Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers

5-2-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

This last week was a pretty exciting one for several prospects across the Pirates Farm System. Yet, anything they felt more than likely paled in comparison to the emotions experienced by outfielder Jack Suwinski and utility man Tucupita Marcano as they each received a surprise promotion to the Major League Club from Double-A Altoona when Bryan Reynolds and Cole Tucker were placed on the COVID-IL prior to the start of Pittsburgh’s three game series with Milwaukee. For Marcano this was his second trip to The Show; after beginning the 2021 season on the San Diego Padres Roster. However, for Suwinski this was his first taste of action on the biggest stage in professional baseball; ultimately being thrown into the starting right field slot mere hours after arriving from Akron.

In his MLB debut Suwinski would go 1 for 5 and score a run after reaching on a fielding error, while Marcano entered the contest in the bottom of the 8th as a pitch hitter; promptly smacking a double to the right field wall. Then in the bottom of the 9th, following Suwinki’s first Major League Hit, Marcano would be called out looking on a 3-2 heater from Josh Hader to end the game. Unfortunately this would be Marcano’s final plate appearance prior to him being optioned back to Altoona on Saturday the 30th when Tucker returned. Suwinski on the other hand remained on the roster, and in the starting lineup for all six games of the home stand. In these six games he would register 23 official at bats, five base hits, three strikeouts and no walks; good for an across the board .217/.217/.217 slash line.

Obviously these numbers won’t earn Suwinski back-to-back appearances on the weekly Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers; but, if I had to guess, I’m pretty sure he’s more than alright with it.

1) Nick Dombkowski-LHP (Greensboro)

Dombkowski made some Minor headlines of his own this past week; earning a promotion to the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers for the last few games of their series against the Rome Braves.

Originally signed by the Pirates as a Non-drafted Free Agent on July 20th of last year from the University of Hartford, Dombkowski almost immediately reported to the Low-A Bradenton Marauders for the final month of the season. In 18.2 innings-across 11 appearances-the lefty reliever posted a 3.86 ERA and a 1.018 WHIP with 23 strikeouts and 6 walks.

To begin 2022 Dombkowski found himself back in Bradenton for the first 10.2 inning of the year. During this time he struck out 19 batters and walked only 2 on his way to a 1.69 ERA, a .844 WHIP and the aforementioned promotion.

Over the weekend he made his first trip out of the bullpen for the Grasshoppers in their eventual 8-5 loss to the Braves. Lasting 2.2 innings, Dombkowski struck out 4, walked 1, gave up 2 hits and didn’t allow a single run.

2) Po-Yu Chen-RHP (Bradenton)

Chen is one of those young Pirates Pitching Prospects that has some hype and expectations attached to him because of how and by whom he was acquired; which takes us all the way back to August 28, 2020 when the Pirates-and more specifically Ben Cherington-traded outfielder Jarod Dyson to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for an additional $243,300 of international bonus pool space. Cherington would then take this bump in available funds and put into signing the 22nd Ranked International Prospect of the 2019–20 Class, from Taiwan, for $1.25 million.

To begin his career in the Pirates Organization Chen would be assigned to the FCL at the end of June 2021; a situation in which he was nothing shortof dominating. Over 26 innings of work he did not walk a single batter, struck out 29-good for a rate of 10.0 K/9-and posted an nearly identical 0.69 ERA and .692 WHIP.

Unfortunately his transition to Low-A Bradenton did not go smoothly as put up a 5.63 ERA and a 1.688 WHIP, while walking 12 and striking out 15; although his one start was a 7 inning, 3 hit, 0 run and 6 K performance.

Due to these struggles, and limited time with the Marauders, it was really no surprise that Chen would start the season back in Bradenton this year; where he continued to scuffle through his first three outings of the season.

Luckily for Chen he would turn things around during his most recent start. In 5 innings this past Saturday he struck out 7, walked 1, allowed only 1 hit and didn’t give up an earned run.

Clearly this is only one start, but hopefully it get things going in the right direction for Chen, who now has a combined 3.24 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

3) Blake SabolC/OF/1B (Altoona)

Coming into this season, the top catcher prospect that fans were focused on for the Curve would most likely have been Carter Bins-the #46 Pirates Prospect according to Fangraphs, who Cherington acquired in the Tyler Anderson Trade with Seattle. And, although he is not solely a catcher anymore, Blake Sabol is probably the one that has garnered the most attention thus far.

Across 15 games, and in 64 plate appearances, Sabol is currently slashing .317/.359/.467 with a couple of homers and 4 total extra base hits. Meanwhile, Bins has produced a .154/.233/.333 slash line with one home run and 5 total extra base hits in 43 plate appearances. Too be fair each of these are extremely small sample sizes, and neither have really set the bar very high when it comes to plate discipline. Sabol has a 25% K to 6.3% BB rate versus a 39.5% K to 7% BB one for Bins. Once again keep in mind, the SSS.

4) Andres Alvarez-SS/3B/2B (Altoona)

Remember all those walk-off that I mentioned in last week’s blog post; well, Alvarez was part of one of them.

At the time Alvarez was just starting to heat up, and didn’t necessarily have the stats to be a part of the Top 5. However, after a series in which he had a home run and two doubles he definitely qualifies. On the season he is sporting a .273 AVG and a 1.025 OPS with three homers-tied for tops on the Curve for the moment.

Obviously he has a lot to overcome due to his ever increasing age for a prospect, as well as the glut middle infielders at his current level and above; still, if anyone is up for a challenge, it’s Alvarez.

5) Yoyner Fajardo-2B/3B/OF (Greensboro)

Yes, that Yoyner Fajardo. The highly touted super utility man that many had been waiting to see take the field at First National Bank Field. Clearly you know I am joking; yet, as Fajardo has started to play himself into regular playing time with the Grasshoppers, his performance should be noted.

In 9 games and 34 at bats, the DSL standout from 2018, has a .324/.361/.471 slash line with a home run and 5 stolen bases on as many attempts.

