Hump Day Pirates Q&A

4-12-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Busy week, and many of these questions came in before the Cruz injury, which is good, because the first thing that happens following something like that is nobody is capable of thinking past it.

And we really must, this team is going to play 4 months of baseball without him. So while I understand the initial pain of the situation, and the hit to your excitement level this has delivered, we still must march on just as we expect the players to. I’d also say, they’ve started great, and I’d put forward much of it wasn’t driven by Cruz, they have capable players, and should still be competitive, if not a bit less explosive.

Let’s Go!

Question 1

With 7 HR in 5 games, do you see the Pirates being able to consistsntely win games with power this year or will they need to transistion to a different style to be competitive? – Shaun Conley (@shaunpconley)

First, don’t get on Shaun about the numbers in his question. He asked it last week at this point. I would have answered yes before the Cruz injury, and now it’s an emphatic yes. This is a team that is going to have to manufacture a good 50% of their runs.

Now, as we sit here, the Pirates have played 11 games and their 15 homeruns have them in a tie for 8th place in baseball. Tied with teams like the Braves, Jays and Brewers.

A quick look at some of those rosters should probably tell you, they’re a bit over their handle bars right?

According to the coaching staff, the plan was going to be more about what the moment called for as opposed to trying to say “this is how we’re going to win” and sticking with it. In miniature, Ji Hwan Bae dropped his leg kick in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday night. He did this because he was 0-4 going into that at bat, and he wanted to make sure with 2 men on and a chance to win the game in scoring position that he’d make contact. Then he wound up crushing a ball over the Clemente Wall.

Moral of the story, plan to make good contact, sometimes it’s gonna go out.

Question 2

With the reported severity of Brubaker’s injury, will this speed up his exit from the organization? Or do you see him being with the Pirates post-rehab in 2024 and, if so, what role? – Nick Cammuso (@npc210)

Yeah Nick, I’ll put a caveat here, we haven’t gotten the news back from his second opinion, but it sure smells like it’s headed toward TJS right? I’ll start here, I thought he could have possibly been a trade candidate at the deadline if the youngsters progressed before this happened. Reality is if this is the worst, you’re talking about a then 31-32 year old who kinda sorta had himself entrenched as a starter, but a back end starter. When he returns he’ll likely have 1 year of team control left.

We already saw the team move on from Kuhl and Brault under the same conditions and they weren’t freshly coming off surgery. In many ways Nick, if this team isn’t beyond needing him to fill a spot in the rotation by the time he returns, this whole thing might very well be in big trouble.

Short answer, yes, I think this unofficially marks the end of his opportunity in Pittsburgh to be a starter at the very least. If he returns as a Pirate, I believe it would likely be a bullpen role. Think Robert Stephenson with a bit more starting success.

Question 3

How long of a leash do CSN and Castro have early on? Seems as though they’re both feeling the pressure of competition pushing them. – Phil Chaplin

Well Phil, for one thing up until Oneil Cruz went down on Sunday I’d say both were firmly in the fighting for opportunity category, as opposed to looking over their shoulder.

CSN has only been given 20 plate appearances. To his detriment he’s used 11 of them to strike out. Even then, you’re talking about fighting for what is currently a lightly used bench role. Even if he is getting pushed, the team isn’t going to bring someone like Swaggerty up here to do the same. I’m sure he feels pressure like any player, but until he starts getting more opportunity, I doubt he feels like he’s screwing the pooch ya know?

Now Castro, well his role just changed didn’t it? Guess what, his leash just got longer too. The team now needs his power, even if it comes with things they don’t like so much. The team now needs his glove, because maturity and SS don’t exist in spades within the organization. Even he has only had 26 plate appearances, in fact, his limited participation was a swelling issue under the surface the team was looking to find ways to address.

I will say if either do have a direct competitor, it might be Tucapita Marcano at SS. He’s looked really good in the early going in AAA, but again, Marcano has done that in AAA several times then fizzled in MLB. I could see them wanting him to show its sustainable, and if we’re honest, SS isn’t his best spot on the diamond either.

I believe both have a really solid shot to stick for a while.

Question 4

The hitting style seems different for every batter. Are we seeing signs of effectiveness? Or ineffectiveness? – Douglas Smith

Well Doug, I think I kinda called this before the season. Veterans aren’t nearly as pliable as kids. I say this because let’s be real, no coach at this point is going to change what Carlos Santana does at the plate unless he was looking to change something. Same with Cutch, same with Choi, you feel me?

Those veterans tend to not be quiet when they see one of their chosen to be under their wing doing things they see as misguided.

The hitting style for the overall team does vary from player to player and it’s refreshing. Last season, and even in the season before with a different hitting coach, the Pirates would enter just about every contest looking to take long at bats, work the starter out of the game regardless of how good the opponents bullpen was. Their greatest offensive threat was a wild pitcher.

This season you’re seeing a more varied approach, some swing at the first pitch, some hunt everything away, others seem happy to just make sure they hit the ball and where it goes isn’t even part of the equation.

Balance is always good in baseball, and if it continues, they could develop into quite a potent offense.

Question 5

You often hear the payroll should be at least 100 mil. Where would you spend that money? – Scott Nelson (@Piratefan1970)

Oh, this is easy. First, I’d have already extended Reynolds, Keller and tried with Roansy and Cruz. Bluntly, that probably gets you there.

That’s probably not the way you wanted this answered cause it’s incredibly boring so I’ll go this direction Scott, pitching.

I would have brought in a Starter on a 2 or 3 year deal, probably in the 10-14 mil per range, and I’d have brought in another proven middle to back of the bullpen arm.

Everywhere else, I either like the very near future options, or like what they have to sort through right now.

