the show (see what I did there?)?? – Phil Chaplin

To be fair, this one has been tough for a while fellas.

Both need at bats to show what they can do. Both have skills the other doesn’t possess. Both have weaknesses the other doesn’t.

That’s what makes this really tough. So when we do this, perhaps we’d be best doing a side by side compare and contrast.

Speed – Both are plenty fast, but Bae has game changing speed. Agitating and game pushing speed. He won’t be at his best until he learns to become a good base stealer as opposed to just a fast player though. Probably put this in the Bae win column.

Power – Inarguably this one goes to Castro. He has prodigious and easy power, you know, when he hits the baseball. Bae has some power but it’s a lot more like Adam Fraizer power. Enough to pop one every now and again, but not someone you want up when you need that 2 run shot to tie a game.

Fielding – I can honestly say Castro has become a pretty solid 2B, not flashy, but solid. Possibly more important, Oneil Cruz likes playing with him and they have a good chemistry for double plays and responsibilities. Bae has more range, less arm and seems to struggle a bit with understanding who’s ball is who’s out there. That said, Bae simply hasn’t played the position consistently, and surely not at the MLB level. Now, Bae can ably play CF and Castro can ably play 3B. All in all, for right now, I’m going to call defensive ability a wash.

Contact – Bae for sure has the upper hand here. He gets on base, and doesn’t strike out much. With his speed, just not striking out makes him a threat to get something started. Rodolfo is far superior hitter from the right side, but still not a contact hitter.

Now, what do they do? For one thing, I expect them to share this spot and not in an exclusive “platoon” fashion. Castro is too young to decide he’s just going to stink as a left handed hitter, but I’ll tell you what, as long as power comes from elsewhere in the lineup, to me that skill will take a back seat to everything Bae does bring.

The best solution may very well be to let Bae slowly take over CF. He can handle the position, his arm isn’t superb but he makes the right decisions and has a strong enough arm to not be an obvious weak spot.

Either way, I think it’s too early to suggest Bae playing or earning playing time will render Castro useless. In all sincerity, by next year it’s very possible neither will be the starting 2B.

Clear as mud right? Here’s how I really see this. When we wrap up 2023, I want to see Castro has had about 450+ at bats. If his power is going to play, in that number of at bats he should have around 17-20. If not, I don’t believe he has the alternative skills to make him more than a bench piece. So on Castro, answer the question this year and be done with it. Bae needs to get into the 350-400 range at least and his position versatility might be how they have to go get it. For me, he needs to show an OBA of over .350 and I’d like to see 25+ stolen bases. And don’t get me wrong, while I do think they’ll both get pushed out of 2B at some point, both could carve a spot on this club for years to come.

What I think we’ll see, is an offense that sputters a bit without Bae stirring shiz up and ultimately it’ll be why he gets more opportunity as the season progresses.

Question 2

Questions for Q&A: how much bigger of a dataset do we need on jack ? He seems the same. He’s gonna get a nickname like swing and miss – Wilbert Matthews

This question was made to follow that last one with my supposition that Bae could steal some ABs from CF. Wilbert, I’m quite sure Jack was given a shot to come North because they wanted to show him that they believed in him after last year. I agree with that thinking, but I also see the face of a guy who doesn’t look like he’s having fun, the same look of the same guy who wound up being sent back to AAA last year.

Before I get into this too much farther, let me take a quick detour to explain why this team and so many people like me who think they know stuff were so willing to ignore the weird splits, the strikeouts, the crappy Spring, the lost puppy face, all of it.

19 homeruns in 372 plate appearances. With a .709 OPS and 114 strikeouts. This is Jack Suwinski’s line from last year. Give him a full suite of plate appearances and the hope is he’d hit 35-40 homeruns, but the reality is, you can’t have that come with 200 strikeouts. Either way, this is why they want so desperately to try.

62 homeruns in 696 plate appearances. With a 1.750 OPS and 175 strikeouts. This is Arron Judge, and I’m in no way trying to pretend this is what Jack will be or even could be, but I will say 175 strikeouts sure hasn’t made him look less impressive has it?

If you want a real differentiator here, beside one guy having actually produced for quite some time now, its the walks. With Judge, if you give him something to hit, he probably will so guys stay out of the zone. He either swings at stuff outside the zone, hits a mistake or takes his walk.

Jack hasn’t forced pitchers to think this way. He misses in the zone and because of it, doesn’t get the walks needed to get that OPS to a level where you can ignore the K’s.

In fact, their K rates are identical. 30-31%. Walk percentage though, Judge walked 15.9% and Jack 11%.

Point is, the power is alluring and relatively rare.

Let’s do one more that’s probably more fair and he’s also considered a star. Kyle Schwarber last year had 669 plate appearances and hit 46 homeruns. His OPS was .827 and he struck out 200 times while walking 86 times. Silly thing is his K rate of 29.9 is right there, his walk percentage is in line too at 12.9.

Again, am I saying Jack Suwinski is Kyle Schwarber or Arron Judge, no I am not. Am I saying this is why he gets a chance? Yes.

