Top Ten Pirates Utility Players

Over the years the Pirates have had a number of players who bounced around the diamond. Contributing where they were needed most before ultimately landing in the place we think of them playing. Here are my top 10.

1. Josh Harrison – JHay was the epitome of Super utility man before becoming the everyday 2B. Bluntly put, his transition to one position devalued him as a contributor.

2. John Cangelosi – John played all over the diamond for the Bucs. He was so versatile there were weeks he himself started 5 games bouncing around resting others.

3. Bobby Bonilla – Many people remember Bobby as a fixture at 3B or RF, but in his career he played all three outfield positions, 3B and 1B. He even caught an inning once. If that’s not utility of the super variety, I don’t know what is.

4. Sean Rodriguez – He was a nice little spark plug and locker room glue, Clint Hurdle used him too damn much and he became a lightning rod. SeanRod was a classic case of failure due to over exposure. When he was used as an actual spot starter or defensive replacement, he did his job well, when he became a player starting 4 or 5 games a week the warts started to show. Legendary flow on this dude though, and Serpico was always a heart and soul guy.

5. R.J. Reynolds – R.J. was never the best player on the field but he played all three outfield positions, and did it well. Being a switch hitter only increased his versatility and being part of a return package from the Dodgers along with Sid Bream for Bill Madlock was always going to make it harder to become a fan favorite. Sweet mustache too!

6. Turner Ward – For the best part of 3 seasons including the famous freak show of 1997, Turner patrolled all three outfield positions. He provided enough power off the bench to make him one of the best pinch hitters in the game, plus, who could forget this…

7. Gary Redus – The definition of “wherever you need me coach”. Gary played all three outfield positions and first base for the Buccos from 1988 through 1992. If you remember those clubs, Redus was the best option to lead off. The formula of Redus getting on base and Jay Bell bunting him over was a living example of the Leyland Doctrine. He never played more than 98 games in a season during his Pirates tenure but was every bit an important part of the run.

8. Omar Moreno – Everywhere. That’s where Omar played no matter where you put him in the outfield, everywhere. Omar makes this list for one reason, his position versatility. Some players can play center field if pressed into action, but Moreno was going to bring his sure handed fielding to all three. In his career he would steal 487 bases and played every game in the 1979 World Series season.

9. Willie Stargell – In his career, Pops played all three outfield positions and first base for the Pirates. Nobody would ever call him a utility man, but he certainly fits the bill. Can you imagine a player of his stature being willing to bounce around filling holes in today’s game? OK, this one is a stretch but when I think of what Pops meant to this team, he can make every list I ever make and it won’t be enough acknowledgement.

10. Raphiael Belliard – During his Pirates tenure he filled in admirably at 2B, 3B, and SS, and did so with a lifetime .977 fielding percentage. He hit 2 homeruns. TWO. In his career with a lifetime .227 batting average. Imagine how good you have to be in the field to play 17 years in the majors with that batting line.

Who did I miss? Fill me in on your picks.

Through The Prospect PortHole: Braeden Ogle

I often hear Pittsburgh Pirates fans talk about a void that exists in the Farm System as it pertains to quality pitching prospects, especially left handed pitchers. They make it seem like there are absolutely zero left handed hurlers, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I am not going to pretend like it wouldn’t be beneficial to have more, but to act like there are none is completely absurd. A quick trip between Greensboro and Bradenton was all that was needed to find one such player.

Braeden Ogle was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 4th Round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft from Jensen Beach High School in Florida. Immediately after being picked by the Pirates the 6’2” 170 lb left handed pitcher was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Pirates where he had a solid start to his professional career. At over two years younger than the rest of the competition, Ogle posted a 2.60 ERA, a 1.048 WHIP and a lowly .210 BABIP in 8 starts and 27.2 innings. He did struggle at times with a walk rate of 3.58 BB/9 and didn’t produce much of a swing and miss to the tune of 6.51 K/9. However, I consider this production a result of youth and need for further development, so I wouldn’t look to deep into it.

After an entire offseason to prepare for his first full year of professional ball, Ogle was ultimately promoted to the Bristol Pirates (Pittsburgh’s Advanced Rookie League Affiliate) of the Appalachian League. He continued to grow as far as command and control by increasing his K/9 to 7.33 and slightly reducing his BB/9 to 3.35. However, he fell victim to an ever rising BABIP, which soared from .210 to .300 resulting in a less than optimal 1.302 in his 10 starts and 43 innings. As I took a deeper dive into Ogle’s performance and production throughout the year I was pleasantly surprised by a drop in his FIP from 4.13 to 3.83 over the course of the year; a sign of improvement, as well as an explanation for his unlucky BABIP. It’s is also possible that a lingering knee injury was responsible for a decline in production, as his season was cut short by surgery due a right knee meniscus tear.

