The Pirates 40-Man Crunch; Prediction, Protection and Speculation

10-7-21 – By Craig Toth and Gary Morgan – @BucsBasement and @garymo2007 on Twitter

Gary – Man, I’ll tell you what, Craig and I started talking about this upcoming issue way back in Spring, and the fact it’s actually remained a problem if not worsened speaks to the development system and the types of talents Ben Cherington brought in at the deadline.

We were shocked to see him acquire more mud for an already murky situation in the form of Michael Chavis, Hoy Park, Diego Castillo, and Jack Suwinski. Now as mud goes, you could certainly find worse looking, in fact if they weren’t worth anything it’d be a much bigger problem right?

This is such a huge subject that Craig and I are tackling it together and we’ll also talk through some things that could change matters as well.

Craig – I can’t disagree at all brother. This is a situation that has been coming to a head ever since the first bricks of the previous regime (Marte, Bell, Musgrove, Taillon and finally Frazier) were pulled from the foundation. And as I brought up in one of our many side bars, it is not like this is going to be the last of its kind with similar waves of prospects becoming Rule 5 eligible in 2023, 2024 and beyond.

In making these difficult decisions, Ben Cherington and Company will need to rely heavily on themselves and most importantly their scouting and analytics departments to make the correct assessments as to the players that are a part of the future, as well as those that they are potentially expendable; in the Rule 5 draft, free agency or trade.

If you remember Gary, and I am pretty sure you do, you wrote an article leading up to the trade deadline about Cherington possibly needing to pump the brakes on bringing in prospects; at least those that would add to upcoming roster decisions. Cherington did the exact opposite in some ways with the guys you mentioned-Chavis, Park, Castillo and Suwinski.

However, you also mentioned that it wasn’t like there were a plethora of untouchables; and on that we agree. Still, it isn’t totally about who we think is untouchable and expendable, as the ultimate determination lies with Cherington. That’s what makes an exercise like this one so difficult, but extremely interesting on the other hand.

Discussions will be had, names will be rotated from the previously determined locks on the 40-Man, Probables and Snubs. Also as we know this dialogue will not end with the passing of the 40-Man, 38 Player Triple-A Reserve List-I will get into this more later-and arbitration tender deadlines. Once the 40-man roster is full, many acquisitions could ultimately affect this; such as when Troy Stokes, Jr. was claimed off waivers, added to the 40-Man and then designated for assignment all in a matter of two weeks at the end of January.

It’s a fluid process. One that begins shortly after the season ends, and doesn’t come to a temporary conclusion on Opening Day.

Gary – Well Craig, let’s dig in, and for the sake of clarity, we’re starting with a very vanilla, this is what they have and who we think they’ll keep and construct the 40 man from. It’s important to look at it this way first because while the Pirates will make moves, and many of you have theories as to what those moves will be, you have to know the starting point or it’s all just names.

The Locks

  1. Ke’Bryan Hayes
  2. Bryan Reynolds
  3. David Bednar
  4. JT Brubaker
  5. Jacob Stallings
  6. Bryse Wilson
  7. Roansy Contreras
  8. Miguel Yajure
  9. Rodolfo Castro
  10. Oneil Cruz
  11. Mitch Keller
  12. Max Kranick
  13. Tucupita Marcano
  14. Duane Underwood Jr.
  15. Kevin Newman
  16. Chasen Shreve
  17. Travis Swaggerty
  18. Wil Crowe
  19. Colin Moran
  20. Chris Stratton
  21. Luis Oviedo
  22. Michael Perez (or FA Catcher)
  23. Dillon Peters
  24. Ben Gamel
  25. Nick Mears
  26. Sam Howard
  27. Steven Brault
  28. Michael Chavis
  29. Shea Spitzbarth
  30. Cody Ponce
  31. Chad Kuhl
  32. Blake Cederlind
  33. Diego Castillo

The Probable

34. Cole Tucker
35. Connor Overton
36. Wilmer Difo
37. Enyel De Los Santos
38. Omar Cruz
39. Anthony Alford
40. Rule Five/Free Agent/Someone From Snubs List

The Snubs

Cal Mitchell
Jared Oliva (Will have to clear waivers to remove from 40-man)
Mason Martin
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Jack Suwinski
Brendt Citta
Cody Bolton
Steven Jennings
Liover Peguero
Tahnaj Thomas
Travis McGregor
Eddy Yean
Yerry De Los Santos
Joe Jacques
Hunter Stratton

OK, So We Owe You an Explanation or Two

Gary – First, I can’t assume trades. This isn’t like most of the last two seasons where the Pirates had this hulking list of guys who should be on the block because of contractual control issues. If you want some, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl and Colin Moran are the top choices.

I also can’t sit here and say this is what the 40-man will wind up looking like when the season starts. For the purposes of this discussion, we have to think about who they will want to keep on the roster, even if only to trade them. This sort of thing played out dozens of times last season, remember constantly wondering what every corresponding move would be for all the waiver claims they had last season?

Craig – As I already alluded to in the beginning of this piece, not every player can be or will be protected. We as Pirates Fans have our lists of players we want to see back on the 26-Man Roster next year, those that are worthy of a 40-Man spot, guys that we wouldn’t to see leave the organization, but might be worth the risk to see if they can pass through the process and players we would rather never see again. Some have said they can list at least many as 10 to 15 players who they would jettison off the roster; especially if it meant that the Pirates Prospects could be protected. However, it isn’t that simple.

Not every player that needs protected is ready to take the next step to the Major League Roster on a full or even part time basis. Sure the Pirates and Ben Cherington were a little more aggressive with their two protected players from this year, Max Kranick and Rodolfo Castro, but it’s not like you can have a roster filled with players of a similar ilk; that may need more time to develop in Double or Triple-A, while the Major League roster continues to suffer through.

