The Pirates Are Sinking Fast, Can They Right the Ship? How?

5-14-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Call up Henry Davis or you don’t care?!?! Endy should be here already, he hits everywhere! A serious team would make a trade!

I’ve been out of town most of the week, and while I’ve still watched the games, I haven’t really had much to say aside from my show this week.

Thing is, most of the solutions I’ve seen put forward, well, they probably aren’t really all that helpful. Part of that is we all to a degree expect too much from prospects, and part of it is, the team was never as good as they were in April and they aren’t as bad as they’ve been in May either.

If you want to replace the fringes of the roster, sure, nobody is going to really have a meaningful defense for guys like Andujar, Owings, Palacios, or whomever you’d think of.

Josh Palacios for instance was crushing the baseball all over the field in AAA. He was a minor league Rule 5 acquisition so the fact he looked like anything probably caught everyone off guard to a degree. All of that got him a call up to MLB because the team was desperate to get some offense up here. Nobody was hitting the baseball more than him, well, maybe Henry Davis, but we’ll get there.

Point is, Palacios has been here a week. He’s taken 3 at bats. Now he’s gone 0-3, but the Pirates called up a bat expressly for the purpose of getting some offense from a guy seeing it like a beach ball, then they sat him.

They took a guy crushing baseballs, brought him up here to “help”, then didn’t even see if he might.

I can easily let this go because truthfully, he was never going to help all that much even if they did, but this is what panic looks like.

After starting 20-9 the Pirates have corrected, probably overcorrected to 21-19, 2 games over .500 from all the way at one point 12 games over. It’s been hard to watch, but it’s also very much so been reality.

Palacios is a great example of what changing the fringe players out really does. Miguel Andujar was called up for largely the same reason, and because he came up on a double header day, he was given an immediate shot. He took that opportunity and hit two dingers, and he hasn’t done a blessed thing since. 31 at bats, good for a .161 AVG.

Believe it or not, when you replace fringe guys, meaning non-starters, you hope for an instant pop, a quick infusion of the mojo a guy carried from his hot streak. You hope it lasts longer than a game or two of course, but you don’t expect it, that’s for sure.

Now they’ve got one player they won’t use, and one they are starting to see they shouldn’t.

How about Chris Owings? Veteran, and he hit all Spring, he was hitting in AAA, the Pirates have played beyond infuriating defense in the Middle Infield, makes total sense right?

Well, he’s played all of 4 games, with 9 at bats. They want his glove, but they can’t afford to play him every day because many of their best opportunities for offense are also middle infielders.

Even if he came up here and hit like he was in AAA, Owings is only going to be so good, and it’s only going to matter so much.

The Fringes are nothing more than redecorating a poorly performing restaurant.

Think about the lineup.

Ke’Bryan Hayes is your every day 3B, and that isn’t changing. In the Outfield, Joe, Reynolds and Suwinski are pretty inarguably their 3 best. Santana even while slumping is the 1B.

The SS and 2B rotation is mainly 3 guys who you’d hope 1 would emerge from. Bae, Castro and Marcano.

So when we talk about really affecting change, where?

Catcher? OK, I’m aware that the Pirates top 2 hitting prospects are catchers. Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis.

Endy is only hitting .250 in AAA and he’s been injured. He’s caught 18 games at the AAA level this year and early reports are he has the athleticism to do it at the big league level but the game calling isn’t quite there.

Henry is 23 years old and a 1:1 pick. He’s raking in AAA, just like Endy did last year. He too has all the tools to be a catcher in this league. He too has caught 18 games this season, by all accounts, he has done well. They’d like to see him get a bit cleaner on his technique on blocking balls, and his skill calling games.

He’s easily ready to be in AAA, and if the team so chose, calling someone up from AA isn’t unprecedented of course.

If the call up is simply because they need offense, ok, but here’s reality. He probably isn’t an MLB catcher yet. At least not every day. He can DH, but that comes at the expense of Cutch who is just about 100% a DH now. Or, he can play Right Field, which probably puts Connor Joe (who is still hitting) or Jack Suwinski to the bench when he does.