After an intense rehab and plenty of hard work Ogle started 2018 with the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh’s Low-A Affiliate through 2018), a clear promotion, rather than being assigned to the Short Season-A, West Virginia Black Bears. His first start was a struggle. He fought through 3 innings, giving up 3 runs while walking 4 batters and striking out 4. The next two games he hit his stride pitching 6 innings each game striking out 12 and allowing 2 runs. The fourth game of season he struck out 5 batters in 2 innings, only to be removed with shoulder inflammation. He did not return the remainder of the the season.

Due to concerns about his ability to maintain health as well as the fact that he was able to increase his K/9 to 11.12 the Pirates made the decision to move him to the bullpen. In an attempt to adjust Ogle to a reliever role he began the season with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh’s Low-A Affiliate) for the second season in a row, appearing in 20 games and starting 2. In those 20 appearances Ogle was able to live up to his potential, increasing his command and reduced his BB/9 to a career low 2.84. He also maintained a K/9 above 1 per inning. This resulted in Ogle being promoted midsession to the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s High A-Advanced Affiliate) of the Florida State League. In 11 innings, a small sample size, he reduced his WHIP from 1.200 to .971, his ERA from 3.69 to 3.18 and continued his decline in BB/9, landing at 2.4.

Prior to the delay in this current season I was curious as to whether or not the new regime would give Ogle another shot at being a starter due to the high K/9 (11.12) during his last chance in a rotation or would choose to transition his 96 mph fastball and his 84-86 mph slider into the bullpen for good. There is no doubt he would have started his season back in Bradenton, but depending on his path he could have quickly climbed the ladder; taking the mound at PNC Park as early as 2022. The only real question at this point is will he be a starter or will he be summoned from the bullpen by Derek Shelton in the later innings to preserve a lead and Pirates victory? Only time will tell.

Communication is the Fuel That Fires the Engine – A Conversation with Eric Minshall and Scott Seabol

On Friday, Craig and I had a unique opportunity. We were able to get two coaches together to discuss how they help, compete, and prepare players from two very different sides of the baseball coaching spectrum.

Scott Seabol, currently a hitting instructor for the Marlins system and Eric Minshall a pitching instructor for Southern Illinois. Those of you who have read our work or listened to the Bucs In the Basement Podcast are no doubt familiar with Eric, but he is more that just a pitching coach. He has a unique gift of making the game accessible. I’ve had one great conversation with Scott in the past and knew he had the same in him. Together they opened our eyes to exactly how a pitching coach and hitting coach interact and help each other without stunting the growth of their own players.

This column is going to focus on that aspect of the conversation, but there will be much more on the podcast, do plan to listen, it will premier Monday night on the live show at 9:00!

Eric has coached for over 20 years and last year latched on with the Bristol club in the Pirate’s system, this year he will be with Southern Illinois.

Scott was born and bred in Western Pennsylvania, and has played baseball all over the place, in college alone he played in Southern Florida, Allegheny Maryland, and WVU. He was the latest drafted player to ever make it to MLB when he accomplished the feat with the Yankees. He would experience more twists and turns in his career as it took him to St. Louis and ultimately Japan, all of these experiences helped make him the coach he is today. “Didn’t seem fun at the time, but experiencing D2, D1 made me appreciate the different levels of collegiate baseball”, Scott said.

Scott then touched on his post playing career, which started with opening a baseball facility for training players typically 6 to 12-year-old kids. He ultimately realized this was not his path as he wanted to focus on the development, while parents tended to want to see wins. He started with the Yankees, and he and Eric actually crossed paths, “Eric, I think we crossed paths in 2019, I was with Pulaski and you were in Bristol I believe.” Eric quickly agreed and Scott continued showing off the memory it seems so many of these coaches have “I think we faced [Tanaj] Thomas like seven times that year!”, To which Eric gleefully pointed out was “A little bit by design.”

So, I asked both about the interaction between the two types of coaches when they coach together, its so hard for me to envision how they help each other while training players to beat each other.