I also think this arbitrary number that supposedly makes this team “care” is kinda silly. Through arbitration alone they’ll get there in a year or two, and trust me, it won’t be enough to either convince fans the owner cares or to win.

Question 6

With Swaggerty’s hot start in triple A, how long til he gets another chance on the big league team? Who is the sacrificial lamb if/when that happens? – Phil Chaplin

I mean, he’s an injury away for one thing, so that could answer your question right there. Jack Suwinski is the player that most closely represents a spot for Swaggerty though. They want him to be the CF, they’d want Swags to be the CF. Jack has had very little opportunity yet though. 24 plate appearances, yes he’s still striking out, but he’s also walking more, and finally last night the power showed up. In no way do I see them making a knee jerk change here.

After that, it gets tough. The Pirates don’t want Swaggerty to sit on the bench, they want him playing. On Tuesday, Derek Shelton on his radio show on the Fan said CSN simply put had a better Spring than Travis, and referenced how much time he had missed recently.

I don’t think they feel the 25 year old first round pick urgency most of us fans do.

ALL that said, I believe he’ll get his shot this year, it’s just going to take a good 100-150 at bats for someone here in order to see them make a non injury change.

Question 7

At what point do the Pirates take a look at either Hill or more importantly Velasquez and say this isn’t working (assuming things don’t get better). Bringing in a veteran starter(s) isn’t doing anything when they have an ERA over 10 and can’t make it to the 4th inning. On a related note, how long do they stay with Choi if he continues to hit under .100. This isn’t a young player you are looking to get reps and a look at , but a veteran who you are looking to contribute. This looks like another VanMeter or Yoshi case to me. – Edward Brewer

That’s a lot Ed, but I owe you, tremendous comments on so many things I write.

Let’s start with the pitchers. First, its not after 2 starts. Track records are track records, Rich Hill has a longer one than most. Here’s what it says, if you get 100 innings from him, it was a good year. If his ERA is over 4 he’s had a rare season for him. Right now, I can honestly tell you his issue, because I’ve watched him pitch for almost 20 years, so trust me they can too. His curveball isn’t landing.

He’s leaving it up in the zone, when he’s on that thing falls off the table damn near on top of the plate. His fastball is a tick slow, he usually sits at 87-88, so far he’s more around 85-86. If he’s not starting, he isn’t going to help in the pen much. Lastly, a Pirates reality, 8 Mil isn’t getting cut.

Now Vince, look, he’s a bullpen arm. Specifically, he’s a 1 time through the order pitcher, and that’s if he’s good. To be a good pitcher, Vince needs all 4 of his offerings. That doesn’t happen every outing but let’s assume it does for the purposes of illustration. If he has all 4 he has to use them to get through the order, then the starting 9 have seen what he has and they see him much much better the next time through. That my friend isn’t a starter. Bluntly, if JT Brubaker hadn’t been injured, I think right this second he’d be in the bullpen and Oviedo would have taken his rotation spot.

Now they have to wait for Ortiz or Bido to reach the milestones the team has identified. And even then, look how much consternation it’s causing finding a place to stick the returning from IL Robert Stephenson. The Bullpen doesn’t really need him either ya know?

If they felt it was an emergency, Bido, Ortiz or gulp…Caleb Smith might be the call since Mike Burrows is on the shelf. Unless they feel Priester is somehow ready, and I doubt they do.


Now onto Choi.

Again, 27 plate appearances here. When you asked this question, the only notable thing he’d done is hit one dinger, now he’s hit two on back to back nights. He too has a track record. He’s a 230ish hitter, he’ll hit you 10-15 homeruns (maybe a bit more in this park), and more importantly, he’s part of the first base solution for 2023. Carlos Santana is long in the tooth, can’t expect him to play 162 at this point, and this is a team that firmly believes in mentors that represent regions.

His greatest value might be what he does with Ji Hwan Bae.

The Pirates have nothing just yet truly pushing for first base. Malcom Nunez might, Matt Gorski might, hell, Mason Martin might, but none have yet, none will for half a season if they do. Choi isn’t going anywhere, and he’s not nearly the risk Yoshi was, he’s just Asian. The similarities die right there, and I won’t dignify the VanMeter comparison, Josh was a reach for a former top prospect who’d never done it at this level, just not the same.

Question 8

Do the Pirates feel comfortable with Castro, Bae, and maybe Peguero as their shortstop till Cruz returns? Any chance they could make a trade for someone? I don’t want to make things worse for when Cruz comes back though. Forgot Marcano is in the mix too. – Don Jacobsen

I don’t see them making a trade to address this position.

I know that statement kinda cuts the legs out of this question quickly, but you answered it yourself by listing all those options, all on the 40-man by the way, each and every one with at least a taste of MLB playing time.

Bluntly, 2023 in my mind is a failure if we reach the end and more than one of those names is still a question. I don’t mean you have to know you want them here for the next decade, but you sure as hell better know if you do or don’t believe they are MLB players by the end of the year.

Entering this off season, meaning the one following this brand new year we’re watching, ideally they at least know they have SS and 2B filled, and potentially the bench filled as well. Another player who could factor in there is Nick Gonzales, who I still firmly believe is in cup of coffee territory by the end of the season. That’ll put him in the mix next Spring, and probably on the same manipulation schedule most top prospects are on. In other words, some of these dudes need to sh** or get off the pot.

Cruz getting injured sucks for this season, sucks for him, sucks for the fans, but in the long run, it’ll force this team to answer questions about guys I quite frankly didn’t see them getting enough time to look at.

All that and we didn’t even mention Mathias. I’ll just leave this here to end the piece, if the Pirates felt they had enough here, they don’t go out and add a guy like that. Not everyone can be Josh Harrison, someone has to step up and be Walker ya dig?

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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