ALL of that being said, the kid doesn’t look like he could hit a piñata without a blindfold right now and the Pirates patience, and lack of viable options in 2022 gave him an opportunity to push through some punishing gaps in production, a luxury I don’t believe he’ll receive in 2023. Give this a couple weeks and if he hasn’t started to at least look like he’s finding it, I think they’ll have to make a change and bluntly, who it’s for might not even matter. Could just as easily be Mathias as it would be Swaggerty, especially if Bae forces them to give him ABs in CF.

Sometimes, these decisions come down to is what this guy can do good enough to ignore what he can’t.

Just don’t sit here and tell me you would kick Schwarber out of bed for eating crackers ya know?

Question 3

Keller did not look confident. Do you think he’s ready to be a number one or is he better at three or four? – Wilbert Matthews

My man Wilbert is always quick on the trigger with questions. I despise numbering pitchers brother, always have. That said, is he a top of the rotation type? Yeah, he is. I’d agree he didn’t look confident early on, but he found himself, he had just done too much damage to himself in the first innings to ever get deep.

You’re last question was about how much data we needed for Jack, and I’ll use that in this question too, cause the answer with any starter is for sure more than 1 game.

The stuff is there, the pitch mix is there. He’s learning himself and Hedges is learning him at the same time. I actually think Derek Shelton was a bit too desperate to try to let him get a win yesterday leaving him in too long. 100 pitches on opening day isn’t insane, but it is when he’s stressed most of the day and not looking himself.

I’d also remind everyone, there were quite a few “aces” who got smacked in the mouth yesterday. Big names, much more established than Mitch mind you. By the end of this season, Mitch will have himself in the driver’s seat for leading this staff, but c’mon, you’ve watched him for a long time, he’s not going to do it seamlessly.

All in all, he fought through some things that would have seen him crumble in the past. He teetered in the first, even had that signature “come get me” look on his face for a pitch or two, and then he centered himself, got the Reds best hitter to ground into a double play and settled in.

One thing all the Pirates pitchers who’ve been here are going to have to learn, they don’t have to try to win 1-0 every time out anymore, and Keller showed maturity in the first hunting contact instead of chasing a strike out with the bases loaded and compounding the issues that were developing around him.

So all in all, 1 game is never going to answer this question, but if I had to tell you right now who is the Pirates “ace” it’s Mitch Keller, in 2023 anyway.

Question 4

Is J.T. Brubaker done for the year? – Randy Diffendal

Well Randy, I don’t know to be 100% candid.

Here’s what I can tell you, I have 3 contacts who’ve told me yes he will very likely miss all of 2023. Jason Mackey (a real reporter unlike me) has heard it isn’t good, coupled with the official on the record answers he’s gotten that refuse to say they are ready to make any determination here.

The team put him on the 15-day IL to open the season which leads you to believe they aren’t sold that it’s a lock he’ll miss even 60 days as of right now, and if this decision didn’t cause them to have to DFA a player (Ryan Vilade so maybe they just wanted to anyway) I could probably ignore that supposition that they think he could be back.

Truth is though, we just don’t know. I do know he will be getting a second opinion, even as we haven’t heard the first one.

Wish I knew more, but either way, I wouldn’t expect to see him in April.

Question 5

I know early yet, but will Mason Martin ever play in the big leagues as a pirate( I know unfair question, and I realize he has to show he cam reduce his strikeouts. I feel like this is a make or break year for him in the organization, although he is or will be 24 years young. If you want to table this or have Craig talk about this in depth down the road, that’s fine). – Billy Tissue

Timely Billy.

Mason Martin will not be starting the season in AAA, instead being pushed back to AA. A demotion isn’t always about performance mind you, John Baker the Pirates Director of Player Development warned all of us back in December there were going to be some surprising player placements between AA and AAA, and it was going to be more about playing time than anything else. That said, Mason has more than a full season of AAA under his belt and here he is.

The problem with Mason is almost the same thing that plagues Jack Suwinski. Problem is, Jack has that 30%K rate in MLB, and Mason has close to 35% in AAA. Ouch.

The reason that’s significant, it’s firmly believed whatever you do poorly in AAA, great chance you do it worse in MLB It’s usually worth a good 5% bump or hit depending on the stat.

Mason looks like a left handed Pedro Cerrano and even the first base prospect desperate Pirates know that won’t play at this level. The power is simply sick, arguably has as much as Cruz. Even this Spring we saw Mason launch one over the batter’s eye and almost over it entirely at LECOM. But you have to be able to do it a lot more than he has shown to get a chance in Pittsburgh.

Bottom line, never say never, but it sure doesn’t look good. I will say, the power is so special, he’s the type who will get a chance somewhere even if the Pirates do give up, but being a guy who was available via the Rule 5 two years running now it should be clear at the very least no MLB teams think he can stick on a roster all year. Meaning every team in this league thinks that sexy power is so rarely going to crop up over a strikeout that they won’t even let him ride the pine and pinch hit.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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