Eric started, and he focused on the collaboration of scouting reports from his time with Bristol pointing out how he would listen in during Spirng training to all the hitting coaches including the Eckstein brothers, who he pointed out Scott had played with (David) in 2005. “I did want to hear about how they were going about their job, what pitches they were trying to dial in on, how they were teaching these guys to be patient, and you can learn so much literally from the other side.” He continued “So, once we got the season started, and you could kinda take a breath and we got to Bristol, our hitting coach JP Prieto, did a really good job of preparing his guys We did really good as a hitting club, in fact I think it was Pulaski and us at the top.”

Eric continued “I would get all my reports on the hitters and then JP would take a look at it, and he would get all the reports on the Yankees pitchers and I would take a look at it, then we’d basically get together in our managers meeting before the series and really break down what we were seeing via true media, any reports we had from scouts that had been through, we would actually collaborate quite a bit pre-series and what we were seeing. The collaboration piece really helped out! One thing I couldn’t identify very easily as a pitching coach was during a game, guys are making adjustments, it was far easier for our hitting coach or manager to say hey this guy is far closer to the plat than we thought he was going to be or whatever.”

At this point Scott agreed with Eric then put his own knowledge into the conversation “During Spring training you’re usually overloaded with 25-30 players and the pitching coaches are as well, so there isn’t really a lot of collaboration going on.” “Once we do break and get to our cities, the number one thing for me on any good staff is, including the manager or anybody is communication. I’ve been very fortunate to have  been on the staffs I’ve been, I’ve only been coaching for four years now but all the coaches I’ve been with we always checked our ego at the door and we understood that even though you’re a pitching coach, you’re a baseball guy, you see things as well, you see hitters, as a hitting coach we’re baseball people, we see pitchers, we see defenders and that’s the one thing the coaches I’ve been with we all see everybody knows baseball, so there’s nothing wrong with me asking a pitching coach what they see in a hitter.”

Scott brought a real world example to the table here and it really drove the point home “We had a nice player, Madison Santos, this kid’s about 5’ 6” but had as much power as anybody, at times he would scuffle and I remember the pitching coach telling me in Spring Training Listen he’s going to struggle with fastballs in when the season starts. And this kid was hitting .320 in Spring Training, I was like alright, I know he’s gonna struggle with something but it wasn’t evident to me at the time, but he had already pinpointed it at the time, if he was going to pitch to him [his] plan would be to speed him up inside and go soft away, so we were able to tailor his work, without even him knowing to be honest with you, to what his weakness would be, you have to respect the pitching coach and what they know.”

It comes down to trust. That’s what I learned most from listening to what they had to say. Understanding that baseball is a universal language and being willing to absorb the expertise that others bring to the table.

The interview was wide ranging and I truly hope you listen to all of it, but this part to me is absolutely key. A great coach understands he or she is better as part of a staff, than as an individual on an island. Both of these men focused on communication being of utmost importance in the development process and it should be no surprise they are so capable of communicating how these two areas interact in such a succinct way.

Something Scott touched on that struck me and I know will mean a lot to many of you, was the actual percentage of work that goes into simply helping these young adjust to professional ball. Scott said, “As far as the lower level coaching goes, lower level as you get to Rookie ball, and even Low A ball, for me its maybe harder than the upper levels you’re trying to basically earn the trust of these players and I know Eric can attest to this for a lot of first year players especially right out of high school, is 80% of your job is not really baseball related, basically teaching these guys how to be professionals. Young kids first time away from high school they might have a little bit of money, keeping them focused on why they’re there, one thing nobody talks about is Rookie ball especially the Appalachian league, we have a lot of Latino players, and Latino players get to a place like Bristol or Elizabethton or Pulaski, its not easy to eat, making sure the players are eating, making sure the players are sleeping or staying in touch with their families, making sure they’re staying strong, then after all of those things you gotta make sure their performing at baseball.”

We all know this somewhere in the back of our heads, but to hear it like that, so plain and straightforward, wow. We all see the finished product on our favorite teams, talking to people like Scott and Eric you really get a feel for just how daunting making it is, simply from understanding the very beginning of the journey for some.

Much appreciation to these two gentlemen for taking the time to give us a window into the interaction they have with opposing coaches and the early stage development of ball players. It’s invaluable for fans to see and we wish them both success when baseball gets started again.

Inside The Replay Room: The Tale of the Nefarious J.T. Watkins

On October 28, 2018 as the Boston Red Sox hoisted their 9th World Series Title in Los Angeles, hero Alex Cora with his hands on the trophy, there was a man in the shadows. Unbeknownst to anyone, replay room staffer and advanced scouting assistant J.T. Watkins was either giving high fives to all of his compatriots or sitting in the corner by himself with a grin on his face, so proud of what he had accomplished; singlehandedly of course. He is the real evil that existed within the Red Sox organization. Thank God they identified him and were able to punish him to the extent he deserved.

I hope you all know I am totally joking and that MLB’s investigation of this situation was a sham. At the end of March Rob Manfred promised there would be a resolution to the Red Sox cheating scandal by May and/or before baseball resumed play. He at least held true to that statement, but in the process made a mockery of the sport that I love. As a punishment for cheating their way to the 2018 World Championship the Boston Red Sox were stripped of a second draft pick and were not held accountable in any other way. Former Manager Alex Cora was suspended for the 2020 season, but not for what happened in Boston. He was a stone cold cheater in Houston, but once he arrived in Boston he had become a changed man and was totally oblivious to the dastardly deeds that were occurring within the prestigious Boston Red Sox Organization.

Does anyone actually believe that this is really what happened? Is this conceivable to anyone that has been following this situation? The ruling laid down by Rob Manfred and MLB states that Watkins was the mastermind in revising sign sequence information that he provided to players and was a key player in the Apple Watch Scheme in 2017. Let me state with absolutely certainty that I am not absolving Watkins of any wrongdoing, but to pin him as the only guilty party within the Red Sox organization is absolutely asinine. Are we meant to believe that Watkins was the sole participant in this entire scheme as as well as the only one left from the previous year’s indiscretions? Such disrespect for our intelligence.

So this is what we are left with, as the almighty Rob Manfred has spoken. No one believes a word of this entire investigation and not even the most passionate Red Sox fan can accept this as the truth. However, we need to come to the realization that nothing we think or believe as baseball fans matters anymore. This game is not ours and I am starting to wonder if it ever was in the first place. Two of the last three World Series Champions are bona fide cheaters. There is no denying this, but we are being told to forget or even worse, ignore this fact.

Thinking about all of this has started to open a Pandora’s Box of Baseball History in my mind. Rob Manfred is not the first figure associated with the game to openly state that cheating is OK. Honestly there have been very few to express the opposite; most famously among the select minority is Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Some of us are just as guilty as Manfred by the way that we hold many of baseball’s most notorious cheaters up on a pedestal; Ty Cobb, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and A-Rod. Other names and faces may have popped into your mind as I was listing off these famous players. Does this make us as bad or as culpable as the man we are accusing of ruining the game, at least as it pertains to this issue? Maybe, maybe not, but it is definitely something to think about.

Top O’The Metric To Yinz: Avoiding The Swing and Miss

In my first article in this series I dove deep into the exciting stat of BB% for hitters. The clear positives of a high BB% are obviously, getting on base and potentially allowing yourself to be able to receive more hittable pitches. The precise benefits of a low K% are not always as apparent. Strikeouts are sometimes no worse than any other out, unless you are trying to move a runner over or bring them in from third on a sacrifice fly. A high K% can also be counteracted simply by having a high walk rate, getting hits regularly or especially being a proficient at the long ball. However, just as it was with a low or high BB%, a high or low K% can be used to predict long term patterns of success or failure for hitters. And just as it was with BB%, K% is just as easy to calculate. Strikeout Rate or Percentage is the number of strikeouts that a batter falls victim to on per plate appearance basis; calculated by dividing the number of walks but the number of plate appearances.

This past season in Major League Baseball the player with the lowest K% was also one of the players with the lowest BB%. Hanser Alberto had a K% of 9.1% and a BB% of 2.9%. I am curious to see what other categories Alberto shows up in moving forward, as he seems to be a player that puts the ball in play pretty often. The other two players with a low K% were David Fletcher of the LA Angels (9.8%) and Michael Brantley (10.4%) of the Houston Astros. On the other side of the coin power hitters Domingo Santana (32.3%), Rougned Odor (30.6%) and Ryan McMahon (29.7%) had the highest/worst K%. With these hitters it is hard to tell how these poor stats effected them overall, but they sure don’t look very promising on the surface.

As previously stated strikeouts may not not always totally negative, with the exception of attempting to bringing in a runner on a sacrifice fly. The Pirates seemed to suffer this fate more than any other team this past season as I have a hard time remembering any sacrifice fly they successfully completed. But I digress. In studying the Pirates players K% some interesting facts came to light that started to give me some perspective as their hitters as a whole. As it was was with BB%, for the purpose of this being a prediction of future performance I will not be addressing player who are not longer on the Pirates roster.

