Hump Day Pirates Q&A

5-3-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

We’re in the midst of a real measuring stick week. The Pirates are facing the Rays and Blue Jays in back to back 3 game sets and while it won’t tell us how far this team could go, it might show us and them, they still have work to do.

Lets dig in to some really good questions this week!

Question 1

Do you see a long-term position for Bae, and if so where (What do you see as his ceiling)? Do you see the play of Connor Joe staying consistent, and if so could you see an outfield of Reynolds, Suwinski and Joe for the foreseeable future, or, could Joe become the everyday first baseman? – Mark Witzberger

Well Mark, let’s start with Joe. Connor is the very definition of consistent, he’ll take a good, professional at bat every time up, and he’s honestly done that for a couple years so I’d have to say, it’s pretty real. What has changed is he’s hitting the ball harder in 2023, and that changes what his ability to stick should be seen as.

I think Joe has made himself a player the team simply has to think about in terms of owning a roster spot. I’m not to the point where I need him to be a nailed on 150 game starter, but 90-100? Absolutely. Seeing him at first base, that’s interesting. It’s far too early to pronounce Malcom Nunez dead, but he certainly has had a rough start to his AAA season, in 22 games he’s hitting .188 with a .490 OPS. The Pirates have also played with Matt Gorski at first base, and for what it’s worth, Mason Martin is still there too. Realistically, at 37 Carlos Santana is someone they could potentially decide to try to keep for another season too. All that said, Joe looks like he can handle the position, I just don’t think he has enough power, and it’s hard for me to envision a winning lineup that has Hayes and Joe on the corners. I’m not arguing either are poor players, but those are still positions that should provide some pop.

Now, Bae. Aside from Travis Swaggerty, I don’t think the Pirates have a clear cut CF. Jack Suwinski is an option too. From an athleticism standpoint, Bae can be really good and get plenty of at bats from grabbing up multiple spots covering injury or just being a true super utility type, but what Bae provides at the plate (yes I know he’s struggled lately) might be too much to not play. Ceiling? Well, the Pirates, and I still believe there is more power there. Not 20 a year, but 10-15 if he picks and chooses times to cut it loose. That combined with his elite speed and ability to disrupt on the basepaths, man, he’d be hard to not have in your lineup most days. So to me, his ceiling is a starter, where hardly matters. His floor, is a Super Utility player who still gets enough at bats to matter.

If I had to pick a spot where I’d like to see Bae stick, I’d go with CF, if for nothing else, they simply don’t have that speed element without him and he can eat a ton of territory. With reps come consistency, and I hope, fewer brain fart plays that are the calling card of so so many rookies.

Good questions…

Question 2

What is going on with Holderman? Yes it’s a long season, yes there will be occasional rough games. We’re all human obviously, but it feels his last few appearances he’s pressing, overthrowing and or compensating for something as his control hasn’t been what it was. Has there been any report involving him? – J.w. Sanders

Honestly J.w., Colin is a stuff guy, not a control guy. In his short career, keep in mind he’s only thrown 41 innings in MLB at this point, he has 18 walks vs 36 Ks. This season he has that ratio at 4 walks and 12 strikeouts.

A patient hitter is always going to give him trouble. Think Liriano from back in the day, once the league realized he was going to play out of the zone a large percentage of the time, they kinda just quit swinging, and there is a bit of that to Holderman too. The difference this year has been, he can indeed command his fastball, well, most nights anyhow.

The thing is, Colin is still a bit of a project, but I’ll remind here, so was Clay Holmes and while I can’t speak for what you thought of him J.w., I sure can tell you it was pretty lonely on the island of Clay Holmes truthers. Stuff that big lanky guys like that have just plays different. the angle messes with hitters, and it messes with umps too. As he matures I expect the team to develop ways for Holderman to create a “safe pitch” meaning one that he can harness entirely when he absolutely needs to get in the zone.

Not unlike what they’ve tried to accomplish with Dauri Moreta. He too is wild, but they’ve found a calming effect in his 2-seam, it resets him in a way and allows him to find the zone when missing it is absolutely not something he can afford. Watch him closely, his velo will drop 3-4 MPH, the pitch darts a bit less, and boom, in the zone. Obviously there’s a balance there between getting a strike and getting hammered, but that’s kinda the challenge of pitching by nature no?

Long story short, Holderman will be fine. He’s hardly their biggest issue.

Question 3

How do you see the bench shaking out over the next month or so? Mathias strict platoon vs LHP? – PNC Yark (@eYARKulation)

Man Yark, tough question. To answer this best, let me start by saying, I have to assume everyone stays healthy. Injuries will have a bigger say in the bench than anything. For instance, should Hayes get injured, Mark Mathias might very well be asked to hold down 3rd.

I don’t believe they see Mathias as a guy who can only hit against lefties, I just think right now, they don’t see him as a starter when they have viable and important bats from the left side they need to play just about everywhere he does. The addition of Andujar in many ways creates the same situation the club had with Smith-Njigba, from the other side. Someone is just not going to play regularly. It could be Andujar, or Mathias. I’d rather have Mathias’ glove in almost any situation.

For me the bench is going to remain Marcano, Joe, Andujar and Mathias in some form of rotation. If Joe doesn’t cool, it’s really a 3 man bench (disregarding catcher) and those three will play when analytics says they should or starters are tired AF. You could even toss Bae in there. He’s hardly secured a full time starting role.

I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but when I read a question like this, I really see, “who is getting called up for the bench, cause I don’t see a starter coming”, and honestly, I think there is some truth to that. In fact, when Endy is called up I am just about 100% sold they’ll keep 3 catchers, which will change the bench quite a bit. His bat is ready, but 6 weeks isn’t going to have his glove where this franchise wants their catcher to be. More on this later, I think I have some catching prospect questions.

