Five Pirates Thoughts at Five-ish

5-8-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Sorry everyone.

I’ve never missed one of these, but life happens, and this one had to be late.

Just as well, I mean if the Pirates can take a week off offense, I can be a bit late with a weekly feature.

Let’s go!

1. Defensive Swap

When you lose 7 games in a row, everything you don’t do well is amplified, when you win 20 of your first 29, its kinda incredible how many of those same issues were there all along but lost in the shuffle of winning games.

It’s a bit like the great Sam Kinison once said, “If you have money for rehab, you don’t have a problem yet!”

Well, the Pirates had plenty of wins, so it was super easy to ignore or simply say the middle infield defense wasn’t killing the club.

Rodolfo Castro has been holding down short stop, but we saw last year, it’s simply not a position you want him to have to cover for a stretch of time. Game here or there, fine. Weeks or months? Yeah, you’d rather not. Problem is, everyone else on the roster save maybe Tucupita Marcano also don’t pass the eye test.

Enter Chris Owings. Exit Mark Mathias.

The funny thing is, Mathias was hitting .275 since his call up, yet the offensively struggling Pirates chose to send him down for Owings who can legitimately and instantly upgrade their defense.

He’s a vet and has a long history of defensive performance, but the bat has been paltry. .239 lifetime batting average isn’t something to brag about, but the Pirates need a band aid and this will do for now.

I doubt we’re all done seeing Castro play there, but 6 errors in 7 days isn’t the sole reason they dug this hole, but it sure as hell didn’t help either.

Is this who I’d have called up? It’s kinda hard to argue for anyone else to solve the target issue. Gonzales is striking out at a 36% clip, I just can’t see that. Peguero has almost regressed. Triolo is hurt, I mean for now, yeah, Owings.

Not ideal, but remember, none of this was the plan, they had a stud at this spot. Also, maybe quit trying to move Cruz off SS. The cupboard is rather bare folks. So much for ALL THOSE MIDDLE INFIELDERS!

2. Super Who?

The Pirates will activate Luis Ortiz to pitch tomorrow night’s contest against the Rockies. This is a direct replacement for Vince Velasquez who mercifully doesn’t appear poised to miss a ton of time here.

Is this likely a very temporary call up? Well, it could be, but keep an eye on Johan Oviedo, he’s been touched up for 3 straight outings now, and the slider that was his bread and butter has lost some of it’s sudden and near plate break and he’s never really mastered command of the fastball.

I’m not saying yes 100% he’ll replace Oviedo for a bit, but hey, as long as he’s up here, if he looks great and Oviedo doesn’t?

3. Speaking of Super 2

I’ve done this before, but this stuff is kinda like fishing with a net full of holes. You only catch a few, most get away, in this case, escaping true understanding of what’s really in play when we talk about prospect manipulation.

Players have to accrue three years of Major League service time with one year of service time, meaning 172 days on the 26-man roster or the Major League injured list in order to be eligible for arbitration. Super Two is a designation that allows a select group of players to become eligible for arbitration before reaching three years of service time.

Now, did you notice anything there? Where was the mention of the extra year of control? That’s Super 2 right? Nope.

Super 2 is nothing more than a formula to screw the top 22% of service time earning prospects out of a little money 3 years down the line.

For instance, Luis Ortiz has already been in MiLB long enough this year to be past the point where he could accumulate a full year of service time so at this point you have to ask two questions.

  1. Are the Pirates so cheap that this paltry amount matters? Yes, they sure have been, but it’s a whole lot fewer players than you’d think. Cruz, absolutely. Cutch, yup for sure. Bae, no, not so much. It has to be a sincerely worthy player to purposefully shoot for this. For instance, Jacob Stallings was a Super 2 player, trust me, that was not done purposefully.
  2. If it’s not about the extra year, and the amount is so minimal, why not call them up? Shockingly simple. The Pirates either do truly see this player being so good in his first 3 years feel it ‘s worth it. (It kinda never is enough if you’re a serious team) Or, the Pirates truly believe, the player is not ready for MLB.

You’ll find when a player “matters” meaning a top 5 in the system type, especially number one picks but International studs count too here, teams really hate to send them back. The process can wreck some kids, and teams are always careful with it.

So, “just take a shot, or give him a shot” well, you can, but teams don’t like it. That’s really all I’m saying here, not telling you it’s right or wrong, just that it is. I can think of guys it has destroyed, I can think of plenty of guys it did little more than show them what they had left to learn.

A brief delay at the beginning of the season, 3 weeks to a month is typically enough to clear the extra year hurdle. A guy like Ortiz, well he had some service time last year, so he may need to be sent back down for another couple weeks in order to ensure the Pirates will have him for an extra season.

Again, all teams do this stuff, even the Yankees, Dodgers and Rays. The players and owners both did absolutely nothing to really change this system, aside from a weak incentive plan after all that fighting, so I kinda don’t care who it’s fair to, neither side fought to eliminate it so, it’s the law they’re ok with. Can’t vote for it and claim you hate it.

Ha, appropriate finish as I’m writing from Washington DC.

4. A Series of Fortunate Events

That’s what this season has been, even as the Pirates are currently trying to end their 7 game skid.

All season the stars have aligned and even as they lost, so did the entire division.

It’s now time for the management team to realize this much good fortune is not to be squandered.

This team needs offense, and their best offensive prospect Endy Rodriguez can likely provide some. Even if they don’t feel he’s ready to handle 4-5 starts behind the dish, let’s get his bat up here. Let him learn from Hedges. If he’s not going to hit, he can at least teach.

Keep Delay up here and run 3 catchers. Ship out Andujar and bring up Rodriguez who can ably play all the spots Andujar would have tried to play, and catch him once, twice a week until you and the staff feel more comfortable.

When you get handed this many advantageous things in one season early on, you can’t just sit on your hands. I’m hoping the choice to call up Ortiz is a sign that they’ll do the same to infuse some “special” into this lineup.

Nobody is going to outright replace Cruz, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

At this point though, it’s time to ask yourself my two questions from point number 3.

5. Roller Coaster, of Performance

Predictions are like butt holes… well, you know the rest.

Anyway, I went with 74 and yes, during their hot start, I sure as hell did think I undershot it, during this past week, I’ve thanked my mother for instilling patience into my make up, because it sure as hell looks right at the moment.

I will say this much, teams like this are almost always a roller coaster. The vets get tired, carrying a weight beyond what their expectations should be. The kids lose focus periodically, especially when the vets get tired and feel their own game needs their focus at the moment.

This typically sacrifices the little things. Defense, making the right throw, knowing ones responsibility on backups, pushing too far on the base paths trying to ignite something.

When it’s good, its good, and when it’s not, it tends to mostly be not. That’s a fairly young baseball team, and folks, they’re talented enough to believe they can find that groove again. Maybe not a 20-9 stretch, but better baseball is in there.

Truth is, so is the bad baseball you’ve been watching. Management can’t control all the injuries they’ve sustained, and I can honestly say they entered the season with what I felt was more than enough depth to survive just about anything short of an injury to Reynolds, Cruz or Keller. Well, clearly, we didn’t get that lucky.

What they can control is to truly evaluate and make sure at this point, they are taking the chances on guys who could help this Major League ballclub.

That, specifically the Pittsburgh Pirates, not the affiliates, not any one prospect needs to be the focus of everyone who is, well, focused, on this team at 115 Federal.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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