Top 3 Pirates-K%

1) Kevin Newman (11.7%)

It was no surprise to me that Newman was patient at the plate in an attempt to avoid striking out. Newman showed discipline on a consistent basement, earning the leadoff position in the batting order for the majority of the season. However, as it was with Hanser Alberto, Newman also had a very low walk rate (5.3%), which could be telling when looking at the rest of his stats.

2) Adam Frazier (12.3%)

Frazier is one of the Pirates most underrated hitters and fielders if we are being honest, but that last part is for a future article. Frazier is a notorious first pitch hitter, so it’s no surprise to me that that his K% was this low. It is also no surprise that he was such a big trade target for other teams this off-season.

3) Jose Osuna (16.8%)

Osuna took a big step forward this past season in spite of rehabbing from an injury for the first part of the season. As a power hitter it is nice to see that he has an above average K%, which is one of the reasons myself and others hand advocated for increased playing time for him. Hopefully this continues and was not a part of a small same size.

Bottom 3 Pirates-K%

1) Colin Moran (23.3%)

Unfortunately this does not provide any support to the Moran supporters in the Pirates fan base. Along with other factors this could lead some to completely turn their backs on Moran. For me this is more about the concerns against left handed pitchers. Maybe at some people point I will dive into this a little deeper.

2) Bryan Reynolds (22.2%)

I didn’t think it was possible, but I finally found a chink in Bryan Reynold’s armor; not that I am happy about it or even noticed it before. This is something that can be improved upon with experience. However, this a little concerning seeing as pitchers did not have time to adjust to him in the beginning, so once again I will have to look closer to find the deviation as the season progressed.

3) Josh Bell (19.2%)

No real surprise here and not in a bad way, as this lower than the MLB average. Bell struggled for a couple of months with the low and away pitch, but for the most part improved upon his approach at the plate so I am not overly concerned. Also take into account the 12.1% Walk Rate and there is definitely more to this last season than I originally thought.

There have been a lot of eye opening stats that have been brought up during the past two articles. I have even more to think about than I originally thought. I am excited to see where we go next as we look at the Pirates BABIPs compared to the rest of the league as well as against each other.

Pirates Players Who Were Best in MLB for at Least a Season

Every week we like to put together a list that gets us talking baseball. It’s good and therapeutic for all of us right now and hearing the stories and memories everyone has reminds us all just how deeply we care about baseball.

Today, let’s look at players who for a time were arguably the best of the best at their position MLB wide.

  1. Barry Bonds (LF)- For a stretch of time Barry was the best. He’s one of the few who can say he achieved this moniker in Pittsburgh and another city too. Some will criticize his arm strength but it’s pretty nit picky and you still have to find me a better all around player at the position.
  2. Roberto Clemente (RF) – Having no personal experience of watching Roberto do his thing live, I have to trust my elders a bit here. My Dad might smack me when I’m allowed to see him again if I don’t put Clemente on this list. His arm was uncanny, that I can tell from highlights. His range was like having a second Center Fielder in the game. and in the batters box he was one of the most feared offensive talents of his era.
  3. Dave Parker (RF) – OK, so We’ve been lucky here with Right Field. He too, much like Clemente, had an absolute cannon of an arm. Highlights of his strike to Gary Carter in the All Star game should be on everyone’s watch list. On top of that he was arguably the biggest offensive threat in the lineup for the Lumber Company.
  4. Freddy Sanchez (2B) – Believing that there is a list where Freddy belongs among present company is going to be hard for many of you to swallow, I’m sure, but the man won a batting title, here, in Pittsburgh, with little in the lineup to protect him. He also played a slick second base. No, for one season Sanchez was the cream of the crop at 2B with Jeff Kent close behind.
  5. Doug Drabek (SP) – The Cy Young award is given to one pitcher in each league every season, there are times when it is more of a reputation award. Doug was ON all season long. His curveball fell out of the sky and landed in hitter’s back pocket. His fastball hit the glove no matter where Spanky or Slaught put it. He actually got better when there were stressful situations. For one season, Doug was the best there was.
  6. Mark Melancon (RP) – For a few seasons, Mark was as close to a lock to close out a game as we’ve ever seen. When he was traded to Washington in exchange for (He who shan’t be named) who also probably belongs on this list if I could bring myself to do it, we all knew we were losing a really big part of the success enjoyed in the middle of last decade. His cutter, might have been called a slider it had so much movement, and both righties and lefties couldn’t pick it up to save their lives. Having that much movement and still being able to place it is not a common skill set.
  7. Ralph Kiner (LF) – Kiner was a prolific homerun hitter on a terrible team. He brought star power to a grey mill town and was THE reason to pay the price of admission most nights. Towering blasts were his calling card and he did it while being pitched around at every opportunity.
  8. Tony Watson (RP) – Every bullpen needs a lefty to come in and get out those sluggers most teams possess. Watson was more than that, he could get outs no matter what side you hit from. Most of his Pirates career was spent in a set-up role and for a stretch, there wasn’t a better one in the game. Paired with Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, they shortened games to 6 or 7 innings and reminded many of the Cincinnati Reds Nasty Boys. If you were down a couple runs against the Pirates heading into the 6th, you better have scored.
  9. Willie Stargell (LF) – Now, I understand he played 1B too, but his 1971 season was spend primarily in LF, and he was simply dominant. Mashing 48 homeruns with a .295 Batting average, Pops was a frightening figure for any opposing pitcher.
  10. Vern Law (SP) – In 1959 and 1960 Vern was at the top of his game, and the league. In those two seasons he put up 38 wins, 38 complete games, and an ERA of 3.02. For good measure he went ahead and hit a homer in each season too.