Also, be aware that not every player that we have as a lock, probable or snub is in that category because of our own personal opinions. There may be guys that it seems Cherington and Company are prepared to give a longer leash to.

Plus, you have to take the previously mentioned 38 Player Triple-A Reserve List. At the same time the Pirates are constructed their 40-man roster, they will also be assigning 38 Minor League Players to this list; protecting them from the Minor League Phase of the Rule 5. Sure, it won’t stop another ball club from selecting them the Major League Phase, but it’s a lot easier to take a guy and place him in your farm system with no restrictions than hide him on the 26-Man for an entire season; meaning some of the guys that find their way to the Snub List will end up on this one.

And, finally you have the fact that the Rule 5 Draft won’t necessarily wipe out any team’s farm system due to the number of selections that are actually made in the Major League Portion. Last year there were 18 total picks, with the Yankees losing the most players-a total of three; with the most impactful being Garrett Whitlock who is now with the Boston Red Sox. Of these 18 picks, 15 were pitchers and 3 were position players; Ka’ai Tom included.

Obviously, there is some risk involved, it’s just another reason as to why Ben Cherington has made it a point to accumulate depth at each position. If you lose one guy, hopefully you have a couple more to take his place. Kinda, like Hydra.

So, why protect some players, while you expose others? Performance and potential would be the easiest answer. Ability to contribute at the Major League Level could certainly be tied in as well. And while a couple of players can truly be considered locks-Reynolds and Hayes-others can be made to fit into the same category by a process of elimination, as there are only so many roster spots to go around and positions to be filled.

Which begs the question, how will the Pirates approach getting the roster to 40 players or less?

Gary – Some excellent points there Craig, probably none bigger than the fact it’s not like the system is going to get picked over no matter what they do.

I’ll tell you what we need to do though brother, we need to make some recommendations. I think we’ve covered what we think this would look like if they decided most pieces of this puzzle are in the box, but that’s hard to swallow for a 101 loss team. I still don’t see a ton of acquisition, especially given the GM flatly said they wouldn’t bring much in, but I think they have to do some things and this list is an area that is directly effected from the start.

What Would We Do?

Gary – Well let me start with low hanging fruit. Michael Perez needs replaced, in fact we feel so strongly about this one we both noted it when formulating the list in general. Next for me is I don’t think you can have Wilmer Difo and Cole Tucker on the same roster, and if either of them isn’t an MLB player, time to go. Difo has been good as a bench bat, but to me if Tucker can do that job, go for it, choose youth.

I also think they need pitchers, real veteran pitchers. This piece isn’t the place to address that, at least not with any specificity, but that room will need made. Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault are perfect potential trades and I’ll be honest, they could even be non-tender, although with how much pitchers even with spotty records can return that might be like buying a gumball with a Twenty Dollar Bill and not asking for change. Point is, they may have to have them on the 40, at least long enough to move them.

Relievers are another issue, I’m of the belief they’ll need at least one more good 7-8th inning guy from outside and I’d prefer 2.

My last big thing, I’m not OK with Anthony Alford again being brought back as an answer. I want Ben Gamel brought back, but let’s be clear, in a perfect world he’s my 4th outfielder, and I find zero chance that’s true with Anthony Alford on the club. I’m sorry, I’m all for catching lighting in a bottle, but after trying twice and being struck both times, I’m moving on.

Craig – Michael Perez is the definition of low hanging fruit, and when it comes to what the Pirates should do with him, Gary and I are of the same mindset. When he was acquired by Cherington following the 2020 season, you could see the reasoning. A semi-young player, from a well-run organization, with years of team control and did I mention cheap. Now entering his first year of arbitration, after a season where he slashed .143/.221/.290 with 7 homers, Perez will still be fairly cheap, but I can’t say there won’t be better options out there.

Now. as Gary points out, there probably isn’t enough room for both a Difo and a Tucker; and I would even throw a Newman into the mix. At most they keep two, or at least I think they should. Especially with Castro, and hopefully Diego Castillo, pushing for more playing time.

As far as pitching is concerned, it has become even more clear to me at this point that they need as much of it as the can get. If, I’m Cherington I get couple veteran, Tyler Anderson types to fill out the roster, while protecting as many young guns as I can. Give me an Omar Cruz, the Del Los Santos Boys, Shea Spitzbarth, Connor Overton, etc. I want them all. And yes, I would take each of these over Brault and Kuhl if it comes down to it. Trade, Non-Tender or whatever it takes.

Moving into the outfield, I am fine with beginning the off-season putting Reynolds in center, obviously, Gamel in left and Alford in Right; or vice versa. However, you can’t break camp with this as your starting three. Swaggerty needs protected, so another team doesn’t Jose Soriano him; and I could see a Canaan Smith-Njigba or a Cal Mitchell protected as well to provide some insurance. But, even then they need a free agent to make an Alford and Gamel 3rd and 4th outfielder type platoon.

The last player, who gives me a lot of pause, is Liover Peguero. Having only reached High-A Greensboro, does he fit the mold of a player that needs to be put on the 40-Man or one that a team could keep on the 26-man for an entire season. In a perfect world-one without restrictions, I protect him without hesitation. Yet, it’s crazy to think that he might have to stay on the 40-man for two more years before he even sniffs the Majors.

Gary – Bro, writing Peguero’s name on that snub list was physically hard for me, but I simply can’t see anyone believing he could last on a roster all season, adding him to the 40 would be simply out of fear because as you said, it’s likely going to be 2 years. Next year, this is a much different conversation.

I thought hard about the outfield, and I’m inclined to make room for Cal Mitchell or Smith-Njigba, couple reasons, first, I actually think Smith-Njigba has the K/BB stats to potentially hang, and with outfield having been such a dead zone for prospects, it just sucks to potentially have 3 sitting right in AAA not protected. Moral of the story, I think I’d protect one, and I’d guess one of the De Los Santos’ pay the price.