So, go ahead, but he can’t just sit here, they simply can’t call up either of these kids and not play them almost every day. There’s no slow walking a guy like that. They get called, they play. To do anything otherwise would be detrimental to the cause.

The absolute worst outcome here would be neither of these guys panning out as a catcher. As it stands now, they have the expectation that they’ve addressed the position and will have an answer even if they don’t know which one it is yet. Alter their path because the team is in a collective slump and it changes the training plan.

I’m not telling you it can’t work, I’m telling you it’s threading a needle. And that’s if the bats play up here. Obviously you’d hope so but you’ve been watching this game a long time, talent doesn’t equal top level success from the jump most of the time.

Entering this season, Oneil Cruz, before the injury was still a question mark to a degree. We still didn’t now for sure he could handle SS, we weren’t sure if his approach against lefties would improve, and while he showed some great signs, his injury prevented us from seeing the progression play out.

Youth struggles. It may give you a pop of energy, it may ultimately raise the ceiling of your overall club, but it’ll often also lower the floor.

If the Pirates arrived at their 21-19 record by simply winning regularly and fighting in every series, most fans would probably feel pretty good about where they are. Especially given the fact most predicted a losing season or .500 at best.

The fact is, they got here by outplaying 28 teams in the league, then outplaying none for 2 weeks. It looks like a car crash, because it’s been one.

So what would I do?

First, I’d make a few decisions about my current roster.

Be very honest about what you do and don’t feel comfortable using. Palacios, Andujar, Owings, are simply not being used, and aren’t worth having here.

Choose starters for SS and 2B. I’ll be the first to tell you, the Pirates don’t have a ton of options here without Oneil Cruz, but they need offense. It hasn’t been pretty, but Castro and Bae in my mind are the SS and 2B most games. Let’s give them a spot, and let it play for a few weeks.

Look, calling up Endy or Henry isn’t fixing that situation anyway. So deal with this first.

Both have underwhelmed but they both have things they can do when they’re right that help this ballclub offensively. To get right, they have to play.

If you feel passionately that Marcano is better than either, fine, but pick someone, and lets let it soak.

Outfield starters are Joe, Reynolds and Suwinski. Against lefties, against righties, let’s see what they have. All three of them are under team control for quite some time, let’s find out if Joe or Suwinski are starters or nice bench guys.

Delay and Hedges aren’t going to create much resistance if the Catching discussion is about potential. They do have to be concerned about how the staff functions with whomever they play back there, but on boarding a youngster (at least 1) was always the plan this year. My advice here is, either jump Davis or wait for Endy to have a really hot week then make a call.

The pitching staff, well, Ortiz is already here. He’s truly the only one you’d want at this point. I ultimately think he’ll go back down, but I also think he’ll show himself to be a viable choice to call on.

The truth about this club is, they went and bought and/or had more layers built in at most spots, but injury has created a change in philosophy and timing need.

Fringe call ups aren’t going to help. Want Canaan Smith-Njigba back? OK, but he’s just going to sit. Want Cal Mitchell, alright, but he still can’t throw and he’s just gonna sit. Nick Gonzales, ok, but he strikes out like 35% of the time and he can’t come up until you’ve decided you’re done with Marcano or Bae. At least for now.

I told you before this season, I was most interested in seeing how and when they would try to infuse the youth, thus far we’ve seen that effort almost forced upon them. Reality is, the very best they have to call up, probably aren’t as ready as you’d like as it comes to fielding a position and helping at the plate.

The club may have to turn a blind eye to that and find a way to at least try, but make no mistake, it’s not likely to work. Now, they should still try, but I really hate the idea of calling up prospects and expecting them to be Jesus.

Make no mistake though, a miracle is what they’d need to have one or two call ups change what’s going on with the MLB club.

I recommend stabilizing things by trying to be a bit more formal with “starters” vs bench. Shake up the order, it isn’t working.

All of that, and I didn’t even talk about trades. Here’s why, it’s far too early. Teams for the most part haven’t even decided if they think they stink or not. Doors for trades won’t happen at least until this month is over, but likely half way into June.

Even then, the Pirates will have two distinct paths. They can help right now and use prospect capital to get it. They can get help that lasts for a couple seasons and use a bit more prospect capital to get it. That’s the list. They can’t afford to trade pitching prospects. They don’t know if either catcher will work, so neither can be expendable. They don’t think their outfielders are good enough for them, so it’s hard to believe they’d be good enough for others.

Point is folks, this really needs solved by getting more April performances out of guys who did it then.

A good coach can stop the bleeding. Since ours has already been extended, I’ll assume they think he is one. Time to put a foot down and stop the bleeding.

Sadly, I just don’t see that coming from calling up a guy or two and you’ll note, I never said they shouldn’t try, I just expect it to create as many issues as it solves.

At the end of the day, this is still a team that will flirt with .500. That’s what I thought they were, and that’s what I think we’ve seen they are.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “The Pirates Are Sinking Fast, Can They Right the Ship? How?

  1. I could’ve changed that AAA team with one move. When they traded Toronto Heineman they should’ve gotten Otto Lopez. A player that can play SS and Toronto has little to no need for.

    Toronto has, Leo Jimenez, Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Josh Kasevich, Alex
    De Jesus, Estiven Machado, Cade Doughty, Miguel Hiraldo, Luis De Los Santos all in High A or better and all middle infield, or 2B/3B options. Same as Otto Lopez. And no OF prospects.

    They shouldn’t have let Toronto have Heineman w/out making a deal for Lopez.

    Give them Cal Mitchell(with Heineman), a AAA, lefty bat, with MLB experience, that just turned 24, who hit .339/.391/.547 with 9 HR in AAA last season and .226 with 5 HR in MLB. And who’s hitting .258/.323/.400 with 4 HR in AAA this season.

    I don’t care if you even have to throw in a RP. Throw in DeJong, a AAAA arm, that can eat some innings. Add Underwood Jr. Both are out of options anyways and they need to make decisions on those guys sooner or later(DeJong’s already being made).

    I don’t care if they had to add YerryDeLosSantos, or JcFlowers, or Tahnaj Thomas. But I really believe it would’ve easily got done with Mitchell, Heineman, DeJong,(or even a RP like Hunter Stratton).

    Otto Lopez isn’t a great option at SS. Most likely more comfortably a 2B-man. And he has little power. But he has experience, for 3 seasons now, playing in AAA and a bunch of games at SS/2B/3B/CF.

    It completely changes that AAA team. You then have Endy at C, Nick G at 2B, Triolo at 3B, Nunez/Shackelford at 1B/DH. Lopez at SS. A legit prospect at every spot.

    Plus CSN and Vilade in the corner OF spots(with Mathias as the backup utility player, corner OF/DH) and Chavez Young in CF batting 9th as a switch-hitter(until Swaggerty is healthy and then Young is your 4th OF).

    Again, that gives them a legit prospect at every position and removes a redundant player like Cal Mitchell to a team that absolutely could use him.

    It makes that AAA lineup:

    SS-Otto Lopez
    CF-Chavez Young

    It changes that whole AAA team and puts players in positions where they belong. I’m sorry but Vinny Carpa at SS is a joke.


  2. This Pirates team seems easily intimidated. I didn’t like Shelton losing his cool against the Rays. Suggest using Hedges with Keller only like McCarver and Carlton long ago, and bring up a third catcher to share duties with Delay amongst the other four starters and otherwise DH or serve as an in game substitute in the field.


  3. Great read. I think you nailed it: Why call up these hot streak guys just to sit them? There’s little confidence or coordination between manager and roster (i.e., GM) this month. But yeah, this isn’t a team that’s supposed to take the big next step now anyway. It’s time for answers on a bunch of guys, to be sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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