Plus, Fajardo was also the man behind Greensboro’s walk-off from the previous week.

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

Now remember, let me know I missed (because I know I probably left off a couple), who your Top 5 is and be sure check back each and every Tuesday during Minor League Baseball Season!

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

5-2-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I’m following the Buccos from all the way out in Los Angeles this week, and sometimes listening to the buzz of baseball in a very successful city, well, it lends you some perspective. You see a team that outspends almost everyone every year, and has a embarrassment of talent, guess what, incredibly similar complaints. Call this guy up, send that bum down! They never should have signed that bum.

Obviously all this speaks to is the way fans are, I just think it’s funny not being around it out here, you’d never expect it happens.

Let’s dig in.

1. The Alford Era Ends

And somehow it wasn’t the Pirates choice! Anthony Alford as you surely know by now has selected free agency after clearing waivers and this part here is the kicker, being assigned to AAA Indianapolis. OK, so he’s gone now, and this probably shouldn’t matter, but for whatever reason I just can’t get past it.

I mean why would you even try to keep him? Sincerely? That’s where I’m at, I just don’t get it. This isn’t a guy that’s 23 and been hard done by for years, this is a guy who has had multiple cracks at MLB now, and while I know there is real talent there, and I’m sure he works hard, man it just never happened.

Thing is, this team didn’t even need him to be great. They needed a good glove, maybe put a few over the wall, even if you hit .200. That’s not a high bar, and I’m actually grateful he had the integrity to just take himself off the menu for this club.

I never hated the dude, I never hoped for him to be bad, but when Ben Gamel, and Jake Marisnick beat you that handily, c’mon.

What I want, really more than anything, is for every once in a while, this team to just once do what’s expected. Do what’s universally normal. Be capable of realizing just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Again, I’m making a big deal out of nothing, I’d just like to at the end of the day trust that my GM is capable of recognizing the point where you’ve exhausted all hope and it’s time to move on.

2. Reynolds is Finding it

Something we don’t have much of with this team are track records. You have to be around for a while to build up one of those. Well, Bryan Reynolds has one, and it’s all about seeing pitches. If he’s walking, he’s usually hitting too.

Everything that makes Bryan go is pitch recognition. He doesn’t ever get too far off mechanically, if anything he’ll lose the ball from one side of the plate or the other. Start chasing a tailing away fastball, or taking balls a bit too borderline.

When he’s showing that he’s coming out of it, almost inevitably it starts with an innocent walk. Sure, he’ll pop in the occasional hit, even a really important one, but 9 times out of 10 that first real sign that everything is coming back into focus for him is taking a walk,and working for it at that.

Every guy has a process. For Cutch it used to be putting a charge into one opposite field. When he did a couple games in a row, look out..

Well, if Bryan keeps staying patient at the plate, look next for him to start guessing right early in counts and driving the ball out of the park or to the gaps.

3. Ke’Bryan is Working

Hayes off to a great start to 2022 right after signing a big extension is best case scenario for everyone. That said, Hayes isn’t quite where he wants to be yet I’d imagine. I’m seeing him pull the ball more, he’s shown opposite field gap power, I just have to imagine luck is going to catch up on some of the groundballs that are getting through.

He’s hitting it plenty hard, and to a degree that makes luck, but to add impact to his game, he’s really going to have to find that power stroke. I have every confidence he will to a degree, but man it’s such a fine line. This league is seemingly hung up on creating a return to the deadball era, so it’s not like I’d like him to force power at the expense of his average.

Even when a player starts to prove themselves there is always more to learn.

4. First Base is Becoming Clear, at Least for Now

Michael Chavis deserves more playing time. Maybe it’ll expose him, maybe it’ll give him the opportunity that was missing in Boston, no matter what else he does though, and even though he’s below average height for one, he is the best first baseman on this team as currently constructed.

Now, Yoshi is going to get at bats, and they aren’t going to come at the expense of Daniel Vogelbach who’s been hitting quite well. Yoshi has played poor defense and unlike Reynolds, walks won’t turn into a breakout.

Let’s not fool ourselves, they aren’t just going to cut Yoshi, and if the Pirates are struggling to play him at the moment, believe me nobody is trading for him. This club needs to see what Chavis is anyway, arguably more than they need to see if Yoshi can pop 20. If there’s one thing this team needs to come out of 2022 with, it’s a clear path for first base.

Yoshi is only signed for this year, Vogelbach has an option for 2023 and Chavis isn’t even in arbitration yet. Next up they have Mason Martin, who’s been ripping apart AAA so far.

I don’t expect them to say Mason Martin is the first base sith lord for the next decade. But I’d like to know, if Chavis is good enough to man it for most of 2023 should Martin either not make it or look like a rookie.

If they don’t answer that question, they’ll never know if they need to sign one or not. You can’t go into 2023 hoping Martin holds it down all year, unless of course they call him up like June and let him show you this year. Again, I think they’re a Yoshi away from that being realistic, even if it shouldn’t be that way. This position to me is very up in the air.

5. Another One….Another One….

This is going to be Mitch Keller’s theme all year. Throw a good pitch, well throw me another now. Pitch a good inning, I need to see the next. Pitch a good game, next time needs to be longer. Be the first Pirate this year to go 6 innings, great don’t give up 4 runs next time out.

I’m not sitting here trying to tell you there’s a right time to trust that Mitch Keller is real, instead, I’m just going to suggest you take a step back from his career numbers and just individually do what you’re asking him to do. Take it pitch by pitch, and let him show you.

Inning by inning, start by start, he’s going to either show that this is different, or he won’t. You already know he’s going to be given a long leash and that’s just going to take most of the season. I understand he’s been a struggle, but if he figures it out he’s very important.

The funny thing is, I see many of you marveling about the pitcher Joe Musgrove has become and he really has, but he’s just reaching free agency right now and he’ll be 30.

Developing a dominant pitching staff is hard and its why no matter how good the pitching the Bucs have coming is, sometimes development goes like this. If Mitch turns it around this year, he’ll enter arbitration next year and when he hits free agency he’ll be guess what? That’s right, 30.

You never know which way it’s gonna go either. Is he a guy who develops and looks like he has the goods from the jump or is he a guy who struggles for 4 years before making it? Reality dictates option number 2 dominates the chart.

We all needed a savior when Mitch Keller came up, and when he turned out to not be the savior we wanted we decided he had no place in our present or future. Folks, I’m not telling you he’s turned into a completely different player, but I am saying he’s not exactly so far off track that its unfathomable he’ll figure it out.

Why Not Just Bring Up the Young Bucs?

4-29-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

As the 2022 season plays out, watching rookies make their MLB debut is going to almost get so commonplace that I’d just about bet the special feeling for many will erode a bit. Many of you will watch players like Josh VanMeter or Cole Tucker get starts or Yoshi Tsutsugo fail to field a grounder and ask, how the hell can you tell me Mason Martin or Oneil Cruz wouldn’t be better?

Funny thing is, most people, and I’m guilty of this myself, will just fire back that so and so isn’t ready, but its fair to say none of these situations are some template and the question shouldn’t be answered like that.

Today, I’d like to talk a bit about why some guys don’t get the call as early as you’d like and balance it with why any team, including the Pirates, might want to see a bit more from both someone currently on the roster as well as a prospect.

Before I start this, sometimes it simply doesn’t make sense. For instance, I don’t think Hoy Park is an answer, and I also don’t think Josh VanMeter is an answer but I think Park has more upside and a better all around glove on top of already being here. Now, let’s be clear, neither of these two being on this team moves the needle. In other words, just because someone is on the cusp of being an MLB player, it doesn’t mean that’s who we need to see.

Money

People love to insert money into just about every decision the Pirates make, for obvious reasons. The owner is notoriously cheap and it permeates just about every conversation if you let it. Now on this front, it’s really usually a square peg into a round hole.

There are times when it applies though and it’s a fairly rare player who makes that so. Oneil Cruz or Roansy Contreras are probably your best bets for making this argument and it’s not 2022 money, it’s more about future money.

MLB hasn’t eliminated the mechanisms that create this issue and I mean the entire entity including the players. Some of you hear the terms but don’t really know what they are or why they matter so let’s quickly talk through them.

The manipulation of service time is essentially, keeping a completely ready player in AAA so that you don’t start their service clock. This manifests itself in a couple ways, one, a player held back for 3-4 weeks can come up and have the current year not count as a service year. Meaning the team gets “an extra year of control”. Now for any team really, try convincing them a month of fans complaining isn’t worth that extra year.

The next step from that is called Super 2, and MLB has a whole convoluted formula to calculate who qualifies for it, but for our purposes lets simplify it. Hold the player back even a little longer, typically into June or even early July a player can get tagged with an extra year of arbitration. So you can through just messing around with a player’s start time gain up to 2 years more of their services.

I’m explaining it, not condoning it. I’m also not telling you this is just a Pirates thing, it’s not close to that.

Some of this falls on the players too. If a guy isn’t performing in AAA it’s kind of hard to really scream from the rooftops that a player is being held back. Even if we know that was very much so the intention.

So, is it about money, well, yes and no.

I guess if you really want to get technical, a team could have an expensive veteran on the team underperforming and the team may be reluctant to eat their salary to make room for a rookie, no matter how good they feel about the player.

At the end of the day the reason service time manipulation is incredibly hard to eliminate is super simple. Good luck proving a guy is ready. No matter the prospect, until they’ve done it in MLB they haven’t done it in MLB, and no entity other than the individual team itself is qualified to make the determination it’s time to see it.

We can all call BS and we’re going to be right more often than not, but as long as there is a baked in benefit to doing it, the question will always live on.

Continuing Development

When you have a young team like the Pirates do for the most part, one thing we must think about is the fact that most of the team were just prospects themselves just a year or two ago.

Now you don’t have to like that answer. As a fan, your job is to watch and trust your eyes. I’ve seen enough of plenty of players myself, but if you truly believe that development doesn’t stop once you get to the majors as the Pirates certainly do, there is a bit of a patience period that must be exercised.

The criteria for decision making really is different for each player and it involves pedigree or the place the player was drafted combined with their prospect ranking or standing as they were coming up. It could be a position of need that is fairly thin in the system, aka nobody is pushing them out of the way.

Sometimes it could be as simple as the player has made the roster but never really been given a true shot to play consistently.

Take a guy like Diego Castillo. He performed well in the Spring and despite all the factors we mentioned above made the team from the jump. First factor to discuss here, his age, he’s 24 and with modern baseball he should just be hitting his stride and his peak should last another 5 or 6 years. Doesn’t mean he should stink after that, but it does mean manipulating his service time would do nothing positive for the Pirates.

Even with all that, and including his position flexibility and willingness to expand on it even further he hadn’t been getting the lion’s share of playing time until Kevin Newman was placed on the IL with a groin strain. Point is, he’s been here for 3 weeks or so and he’s done enough to show he is capable of staying sharp not playing every day. His next challenge will be showing he doesn’t wear down or get exposed with more playing time.

Over the next bit of time we’ll see the league pay more attention to Diego and no doubt exploit something they’ve seen in his swing, some zone he doesn’t reach, some pitch type that makes him lunge and it’ll be up to him to show he can punch back.

All of this is very simply put continuing development. As always, you as a fan certainly can form an opinion whenever you like. Maybe you thing Diego should be playing everyday and that should last 3 months. Perhaps you’ve already decided on a good team this kid would be a bench bat. Truth is, nobody truly knows what he is.

Now, that’s a young kid, of course he’s still developing right? What about Cole Tucker? Well, he made his debut in 2019 and if we’re honest earned the call up because he was the next, closest option who could play middle infield when the Pirates first two options were injured. He got a shot early, and played most nights immediately, thing is, he didn’t grab it and run with it.

Now, how the hell can anyone say he’s still a development project? Back to those factors we talked about. A number one pick and now a clear group starting to push from behind. Cole Tucker is on his last chance to prove he has something to give and I could argue they’ve already decided by moving him to the outfield. That said to me we don’t think you are an answer in the infield, but we know we haven’t given you enough at bats to cut ties with a first round pick. If there’s one thing baseball executives are terrified of, it’s giving up on a guy who turns up elsewhere and finds it. As Pirates fans, you’ve seen this before and I’ll save you the keystrokes and Googling to figure out how to spell Bautista in a comment.

The only reason this is an answer for why they don’t just bring up the kids is because many of these guys are in fact kids themselves.

The 40-man Roster

Before we dig in here too much, the Pirates have already ignored this one largely. They called up Chase DeJong and Beau Sulser who both were not on the 40-man roster meaning in order for them to be added, someone had to go on the roster via DFA or move to the 60-day IL.

I was surprised by both these moves even if I was more than ready to move on from Anthony Alford and felt Luis Oviedo was too far away to be held on the 40.

This comes into play out of overt necessity at times. So if the team needs a pitcher and don’t feel any of their current 40-man guys are ready or don’t fit the right role, something like this can happen. Sometimes it’s as simple as the duration of the need. Let’s say it’s just a 10-day IL trip for a guy, well, the team may not want to burn an asset just to fill a very temporary spot. If they do, chances are they don’t particularly care all that much about risking the loss of whomever they brought up.

Another time fans start to really not understand this process is when they see a guy like Yoshi Tsutsugo struggling mightily and Mason Martin excelling in AAA. The easy answer is, Yoshi isn’t good, Mason is, make the switch right? Well, eventually that will probably be the case if both players remain on this track, but as we sit here in April, chances are the team wants to see more before they flush 4 million dollars down the toilet, and unless they plan on giving Mason a good 75% of the playing time at first base they probably feel he’s better off staying put and continuing to answer questions. On top of that he did the exact same thing last year in AA, started out hitting a ton and kept the K rate at 30% before seeing both aspects head in the opposite direction. Chances are they want to see it a bit more. Another factor here is, they probably want to avoid taking chances from Michael Chavis at this point since he too has shown something at the MLB level.

Stay tuned here, because if things stay on course this move will be made, especially as Yoshi’s pro rated salary decreases throughout the season.

I know what you’re thinking, if Mason is the best player, he should be up here. Who could disagree with that right? Well, it’s just not that simple, it looks that way, but there are enough variables in play that the decision is tougher. In just about the same amount of time last year Yoshi hit 8 homeruns for this club, that could be argued as enough reason to see if he can turn his early season struggles around and Mason isn’t like 29 so there is time.

On the other hand, the DH provides an extra place to find at bats for a guy like Yoshi should they make the move, thing is Daniel Vogelbach, sustainable or not, is very much so hitting. So it’s not like he’s going to sit either.

Factor everything in and the book says wait a bit. Factor in fan enjoyment and Mason is in the lineup tonight while Yoshi is looking for work. As an MLB GM you have one big reason for not making the move above all this other stuff. What if I cut a veteran for a rookie and I was dead wrong? Now instead of having a guy taking long at bats and not hitting, playing underwhelming defense I have a guy taking short at bats, not hitting and playing average defense. Of course the opposite could be true, but this possibility is a strong pull.

These Dominos Will Start to Fall

Believe it or not, we aren’t too far from some of these things to start to fall into place. Once Roansy Contreras is stretched out to start, we’re obviously going to see him up here providing he stays healthy. Max Kranick is close to finishing his rehab. Oneil Cruz despite his early performance is just too talented to believe he’ll stick in AAA very much longer plus at some point you basically start the issues over again on service time.

Jack Suwinski is really getting a look after the COVID call up he received the other day who knows he could force a more long term look.

When this season started I told you that by 2023 10-14 players on this roster wouldn’t be here anymore. I still feel that to be true, so expecting 10-14 prospects to make their debut this year feels like a good bet. By the end of this year, this whole discussion will shift to the next crop of youngsters and they too will be “blocked” by youngsters that just came up. We’ll be having discussions like why isn’t Nick Gonzales up here and I’ll be telling you because Marcano has 175 at bats in and they want to see more. Or Because Diego Castillo has really taken hold, who knows, point is these decisions aren’t as easy as we fans like to make them.

The Pirates are not a good baseball team, so it stands to reason these questions are easier now than they will be next year, and the year after that. I can’t with a straight face tell you Tucker or Alford, Yoshi or Marisnick should block anyone. I can say that depth and the lack of it are real issues though. Play fast and loose with DFA of veterans too much and you wind up fishing on the waiver wire because you have nobody left who’s even close to ready to fill a role should an injury or poor performance crop up.

Patience, studying and injury drive many of these choices. Unfortunately fans being sure isn’t a deciding factor very often.

Some Nagging Pirates Issues Plague the Team Early On

4-27-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

First, happy 70th birthday to my Dad. Nothing I am today would be possible if you weren’t who you are Sir.

Here we are, not even 20 games into the 2022 season and the Pirates are already in full on confuse the fans territory. I don’t mean like the normal “why can’t we have this good player?” or similar, I mean just confusing moves.

Lets talk about some of the things we’ve seen, and try to make sense of them because the Pirates certainly aren’t helping. Before I even start, I know I’m gonna fail, but hey, in the spirit of trying let’s have at it shall we?

Why Are the Starters So Much Worse Than the Relievers?

This makes very little sense on the surface. Blame coaching as I often do and you eventually have to admit the same coaches are working with the bullpen. Put more responsibility on the talent and at some point you have to remind yourself the year prior a couple of those bullpen talents had the same issue as Starters.

I’m not going to go break down all their individual metrics and dice up the specific pitches harming each player, in fact I simply don’t need to. Here’s what I think is going on.

First, it’s a little bit the talent. These guys simply aren’t top tier pitchers and I think we all knew that already. Second, when moving to the pen, the Pirates are letting these guys come in and attack with all their weapons and that’s obviously worked out quite well, especially for guys like Dillon Peters and Wil Crowe.

Now the Pirates are using Dillon Peters to start/open the game tonight. He’s obviously been really good this year, I’m curious to see how if at all they change his approach. He’s probably not the best example, this isn’t a guy who has 5 pitches anyway, so I’m not sure we’ll learn much.

Keller and Quintana have been the best members of the rotation and each of them have struggled in the first couple innings more than anywhere else. With them I can honestly say, I’ve seen them not start out throwing everything they have, and also seen them stubbornly asked to throw something that just wasn’t working.

Now, one would think if the philosophy is to just go full on at the lineup until they pull you with no regard for how late it gets in the game, they’d have the same experience as the relievers, thing is, that just hasn’t been the case yet.

Makes me feel like the Pirates are trying to have some kind of hybrid approach to this “system”. In other words, we’ll do this now, but when we get better starters if they show they can go deeper, cool. My question there would be what tells you this guy will get a chance, and this guy won’t?

I mean lets say Roansy comes back up here and he looks great. Do we have to just expect he’s a 5 inning max candidate? Is that even a fair question since they probably want to keep his innings down anyhow?

Here’s a good one, are we to believe that only the Pirates can’t figure out how to have a guy start a game and stay clean for a few on occasion? Is everything they’re doing just masking the real issue? The coaching hasn’t shown me anything, and at some point, hearing the pitchers say they like it isn’t enough.

If Oscar Marin isn’t on whatever constitutes a hot seat, I’m not sure anyone ever will.

A Good At Bat Isn’t Always Good

Stick with me, I’ll make this make sense.

Watching the Bucs play so far this year, the announcers have made a point of pounding the “very professional” or even “terrific” at bats someone like Yoshi Tsutsugo takes.

He does, I’ll admit that, he takes a traditionally great at bat with a really good eye, but I’d ask a couple questions here. 1. with 2 outs and nobody on, should Yoshi be trying to walk? I think not, in fact I’d have him hunting something to drive from the first pitch, I certainly wouldn’t be bragging about getting to 3-2 after taking upwards of 4 very hittable pitches.

No argument here honestly, Yoshi takes a very nice at bat, he sees a bunch of pitches and draws his fair share of walks. But he’s a power hitter, well, at least that’s what he dressed up as for the party. You can’t be that if with two outs you’re seeking a walk and looking at strike 3. You can’t do that if with two guys in scoring position you’re caught looking trying to draw a walk to load the bases.

It’s weird, and worse it’s unproductive. Who’s behind him who’s going to drive him in even if he does get on?

Daniel Vogelbach takes a nice at bat, almost always in deep counts, but the difference is, he doesn’t turn into a slap hitter if he gets to two strikes. More than that, he doesn’t reach for a ball 6 inches off the plate or take one down the middle when his back is against the wall.

I’d also say, what the hell good does it do to take a good at bat and force a starter to throw a bunch of pitches if you constantly start every at bat 1-2 or 0-2 and the bullpen is arguably even better?

Again, is this just bad players? I guess it could be, but I’m not seeing anyone even blink when asked why Yoshi is just taking strike after strike and has maybe pulled 5 balls all year. I just hear “he takes great at bats!”. OK, I mean, you and I have a much different definition of great at bat. I’d like my cleanup hitter to swing once in a while. Hell I’d go so far as to tell him to go out and ambush a fool on occasion just to show he might.

Continuing to Believe There is No Need for Real Outfielders

How else can I put this? I’m sick to death of watching a team with 7 infielders who could play outfield if they had to. I’m completely fine with DFA of Alford, in fact I’d have never brought him back, but my god, we just watched a rookie jump up from AA last night and look more competent than Cole Tucker has all season. Shoved him right in the game in front of the “tricky” Clemente wall and he handled it just fine.

It’s not the same issue but we saw Ke’Bryan Hayes moved to short stop for the first time as a professional last night when a much easier move would have been to stick Chavis at second and Castillo at short. What the hell are we doing here? Why did we need to see that?

I don’t get the impression Hayes cared all that much, but Chavis made an error on a ball Hayes could have made with his left arm amputated at third, and Michael has legit done well over there so it’s not like I’m against him playing there, just saw it as unneeded. Trying to answer a question nobody had.

Here’s the deal, the Pirates seem to want to ignore who’s on the 40-man as they call up guys like Sulser, or DeJong, do it again and get me Bligh Madris up here. Enough, it’s time for a real honest to god 4 man unit of outfielders. They still won’t be good, but enough of this garbage. It’s very clear Bligh isn’t part of the plans, he almost made the team out of Spring then got shipped to AA for a week or so, on to AAA where he plays the field once a week and DHs the other part. Use him or lose him, you clearly don’t care if you lose him so use him, if he doesn’t work out, DFA him and let him go have a chance somewhere.

Worst case scenario you clear up some space. Best case you maybe hit on a guy who can hit a few dingers on a team that has almost nobody who does so.

In the same breath, how in the world can we not have seen enough of VanMeter? Homerun aside even his facial expressions during at bats tell me he doesn’t have a clue what’s wrong with him. You have two guys in Chavis and Castillo who have done nothing but hit, yet nightly they just sit. I keep hearing it’s because of right handed pitching, yet when they face right handed pitching they take good at bats, put good swings together and produce. Is that suddenly a bad thing in baseball? Are they not young enough to matter for this rebuild? Hell has Chavis not lapped Yoshi for playing time?

This team was given a gift of having some extra room to evaluate some players, and they squander it daily to play a journeyman with very little upside that doesn’t answer a question even if he hits. If 4 at bats were enough to decide Alford still stunk, how many do you need for VanMeter? 50?

That’s what I got today, I’m overall pleased with how this team has overperformed, but I can’t help but feel it could be better if they’d just allow it to happen and get out of the way.

Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers

4-26-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

This past week the theme across the Pirates Farm System was walk-offs; with total of five across the organization, and only the Low-A Bradenton Marauders failing to win a game in the team’s final at bat. Obviously the most famous, or at least the one that received the most social media attention, was Oneil Cruz’s two-run bomb in the bottom of the 11th on Sunday afternoon to send the Indianapolis Indians home victorious.

Very often these tweets, posts, etc. were accompanied by cries to have Cruz promoted to the Pirates Major League Roster. Unfortunately, other than this home run-Cruz’s first of the season-the 6’7” top prospect has struggled to the tune of a .204/.295/.333 slash line with a 31.1% K rate in 61 plate appearances. And, before you jump to any conclusions, no I am not calling him a “bust”. It has just been an less than ideal start to the season, which is one reason why you won’t find him on this week’s Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performances in spite of this electric moment.

1) Justin Meis

Chances are that when the Pirates selected the 6’2” righty from Eastern Michigan University in the 10th round of last year’s draft, the first things fans became aware of was the fact that Meis is from Bethel Park. However, if you look beyond this, a pitcher that tore up the Cape Cod League by posting a 2.08 ERA, a .808 WHIP and 17K/3BB ratio in 17.1 innings will quickly be found,

Immediately following the draft Meis would go on to pitch 17.2 innings with the Low-A Marauders, putting up a 2.04 ERA and a 1.302 ERA while striking out 27 batters.

Due to his age and inexperience it was really no surprise that he would return to Bradenton to begin 2022. Regrettably this year started with a thud, rather than the anticipated bang as Meis gave up a couple of homers and 6 earned runs over 3.1 innings during his first outing of the season. However, over his next two starts he would settle in and settle down, including his 5 inning, 2 hit, 0 earned run, 0 walk and 10 strike out performance this past week.

2) Omar Cruz

Much like Meis, Cruz began his season in Altoona with a bit of a clunker. Over only 2.1 innings of work he struck out 4, but gave up a couple of runs on 4 hits. Since then he has taken to being the backend of the piggyback over his next 3 appearances-2 this week. In his last 10 innings he hasn’t allowed a run, while striking out 14 and walking 5.

Being the lone lefty as far as the Pirates top pitching prospects are concerned, as well as being a piece in the Joe Musgrove deal with San Diego, it feels like there could be some added expectations attached to Cruz, which made it all the more curious when the Pittsburgh chose not to add him to the 40-Man this past offseason. Yet, as it was with quite a few other players this decision became null and void with the cancellation of the Rule 5 Draft.

3) Jack Suwinski

Suwinski is another San Diego Padres product; just from a different trade-the Adam Frazier one. And unlike Cruz he was actually added to the 40-Man in November; a decision that I questioned at the time. For the most part this was less about adding Suwinski and more about the players that were left off.

Well, so far this season Suwinski is making me eat my words a little bit; although it’s happening in Altoona instead of Indianapolis, where one might have though a player-selected over others-on the 40-Man would reside.

In 13 games played, and over 57 plate appearances; Suwinski has a .353 AVG, a 1.107 OPS and 3 homers; two of which came during this past week. Currently he has a 9 game hitting streak, and was the man of the hour during the Curve’s contest with the Fisher Cats on Saturday night.

4) Henry Davis

One of Pittsburgh’s Top Prospects, the #1 Overall Pick in last year’s MLB Draft and now his first time on my list; which I’m pretty sure is an important box that he needed to check off as it pertains to his development within the Pirates Farm System.

Splitting time between DH and catcher, Davis is slashing .354/.475/.563 with 2 home runs and 5 total extra base hits; including a 5 game streak during the most recent series.

Behind the dish Davis has allowed 10 stolen bases, while only throwing out 1 batter; nevertheless it will be his bat that gets him to move up through the system as he continues to work on his defense.

5) Jacob Gonzalez

In the 3rd Round of the most recent Minor League Rule 5 Draft the Pirates selected Gonzalez from the San Francisco Giants. The son of former MLB home run hitter-57 for the Diamondbacks in 2001-Luis Gonzalez, Jacob has struggled to produce consistently since being selected in the 2nd Round of the 2017 Draft as a high school infield standout.

At almost 24 years old-nearly 3 full years older than average Low-A player-Gonzalez has been named the Florida State League Player of The Week two straight weeks thanks to his .447 AVG, 1.339 OPS and 4 home runs. Understandably this is something that should be celebrated, however Pirates Fans may need to pump the brakes until he performs above the lowest level.

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

Now remember, let me know I missed, who your Top 5 is and be sure check back each and every Tuesday during Minor League Baseball Season!

Pirates Numbers, Trends & Overreactions.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-mtvrn-120dfca

Bryan Reynolds isn’t broken, but the starting pitchers continue to be a huge problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If things continue this way it could cause Ben Cherington and the front office to alter their rebuild plans. We look at the numbers, the trends and a few ridiculous overreactions as the Pirates come out of the gate playing .500 baseball.

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

4-25-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Live from New York, its, well, the Five Thoughts at Five. I’ve been sent into enemy territory for work and I still have Pirates thoughts. Let’s do this.

1. WTF Did They Just Do With Alford?

First of all, I never would have brought him back in the first place, so I’m crying no tears. That said, he was a real outfielder, and 4 at bats seems a bit light to bother bringing him back after the IL in the first place. Look, he’s not good, we get it, did you need to see those 4 more at bats first? Did you just blow up the pen in a 21-0 loss and need a pitcher that bad? Maybe they just haven’t noticed yet that May 1st is a week away.

We’re going to see more casualties, now I see two pitchers need to go. Yajure makes sense, so does Fletcher. Super weird.

2. Beau Sulser is a Good Option

His numbers won’t impress you, but he’s a guy who has had a phenomenal start to 2022 and a switch to the pen could really bring out the best in him. I’m still not convinced he’ll stick for long, but one thing this team isn’t so far is afraid to DFA players. Regardless of how much opportunity they’ve gotten.

These moves lately with DeJong and Sulser, really give me hope that we’ll get a shot at Bligh Madris. They seem to really want to see what these older prospects can do, and that’s not bad. I’ll say this though, much of this is unnecessary. Again, Alford was here for two days. What in the actual hell are we doing here? Just don’t bother?

3. 21-0 vs 3 of 4

The Pirates of course lost their most lopsided contest ever against the Cubs on Saturday, losing 21-0 and ok, that was awful, but having won the first two contests of the series, and a shot at redemption the next afternoon, they rallied to take down the Cubs in game 4 clinching the series win and all but erasing the terrible loss.

All that was really was a cosmic adjustment. A realignment of stats if you will.

They’ve now gotten wiped out by St. Louis and Milwaukee, and beaten or split with the Cubs and Nationals. Before you can ever consider calling yourself good, you have to beat the teams you’re supposed to, and the Cubs very much so are that, despite that lopsided contest.

4. It’s Easy to Push the Right Buttons When…

Well, when you have as many options in the pen who still have 0.00 ERAs after 5, 6 or 7 contests, it’s hard to go wrong so long as they’re available. David Bednar, Dillon Peters, and Wil Crowe have all been flawless so far, and Anthony Banda along with Heath Hembree aren’t far behind.

It’s a good base really, and the exciting thing is aside from Hembree and Stratton, this entire pen could be here for YEARS if the Pirates so choose. I have a feeling we’ll be having a different conversation about some of these guys as the year goes on, but don’t forget how they started. The potential is there for very good, and folks we haven’t even seen them with Blake Cederlind yet.

This bullpen could be the driving force that prevents this team from collapsing entirely in 2022.

5. Power, Anyone Have Any Power?

Hitting is down in the league. Averages, power, just everything. But this club isn’t hitting enough to even complain about some league wide conspiracy.

Yoshi Tsutsugo is here to hit homeruns, and he isn’t, but this isn’t all on him. Nobody is with the exception of Daniel Vogelbach, Chavis and I guess I’d throw in Reynolds with 2 but he’s run into his own issues this season.

This team needs more thunder and we all know Oneil Cruz is the next great hope to provide it.

Reynolds is struggling early on. Hitting only .190 a couple weeks into the season and generally looking like his timing is off has caused an already sure to be weak Pirates offense to really sputter.

He’s got to be the straw that stirs the drink, if he isn’t, this team is in more trouble than we think. I have confidence he’ll find what’s missing but for where we are, he’s quietly not been part of the solution in 2022.

Again, it’s early, but that’s not ideal. A nice home series with the wife and kid could really help him, but let’s not sugarcoat this just because we like him and he’s a good player overall. He’s leading the team in strikeouts with 17, and be honest, you’d be killing a lesser player.

In fact, jump back up to the top of the list, Yoshi has 15 strikeouts and he is actively getting destroyed for not swinging at anything, just repeatedly taking called strike 3. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, Reynolds has been below the line and it’s fair to point it out, it’s not like he’s unaware anyhow.

The biggest concern is he has already tried adjustments. He was taking too many called strikes, now he’s swinging at junk. He was taking too many strikes early in at bats, now he’s seeing 2 or 3 pitches too often. Hitting is hard, and guys with track records get more leash, but early on, it’s incredible this team is at .500 with little help from Bryan.

Pirates End Road Trip with Huge 4-3 Win over Cubs

The Pirates first long road trip of the season sure had its ups-and-downs as the Pirates were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers and headed to Chicago where they won the first two games of the series and then lost by three touchdowns on Saturday. After all of that, the Pirates managed to win the series at Wrigley on Sunday afternoon and finished the road trip 3-4.

This game had just about everything you could see from a baseball game on and off the field, with JT Brubaker getting off to a sluggish start, a beer cup snake in the outfield to a bird sitting in the outfield while Wil Crowe was on the mound.

As I just mentioned, the Pirates starting pitching woes in the first third of games continued as Brubaker allowed one earned run and another off of a rare Ke’Bryan Hayes error, but he settled in afterwards and gave the Pirates three solid innings which featured four strikeouts and only three hits allowed.

Derek Shelton handed things off to the bullpen again, with Dillon Peters, Wil Crowe, Heath Hembree, Chris Stratton and David Bednar pitching the final seven innings combining for seven strikeouts two walks and one earned run.

Of course the biggest story from this game came from Bednar, who saw himself in a rare bases loaded situation but pumped fastball after fastball past Wilson Contreras and Frank Schwindel to secure the victory.

As far as the offense went, Michael Chavis and others had rough outings, but Diego Castillo, Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Yoshi Tsutsugo would all score runs while Kevin Newman went 2 for 3 and gave the Pirates a lead they would never surrender in the third inning.

The Pirates are off on Monday and then meet the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres at PNC Park, and head back home with an 8-8 record.

The Pirates are Already Doing Some Things Better than Last Season

4-23-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

OK folks, let’s go ahead and get the prerequisites for a positive Pirates piece out of the way. Yes it’s early. Yes Bob Nutting grumble grumble. Yes bad players. Starting pitcher something something.

We good?

Alright, so let’s move on for the day.

This team is projected to be in the bottom third of the league, that’s more than true since most predicted they’d be in the bottom 4 or 5 teams overall, but when it’s this early I like to look at it in thirds.

So when they play a team in the bottom third with them, it’s nice to see them make hay. So far this season the Pirates are 6-2 against the “bad” teams and 1-5 against the “good” teams.

They’ve done that largely by playing most games like they matter, which in year three of Derek Shelton I can legitimately say is an improvement.

They’ve done it by hiding some of their biggest problems, namely the starting pitching, and using a perceived strength, their bullpen. Not just the amount of innings, but usage as well. If there is a key moment, David Bednar the universal best reliever they have is coming in to get the out. If that’s the 7th, fine by him, fine by Shelton. If he has to go multiple innings, he’s ok with that too. If the heart of the lineup is due up in the 8th, chances are Bednar will be the guy.

This is selflessness by the players and I think that’s been a theme too. We take this stuff for granted, but it’s more than just a decision by a manager. Imagine a guy like Bednar for instance. He knows what he is, and c’mon, everyone on the team does too. Still, this isn’t something a manager is just going to do without having a conversation. Not having saves to point to will effect David’s wallet at some point. Academically you and I can say it doesn’t matter, we can say everyone will just look at his ERA and stuff and they’ll know he’s worth money, and to a degree, they will, but in baseball, right or wrong there is still a belief that skill also has to come with a certain, well, gumption.

That gumption is something that needs proven to many, and for players to not worry about that all that much, well, that takes another kind of gumption.

Starters being given rare chances to go beyond two times through a lineup is another weird one. It’s going to on most nights give them a chance to pick up a loss, but rarely net them a shot at a win. Now, part of the issue there is they haven’t pitched well enough to win in the first place most of the time, but pulling them early removes it from the equation all together. Think that helps them on the market or arbitration? Again, this is their team, and most of them are too young to really have much of a say. More than anything none of them have done enough in this league to make a big stink, but still you’re asking 13-14 guys to put their own stats aside, and instead think of the team. Think of the overall game to game situation and matchup. Be ok being told even though you feel like you have more to give, it’s time to come out.

Be willing to hand the ball to one of your brothers and know you’re also handing over a W, that is still sure to come up as a deficiency one day when you try to get paid.

That takes more than just a charismatic manager. That takes an organization convincing everyone involved that they’re going to not use these decisions against them. They aren’t going to look at their stats next year and say things like “well the starters need to go deeper” or “David needs to show he can lock down whoever he faces in the 9th”. Hey this touches the hitters too, they have to convince a guy who’s never played outfield like Diego Castillo that should he struggle out there they aren’t going to use it against him. If a switch hitter only faces right handed pitching, they won’t critique his average in the 10 at bats he racked up against lefties.

Beating the bad teams is something teams actively getting better do, and managing to win is something I don’t think we saw in 2020 or 2021 nearly often enough. If you want to be a winner, you better practice winning. The overall record this year is still not likely to be pretty, but if they can find a way to creatively bump themselves to the top of the bottom third, well I’ll take that as progress, and chances are, they’ll have found a few more permanent answers during that process too.

It’s nice to see the coaching and management thinking differently, just don’t forget the buy in it took from the guys on the actual field.

Wil and Pete’s Excellent Adventure

4-22-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates haven’t been accused of pushing the right buttons often over the past few seasons, but the handling of the pitching staff early on and the emergence of Dillon Peters and Wil Crowe is the early season story none of us should be taking our eyes off of.

It’s just as short a sample size as anything else we’d be telling you to either not worry about or pump the brakes on, but there’s no denying early on, these two are arguably more responsible for every win than anyone else.

What the hell changed?

Dillon Peters if I’m honest doesn’t look any different to me. Like nothing notable at all. His velocity is up a tic or two, but that could just as easily be about being fresh early in the season as putting in work in the gym as Dillon credits. The delivery looks just as tight, his arm slot is just as deceiving and he still has glistening blonde hair that reminds me of Hulk Hogan. Ok so that has nothing to do with the pitching, but Iron Sheik might like that line.

Wil Crowe on the other hand, man, its a complete 180 right? Last year he was the slowest pitcher to the plate in the game, ok maybe Yu Darvish. This year he’s so fast guys are stepping back in the box and the ball is on the way. He’s suddenly Machine Gun Kelly out there.

He used to struggle with a pitch placement, now everything goes right where he wants it. Even his walks have primarily been on pitches he intentionally was hunting a chase. He couldn’t for the life of him last season master all 5 of his pitches, this year he’s throwing changeups down 2-0 for a strike at the knees on the corner.

Last year he looked spooked everyt ime someone got on base, this year on the few occasions he’s allowed anyone to reach he struts past them like he wants them to charge.

It’s almost like Bill and Ted when they travelled in time to meet their future selves to learn how to play their guitars.

You can’t ever tell who’s going to take a jump or put in work over the offseason and reinvent themselves from year to year.

It’s part of why I cringe every time someone says, this guy was a 0.5 WAR player last year and then proceed to assume that’s the best he can ever do. Baseball is filled with factors and advanced stats are there to try to measure each one of them. Until someone creates one called like xBaddASS that predicts a guy is going to go from zero to hero in an offseason, well, lets just say that’s no more silly than pretending improvement isn’t a thing.

We’re two weeks in. Everything could blow up in their face. I mean sincerely, we haven’t seen either give up a run yet, and we certainly know that has been in there too. Seeing how they rebound from it will tell us a whole lot.

They aren’t alone.

Most people decided they knew what Mitch Keller was too, and maybe it’ll turn out they did. Hard to deny he has more talent than any other starter being run out there, and most benefit to the club if he figures it out too for that matter.

This stuff is what makes baseball, hell sports, exactly what we love. The unknown is a draw, and you can be as educated as you like, you’ll never be able to nail every prediction. Even if you did believe Crowe would be good in the bullpen, you can’t have imagined this good. I know I sure didn’t.

I thought it would be a better situation for him and I thought he’d benefit from extra velo not trying to save himself and dropping a pitch or two he struggled with. WRONG. Instead he’s throwing everything, at anytime and the velo is only a tic up.

Where these two are in their careers, there is zero reason to believe they couldn’t be fixtures in this pen for years to come if this becomes the norm as opposed to an anomaly.

Kudos to Wil Crowe and Dillon Peters. Two guys who ended 2021 and decided 2022 was going to be better, even if their role changed. In fact, that might be the most impressive part to me, both these guys have not sulked. Instead they’ve embraced the role change, in Crowe’s case he’s flatly relished it with flair.

I often caution speaking in certainty when discussing baseball and development, this is why. Inevitably someone you just got done calling stupid is gonna go out there and prove who really is without saying a word.