It’s also weird to have to protect Oviedo, just the comfort level they showed in him and the fact he’s now expected to go back to being a starter makes me feel like he’s years away, which as I’ll continue in the next statement technically means he should be a no, but you don’t bother dragging a guy through an entire baseball season just to leave him exposed, not to mention he’d have to be DFAd to be removed from a list he already sits on.

Another one that scares me is Tahnaj Thomas, I think he has 2 pitches mature enough to toss him in a bullpen tomorrow., but if you organizationally want him to be a starter he’s years away. We just talked about having to carry a guy like Peguero for 2 years, Tanaj could be 3.

At this point, here’s the poop. They simply won’t lose many, there aren’t a ton of teams out there that can afford to throw away a roster spot. While I think upwards of 10 on our proposed 40-man won’t be here when this team is good, the next wave isn’t quite there yet. This is a different situation if say Mitchell and Smith-Njigba are realistic to come out of camp as 26-man candidates. This is different if they have 5 pitchers ready to push their way onto the roster. Finally, this is different if the GM didn’t just openly state he wasn’t looking to add a tremendous amount from the outside for next season. If he said the opposite, sure, Overton is gone, maybe even Mears, guys like that. As it stands, I can see those types being knocked off one at a time as they bring in pieces.

I also don’t think they’ll be frightened into any moves. In other words, they won’t panic that they’re not protecting Jack Suwinski and move him.

The Pirates 2021 Season Comes To An End

In some ways it feels like it was just yesterday, while in others it could have happened in a different lifetime, however, in all actuality I sat down to write the 2021 Edition of My Pittsburgh Pirates Prediction Piece a full six months ago.

Obviously, I wasn’t super optimistic about the upcoming season as my record projection sat at 63-99; slightly higher than the eventual 61-101 mark that came to be, which I could have been a little closer to had I possessed the fortitude to actually type nice round total of 100 losses on to my screen. Nonetheless, this isn’t really significant at this point, and neither are the wins and losses as the Pirates move into their second full off-season with General Manager Ben Cherington at the helm; one that could be extremely crucial to the future of the organization, but also his first without a major trade piece on the roster-or at least one the Pirates would be willing to part with. But, I need to slow done as I am getting way ahead of myself.

Now is the time to focus on the 2021 season, as much as some of us would probably like to forget it. Although, the year did start off with, and end with a blast.

Now, the in between, that’s where things get interesting, or simply frustrating at times; often highlighted by the constant replays of the Will Craig incident, Ke’Bryan Hayes missing first base on a home run or Wilmer Difo letting an infield pop up fall to the ground to allow a walk-off in Chicago. However, this wouldn’t be close to the entire story.

In the beginning of the year, as it is every year, hope springs eternal. Maybe not for a contending team, but possibly that things might go better than expected; at the very least on an individual level, which is exactly what happened with Kevin Newman.

In 13 games, and across 33 at bats, Newman accumulated a .606 batting average, hit 6 doubles and didn’t strike out once. And it wasn’t just the results that looked different, it was his overall approach at the plate, but more importantly a revamped swing. Unfortunately, as we all know now these results, and at times his new swing, didn’t translate into the regular season. Prior to the All-Star Break, Newman had an abysmal .210/.252/.273 slash line; and although it wasn’t great, after some adjustments, he was able to improve to .249/.283/.359 during the second half of the year. For Newman it was a year of disappointments, with his only saving grace being his 3 OAA and 8 DRS at the shortstop position; as compared to his -6 OAA/-7 DRS in 2019 and -2 OAA/-3 DRS in 2020.

Then there was Bryan Reynolds, who came into the season with everything to prove; especially to himself after a shortened 2019 were he hit .182 with 7 homers. Obviously, he did just this, and possibly more as he hit .302 with a .912 OPS, to go along with 24 homers and a total of 67 extra base hits; including a tie for the MLB lead in triples with 8. Figuring in his 11 OAA in centerfield-a position he didn’t even start at in the beginning of the year-and a 6.0 bWAR/5.5 fWAR it ultimately generated an NL All-Star, Team MVP and a player that will surely garner a few MVP votes.

Next, the Pirates had who many thought to be a shoe-in for the NL Rookie of The Year, based upon his unbelievable September of 2020, in the form of Ke’Bryan Hayes; which may I remind you started off with a bang. Regrettably, Hayes would be removed from the second game of the season with a wrist injury and not be seen again until the beginning of June. After, the abrupt interruption and eventual return he would go on to bat .257 with a .689 OPS and 6 homers. A clear disappointment based only the original expectations, which was compounded to a degree when Hayes’ season ended early with wrist discomfort. Luckily for Hayes and the Pirates it was always known that the glove would more than make up for even an average bat, or slightly below average. On the year Hayes totaled 13 OAA-second to only Matt Chapman and his 17 OAA at the position-and 16 DRS; resulting in a 2.4 bWAR and 1.5 fWAR in spite of his struggles at the plate.

Along with Hayes. another player who caught the injury bug was Colin Moran; who had been given the reins to first base after the off-season Josh Bell deal. At the beginning of the year had the opportunity to show that the Pirates made the correct choice by cementing himself in his new role, while building upon his 10 home run, 114 OPS+ and 113 wRC+ shortened season; which he pretty much did until the last month of the season, even after missing most of May and all of July. Leading into September Moran was batting .285 with 7 homers. However, after a disappointing final month, Moran ended the year with a .258 AVG, 10 total homers, a 97 OPS+ and a 98 wRC+.

Last, but certainly not least add in the best half season of Adam Frazier’s career. Prior to being traded to the San Diego Padres, Frazier hit .324 with 4 homers and was consistently in the battle for the most hits (125) and doubles (28) in all of Major League Baseball. In addition to this, Pirates we’re fortunate enough to get a little over a month of Yoshi Tsutsugo at his best. After surprisingly joining the team on August 16th, Yoshi proceeded to hit 8 homers, while batting .268 with a 136 OPS+. Nonetheless, and not that you need yet another reminder, Yoshi will be a free agent this off-season; one in which he turns 30 years old.

Unfortunately, there was also an outfield carousel for a good portion of the year; illuminated by the press of a cast of castoffs, such as Ka’ai Tom, Dustin Fowler and the early season version of Anthony Alford; with a few games of Troy Stokes, Jr., Ildemaro Vargas, Phillip Evans and Jared Olivia sprinkled in.

And, who can forget the Todd Frazier saga? I sure can’t, as it led to a discussion on Twitter between Jason Mackey and myself as to who was the better pinch hitting option for the Pirates; me with Wilmer Difo and Mackey with Frazier. Not that it means much, but I got to claim victory in this one. On the year, Difo tied Ehire Adrianza of the Braves for the most pinch hits with 16.

Or on a more positive note, Rodolfo Castro’s 5 homers accounting for his first 5 Major League hits or the short lived Big Nogowski-Mania? Man that was fun for a couple of weeks.

Overall, with this much movement, and a few career years mixed in, it ultimately led to the Pirates finishing with the 28th ranked offense in all of Major League Baseball. For the year they ended up dead last in homers (124), runs (609), RBI (570), wRC+ (83) and offensive WAR (9.1). They also found themselves at 25th in Batting Average (.236) and 23rd in OBP (.309); or, not good, which is probably why Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein is out of a job.

And that brings us to the other side of the aisle; the Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Staff. Spoiler alert…also not very good.

In the beginning of the season there was hope for Mitch Keller, in yet another prove it season, JT Brubaker set a feverish pace and rental Tyler Anderson led the starting rotation. Out in the bullpen, David Bednar arrived from literally out of nowhere as a toss-in from the Joe Musgrove Trade. Other than that, there were some flashes from others like Chris Stratton, Duane Underwood, Jr., Chasen Shreve and the since departed RichRod. However, as a whole the bad undoubtedly outweighed the good.

Mitch Keller found himself demoted to Triple-A toward the beginning of June, JT Brubaker went from a 4.47 ERA/1.150 pitcher in the first half to a 7.57 ERA/1.65 one in the second and staff ace Tyler found himself moving into a playoff race with the Mariners after posting a 4.35 ERA and a clean 1.200 WHIP for Pittsburgh in 18 starts.

Then there was the Man From Mars, David Bednar, who just went off. In his first full season in the Majors, Bednar hung a 2.23 ERA and a .973 WHIP, as well as 77 strikeouts in 60.2 innings on opposing hitters; earning Pitcher of the Year honors from the Pittsburgh Chapter of the BBWAA.

The rest as I said before; not very good. On the year the Pirates finished 27th overall in MLB as a staff, coming in at 28th for both the starters and relievers. They had a combined 5.08 ERA (28th), gave up 213 homers (surprisingly 23rd), struck out 1312 batters (24th) and had the second worst WHIP (1.44). Considering all of this, Oscar Marin could be the Pirates next coach on the hot seat.

All in all, the Pirates used a franchise record 64 players to complete what was the 8th 100 loss season in the organization’s history. But, hey our defense was good! Yes, that is somewhat sarcastic, because truthfully, as a unit the Pirates put together a -11.3 defensive WAR season; finally arriving at 21st in the league, with much of their success falling on the shoulders of Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jacob Stallings, Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds. Former Gold Glove Candidate Adam Frazier had his worst season as a Pirate at Second Base with a -2 OAA, as opposed to the 5 and 9 he had posted during the previous two years.

Yes, you can point to a league low in errors with 70, or a league high .988 fielding percentage; but those numbers only count when you can actually get to the ball. Is it an improvement? Absolutely. Does it show a level of competency? Without a doubt. Is it mission accomplished? Far from it.

For now, that’s a wrap on the Pittsburgh Pirates 2021 season; a year of evaluation and development.

Bring on the off-season, and hopefully a March, 31, 2022 Opening Day.

Pirates Top 30 Prospect Trend Report

10-6-21 – By Justin Verno – @JV_Pitt on Twitter

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Here we are, at the end. There will be no more walks, or homeruns or wins for the Bucs or any of their affiliates. So I present you with the last installment of the Top 30 Trends.

But don’t worry, Fall and Winter ball are just around the corner!

But I digress! Most of the players seasons have been over, But there were a few that were in AAA and 2 that were in the majors that we get to have fun with here. If the players season was over and there’s no iupdate it’s noted.

1-Henry Davis – 50 FV        SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
CPX429/429/1.1431.571.714.6632830%28.6%
Season263/375/6841.059.421.42416216.7%33.3%

 2-Quinn Priester – 50 FV   SEASON OVER

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPKBB
Season97.23.044.084.261.24.28524.1%9.6%

Quinn was terrific for Greensboro in game 2. Going 5 innings, striking out 7 while giving up 1 ER to an ERA of 1.80.

3 – Roansy Contreras – 50 FV  ARROW UP X2

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBABIPK%BB
MLB3.00001.503.271.33.42933.3%25%
AAA3.22.450.91 3.351.36.44437.5%6.3%
Season54.12.652.742.93.90.26237.5%6.3%

4- Liover Peguero – 50 FV  SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
PLAY OFFS250/357/250.607
Season270/332/444.776.174.3381087.9%25.2%

5-Miguel Yajure – 50 FV  SEASON OVER

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Week3.27.3611.628.381.91.25010.5%10.5%
Season43.23.094.354.161.05.23923%7.5%
MLB134.057.015.591.15.18218.9%9.4%

6- Oneil Cruz – 50 FV  ARROW UP

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
MLB333/333/6671.000.333.418.3640%44.4%
AAA429/579/1.0711.650.253.64730826.3%26.3%
Season292/346/536.882.244.3771367.3%23.4%

7-Tahnaj Thomas – 50 FV SEASON OVER

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Season60.25.196.495.801.58.28922.1%12.5%

8-Nick Gonzales – 50 FV SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
PLAY OFF143/386/429.797
Season302/385/565.950.262.40515010.8%27.4%

9-Travis Swaggerty – 50 FV – Out for the year

10-Bubba Chandler – 45 FV SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
Season167/324/300.624.133.3258013.5%43.2%

11-Ji-hwan Bae – 45 SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Season278/359/413.771.134.34311410.4%22.7%

12-Brennan Malone – 45 FV SEASON OVER

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBABIPK%BB
CPX10.15.234.153.461.16.19427.3%15.2%
Week – A3.20.007.619.122.45.33310%25%

13-Hudson Head – 45 FV  SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Play Off200/273/200.473
Season-213/362/394.755.181.36411315.7%31.6%

14-Cody Bolton – 45 FV -out for the season

15-Maikol Escotto – 40+ FV SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Play Off417/462/6671.128
Season-234/354/347.701.113.34410014.2%30.4%

16-Anthony Solometo – Nothing Yet

17-Jarred Jones – 40+ FV SEASON OVER

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Season664.643.913.751.47.38534.1%11.3%

18-Carmen Mlodzinski – 40+ FV

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
AAA24.504.344.002.50.31718.2%9.4%
Season49.13.284.353.991.22.29832%9.4%

19-Canaan Smith-Njigba – 40+ FV ARROW DOWN

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
AAA095/174/095.269000.141-248.7%39.1%
Season274/398/406.830.141.18015.4%46.2%

20-Lonnie White – 40+ FV – SEASON OVER

BA/OPS/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
Seaon258/303/516.819.258.3641086.1%42.4%

21-Rodolfo Castro – 40+ FV ARROW EVEN

BA/OBP/SLOPSISOwOBAwRCwalkK
AAA286/342/657.999.371.4191587.9%28.9%
Season242/295/425.719.182.311926.1%23.1%
MLB198/258/395.653.198.282756.5%29%

22-Diego Castillo – 40+ FV  ARROW UP

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week286/286/571.857.286.3621210%28.6%
Season – AAA278/414/500.914.222.40014618.6%18.6%
Season – PIT282/342/445.787.164.3431128.3%7.4%
Season-NY277/345/504.850.228.3671288.4%12.7%

23-Rodolfo Nolasco – 40+ FV SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Season284/409/552.961.269.43615015.9%26.2%

24-Jared Oliva – 40+ FV ARROW DOWN x2

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
Week133/235/333.569.200.2524811.8%17.6%
Season249/321/364.686.116.308867.6%26.9%
MLB175/233/225.458.050.215207%23.3%

25-Endy Rodriguez – 40+ FV  SEASON OVER

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
PLAY Off462/500/5381.036
Season294/380/512.892.218.41014011.5%17.7%

26-Mason Martin – 40+ FV  ARROW EVEN

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
AAA240/296/600.896.360.3771313.7%37%
Season242/318/481.799.239.3421138.1%34.2%

27-Jose Soriano – 40+ FV – Out for the season

28-Luis Oviedo -40+ FV – MLB

29-Cal Mitchel – 40+ FV ARROW EVEN

BA/OBP/SLOPS  ISO  wOBAwRCwalkK
AAA250/286/300.586.050.268590%19%
Season280/330/429.759.149.3321065.7%16.9%

30-Eddy Yean – 40+ SEASON OVER

IPERAFIP  xFIP  WHIPBABIPK%BB
Play Off3.20000,55
Season66.25.275.274.711.43.27423.3%13.2%

So most of the updates here had SEASON OVER as the headline. The handful of players still going were mostly “a cup of coffee” call up. Most had 20-30 trips to the plate. So we don’t want to get carried away with what we saw one way or the other. Nobody is getting DFA’d or headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame over a cup of java.

But it’s really easy to get excited with what we saw out of Oniel Cruz and Roansy Contreras! Both are likely to stat in AAA and both could be fast tracked to Pittsburgh, perhaps we could see both in early May? Cruz really looked the pat of a major leaguer.

Another kid that continues to impress is Diego Castillo. Is he ready to start in the majors next year? If not the Bucs need to find room on the 40 man for him. His control of the zone is simply fantastic and the power is developing. At the worst he looks to be a super utility player, at best a solid 2B.

Part of me wants to give my “player of the year” awards to a few guys and while I had the pleasure to view a good deal of the MiLB games this season for the Bucs I would be lying to say I saw enough of the games to do that. (Speaking of that, the MiLB package was the best $40 I spent this year and I highly suggest it. I think it’s only $10 right now at https://www.milb.com/live-stream-games/subscribe) So I will skip that, BUT, I did see enough to make some predictions that are bound to be wrong.

Here are my probably wrong predictions on some of the changes to the Bucs top prospect lists(Fangraphs only) Here I will list some changes I see happening and some raisers and guys that could fall. I won’t be guessing their whole list, just some changes.

Let’s start with the obvious-Hoy Park will graduate due to plate appearances.

The top 10.

– Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Quinn Priester and Nick Gonzales all get a bump. With Cruz, Contreras and Priester 55 or even a 60. Gonzales will cap at 55.

– Miguel Yajure, Liover Peguero and Travis Swaggerty hold steady at 50. I considered moving Swaggerty down but he was raking before the injury, I think he hold at 50 FV.

-Tahnaj Thomas takes a hit here. Maybe all the way to a 40+.

-Matt Fraizer and Endy Rodriguez are the biggest raisers. I can see both hitting the top 10 and will go as far as saying both could be on Fangraphs Top Prospects List with a 50 FV. But at the least a 45 FV would seem a must for both guys. Followed by Po-Yu Chen who could see a solid jump to a 40+ or 45.

-Ji-hwan Bae could see a bump to a 45+ as he showed a ittle pop in the bat with a .771 OPS.

-Jared Jones, Carmen Mlodzinski, Maikol Escotto all get a bump to 45 FV. Outside shot at getting a 45 FV bump include Diego Castillo and Rodolfo Castro.

-Jose Soriano, Luis Oviedo, Max Kranick, Steven Jennings and Jared Oliva all come off the list for different reasons.

-Tucapita Marcano gets lowered to a 35+.

-Jackson Glenn, Jared Triolo, Austin Roberts and Michael Burrows are guys who’s age could prevent a bump. All would need to really move thru the system but have shown some upside. Do we get a surprise bump in this group?

-I have 6 guys that will be falling off the list? Fear not I have 6 names I feel will be added! Matt Fraizer is already listed and should see a big time jump. But here are some other name to watch for.

Geovanny Planchert, he will likely see the second or third biggest jump in the system. At just over 20 years old he destroyed the CPX slashing 321/398/464 with an OPS of 862. He has a great feel for the zone walking 12.2% of the time while striking out 23.5% of his trips to the plate. He could see a significant jump, 40+ maybe.

The others? Dariel Lopez, Tsung-Che Cheng, Jauri Custidio and Omar Cruz. Omar is likely the most recognizable name in this section. Acquired in the Joe Musgrove deal Cruz has been a solid piece of that trade and he’s LH to boot.

Let’s revisit this in a few weeks after Fangraphs releases the update so we can all laugh at how wrong I was! See you then and thanks for reading along.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-4-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I hope none of you thought we were going to take some long break now that the season is over, we’re just getting started. This is where things really start getting interesting. The conversations start to change this off season, oh, I don’t mean negative people are going to wake up positive, or that 100 losses didn’t just take place. I mean the talent we’ve been tracking is now that much closer and for example that mighty flick of the wrists from Oneil Cruz yesterday may not have been technically what you want to see, but it sure is nice to see it’s in there.

As we officially step foot into the Pirates off season today, you can expect a plethora of opinion from all over the map but we’re going to do our darnedest to keep it realistic and honest right here.

Let’s dig in, keeping this to five might be a real struggle for me.

1. Reason for Optimism?

I mean, of course you’re looking at the pool of talent on the doorstep, but facts are facts, and this 101 loss team is likely going to return a large percentage of this active roster to the team next year. Now, before you lose your mind, THIS roster, meaning what we watched down the stretch isn’t the same as what they started the year with so it’s not fair to say something like “same team, same results”, thing is though, the pitching is what has me most concerned.

Next year will be a whole lot like that, difference being prospects are going to be the influx of talent that changes the complexion instead of finding a former Japanese League Star, they’ll call on one of their many close prospects. My issue there is, they still don’t have enough pitching in my mind. If this team goes out and gets a pitcher or two, we’ll see real improvement in the record. If they don’t, marginal at best.

I like the potential of a bunch of the arms the Pirates have, but not enough to simply trust they’re all ready. Time to buy some vets for prospects to push through. It’s fun to think about getting a bunch of those young guys up here right away, but remember talent doesn’t always equal MLB ready.

Bryse Wilson, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Wil Crowe, Dillon Peters, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Max Kranick, and I haven’t even named everyone who should compete for a starting gig. Some will be moved, some will wind up in the pen, most are incredibly young. Again, I’d bring in a vet or two, rather than pretend every youngster is going to reach their potential on an MLB mound and improve this team. If 101 losses is truly unacceptable, and I assure you it is, don’t rely on 3 rookies and pretend it’s an improvement.

Many on that list are far more talented than Tyler Anderson was but it’s highly unlikely that any of them at this stage will be nearly as reliable.

In many ways, it’s not unlike the Steelers offensive line this year, lot of talent there, but expecting 4 rookies or second year guys to perform to their ceilings is foolish.

I trust that the bats will happen before the pitching, and I don’t think it’s a long odds bet. Look at the system, the timing is right in front of you.

2. The CBA Should Be Huge, Even if it Probably Won’t Be.

Many people think guys like me talk about MLB having no Salary Cap is in defense of Bob Nutting, or giving him cover for not spending. Maybe for some that’s true, for me it’s part of an undeniable truth. Nutting doesn’t spend what he could, and what he could is nowhere near what the top of the league can.

National guys are loathed to approach this subject by in large but Michael DeCourcy isn’t typical.

Well, Mike isn’t stupid, he knows the answer to this, no they don’t have the vision.

They’d be fine with however the league wants to handle revenue sharing, but keep that word, that evil evil word out of your mouth. Thing is, rational adults know without a cap, which you all know from reading my ramblings on this doesn’t come without a floor, there can be no reasonable expectation that aggressive revenue sharing will take place.

Owners have the ball, literally. Their willingness to accept that this is an issue is step number one. If enough of them feel the same, and are willing to lose money because rest assured it will cost money to shut down the game, they can get this done. I truly doubt they will, but the fact remains, it’s in their court.

I stand firm, if there is no cap, the Pirates are travelling the only real course that can work, but if there is one instituted, they’ll come out of it ready to rock. Either way nothing changes until it does.

That said, when guys with the profile of Mike talk about this, it’s a positive step.

3. Is Oscar Marin the Right Guy?

Let’s start here, as it comes to him being back next year, it doesn’t matter, the Pirates will certainly do so. So, we can choose to start calling them wrong right now or we can simply sit on that for a little while longer and talk about what we need to see to change our minds.

Well, here it is for me, someone who he tangibly makes better.

Show me a guy like Mitch Keller looking confident in his approach and refining what he does. Give me a guy like Wil Crowe finding a way to consistently have more of his pitches working more often. Hit me with a Nick Mears having that velocity and hitting his spots.

Show me something.

His plan doesn’t just cover the MLB club, it’s the entire organization. So when we hear chatter about Joel Hanrahan being some kind of whisperer, just keep in mind he’s whispering Oscar’s sweet nothings. If indeed Joel is doing a better job instructing, well, that’s not the same as having the wherewithal to create and institute a global plan, and I’d also like to see someone give me an example of who he’s improved.