Question 4

With Henry Davis raking as much as he is in AA do you call him up instead of Endy or would you want him to experience AAA first? – John (@JGor492)

I know they want both Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez catching as much as possible but realistically how much longer can they keep Henry in Altoona? – Tyler Hernley (@hernleyt)

I don’t, and they won’t, care if he experiences AAA. They will care that he’s not on the 40-man, and they don’t believe either of them can at this time handle a starting role as the MLB catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As I mentioned a bit in Yark’s question, I’m increasingly convinced when they do call up Endy it’ll be because they want his bat and they ultimately won’t be ready to have him start behind the dish a large percentage of games. I think they’ll use his position flexibility to work his bat in, and toss him a game or 2 a week behind the dish until he earns some trust. Not with the team, as much as the staff.

Henry is in just about the same boat honestly, he’s just a year behind. We’re talking here about a kid who has only played 84 games of minor league ball. Forget level, let’s just talk actual volume of games behind the dish, that’s 57. 57 games where Henry has been back there doing all the things you as a fan know this franchise values in the catching position.

In those games, he’s allowed 42 stolen bases, with a caught stealing % of 14. He, and Endy both, have work to do to become starting level catchers. In fact, this will likely play out even beyond 2023.

I’ll say now, what I said at the beginning of the season and honestly, I’d be shocked if I was wrong here. Endy will come up in June/July, Davis will go to AAA then. That’s a month or two from now and honestly, baseball execs don’t get swayed by a guy hitting for 10 days all that often anyway. Neither should you, but that’s for another day.

After that, Davis could earn a cup of coffee late in the year, but if this team is in contention, don’t look for much of that type of thing. These moves in today’s game are more about the inevitability of needing to protect guys come December, so that’s players such as Priester, Gonzales, so Davis would have to play his way into it or see the position decimated by injury.

Look, Austin Hedges can’t hit. That’s not why he was brought here, that my friends is how very much they value the actual catching aspect of the position. Over time Endy and Davis will take over but that time doesn’t need to be now, and it certainly doesn’t need to be forced. They are staggered for the express purpose of getting them reps, so Endy being a DH while his arm gets right, not all that helpful.

I don’t talk to nearly as many prospects as Craig does, but I can honestly say, neither of these guys are super clean back there yet, and pitchers, well, let’s just say when they don’t have to be “team guys” will tell you there is enough to work on.

My advice to everyone on this is to look forward to Endy, he’s clearly ahead, and his 40 man status will ensure he remains there for this season. Henry will make his case starting in June/July as to the cup of coffee and next year, just about everything you think today about Endy, you can transfer to the 2024 discussions surrounding Davis.

Also, let me remind everyone, Kyle Schwarber came up as a catching prospect. If the bat plays, they’ll find a way to use them. If one of them turns out to be a truly quality starting catcher and the other winds up being a first baseman or DH or whatever, it’ll be ok. At the moment though, the team wants to work to develop both back there, let’s face it, they’re much more valuable if they pan out than if they don’t at a premium defensive position. Being impatient about getting their bats up here would stunt that effort. I can envision a world where the two of them split time back there and play elsewhere to keep the bat in the lineup eventually, but bluntly, I’m not sure Henry’s personality will allow him to be less than THE guy back there. I legitimately think he cares more about becoming a good catcher than a good baseball player.

There’s a reason there are so few truly great catchers who hit the hell out of the ball too, bats get moved to keep them healthy and playing more. Even more rarely do you see a rookie step in and take over the starting role. MLB catchers are extensions of the coaching staff for many teams, and on this team in particular, they’ve 100% drank the Kool-aid that this is the model they’d like to follow.

Want to say they’re dumb, ok, but look at this starting rotation and try to convince yourself they’d be here with a rookie catching.

Question 5

Who would you rather extend, Keller or Contreras? – Shaun Conley (@shaunpconley)

Not fair Shaun, I want both.

My priority though, is 100% Keller. Much like Reynolds, he was here the whole time developing into an important part of this core, and I’d like to see them lock him up for 5-6 years.

The team only has 2 years left with Keller, and you don’t need me to tell you that timing is horrible. If he was say under team control through 2027, ok, I can see maybe just letting it play out for a while, but where he is, I can’t see taking that out of the mix.

Question 6

Until Cruz gets back, do you want to see Castro as the primary SS, or would you like to see someone else get real innings at that position? – Whisky Rebel (@ProtonPirate)

I see Castro as the primary SS, for sure. In fact, I could see Cruz being ready to hit and run before he’s ready to handle the side to side, bending flexing action that the SS position requires when he is healthy. Castro is a very talented fielder, and I think only a few weeks into this thing, you can clearly see he’s handling it far better than he did when he manned the position in 2022 before Cruz was promoted.

He looks controlled, he’s making a lot of good decisions, plays well with Hayes, and he hasn’t been effected by the merry go round at second base. The bat more than plays, and honestly, if we didn’t have Cruz, we’d probably be glowing about Rodolfo as he continues to develop there.

Bluntly, it’s not even his best position, he’s a better 3B than SS, and probably a better 2B than SS too, but for now, he’s taken ownership of his best friend’s spot and I don’t see him letting it go.

Of course he’s going to need days off, and Tucapita Marcano is in my estimation the team’s best alternative at the moment. Bae can hang there, but it’s not something you’d want to see regularly.

If there were an injury I think they’d give Marcano a shot to take hold, and Peguero would have to be the next as far as truly filling the role goes.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: