Another Batch of Pirates FAQs

10-1-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I love answering questions, even if the only reason I can answer them is because someone asked it. Meaning, some of these things aren’t a topic I’m super well versed in, and rather than guess, I’ll dig in and learn how to answer it.

Sometimes the question is simply about my opinion, hey, that’s easy, I have no shortage of those.

Time is not my friend though, so here’s another edition of FAQ’s.

Why is Jose Godoy on this team right now?

Oddly specific for an FAQ right? I’ve easily gotten asked this question 25 times this week. The short answer I’ve given to 9 out of 10 has been “I don’t know”.

I truly don’t folks, so let’s look at the evidence.

Tyler Heineman is out with a concussion. Jason Delay isn’t someone you’re trying to ask to play 5 times a week. Zach Collins isn’t someone who they really like back there.

Now all that still doesn’t add up to call up Godoy to me.

Here’s why it makes even less sense to me. Endy Rodriguez must be added to the 40-man in December. If they were to leave him exposed to the Rule 5 draft (they won’t don’t worry) he’d get snagged in a heartbeat.

Let me use Quinn Priester to illustrate this point. He’ll likely be here next year at some point just like Endy, but Quinn doesn’t need to be protected until December of 2023, so to suggest him as a call up right this second, well, there’s really no need to consider it. Endy on the other hand, is one way or another going to be on that roster before the year ends.

So, after going through all that I say first, I simply don’t have a logical answer for you as to why they chose Godoy. Second, if I take it further, there is a logical reason to call up one of your top prospects to fill the void.

Lastly, I’ll also point out the Pirates did the exact same thing in 2021 with Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras, so it even has precedence.

Its nothing short of a baffling move.

Will banning the shift help the hitters?

Well, first of all, I have to play grammar police here a bit. The shift isn’t being banned, it’s being limited. You can still shade guys over they just can’t cross 2nd base.

Regardless, the spirit of the question is real.

Truth is, it didn’t really do much in the minors where it was tested, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend the exit velocities we see at MLB are being replicated by the vast majority of minor league baseball players.

Exit velocity is more responsible for teams feeling they need an extra defender on either side of the diamond in the first place. I guess the best way to answer this is we’ll see.

I’d like to think it might marginally help some players, and marginally harm some pitchers. Specifically pitchers who specialize in keeping the ball on the ground.

It’s hard to fathom pitchers becoming even more focused on strikeouts, and it’s hard to fathom hitters suddenly deciding homeruns aren’t really as cool as slopping a singe to the opposite field. Maybe they should, but I remain skeptical that this changes much about how the game really looks.

If you’re really an honest person, you probably don’t just focus on the team you watch anyhow. That said, the Pirates only shift about 32% of the time as it stands now. Literally right in the middle of the pack. Nobody shifts more than the Dodgers who do it a whopping 52.6% of the time.

There’s no good teams do it and bad teams don’t answer to be had here either. The Yankees are near the bottom of the list with the Orioles and Guardians for instance.

I’d say the league sure as hell intends to have it benefit the hitters, but the league usually doesn’t achieve what their stated intent was either.

Couple the shifting stuff with all the pitching clocks and throw to first restrictions and yeah we could see the offense really get a jumpstart, but the best answer really goes all the way to the front, we’ll just have to see, and observe what all this does to the game.

One thing we know for sure, with MLB owning 6 of the 10 votes for every rule change, there will be one very clear target for our ire if it goes poorly. Well, unless you want to backtrack all the way to the CBA and blame the Players for allowing that part to happen.

How can this team not cultivate left handed pitching with the layout of PNC Park?

I mean, this makes me think of Bob Nutting standing over a microscope trying to splice genes.

As we sit here, the Pirates have very few options coming in the minors either. Omar Cruz is relatively close, but we really don’t know if that’s something to get excited about or not. Anthony Solometo sure looks great, but man he’s in Bradenton.

They have for just about as long as I can remember had to bring in every lefty of note, hell even when they actually cultivated their own it was someone like a John Smiley and they needed one so bad in his day he came all the way up from Single A.

True story, I just don’t think that plays in when evaluating talent. At the end of the day, I suppose if all things were equal they’d pick the lefty, but reality dictates most of the time, the right hander had better measurables.

I’d also say, man, this isn’t just a Pirates issue. There simply aren’t enough lefties in the league who pitch and if for some reason the whole thing should flip on it’s head and the league became lefty heavy on the mound, man, I think you’d see the number of right handed kids who learn how to hit left handed fall off a cliff.

So in a way, no more Kolten Wong’s. Hmm, let me see how this gene splicing stuff works…

Keep firing away people, I’ll keep trying to answer these whenever possible.

Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers

9/28/22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

With only one Minor League Ball Club left in action…GIANT PAUSE for all original jokes about the Pirates being a Minor League Team….I was prepared for the difficult task of compiling this week’s list from a shallow pool of players. Thankfully, the recent promoted players from Altoona added to the limited crop.

As the series was getting underway between the Indians and Columbus Clippers, Endy Rodriguez, Malcolm Nunez, Quinn Priester, Matt Gorski, Colin Selby and Aaron Shackelford all got the call to continue their seasons for a few more games; with more than one making an immediate impact on the Indianapolis Roster.

Add in a couple of players, who have already been putting their skills on display in the Circle City, and you have 5 Top Performers.

1) Cody Bolton-RHP (Indianapolis)

74.2 total innings pitched-with only one appearance that lasted over 4 innings-might not be viewed as impressive for some; however , when a certain player was limited in 2019 due to injuries, and was unable to perform over the next two seasons, it is hard not to see this as a victory. This is especially true when this particular player was able to experience to overall success that Bolton did.

Across these 74.2 innings, the former Top 10 Pirates Prospect posted a 3.01 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP with 81 strikeouts; leading many to once again question if he has done enough to find himself on the 40-Man-and thus protected from the MLB Portion of The Rule 5 Draft-over the upcoming offseason.

2) Endy Rodriguez-C/1B/OF (Indianapolis)

Endy-mania has made it’s path-from Bradenton, Greensboro and Altoona-all the way to the Endyanapolis Endyans; and, with good reasoning.

During the past two seasons, Endy has slashed .309/.394/.551 with 39 homers, 113 total extra base hits and a 154 wRC+ in slightly under 1000 plate appearances. This includes a .444 AVG and an 1.008 OPS in an extremely small sample size in Triple-A.

3) Quinn Priester-RHP (Indianapolis)

A few weeks ago, I laid out the most likely path for Priester for the rest of 2022. As of this moment, he seems to be right on track. After being promoted to Indianapolis, the Pirates Top Pitching Prospect simply went out and tossed 5 two hit innings, while striking out 6, walking 2 and not allowing a run.

Obviously this caused a stir amongst Pirates Fans clamoring to see him get a start at PNC Park before the end of the season.

Clearly this is not likely, but I also wouldn’t look too far into it if he does.

He will go to Arizona Fall League, hit his off-season training regiment, arrive at Spring Training, AND then be assigned to Triple-A.

Notice I didn’t say added to the 40-Man. That will come soon enough; however he isn’t Rule 5 Eligible until December 2023, so this transaction will likely have to wait.

4) Malcolm Nunez-1B/DH (Indianapolis)

The Pirates Major League Ball Club has a void 1st Base. It’s not a new problem; which I am sure none of you need to be reminded of.

Is Nunez the answer?…I have no idea.

Would I like to see him get a shot at some point?…Without a doubt.

Throw Mason Martin in there as well; even with his struggles.

Since arriving from the Lou-and I’m proud-Nunez has batted .280 with an .859 OPS and 6 homers. He also has continued to walk at a 14.7% rate, which is very solid; particularly when his K-rate sits at a fairly reasonable 22.4%.

5) Blake Sabol-C/OF/DH (Indianapolis)

It definitely feels like Sabol has made this list more times than any player not named Endy; and deservedly so.

Even after having one of his worst week’s in an Indians uniform-2 hits in 14 at bats-Sabol was still able to stay consistent by taking 3 walks and providing a sacrifice fly; to go along with another homer.

BONUS: Ji-hwan Bae-IF/OF (Indianapolis/Pittsburgh)

If Bae wasn’t on the IL for a portion of the season, would he have made it to PNC before September 23rd?…Maybe. Maybe Not.

At this point it doesn’t really matter. He’s here now.

Following his return from injury, Bae slashed .263/.357/.364 with a 95 wRC+ and 8 extra base hits in 115 plate appearances. Understandably this was slightly lower that the pace he had set prior to August 18th-.297/.364/.450 with a 117 wRC+ and 29 extra base hits; including 8 homers.

Nevertheless, it was time; for the Pirates to start to see what they have, even in a small sample size.

There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the 25th week of 2022!

Now remember, let me know I missed, who your Top 5 is and be sure check back each and every Tuesday (or Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning) hopefully-during the Minor League Baseball Season!

Spoiler Alert! There’s only one week left!

The Next Phase of the Pirates Build is Upon Us

9-28-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Before I start writing this piece I’m going to start by simply saying, I know many of you have stopped believing there is a plan, let alone a next phase. I don’t blame you at all. I will say, the local media, especially those who used to speak positively about this ongoing effort, and Ben Cherington as the choice for GM have suddenly turned most of their commentary on its ear.

They’ve done this largely because they created a timeline for how this whole thing should come together and when. Nobody likes to be wrong, especially those who see themselves as experts.

In all reality, nothing has changed. Let’s start by outlining the plan as I understand it, sans timelines.

  1. Trade off everyone of value who won’t be here when the prospects they see as impact arrive, some of whom will be the results of those moves.
  2. Promote prospects as they are deemed ready (after manipulations of course) and augment with filler.
  3. Promote more, and internally improve as prospects climb closer to their ceilings.
  4. Sign players to fill holes, better than filler, still not super expensive.
  5. Make moves from prospect depth to fortify the core even if in season.
  6. Keep developing prospects to replace what you can’t afford or choose not to keep in an effort to not have to drop back into tear down mode.

That’s it. Now I’ll repeat again, this isn’t how it has to be. Specifically where I mention “filler”, the Pirates could easily have upped that and still could. That said, it is in reality exactly what they’ve told us they’d do.

I can understand being mad about it. Nobody can force you to like something you don’t believe in. Now, if it starts to work, to some people this whole thing will start to sound like a politician you didn’t vote for does something even you can’t deny was good. You’ll admit it, and enjoy the benefits of the move, but you’ll make sure everyone remembers the 70 other things he or she did you hate too.

Bottom line, this is, was, and will be the plan. If you look at the roster right now you’re lying if you honestly feel nothing has changed since 2020. If you look at the record and ignore the roster, it’s super easy to say nothing has changed.

Here’s reality. This team has now created a young core of players. Players that still have quite a bit of room before reaching even the lowest rung of their projected ceiling. A young rotation, some of whom have established themselves, some of whom just found a foothold, but certainly look poised to take the next step.

They’ve done this while sprinkling in “filler” and in my mind, paying too much attention to, and giving far too much opportunity to in a season that easily could have strictly gone to youngsters instead. See, I don’t have to agree with the path to recognize there is one.

When they ultimately underwhelm us all with whomever they bring in to fill holes in 2023, I’ll disagree there too, but I’ll still see progress.

Point is, this thing is going to get to a certain point, even if they do this wrong. The team will reach a point where they have enough high end talent on the roster that they’ll win more than they lose. To me, the mystery has always been the next step. It’s always been about what Nutting will provide, and how Cherington will use it. 2023 is quite literally the last year before those two questions have to be answered and make no mistake, not answering them is an answer.

In other words, if they aren’t ready to rock in 2024, you should assume they never planned on Nutting providing. Even as I’ve espoused the plan, this has always been there in the back of my mind, and any of you who’ve read my stuff through this entire process know I’ve always stopped at 2023. Those two questions are the reason. I can’t project out further because until they answer those, we simply don’t know the plan.

So what’s next?

Internal improvement – They say it constantly. They started saying it too early if we’re honest because what they created is two years of that message with very few results to show it was happening.

Again, if you only focus on the record, internal improvement is simply bull right? Now if you really look individually at the roster, of course they’ve improved internally. Rodolfo Castro is far superior to what he was, Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Jack Suwinski, Oneil Cruz, have all contributed to that being a true statement. There are more too of course.

This roster is now constructed with (when healthy) plenty of players most fans want to see more from. In other words, there is room for more internal improvement.

This is different than having someone like Adam Duval on the team. If you had 5 or 6 like him and run around talking about internally improving, I’ll call BS immediately. That dude is what he is right now. He’s not someone who has room to show you more. No, you aren’t looking for improvement there, you’re hoping for a fluke. An abnormality of a season in which everything he puts wood to falls. If you say it about Oneil Cruz, well, he has room to improve defensively, he can certainly add to his patience at the plate, his decision making on the base paths will evolve. Point is, he isn’t near the height of his abilities. He has a lot of company.

I can say that, and at the same time acknowledge Adam Duval probably gives the team a better shot to win right now than Cal Mitchell does. Feel me? Just because he doesn’t have room to improve, doesn’t mean he isn’t better now.

This is the longform version of “This team isn’t ready to compete”. When they are, which is fast approaching, guys like Duval can really help a team like this. When they aren’t, they see more benefit in guys like Mitchell or Suwinski getting MLB playing time.

That’s why it was so frustrating that they perpetually blocked the paths of so many of these kids with names like Josh VanMeter. VanMeter was very close to having proven out who he is, and guess what, he did.

Trades & Acquisitions – The Pirates will absolutely be in position to make some deals. I can’t sit here and tell you they will, but lets look at the starting rotation, how it could evolve and what it could lead to.

Let’s say they start the season with Keller, Brubaker, Contreras, Oviedo and a Free agent starter. That’s likely if we’re honest. Some of you will yell at me that Ortiz or Burrows should be there, but keep your pants on, you’ve seen enough to know why that won’t happen.

Behind those 4 and a mystery man there will be a swell of kids, like the aforementioned Ortiz, Burrows, Priester, Bolton, maybe even more, I mean how many of you had Ortiz on the Bingo Card this year? Right, me either.

Point is, by mid season, it could be entirely apparent they have to give Ortiz a spot, Burrows, maybe even Priester. This trade deadline the Pirates already fielded offers for Brubaker. Now, a team like Milwaukee probably locks up Brubaker for a couple years beyond his arb years, but if they have a Corbin Burnes coming, maybe they don’t. Maybe they pull a Josh Hader move because they have Devin Williams ready.

Moves like this will keep things churning in the system.

I’m not predicting per se that Brubaker is getting moved, simply using him as an example of how this could go.

Nick Gonzales is still a top prospect, but it may very well be there is no place for him to play if you feel Castro and Cruz have it on lockdown. Maybe that’s how you go get better pieces for positions of weakness.

Things like this will start to percolate as early as next season, and in the offseason after 2023, let’s just say it’s going to get really noisy.

I know trades have a negative connotation here, but do the math, not everyone can possibly make this team and stick. Every time they decide to keep someone long term, they’re also creating a potential Miguel Andujar of their own. Meaning the dude is blocked, and at some point you’re going to move them or lose them for nothing, OR, you move who’s blocking them.

This is the dance a team like this will do, and it certainly doesn’t always work the way you’d hope. It is however how they acquired important players like Francisco Cervelli, AJ Burnett, and Charlie Morton. Not every trade of prospects is the Archer deal. Not every trade of veterans is the Gerrit Cole deal.

40-man & Tender Deadline – Almost immediately following the season, these things will start to rise to the forefront. In fact, they’ve already started effecting things. Bringing in Miguel Andujar at this stage, knowing he is eligible for arbitration 2 this offseason, it’s a very safe bet that the Pirates offer him a tender and take him to his hearing or sign him. He’ll get about 1.5 million and almost assuredly be on the 26-man roster. The effect here was making the decision they knew was coming on Michael Chavis. He was eligible for his first year of arbitration following the season and the decision was pretty clear. Well, there will be a ton of these types of decisions. Keller and Brubaker are both eligible for the first time, both are extremely likely to be taken to arbitration. Both will get significant raises, yes, even with their W/L records, trust me, nobody cares about that stat, especially arb lawyers.

There will be youngsters to protect, and I’ll cover this much more extensively as we get closer. The reason I haven’t already done it, well, you just saw, I didn’t see this Andujar thing coming for instance and it kinda changes things a bit. It’s going to cause the team to give up on some guys, and dig in on some others. For instance, Endy Rodriguez is a no brainer to protect, but Blake Sabol might not be. Do they roll the dice on Malcom Nunez or Mason Martin again? What about Matt Gorski? He was great but he’s also been hurt. If you do protect him, what about Travis Swaggerty and Canaan Smith-Njigba, they’re both on the list already and to come off they have to be DFAd. See how tough these decisions start to get?

Choose to bring in a vet OF and it gets even harder to envision protecting up to 7 other outfielders.

Mike Burrows will have to be protected, Quinn Priester won’t. They’ll protect Mike, but Quinn might actually beat him here. Isn’t baseball whacky?

Whole lot harder than deciding if Phil Evans should get a spot huh?

Still think there has been no internal improvement?

Again, I don’t accept that this team had to be this bad in 2022. To say it had to be this way is simply false, but I will say they squandered time they could have been using to make some of these decisions easier. I will say if you’re going to lose 100 games, I’d rather be doing it with this roster than the 2020 roster.

We’ll dig in on all these concepts in the coming weeks, but for now, at least as far as I’m concerned, I still see the immediate vision, and I think next year, many more will join me. The difference is, I won’t have to climb back in the boat, cause I never jumped ship. LOL

Have a good day and if you live in the South, please be safe my friends. I’m thinking about you as you face the wrath of Ian.

Pirates Misinformation Is Becoming Prevalent

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-8afvm-12d4acd

Craig flies solo, and goes on quite a few tangents concerning Michael Chavis, Miguel Andujar’s Comparison To Yoshi, One Knee Catching, Wil Crowe and The Pirates Defense. 

Brought to you by ShopYinzz.com! Craig Toth covers the Pirates for Inside The Bucs Basement, and joins his buddy Chris at a 9-foot homemade oak bar to talk Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball. Listen. Subscribe. Share. We are “For Fans, By Fans & All Pirates Talk.” THE Pirates Fan Podcast found EVERYWHERE podcasts can be found and always at BucsInTheBasement.com!

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

9-26-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

There is simply no room for positives when one aspect of your team is this bad. The Pirates bullpen has completely imploded and no matter what goes right, who comes up, whom takes a step, the good feelings can only last about as long as the team can hold out before having to turn it over to the bullpen.

Even their lone victory against the Cubs took a shutout performance from the starter (Johan Oviedo) who turned it over to a pseudo starter (Zach Thompson) who finished it out.

Again, it’s not good for development. All these kids up here trying to improve and contribute are putting the team in position to win often enough, but then at some point they have to turn it over to players that likely have no future here, or have already given every ounce of what they had to give in 2022 to the cause.

I don’t like minimizing all the team’s ills to one aspect because that’s simply not true, but it’s at least disproportionately on that department, and the worst thing it creates is an inability to allow these youngsters to really enjoy what some of them are doing up here.

Let’s dig in today.

1. Anduhaaaaah!

I wish I was petty enough to be irritated about the Pirates claiming Miguel Andujar off waivers from the Yankees simply because I’ve been fighting him off as a trade chip for every Pirates player who mattered the best part of a decade.

Unfortunately, that’s not why it bothered me. It wasn’t even the talent level of this particular player.

Miguel is a right handed bat who can play 3B, LF, 1B, & DH. Out of all those, 1B and DH are the real needs. Now, he hasn’t exactly played much 1B, we’re talking about 17,1 innings worth in his Yankees career that stretches all the way back to 2017.

Anyone excited about this is going to point to 2018. He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in that campaign, played in 149 games while hitting almost .300 with 27 homeruns and 47 doubles.

Since then, he’s been injured on and off and it became more than clear the Yankees were simply not going to make room for the once promising prospect.

Again, it’s not like I see no value here.

My issue is really simple. Picking up a guy like this at this stage of the season is essentially like signing a free agent who’s team decided to non-tender him. He’s entering Arb 2 next year and he’ll likely get about 1.5 million dollars. Essentially what the Pirates did with Daniel Vogelbach and maybe he’ll fill the same role largely.

Thing is, I’d like them to be past this. I’d like them to either go get someone who is sure to be an upgrade, as opposed to hoping someone who couldn’t crack an MLB roster in 10 years and stick might be one.

It’s not about whether he’s better than Michael Chavis, it’s about recognizing he’s in the same stratosphere. I will say he hits right handed pitching better, but, it’s at the end of the day, yet another attempt to get “free” talent.

This could work out for the Pirates, it really could. They need a right handed bat to be sure, and anyone who considers Michael Chavis to be a lock has completely accepted futility. If they’re wrong though, they’ll just throw away another half season “trying” to help him find himself.

Andujar has openly asked for a trade from the Yankees multiple times, so who knows, maybe opportunity is the fountain of youth for him, all I’m saying is he’s played 105 games in MLB since that stellar 2018 season and even then he had defensive question marks that the Yankees weren’t just going to overlook.

If he’s locked in as a DH, that complicates some things as the Pirates have so many prospects who might find themselves not winning a position battle with the glove, but the bat requires playing time.

We’ll see. At the end of the day, I’d rather see them seek and sign someone who’s proved they’re an upgrade as opposed to seeking and picking up someone who might be.

I simply feel they should be beyond that.

Now, onto what this means for the current club. First, it means Michael Chavis and Greg Allen have been DFA’d in place of Jose Godoy and Andujar.

Greg Allen, totally get it, he’s gotten a chance, and probably more than he should have. Michael Chavis, well, that takes me a little by surprise. Not because he’s been some world beater, but because he’s the only person they’ve found to competently play first base and Andujar at the very least is untested there. That also explains why Collins stays and Godoy comes up. Hedging their bet.

Remember that DFA doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gone for good, but it does mean when it comes to the 40-man plans, the Pirates aren’t looking to fill it with guys they’ve seen enough of.

Chavis has been a good soldier here, done what he was told, took on a position they sorely needed filled, hit some homeruns and had some timely hits, but if you’re building a winner, it doesn’t make sense to hold on for more from someone you don’t think has it to give. I’d also refrain from listing people you’d have preferred to move on from, not everything is a 1 for 1, for instance, you could argue Ke’Bryan Hayes hitting stats aren’t much better, the difference is first, his glove, and second the perception that one has reached their ceiling and the other isn’t close to his yet.

We’ll touch on fairness a bit later today in this piece, but it’s simply not what baseball is about. Chavis was not going t get a 40-man spot, and the Pirates ripped the band aid off instead of pulling it hair by hair.

2. Bryan Reynolds’ 2022 Finishing Strong

Man it was a really tough season for Reynolds. I don’t mean his numbers as much as how much he looked like he was fighting with himself for every stat he racked up.

For Bryan it’s always about timing. He’ll tell you that if you’re fortunate enough to get him to do more than grunt at you in that gruff voice. More than timing though, he struggled mightily with taking borderline pitches, and hitting with runners in scoring position.

Even now, his batting average isn’t where he’d like it to be. At .266 he’s struck out a career high 134 times. He’s also hit 26 bombs, a career high for him there as well. Point is, by the time this season’s story is written we’ll look back and feel pretty silly for having any concerns about how Reynolds started the year.

He’s already signed for next season for 6.75 Million and has two more years of arbitration following. This offseason the chatter and rumors that other teams want him in a trade are going to be louder than ever.

So let me get in front of this. He won’t be traded. In fact, according to my sources the Pirates have every intention of extending him beyond his arbitration years. The Pirates see Reynolds as a cornerstone to this whole thing. Derek Shelton sees him as literally the only sure thing in his lineup. Even the owner (I know, I know) sees him as so important to the cause he was unwilling to allow the process of arbitration to play out with him and forced his GM to make sure it not only went away in 2022 but that it wouldn’t come up again in 2023.

Offensively speaking, seeing if Reynolds can get to that 30 homerun milestone in 2022 is probably the most exciting thing left to watch. This offseason, seeing if the Pirates will manage to lock up their best overall player might be the most important thing to watch.

3. Despite This Finish, 2023 Pitching Staff, and Indeed the Team Has Promise

There is so much to hate from what we watched play out this season with regard to the pitching staff. I wrote about how some of their early season decisions helped lead to a bullpen that simply has nothing left to offer, but looking ahead, it’s kind of hard to not get at least a little excited.

Let’s start with the foundation that’s been built. Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras have absolutely arrived, and folks, if I left it right there you should already feel better entering 2023 than you did this year. I say that because more than one prognosticator had Bryse Wilson as their best bet to be the “ace” in 2022.

Part of that thinking is still prevalent. We love to assume guys are what they’ve shown, destined to never get better. By week 7 or so of this very season my mentions were loaded to the brim with calls to DFA Keller for instance. Even after he started really rolling it probably went on for 12 weeks or so before the first few brave souls started popping their heads out and simply asking, Is he finally good? Can we trust him yet?

Next season the Pirates will have Keller, Contreras, Brubaker, Wilson, Thompson, Ortiz, Oviedo, Bolton, Burrows, Priester, and maybe even more internally available to compete for starting roles. Some of them will make it, some will wind up in the pen. The Pirates will also add to this mix from the outside via free agency or trade.

No matter how you slice this one up, the mix in 2023 is stronger and deeper than it was in 2022, and that’s progress.

The bullpen will likely return Colin Holderman, David Bednar, Yerry De Los Santos, some of these starters, a fresh Wil Crowe, Chase De Jong, Manny Banuelos, and a glut of internal options we aren’t even thinking of like Mears, Cederlind, Thomas. And I still think they’ll go get another option or two.

It’s impossible to watch this pitching staff implode night after night and feel positive about where this team is, I’m not asking you to do so. I’m simply saying heading into 2023 that mix of players, well it’s light years above what they started 2022 with, and if progress is really the goal, if improvement is actually the challenge, I believe that list will get it done.

Figure they start the season with Keller, Brubaker, Contreras, Oviedo and a free agent. Right away, I like it, but if one goes down, or one underperforms, instead of only having one real prospect (Roansy) waiting to help, they’ll have several, and several you want to see. Maybe Ortiz gets his recall, perhaps it’s Burrows time. Sprinkling in the youngsters as opposed to tossing 5 against the wall to see what sticks.

If there is real progress, you’ll know it by how you feel when you see kids having success in AAA. If Priester is killing it for Indianapolis but you can’t really see who you’d pull for him, let’s just say it’s a feeling you won’t be accustomed to. You’ve already seen some of what Ortiz could do, so you might be a bit irritated he gets sent down already, but again, someone has to fail before cries for his call up will be warranted.

The conversations start to change in 2023 and while just being someone we’re excited to see doesn’t equal success, having more than one or two just might.

In fact it’s a lot like the middle infield conversations we’ve had for a while now. When Peguero was traded for and Nick Gonzales was drafted, they were immediately anointed as the starting middle infield of the future. That still might happen of course, but now as they’ll both enter 2023 expected to make a push for MLB playing time there will be resistance. Players are already here, and it’s not as wide open waiting for anyone who showed something in the minors to come up. Now we’ll start really having to talk about tough choices. Now they’ll have to really excel instead of check off some imaginary boxes. This year when Gonzales isn’t up in June it might not be manipulation as much as Castro, Cruz, Bae and Newman are kinda killing it.

Remember how pissed I used to get at all these morons posting future lineups and just assuming the seas would part for every big name prospect? Well, we’re here now. Who was full of it?

This many kids are simply never going to add up to many wins. It’s eerily similar to what the Baltimore Orioles have been through. A bunch of awful baseball seasons, spawned by trying to find help on the cheap, playing a ton of kids and finally having some of them show the promise they were thought to have.

Just last year they lost 110 games, in 2019 108, in 2018 115, and this year in a division that quite frankly is hell they’ve gotten themselves on the cusp of achieving .500 or better. Even this year, there they were signing Matt Harvey trying to see if they could have him recapture some magic and help them out.

At the end of the day, it was kids, finally growing into their roles.

I’m not here to tell you the Pirates will have the same fortune in 2023, but I am here to say .500 shouldn’t be seen as some far off in the distance plausibility just because they stunk this year.

I reference the Orioles because so very many of you all do it to me. You can’t tell me the Orioles can do it and we can’t so many of you say.

Why? Because the Orioles spent money? Their payroll will finish this season lower than your Pirates.

Folks, they played kids through the pain it caused, and now, they aren’t friggin’ kids anymore. And they still have more coming. That’s the story of the 2022 Baltimore Orioles.

Just like the Pirates, at some point to get over the hump, they’ll have to pay or be as good at this as the Rays, which nobody has shown the ability to pull off. Better is coming. Finishing the job is another story entirely.

But this is very much so on track and I for one am not assuming 2023 is more of the same.

4. Why Won’t They Give Travis Swaggerty a Shot?

Could it really be more complicated than this? He hasn’t earned it.

I’ll go so far as to say if Travis wasn’t a number one pick, most of you don’t even mention his name.

But Gary he’s a hell of a defender! Right, so is Oliva.

He’s been hurt, that’s not his fault! Yeah, and if he wasn’t and was able to capitalize on a team forced to roster Ka’ai Tom and Dustin Fowler, perhaps that would matter. At this point though, he has players he has to be better than. Can you say he’s that?

In AAA Indianapolis this year he’s put together a fairly full season, 446 PA, with a .258 AVG and a .758 OPS. That’s AAA folks, what do numbers like that tend to become at the next level?

It’s true, I’ve never ever been high on this pick, and it’s not about disliking him personally, it’s about never really believing in the tools. He’s fast, he plays great defense, but to me his top of the mountain is MLB bench, and right now, they’ve got better candidates for that role.

It’s probably not fair, but let’s be real honest, you make your own opportunities in this game. Drafted in 2018, he’s about to get lapped by Quinn Priester (2019) and potentially Nick Gonzales (2020) both of whom have had their own brushes with the injury bug, so pardon me if I’m waiting for him to make keeping him in AAA a poor choice before I cry a river for him.

Again, this isn’t personal, I never would have picked him there, but I certainly want him to succeed, I just don’t see it. One thing is absolutely true, this is for Travis Swaggerty the most important off season and Spring of his career. He’ll either force his way onto this roster, prove himself worthy of being the “next” man up, or he won’t. If fairness is really what you’re after, you can’t get more fair than putting the outcome in his hands.

Oh but he’s better than Greg Allen Gary! Sure, you want him up here getting a volume of at bats a rarely used bench player gets? You’re right, he does probably offer more than Allen, but I’m sorry, what good does it do this kid to come up there and swing the bat 12 times a week?

On the positive side, the Pirates are officially past the point where your draft position guarantees you get a chance, bluntly, that’s how it should be. It doesn’t excuse picks that don’t pan out, but it does mean they don’t get a guaranteed chance to prove it on the big stage.

5. Finally, Bob Nutting is Going to Speak to the Media Jointly

Nobody knows when quite yet, but sometime shortly after this season concludes Bob Nutting is going to speak to multiple media outlets and take questions.

He hasn’t done this since 2019.

First, how ridiculous is that?

The media can’t force him to talk, and we’ve already covered that nobody can force him to sell the team, surely some more pressure can be applied to at least get him to be accountable and stand in front of reporters ready to defend his actions right?

Most of you don’t want to hear from him anyway, completely get that, but even if everything he says is bound to be crap you still have to get it from the horse’s mouth don’t you?

There are a ton of questions he needs to answer, quotes he needs to follow up on and quite frankly, stuff he just needs challenged on. Look, I’m not getting invited to this pow wow, but here’s what I’d ask if I had the opportunity.

  1. You’ve said you’ll spend when the time is appropriate, should we expect payroll to stay above a threshold once you do? In other words, is this cycle inevitable or can we hope to stay out of the basement once we climb out.
  2. You have spoken to the responsibility of stewardship of this historic franchise. You’ve also said that similar markets have found successful ways to operate. Do you connect payroll to that stewardship in any way and do you think you have this franchise headed toward one of those successful paths?
  3. Is there anything short of a World Series you’d consider a success?
  4. Can the Pirates succeed under MLB’s current system? If yes, how? If no, why did you vote to ratify it then?
  5. What do you personally owe the City of Pittsburgh when it comes to owning this franchise?

That’s it. If nothing else, I’d like to hear him even try to answer most of them. Hope the real media makes this productive.

News Flash, The Bullpen Stinks

9-22-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Derek Shelton has made mistakes, just like the bullpen being bad, that too deserves a sarcastic news flash headline, but how he’s currently using the bullpen, man, that’s simply not on him. Now how it got to this point, hmm, we might have something there.

As we sit here today, the Pirates have 2 bullpen options that have actually performed well. Chase DeJong, and waiver claim Manny Bañuelos, if you’re feeling generous you might toss Robert Stephenson into that mix.

Wil Crowe was really good early this year, exceptional even, but he’s completely been used up at this point.

The rest are just journeyman, in fact, everyone I gave credit to for being “good” are journeymen really.

Let’s really talk about how we got here, first, I think it’s always good to look back and learn from the path, and second I believe the state of this bullpen is a direct reflection of decisions this team made early on.

Protect Those Arms

All season long we’ve seen this crop up time and again. In fact, we’ve seen it ever since 2020. Starters going 5 innings and the bullpen asked to do the heavy lifting for months.

There’s always an excuse. Oh, 2020 they had no Spring Training, and that messed up the schedule for pitchers to ramp up into the season. On top of that, 2020 had arguably the worst mix of pitchers in Pittsburgh since the early 2000’s.

Even in a short season, this team was overly sensitive to pitch counts and innings load.

Onto 2021, semi normal Spring. Semi Normal season. Still, pitchers that didn’t throw a single pitch in anger for over a year were being asked to step into an MLB season and pitch. Nobody seemed ready to carry a really heavy load, in fact, Wil Crowe threw more innings as a starter than any other pitcher. Duane Underwood Jr. threw more in the Bullpen than anyone else.

Here we are in 2022, shortened Spring courtesy of a labor dispute, and the Pirates showed up to camp seemingly prepared to act as though pitching was just as delicate.

From the beginning of the season, nobody was allowed to really go, save Jose Quintana. Everyone else was pulled after 4 or 5, 70-80 pitches. Bullpen arms were asked to give 2 or 3 innings, no matter who they were, no matter how good they were.

All of this caused pitchers like Crowe to again carry a heavy load. Caused David Bednar to be asked to do way too much. Underwood again, asked to pitch way too many innings.

Every team in the league has all the same excuses. Each and every one of them. I don’t expect you to watch all these other teams or pay attention to their problems, but I’ll tell you right now, they haven’t struggled nearly as much as the Pirates by in large.

This bullpen suffers from underwhelming talent, let’s not discount that, but they also suffer from an irrational fear to allow starters to actually start. What you create when you manage like that is a bullpen asked to carry half the weight of innings, while 5 guys are asked to throw no more than 25-30 innings a week collectively. Do the simple math, that leaves 30-35 innings a week that your bullpen has to eat.

So when you decide someone like Roansy Contreras is going to be limited severely way back in April, that might be a fine plan for that player, but it also guarantees your bullpen is going to have to be ready to eat 4-5 innings every time he starts.

Zach Thompson was held back all year too. JT Brubaker had dead arm at the end of 2021 and they babied him this season for quite some time, only to wind up having him go down late.

You know what you’ve watched, and quite frankly bitched about to me all year. Well, the bullpen paid the price. Their 3 best relievers are injured, and the holdovers like Crowe are beat to hell.

The point of all of this is pretty simple. If you swing the pendulum of protecting arms too far to one side, you protect none of them. To the point Roansy against the Yankees yesterday was asked to blow right past the team’s stated target of 60 pitches, simply because the bullpen is so beaten to death the team had to have it.

So, has the bullpen been mismanaged, oh hell yeah. Up to and including asking them to handle entire games multiple times this year while they pissed with Contreras’ service time. We may very well end up loving the Quintana trade as Johan Oviedo and Malcom Nunez could turn into important pieces, but trading someone who was consistently eating 6 innings every 5 days when you’re in this self inflicted situation is not wise either. Especially if you have nobody else you actually want to see ready to come up.

Let’s Talk About Self Inflicted

Here’s the thing. Starting the season the Pirates didn’t have enough pitching. They had Jose Quintana, Bryse Wilson, Zach Thompson, Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker as starters. At the time, backed by Wil Crowe, Roansy Contreras, Max Kranick and Jerad Eickhoff. Crowe was moved to the pen, fine. Roansy was going to get manipulated, ok. Max got injured. Jerad stunk and always did.

That’s it.

If you enter a season like that, you better not have injuries to the starters right? So what does that cause you as a management group to do? Right, really overcorrect and hide them from anything that even smells like asking too much.

They forced themselves into this situation by not supplying enough options, and I mean that word literally, starters with options. You have to have that, preferably multiple guys who you can jump back and forth to account for injury or even just simple arm fatigue.

Again, I’m not here to tell you Derek Shelton has done some masterful job, but every problem I’ve pointed out so far is a direct reflection of a decision made by Ben Cherington and his group.

The picture looks better next year, just through attrition, but they’ve created this issue all on their own.

You ask me regularly what is Derek doing? First, what he’s told. Second, man he just doesn’t have anyone to trust right now. If you already have to cover 4 innings at least a night with your pen, and one or two guys you feel ok about, well, to use them you better be leading or close. Even then, you just feel OK about them, so it’s not like they’re a guaranteed lock down.

As I said up top, Shelton has made mistakes, but the state of this pen isn’t on him, look higher. Bluntly, it’s not on Marin either, his bullpen is made up of primarily waiver claims and DFA’d players. It’s not like they like what they have to choose from either and as far as coaching them up, well, Manny, Stephenson, DeJong, even what he got out of Crowe for 3/4 of the season, folks, they’ve gotten more out of these 4 than they had any business hoping for if we’re honest.

If you want to get on Shelton, well, the next section is for you.

Shelton Isn’t Snow White Here

I’m not going to guess as to his motivations. It could be fear of going to other options, perhaps desperation, but Shelton has put far too much weight on the shoulders of some guys all season.

This goes back to the LA series but David Bednar for instance was allowed to throw 50 pitches in one outing, and he never was the same since. Now, the result was nice, we all loved that sweep, but if you look back you’ll see this outing raised alarm bells for me. For one thing, it screamed lack of trust in everyone else they had back there, for another it showed a complete lack of awareness as to what you can and can’t expect from certain pitchers.

All season long we’ve seen Shelton try to navigate the required workload of the bullpen, and he’s done it by asking guys like Banuelos to give him multiple innings, or a clearly dead armed Wil Crowe to close games.

They might as well have printed posters in the locker room that say Bednar isn’t as important as Roansy. You can think that’s hyperbole but when every player on this team sees the lengths this team will go to in order to protect that one player’s health, then see it be at the expense of theirs, well, it hardly matters if said player begged for the ball or not. A coach is supposed to know what’s best for them, just like years ago when the Pirates wouldn’t condone Cervelli catching another game because of his concussion history.

Nobody can definitively say that the Pirates got David hurt, but nobody can deny he wasn’t the same pitcher after that singular moment. They’ve overused Duane Underwood 2 years in a row, asking him repeatedly to give them 2 or even 3 innings. I don’t blame them for Underwood being below the line, that’s just what he is, but let me ask this, if we don’t think Zach Thompson should be facing a lineup more than 1 or 1.5 times, why would we want the clearly inferior Underwood to do it?

He’s managed with handcuffs and at some point you’re going to do something stupid, especially if it works from time to time.

They Suck, Why Does This Matter?

It matters because the team is 90% kids.

You have them all supposedly up here “furthering their development” yet repeatedly beating into their heads that no matter what they do, no matter how many runs they put up, no matter what starter they force out of the game, the likelihood of their bullpen making it count is very low.

They went out and put up 8 runs on the Yankees through 8 innings and this bullpen let it slip away in a literal blink of an eye. The saddest part, you all saw it coming.

Blame Wil Crowe if you like, blame Derek Shelton too I guess, but there wasn’t a single option in that bullpen you’d have felt good about. Just wasn’t.

To me, we have to look all the way back to the beginning of the season and the setup of the pitching staff. That’s where this story started, and the way they managed it collectively wrote the ending before it even got hot on the field.

If Ben Cherington is going to continue to repeat that they have to get better, let’s hope he at least is murmuring it to himself in the mirror when he shaves, because his improvement above all is where that might actually be achieved.

Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers

9-21-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

Even though it sometimes seems as if the season just started, soon every Minor League Ballpark across America will once again become silent for the Fall and Winter months; as they already have in Bradenton, Greensboro and Altoona.

For Bradenton the end of the season was extremely anticlimactic; when we they-along with the Dunedin Blue Jays-were unable play their final game of the season, for a chance to see if the Marauders could defend their Florida State League Crown. In the Final Standings-for the second half-they finished just a half a game behind the Blue Jays.

In Greensboro and Altoona their conclusions to the year were slightly less dramatic as the Grasshoppers and Curve were 7.5 games and 2.5 games-respectively-off the winning pace. Although, I would have to say Altoona’s season was the more disappointing one, with all the expectations that they existed for them to be a potential Minor League Powerhouse prior to Opening Day.

However, in spite of these shortcomings, it’s hard to declare the development throughout the system as going through a regression; especially from those that state that Minor League Records don’t matter.

If it was truly regressing, I would have had been more difficult for me to come up with 5 Pirates Top Prospect Performers each and every week; most times having to narrow the list down by like 3 or 4 players, and/or adding a bonus player to circumvent my own criteria on occasion.

Sure there were some discouraging outcomes due to injury, inability to repeat success from the previous season and general underperformance; yet, there almost as many surprises or breakouts from prospects that may have not been ranked as high as others, if they were even ranked at all.

For what it’s worth, I honestly think some of this doom and gloom concerning the Pirates Farm System has simply been a trickle down effect from what we have been witnessing at the Major League Level.

When you’re staring down another 100 loss season, it’s hard to be positive about anything.

Obviously a statement like this will quickly get me labeled as a Ben Cherington Fanboy or a Nutting Apologist; still, it’s hard for me to give up this quickly during a process that started just 3 years ago.

1) Malcolm Nunez-1B/DH (Altoona)

Since joining the Pirates Organization in the Quintana Deal, Nunez has slashed .286/.381/.476 with a 134 wRC+, 5 homers and 5 doubles; which includes a .250/.455/.313 slash line thanks to drawing walks at a rate of 27.3%.

On the season he has a 20.6% strike out to 13.7% walk rate; something that is fairly impressive for a player with his power potential.

2) Endy Rodriguez-C/2B/OF (Altoona)

There isn’t much to say about Rodriguez that hasn’t already been said at least a hundred times during the season. He has hit extremely well at every level, his receiving skills have improved, the arm we already knew he had has been on full display and he plays the field-second base and the outfield just as well as he does behind the dish.

At Double-A Altoona Endy has put up a .356 AVG and an 1.120 OPS, slammed 8 homers and 14 doubles, posted a 199 wRC+ and walked at nearly the same rate as he has struck out-13.0% to 15.2%.

Oh, and yeah, he also throws out would be base stealers at a 45.5% rate.

Still, even with all of the positive accolades, please be prepared for Endy to begin next season in Triple-A. I’m not saying it’s right or the way things should go, it’s just the reality of the situation. So blast away at Pirates management if you must, but also realize what usually happens when you scream into a void…or do a couple of things into the wind.

3) Kyle Nicolas-RHP (Altoona)

In Nicolas last outing of the season, he had one of his better performances on the year; striking out 5, walking only 1 and not allowing a single run on 5 hits, spread out across 5.2 innings.

On the season he posted a respectable 3.97 ERA and a 1.301WHIP, while striking out 101 hitters across a career high 90.2 innings of work.

4) Cameron Junker-RHP (Altoona)

It took all season for this Notre Dame product to make the list, and almost nearly as long for him to get his promotion to Altoona.

Originally drafted as a starting pitcher, Junker is truly the product of the 2020 COVID Season, and a season ending injury in the July 2021.

Relegated to the bullpen, he had to adjust to his new role of reliever and eventually a closer over the first three years of his professional career.

Over 47.0 innings in Greensboro, the now 25 year old Junker struck out 62 batters over 47 innings, posted a 3.64 ERA and earned a 1.30 WHIP. Then in his short time-only 4.1 innings-with the Curve he didn’t allow a run on only one hit, struck out 7 of the 15 batters he faced and walked just one.

5) Blake Sabol-C/OF (Indianapolis)

Remember when I mentioned the players that had surprise and/or breakout performances this year? Well, this is clearly one of these guys.

Since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, Sabol has slashed .306/.434/.581, as compared to the .281/.347/.486 line that he had in 412 plate appearances at Altoona. Also on a positive note his K-rate has dropped from 26.0% to 21.1%, while his BB-rate has increased from 9.2% to 15.8%.

The crazy part about his performance across two levels this season, is this that it shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. Just last season he had a .310 AVG and a .957 OPS between Bradenton and Greensboro.

Now he is one step away from the majors, with no indication of slowing down.

There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the 24th week of 2022!

Now remember, let me know I missed, who your Top 5 is and be sure check back each and every Tuesday (or Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning) hopefully-during the Minor League Baseball Season!

A Whole New Ballgame?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-t27ys-12cbd1d

Bradenton Marauders play-by-play guy Spenser Smith joins us again for “30 Minutes of Bucs” with a look at the actual impact of MLB’s new rules for 2023. Spenser has been watching a new kind of baseball this season, and he has his take on what Pirates fans should expect from the game starting next year. We’ll also check in on an unexpected young player he got a first glance at this season.

Brought to you by ShopYinzz.com! Craig Toth covers the Pirates for Inside The Bucs Basement, and joins his buddy Chris at a 9-foot homemade oak bar to talk Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball. Listen. Subscribe. Share. We are “For Fans, By Fans & All Pirates Talk.” THE Pirates Fan Podcast found EVERYWHERE podcasts can be found and always at BucsInTheBasement.com!

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

9-19-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

A sweep of the Reds quickly followed by a sweep from the Mets. Progress negated in a single predictable series. Thing is folks, as I’ve said countless times, the losing is one thing, losing as badly as the Pirates did in this series, that’s what makes you feel like nothing is improving.

For instance, The Pirates lost to the Cardinals right before heading to Cincinnati and because they were fairly competitive games, it was easier to look at what went right next to all that went wrong. When you lose badly, and do things like strike out 33 times in two of those contests, how can you talk about anything else?

Sure, I remember Cruz hitting that 3 run shot to tie the game off DeGrom, I also remember the hitters striking out 20 times and the beaten to hell bullpen imploding. It’s really hard to find any joy in that one swing when it’s placed next to all that other awful.

Let’s do this.

1. Seed-Gate

Couple things. First, I’m not going to repost the video, you’ve all seen it and hardly need a play by play from yet another commenter. Second, I’m in no way excusing it.

I also don’t see things like this, or the Will Craig play last year, or Hayes missing first last year, or Rodolfo Castro’s phone falling out of his pocket, or whatever embarrassing play you can think of as reflective of the entire team.

On the Hayes play in which he clearly had an insatiable hunger for more seeds (hope they were a good flavor at least BTW), I immediately heard things like, of course he doesn’t care, the front office doesn’t.

Silly.

In that very play, Jack Suwinski ran all the way from left field to back up the slightest possibility of a wild throw to a base in which the likelihood of throwing there was next to nil. Mitch Keller did his job too, running over to back up the throw from the outfield and good thing he did cause the throw was awful.

Hayes did something that according to every single player I talked to, and my final count on this subject was around 14, was a bad look, but something each felt they’ve done something similar too, they just didn’t get caught and have it highlighted.

One player told me “I know for a fact I’ve tied my shoes more than once on a ball hit to right field.”

Again, this isn’t an excuse, and that’s precisely why exactly zero of those 14 players made up of past, and current players, not just from Pittsburgh refused to publicly excuse it. They all know it’s a bad look, and they all know if it happened to them they’d be embarrassed.

Derek Shelton being dismissive of it too is worthy of embarrassment.
“The people that watch us play every night know that our effort is never anything that comes into question. We’ve had maybe three times all year long where effort has come into question, and we’ve dealt with it,” Shelton said. “People that don’t watch us play on a nightly basis, I can understand how you may have an opinion on that, but the opinion that matters to me is in our clubhouse and within our group.”

The first thing I’ll say here is, when you’re shepherding a team poised to lose the equivalent of 100 games for the 3rd straight year, how many people do you really believe are watching every game?

Further, I have watched every game, literally, every one of them, every inning. I see something once a week easily that makes me cringe. Some of it on good plays mind you. Like Rodolfo Castro’s homerun the other day where he admired it and turned to the dugout to keep his competitive thing with Oneil Cruz going. Dude, that was a wall scraper. One gust of wind and you are either out or standing at first with an embarrassing single.

Hayes isn’t the type to need punished to understand he did wrong, others are. The problem with not punishing Hayes is that simple fact, now you have a double standard set up for the next time you want to get on a guy for not hustling or whatever the situation is.

At the end of the day, we’ll probably never see this again, not from Ke’Bryan anyway, and if they were poised to win 100 games instead of lose that many, we’re probably laughing it off.

One final piece of advice here for Derek Shelton, your target audience IS those people who don’t watch everyday. This team has made sure over the past 7 or 8 years that they vastly outnumber the people who watch game in and out. Perhaps instead of telling them they haven’t watched enough, acknowledge that it’s your job in part to make them want to. Things like this certainly don’t accomplish that.

2. 20 Strikeouts in One Game, but it Gets Worse

When your team is setting records, you certainly don’t want them to be for things like this. The Pittsburgh Pirates now have 1,382 strikeouts on the year with 16 games remaining. This is already the most in franchise history.

Let me say that again. In 135 years, this is the most strikeouts they’ve ever had. The all time record belongs to the Chicago Cubs who struck out 1,596 times during the 2021 season. That record is safe, but man it’s not something you want to flirt with either.

It’s not surprising that of the top ten strikeout totals for the franchise most occurred in the modern era. 2012-1354, 2016-1334, 2013-1330, 2021-1328, 2015-1322, in fact I have to jump all the way to 14th place just to reach one that wasn’t in this century, 1999-1197.

The game has trended this way and it hasn’t happened in the dark. Anyone who has watched this game since at least the 1980’s still can’t wrap their head around how anyone could strikeout this much and be “good”.

The 3 true outcomes of a strikeout, walk or homerun have turned a game that used to be about strategy and speed into a max swing at all costs at all times pissing match.

I mean, just look at that list, the Pirates won 98 games in 2015 while striking out 1,322 times. I watched it and still can’t wrap my head around how that total equaled a good team.

Think about this for a second, this awful team, the one we’ve watched all year is currently sitting at 17th in team history for homeruns with 148. If they hit 13 more in these last 16 games they’ll wind up in 6th.

Universally this is accepted as one of the worst Pirates offensive teams we’ve watched, and yet here they are, with one of the better power hitting teams they’ve produced.

In all their years since joining the NL, there are 2 Pirates squads that had lower OBP. Currently at .287, they’re only beaten by the 2020 squad at .284 which I’m not even sure should count and the 1888 squad at .264 which was probably made up of about 7 guys they found scooping horse crap off the cobblestone streets.

How abut batting average? Currently at .221, one point above the all time worst mark set in again 2020 with .220.

If all that doesn’t add up to a change in the hitting coach, I’m out of answers. This has been a historically bad offensive team.

I say all this because you can expect Greg Brown and company to make sure you know about that homerun number as we finish this thing out, but you should know, it only masks some of the completely off the chain awful they’ve produced at the plate.

3. Luis Ortiz is Back for Round Two

The JT Brubaker injury will likely spell the end of his season, and bluntly, that’s probably not a bad thing. In fact, only once (2018-154) has he thrown more innings than he did this year with 141.1. He finishes the year with an ERA of 4.58, his best since becoming a MLB pitcher to go along with his worst ever WHIP at 1.458.

He’ll be back in 2023, and really whether you think it’s wise or not, he’ll be in the rotation, at least to start. Look at him as a low bar for others to beat out and a dependable innings provider. That’s really all he’s earned at this point.

Luis Ortiz is just beginning his journey and probably wasn’t expected to see another inning of MLB play this year before the injury. We all saw what he did to the Reds who are at least in competition with Pittsburgh for the most pathetic offense in the league, next he’ll get a shot at the Yankees. Deep breaths kid.

No matter what he does, Ortiz is likely to start 2023 in AAA. I say that for a couple reasons, first being Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras and JT Brubaker are virtual locks. Next, they’ll absolutely be signing at least another starter, maybe two and then he has to get past Johan Oviedo who you just know they want to give a healthy shot to.

Ortiz will be firmly planted in the next wave, which thankfully this time includes more than just one pitcher. Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Cody Bolton, Omar Cruz and Ortiz himself will all compete for an opportunity and the thing is each and every one of them could legitimately be good.

That’s a far more promising list of possibilities to this year’s team.

For a player like Ortiz, this is an opportunity to give himself a leg up on his competition. He’ll head into Spring training with something most of those others don’t have, MLB experience, ok, and a 101 MPH fastball too.

He also represents something I think we all should keep our eyes on, if a player performs well, even if he’s in Single A, this team isn’t afraid to rocket them through the system. So maybe next time you see that highlight package of Po-Yu Chen or Anthony Solometo, perhaps shrugging it off like you won’t see them for 3 or 4 years is at least a bit cavalier.

We’ve seen already multiple times this club considers AA to be a step away from the majors, just like AAA. Now we’ve seen that they aren’t in any way afraid to let a kid scoot through the system like a hot knife through butter if their play warrants it.

There isn’t much to watch with excitement in these last 16 games, but Ortiz is one that I personally can’t wait to see more from. A franchise that in my mind still doesn’t have enough pitching in the system producing someone that I truly didn’t see being a factor yet gives me hope they have more that I simply haven’t acknowledged yet.

4. Amongst All the Bad…

As I think I illustrated in a fairly disgusting fashion up there, this has been a historically bad season. That said, they’ve found some kids who have at least bought themselves a chance heading into next year to be a part of this thing.

I’m not going to name them all here, you know who’s on this team and it’s up for you to decide who gets you excited and who doesn’t. Next year they have a real shot to add in as many as 5 players in MLB’s top 100 prospect list. Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero. Depending on which list you like, you could even toss Mike Burrows in there.

None of them should be seen as the savior. None of them should be counted upon to single handedly alter the course of this franchise. Collectively though, they all will add to the talent level, and competition to make this club a better and more competitive team.

I’m very aware that some of them had poor seasons or at least were injured, but this wave of talent is what we’ve been pointing to since they started amassing talent back with the first trade of Starling Marte.

I’m skipping right over some other players who we haven’t really even seen yet like Travis Swaggerty, Ji-hwan Bae, Matt Gorski, Matt Fraiser, Mason Martin, Malcom Nunez. Point is, there is even more talent on the way than there was this year, and despite the record, it’s hard to deny that youngsters had a positive impact this year.

Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, and you go as far as you want, again, personal preference for who got your juices flowing, but it’s kind of insane to see so many decide this whole thing is stalled with that much talent right there within shouting distance.

I absolutely get that in 3 years you’d expect to see material evidence of improvement on the field, and I truly believe with minimal investment they could have produced that for you. They chose not to do that, or more accurately those they chose to help that effort for reasons of ineffectiveness or injury didn’t produce that, but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water here.

5. Words I Don’t Like Using and Why

We see all kinds of buzz words thrown around, especially in all the hot take producing sect of Pirates media and honestly, I hate it. Today I’m going to name them, and explain why I don’t like them with one overriding reason that applies to each one of them, they’re lazy.

Tank – This is just stupid, and it was stupid before baseball put in a lottery system for determining the first pick overall. To “tank” one must believe that from the Winter preceding the season, everyone in management looks around the room and says, say, if we just get rid of this guy and that guy, we might suck enough to get that top pick! Think about that for a second. Imagine doing anything in life and deciding before you even start you were going to aim to be the worst at it. Now, Imagine doing it while rostering 7-10 players you honestly feel will play a role in a future winning team. It’s losing, not tanking. That’s it, The word and the sentiment are lazy beyond measure, so I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked to see it used routinely.

Punt – Define it. Calling what the Pirates will do next season a punt is so simplistic it’s literally impossible to be wrong. If they sign 2 starters, a catcher, a first baseman and a DH and still don’t get above .500, was it a punt? Well, if you said it was going to be the answer will of course be yes. That’s because there is no tangible definition for the word as it applies to baseball. It also has an inherently negative connotation and since it comes from football perhaps we should mention that while it’s not a thrilling play there certainly are times when it’s the best play to make. To some, punting could literally be not firing the hitting coach. To others, it could mean giving someone another chance in 2023, you know, cause if everyone had their wish Mitch Keller might already be somewhere else.

Competitive – I hate this one because you could lose every game by one run and lose 162 and be more “competitive” than they’ve been this year. What does it mean? To some, it means being within a game or two of the division lead in September, to others it means in the conversation for a wild card berth. Just say what you mean. If you think they need to be in the fight for the division to reach this designation, just say that. All this word does is give people room to argue.

The reason I hate all these things is pretty simple, it’s the same reason most of you hate the vagueness of everything the GM says, they all leave room for interpretation and really mean nothing.

I’m not being entirely serious here, but I always think we do better when we understand the way we’re being manipulated. The blowhards that use these words as part of their hot takes are doing so for one reason, there is always a way they can spin their way out of it. They’re tanking but finish 4th or 5th in the league, well they can’t even do that right. They manage .500 next year and you were told they were punting, well of course they were right, if they didn’t punt they’d have won 90.

When you see these silly things, force them to be more specific, you’ll see what I mean as soon as they absolutely go out of their way to not elaborate. Or they’ll try to turn it around on you, something like “so you’d say they aren’t tanking then?” which of course sets you up for being a shill.

It’s all a game. Don’t play if you can avoid it.

When Jack Does Jack, the Outfield Questions Flow

9-18-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Jack Suwinski is universally seen as a virtual lock to be the Pirates starting left fielder in 2023. Hitting 16 homeruns in your first 90 games in your rookie campaign will do that.

But Jack has struggled to recapture the magic.

He went into a huge tailspin that caused a demotion to AAA, a demotion that was supposed to help him figure out how to cut down on the strikeouts, preferably without sacrificing the power he’d so admirably displayed after his emergency call from AA Altoona.

Unfortunately, the strikeout numbers in AAA were actually worse. In 117 at bats he struck out 49 times, folks that’s just brutal.

It makes you wonder if that’s ok and gets you penciled in as a lock to start in 2023, why isn’t Mason Martin up here? I mean if we’re going to excuse strikeouts in lieu of power numbers, what’s the difference right?

In 282 big league at bats, Jack Suwinski has taken the old strike 3 rumba back to the dugout 96 times.

There’s no denying his defense is where it needs to be. There’s no denying his power is sorely needed. The question is, how do you bat someone who can’t crack .200 anywhere near the middle of your order?

Again, don’t get me wrong, largely what Jack has done in 2022 has been good for a rookie. Rookies get better, and that’s what you have to hope here too, but the strikeout problem followed him even before his power emerged in 2021 so it’s not like the Pirates drew it out of him or something.

There can be a place for a hitter like that, and given the alternatives, the Pirates likely will make sure there is, but for Jack to really become a true and long term answer out there, he’s going to have to evolve.

I don’t believe he’s receiving the help he needs.

Regardless of your thoughts on Andy Haines, and as most of you know, mine are rather negative, Jack simply has to become less predictable. That means more than anything else, recognizing, and ultimately laying off the absolute glut of breaking pitches the find their way under his bat.

See it’s an oxymoron, he has hit several of his 16 homeruns by swinging at them.

Take a look at where his strikeouts have come from.

Folks, pitchers know exactly how to get him out, and until Jack shows he can lay off, he’ll do nothing but face even more of them.

Oh, he’ll hit the mistakes, but lets be really blunt here, pitchers simply don’t make enough mistakes to live on them alone. First and foremost Jack must force them into the zone and the only way to successfully do so is to stop swinging at the shear volume of pitches he’s seeing in places he can’t reasonably hope to contact them.

It’ll never be 100% eliminated, I mean not a week ago we heard on the broadcast as Bryan Reynolds sacrificed a bat he struck out with to the concrete walls of the runway to the locker room. Another he chased low, bottom line, it’s not like Jack is the only player to ever deal with it or indeed struggle with it.

This is hardly a disaster of a rookie campaign for Suwinski, but it is instead a really good foundation to build on. He’s shown some things that plainly put, most guys aren’t capable of. Unfortunately it won’t be enough if he doesn’t make some more adjustments.

The best thing about playing this many kids is the amount of room they have left to grow. Off seasons are universally accepted as the period of time in which all players take their biggest jumps.

Jack is in no way alone here, he’s got a team full of players who have their own issues to deal with. This is how a group of players, individually focused start to come together and form a team. Pulling each other up, pushing from below, encouraging from within and finally supporting in their lowest moments. All in an effort to one day do something special together.

We, not a single one of us, know exactly where this thing is headed, or who will be a part of it when and if they pull it all together, but suffice to say, improvement and minimizing weaknesses will play a very large role in that cause.

I focused on Jack because while he has already done enough positive things to captivate much of the fan base, he also very clearly has not reached the heights of what he can become.

The possibility of never moving beyond where he is surely lives too. That’s why continually harping on where so and so will find a place to play or who should be trade bait are truly premature. Jack may or may not wind up being a fixture on a team that matters, but truly nothing matters more than the process of allowing his play and the play of other players around him to answer those questions.

I’ll never forget what my high school baseball coach said to me when I was mired in an 0 for 17 streak during my sophomore season. He just said if you’ve never struggled in this game, you haven’t played it either.

Nobody likes hearing from the GM that the bulk of this teams improvement will come from internally improving. At this stage though, to say anything else would be a complete and utter bald faced lie. Players like Jack will be part of that.

And it continues with his next at bat.

Just like it does for all of these young players.