Someone has to prove something and if it doesn’t start next year they better move on just like they did for Eckstein. It’s not like Marin has this decade long log book of successes, he’s just got a great reputation for analytics driven pitch concepts, and sometimes that doesn’t translate to the actual throwers of the ball without a whisperer of some sort, someone who can translate.

Another thing that troubles me are plans that seem to want everyone to be the same.

We hated pitch to contact because it forced strikeout pitchers to ignore their skillset and instead hunt contact, now we have guys who simply don’t have the stuff hunting strikeouts when they just need to focus on getting soft contact.

One isn’t better than the other, and just because the coach has a philosophy doesn’t mean everyone has the skillset he’d like to coach. Sure over time the team can to some degree make sure he’s got the types of guys under his tutelage that can execute his concepts, but right now, how about a little flexibility?

At the end of the day, I’m unimpressed, but I hope to be proven wrong, that simply won’t happen without more than a couple showing something.

4. This is How it is, Cause it’s Always Been. That’s the Pirates, Right?

I get this all the time. Had more than a few people tell me Oneil Cruz absolutely won’t be a Pirate until 2023 because “that’s how the Pirates do things” or “if you think different you haven’t paid attention”.

Umm, who wants to tell them?

This is the same team, with the same logo and admittedly the same owner. Everything else has changed, now should we just ignore that?

Maybe we should assume Bob Nutting is making player decisions? Nah.

Listen, anything could happen at this point, you’d actually be better off looking at what Boston or Toronto have done than think you have the knowledge base to assume Pirates history will repeat itself.

In fact, just this week we were treated to two instances of “this isn’t very Piratey” in the form of Cruz and Contreras making their debuts a mere weeks after being promoted to AAA. I mean that’s a lot more what history shows of Cherington’s style, but you’re right, this Nutting guy who you think is pure evil is going to mastermind slow walking players through a system he allowed Ben to stock, you know, so there would be far more instances of prospects being ready in the first place.

I actually kinda feel silly writing this, my audience isn’t typically this blind after all.

None of this means I can or will predict with certainty when Cruz will be up for good, he could work his can off this off season and show up for Spring identifying those breaking pitches and doing everything with maturity, or he could require some more seasoning. Roansy could make the rotation right out of Spring or he too could have to go back down because they don’t like the shape of his changeup.

One thing it won’t be is Bob Nutting worried about whether he pays arbitration in 2025 or 2026.

At least let this management group make mistakes before we blame them for making them shall we? For instance, want to criticize them legitimately, how about their talent identification? They did a legitimately poor job picking up players on the waiver wire. They waited too long to pull the trigger on a hitting coach that wasn’t getting the job done. See, those things happened. Neal didn’t do those things, Frank was long gone for those events, that’s how it works.

5. For a Team That Didn’t Hit, It’s Funny How Many Guys People Want to Return

Sign Yoshi! Bring back Gamel! Difo is so good off the bench you can’t lose him! Moran wasn’t healthy let’s see what he does in 2022.

I’m not saying I disagree with any of those in particular, but you all do realize some of these players have to go or prospects can’t come up right? Keep Difo? Ok, but that means Tucker or Park or Chavis can’t be here. Keep Yoshi, that’s fine, but that DH spot might be nice for a younger guy too right?

It’s super easy to say this team stinks they need to get better at X, Y and Z, you know, until you have to embrace moving X, Y or Z out of the picture.

If the Pirates choose to trade say Colin Moran, I expect a healthy dose of CHEAP! But we are honestly entering uncharted territory for the past decade plus, they have actual players on the way, and that’s different than just trying like hell to acquire young talent, it’s about making room now.

Sometimes that’s going to mean you have to be ready to say goodbye to someone you’ve become attached to, or convinced yourself was an answer. Sometimes it happens to be a guy who goes on and does well in his next home too.

Others will simply never make it, instead being moved themselves to bring in better fitting pieces. Again, this isn’t something we’ve seen a ton of here, and it’s going to require you to use a different set of eyes to embrace.

Go sign a big name outfielder? Well, ok, but what happens when Swaggerty, Smith-Njigba, Mitchell or someone else is ready? I say this because some of these decisions won’t be about being too cheap to get one, it’ll be about wanting to leave room.

It’s different, and in case you haven’t noticed from the last 40+ years, different is kinda needed.

Oneil Cruz Finally Debuted For The Pirates On Saturday Night

10-4-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

Clearly, in the eyes of many Pirates Fans, the most exciting aspect of the Pittsburgh Pirates final series of the season was the debut of their tallest position player in team history, 6’7” shortstop Oneil Cruz. Once the news of his promotion dropped on Friday night, the show that Cole Tucker put on with the bat and in the field was quickly overshadowed. As Bryan Reynolds was in the midst of going 4 for 5, on his way to .303 AVG, .914 OPS and 6.0 bWAR/5.7 fWAR season, it was Cruz’s exit velocity-including when he got out-that filled my timeline. And, when Michael Chavis gave the Pirates the lead with a double down the line, it was the RBI single from Cruz-his first hit and RBI of his career-that stole the headlines. Even in a 6-3 season finale loss to to the Reds, what would otherwise been a meaningless homer run caused fans to leap from their seats, and couches; or a recliner in my case.

Believe me, I was just as excited as anyone about the debut of one of the Pirates top prospects. Hell, I watched every single at bat of his debut from my phone; with this view.

Whereas my partner in crime Gary Morgan was looking at this.

Still, there were some in the Pirates Fanbase that couldn’t just be happy with what was taking place; feeling the need to question how it all went down. So, instead of simply soaking in the moment, there had to be some sort of hot take or perceived negative that applied to this situation.