Now, I’m sure I left some off, Honus Wagner comes to mind, the Waner’s enter the arena too. Let me know who you remember, but be prepared to defend your pick!

From The Crows Nest: The Chicago Cubs Farm System

The once highly touted Chicago Cubs Farm System of the early to mid 2010’s has fallen from grace and is currently ranked in the bottom third of the league in every experts’ opinions, landing at #23 according to MLB Pipeline. I have even seen them as low as 29th on one list. This is hard to imagine for anyone that watched the Cubs win the World Series in 2016; much of which could be attributed to the strength of and development within their Minor League System. However, for most systems there is a regrouping or dare I say rebuilding period after this level of success because not every organization can be the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs appear to be in one of those particular periods; trying to be as diligent as possible with development, while not having the abundance of talent that they have become accustomed to.

With all of that being said, it is not like the Cubs Minor Leagues are completely devoid of talent. They have 4 prospects in the current MLB Top 100; 3 of whom are on the cusp of reaching the big leagues. Not included in these ranks is RHP Adbert Alzolay, who was potentially scheduled to arrive at Wrigley Field on a full-time basis this season. There are other players similar to Alzolay within the ranks of their organization that fall just outside the top tier of talent, which I could turn into many separate articles (and I just might). However, for today I am just going to stick with the Top 5 according to MLB Pipeline.

1) Nico Hoerner-SS/2B/OF (MLB Pipeline #51)

From being drafted in the 1st round (24th Overall) of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Stanford University to making his Major Leagle Debut on September 9th of this past season, Hoerner’s rise through the Cubs Farm System can be described as nothing other than meteoric. After slashing .284/.344/.399 with 3 home runs and 22 total extra base hits in 70 games with the Tennessee Smokies (Chicago’s AA Affiliate) of the Southern League, Hoerner got his call up to The Show. Over the last 20 games with the Cubbies Horner batted .282 with 3 home runs and 17 RBIs. An average fielder (50) with an above average hit tool (60), he has the potential to have a long career in the MLB.

2) Brailyn Marquez-LHP (MLB Pipeline #68)

Signed by the Cubs for $600,000 in August of 2015 from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, this young left hander has all the makings of a front of the rotation starter. With a lights out/80 grade fast ball that reaches between 96-98 mph consistently and an above average/55 grade slider that slurves away and into hitters, Marquez finished the year in High A/Advanced with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. In his last five starts of the season he posted a 1.71 ERA, a 1.063 WHIP and 26 Ks in 26.1 innings; after having struck out 102 in 77.1 innings at the Low A level.

3) Brennan Davis-OF (MLB Pipeline #78)

The Cubs 2nd Round Pick in the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft from Basha HS in Arizona, Davis shined in his first full season of professional baseball this past year with the South Bend Cubs (Chicago’s Low A Affiliate) in the Midwest League inspire of suffering multiple injuries to his right index finger. In 50 games he slashed .305/.381/.525 with 8 home runs and 20 total extra base hits. Currently project as an everyday Centerfielder of the Cubs in the fairly near future (aka 2022 to 2023), Davis has all the tools of a potential superstar including speed (60), fielding (55) and arm strength (55) to go along with the bat; 55 hit and 55 power.

4) Miguel Amaya-C (MLB Pipeline #95)

Pittsburgh Pirates fans are already jealous of the Chicago Cub for securing Miguel Amaya’s services in July of 2015 for a cool $1 million dollars out of Panama, seeing as the Pirates do not have a single catching prospect in their entire Top 30. This past season the now 21 year old catcher put up some pretty promising numbers in High A/Advanced for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. In 99 games he hit .235 with 11 home runs and 24 doubles. He also has been working very hard at improving his defense; showing off a now 60 grade in fielding due to his framing and blocking abilities. Amaya also has an above average arm (55), throwing out 35% of potential base runners for the Pelicans.

5) Cole Roederer-OF

Roederer was selected in the 2nd Round of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft from William S. Hart HS in California. As a young and aggressive hitter he has struggled at times during his professional career, striking out at a rate of 24% across two levels in 144 games. He has exhibited the potential power he was drafted for by crushing 14 home runs and 45 total extra base hits. There is uncertainty as to whether or not he will be able play Centerfield at a big league level, but at only 20 years of age there is plenty of time for him to develop all of his tools to achieve their highest future value.

The Chicago Cubs could once again return to the upper echelon of Minor League Farm Systems, but it is not going to be an easy path. They have to get back to the basics of drafting well, successfully developing and possibly acquiring young talent via trades. If they are able to do all three of these well, they have the chance to not wait another 108 years to hoist a World Series trophy on the North Side of Chicago.

Friday Focus – MiLB Contraction is a Huge Story, Lost in a Bigger One.

It’s the classic case of bringing a knife to a gun fight. MiLB was always going to lose, its just starting to become clear they’re going to get their clocks cleaned.

First, it was reported nearly two months ago that MiLB had flatly turned back MLB’s proposal to cut approximately 42 teams from the ranks of MLB affiliation. They even got Congress involved and a bill has been put forward called the Save Minor League Baseball Act, it passed Congress, but has not come up in the Senate. Obviously, bigger fish have come along to fry, but Chuck Schumer himself was involved in meetings to save the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

The Government Accountability Office opened an investigation and MLB responded recently “Major League Baseball would gladly participate in a serious Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis of the many problems in Minor League Baseball that are impeding the development of players–including the widespread inadequacy of facilities, playing conditions, nutrition programs and burdensome travel demands. A thorough study would show that the status quo is not just outdated but failing both players and communities across the country that are at risk of being left behind by minor league owners who can move their team and leave town at any moment.

MLB is confident that we can simultaneously keep baseball in the communities in which it is currently being played and modernize our player development system so that it fits the 21st century, improves playing conditions and increases opportunities for players. We look forward to working with Congress and the GAO, but the most constructive role they can play at this time is to encourage Minor League Baseball to continue working with MLB to address the real issues impacting minor league players and communities.”

Suddenly on the 21st of April, a report came out saying MiLB was prepared to fully accept the contraction of “at least 40 teams”. This was done with a caveat that the two sides would somehow come up with a way to not destroy the communities affected by providing them some kind of benefit or swag from MLB. Who knows what that means really?

I hoped that the meetings held between the two sides on the 22nd would help shed light, but instead, it seemed to be more of a stalemate, neither side wanted to put out much definitive.

Now, I don’t have to tell you why all these reports conflict, but just in case, here we go. Reason 1, someone ran with something before they should have. Reason 2, Someone ran something that was put forth to drum up public support in the form of a worst-case scenario. Reason 3, MLB pulled or diluted whatever they promised to get this concession and since noting is signed, well, you get the rest.

Both sides of the negotiations will tell you there is not definitive list of teams potentially getting the axe, but there are enough lists by enough reporters with very few alterations to expect those are at the very least the clubs being discussed.

I understand the reason this is being proposed. I really think a commissioner who seems to think outside of the nostalgia bubble many baseball fans and lifers tend to see things through, is looking for a way to save money and Coronavirus is giving him a perfect excuse. Many of these clubs can’t survive without help at this point and he knows it.

It’s not that MLB has no point, its that there is more than one way to skin a cat. For many of these communities, MiLB is THE pro sport in town. It becomes their adopted root to feel tied to a team in MLB. They’ve supported the players as they rolled through, they love them, remember them and feel like this is an attack on their communities themselves.

Maybe the government will step in, I’m not a huge fan of government involvement in sports but taking the game away from up to 40 communities would be a blow that an already reeling country will not want to see happen.

If you take Rob Manfred at face value and it really is primarily based on the facilities, ok, so why are teams like Erie and Missoula on that list? See that’s the kind of stuff I’d like to fully understand. I’ve probably been to State College 15 times in the past two seasons for work and every chance I get I show up for a Spikes game or the Curve on the way home. Well attended all, so again, why are the Spikes on that list?

We talk about this because if we don’t this all happens in the dark, and darkness is where worst things happen. Bring these into the light and see if you can catch some of the roaches scurrying under the fridge. If there are 20 teams saying they can’t meet standards or operate at all without extensive MLB help, ok, I get it. If I, a relatively local writer can see a ton on the surface that make no sense, at least explain in less than generalities.

Take a look at where we are, and what’s been proposed. Wow, it’s almost like the middle of the country doesn’t exist, at least they’re consistent.

In Addition to Internal Obstacles, MLB Faces External Blockades for Return

Here in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf put forth his plan for getting the state back in business. The wording is vague and the details inside are hardly the point. We’ve spent much time on this site and on the podcast talking about MLBs internal struggle to restart operations, but some of their largest stumbling blocks to return could very well be the individual states.

I’m not here for politics, I’m here for baseball, but the subject is going to be tough to avoid as we get deeper into this process. As with any situation like this sides will be taken, half will be accused of not caring about life because they want to open, half will be accused of the same because they don’t. Most of you know where you land, some of you like to think there is a compromise to be had.

When you add up everything, some states have painted a picture of no gatherings lasting well into the Summer, others are quite literally opening up next week. Despite the fear of doing so, after a period of success or failure from those early opener states we’ll have a better idea how this will progress.

I’ll say this, there is a reason so many of these sports organizations are discussing the possibility of moving forward with limited state solutions. We’ve seen the Arizona plan, the Cactus and Grapefruit league solution, the Texas proposal, and I’m sure they’ve discussed even more than that. None of these can really move forward without significant work and some give and take from the players and the owners. I have a hard time believing WWE, an outfit with actual COVID-19 cases in their ranks, was able to find a path to being called an essential business but all the other leagues can’t.

So, what will need to happen to start swinging the pendulum back toward getting sports back? It looks like golf will be first, playing with no crowds it’s a relative no brainer that Golf will be a successful relaunch. I’d imagine NASCAR will be another capable of making a return fairly soon. I think we are approaching a time when Hockey and Basketball need to call it a season. Both are still holding out hope that a playoff can happen, but both run the very real risk of interrupting their 2021 seasons if it goes much longer. The NFL is going forward as if everything will be on schedule, bluntly put, we should all be rooting for them to be dead on, if they aren’t, we as a nation are in a lot of trouble. No, not because we won’t have football, rather if the NFL cancels, trust me, this hasn’t improved at all by September.

I keep using the “dominoes will fall” analogy, and I honestly believe that is exactly what will happen, its also where being a coastal sport could kill MLB for 2020. New York is the epicenter of this outbreak and if baseball is going to try to wait for New York to give the all clear, forget this season. If they find a way to be ok with at least starting the season in neutral sites, there is a chance they could get back to business.

Another pressure point could come from outside our borders, the KBO and CBO have opened their seasons in Korea and Taiwan respectively. It’s not the level of baseball we’re used to, honestly, but its baseball. Seeing it can work with no fans, and public pressure to do it themselves may help prod MLB along.

Much of the strife in negotiations between MLB and MLBPA comes from the knowledge that playing right now isn’t feasible, so why not try to get concessions you otherwise wouldn’t attempt to broach. Once it becomes clear they have 4, 5, or 7 states they could easily play ball in some of those internal dominoes will start to fall by the wayside.

There very much so could be a baseball season this year. It won’t be normal. It won’t be 162 games. It might not be played in your home city. But it could very well find a way to start and I don’t think they need to hire Vince McMahon to be the new MLB commissioner to pull it off.

5 Thoughts at Five

As ever, I’m full of questions. You folks have been so great since we launched this column at helping me sort through them. Here we go for another week!

  1. I wonder if we’ll recognize baseball when it comes back. Sure there will be pitchers and batters and in a form that’s still baseball, but in the rush to try to push through a plan to play, Mr. Manfred is hammering in DH, 7 inning games, Robot Umps, and possible drastic realignments.
  2. So, what happens if they find a way to play this season and then we get this second wave come winter and it gets chopped on the back end? Man, here’s hoping they figure some things out.
  3. This has nothing to do with baseball, but has anyone else realized they eat too much garlic now that we have to wear masks?
  4. The NFL draft is coming quick, what would MLB have to do to get anywhere near that kind of interest?
  5. MiLB is in real danger of contraction. I put together some maps, I hope this helps you visualize what’s happening.

Feel free to use these as you wish when discussing the issue, we’ll have a ton more coverage coming up.

Have a safe and happy Wednesday night everyone!