More than one perceived this as a money grab by Bob Nutting to get fans in the stands during the last home stand or to appease fans after a long losing season; with the same point being attached to the Roansy Contreras call-up earlier in the week. Others saw these as being long overdue, and that the only reason for it not happening sooner was to manipulate service time, as well as for Nutting to pad his wallet once again. Some even took some of the joy out of the situation by complaining about Cruz’s placement in the lineup; taking one last parting shot at Derek Shelton as the season came to a close.

Now the first point of contention, concerning fans being rewarding or trying to squeeze a few extra bucks out of them, is pretty hard to argue against-or in favor of for that matter-because there really aren’t cold hard facts to bolster your case. Still, my only real disagreements and/or concerns with this train of thought were: 1) It would be a bad precedence to set, as far as making moves to placate the fanbase. 2) If, Nutting was trying to make more money, why in the world would he want to bring up Contreras for a Wednesday start, as opposed to a Friday, Saturday or Sunday? Or, why wouldn’t he have brought Cruz up for the Friday game as well? 3) You are giving Bob Nutting way too much credit when it comes to any decision remotely related to anything that goes on between the chalk lines. 4) It’s not like you can pack the house with a one day notice. 5) Moves like these actually benefit the player. I noted on Saturday afternoon, prior to Cruz’s debut, one day of service time on the Major League Roster equals healthcare for a lifetime. 6) Promotions at the end of the season can be used as a potential motivator going into the off-season. See what you are working for Oneil and Roansy. Don’t you want to get back as soon as you possibly can?

In the next apparent slight concerning not handling promotion properly, there are similar complications in addressing Shelton’s positioning of Cruz, and his known power potential, towards the back of the lineup. Yes, Shelton is the one who ultimately makes up the card that is handed to the ump prior to the start of every game. And, yes Cruz had shown effortless power at times in the Minor Leagues, especially since his promotion to Triple-A; hitting five homers in six games; including this absolute jack to straightaway center.

However, as we all know power doesn’t always immediately transfer to the Majors. Also can’t we merely be happy with him being in the lineup, rather than manufacturing reasons why you don’t like Shelton? He has given us plenty of real reasons to question his performance throughout the season.

Then, we eventually come to one of the most firmly held positions, where facts can overwhelm a fairly flimsy stance on service manipulation. Yes, it is a real and often used practice to keep control over a player at fraction of the cost. Often guised as a needing to work on a certain aspect of their game or needing to prove their worth over a specified amount of time that isn’t simply a small sample size; which can often be a double edged sword, as many utilized an extremely small sample size to justify Cruz earning a shot on the Big League club earlier than Saturday. A few fans even went as far as comparing Cruz to a Fernando Tatis, Jr. or a Vlad Guerrero, Jr. in an attempt to make their point.

First off, Tatis and Guerrero are the exceptions not the rule. Guerrero never had an average below .300 after his first year in pro-ball when he hit .271 as a 17 year old in Advanced Rookie Level and his OPS ranged between .808 and 1.073 each year; while Tatis continuously improved as he moved up with no drop offs or bumps in the road. In 2017 at only 18 years old he hit 22 jacks between High-A and Double-A. He then came back in 2018 and hit 16 homers, as his average stayed steady going from .278 to .286. Plus, neither had to deal with an entire year away from the Minors like Cruz did in 2020. Add in the facts that Cruz hit .269 with only one homer in half a season in Double-A in 2019, started this year with a .256 average for the month of May and then was on the IL for almost two months after he had started to heat up. How, is this anywhere near the same path as the two players mentioned, and exactly when should Cruz have been promoted straight from Altoona to the Pirates? Was it before he was only able to compile 76 at bats with the Curve beginning on August 20th through the end of the season, during which he struck out 27.6% of the time, walked 6.5% and had a single homer going into the last series of the season?

Cruz wasn’t held back these past 2 years because of the Pirates. He was held back by a pandemic and an injury, along with inconsistent performance . It’s easy to point out those five homers with the Indians, but it is ignoring the big picture.

And truthfully it takes a little bit of enjoyment out of moments like this.

And, before you decide to get started with any preemptive frustrations as to where Cruz will start the season next year-because I can already feel those coming on-let’s just see how the off-season plays out first and how Cruz looks in Spring Training.

There are 177 days until Opening Day 2022. It’s gonna be a long off-season, with much more pertinent discussions to be had.

Pirates Lose Season Finale 6-3 to Reds

10-3-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

What can you say really?

You want me to paint manure with pastels and tell you it’s flowers?

162 games is a baseball season under normal circumstances and I’ll be blunt if last year hadn’t been shortened to such a small number of ballgames we might just be talking about back to back seasons like this. Based on winning percentage that almost has to be your assumption anyway.

Some of you understand why, some of you think they could have done this differently, but I assume most of you that have read along all season with me know this is the result of a host of mistakes and sometimes the only way to correct a mistake is to deal with the consequences, head on.

For starters, Mitch Keller took the ball on short rest and went 3 innings allowing one run. I can honestly say, he wasn’t the issue today. Cody Ponce on the other hand, yeah, he got punched in the mouth for 4 earned. Anthony Banda gave up another.

Before you knew it the score was 6-1 and if you watched last night, you might have actually felt ok.

In the bottom of the 9th down 6-1 Ben Gamel singled and Oneil Cruz blasted a homerun to make it 6-3.

6-3 Reds defeat the Pirates.

Offseason is officially here. Buckle up.

News & Notes

  • Bryan Reynolds played in 159 of the 162 games this year, started in the All Star Game as the Starting Center Fielder. Finished over .300 with 24 homeruns and 90 RBI. Should be at least in the running for comeback player of the year, gold glove and might even get some MVP votes. This isn’t just a good player, this is a star. Extend him, to the end of the decade. I want him on every iteration of this club at least that long. He pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th and appropriately made the last out on the year.
  • The Pirates used 61 players to complete this season, including 34 pitchers.
  • Craig and I will be all over the off season, and it’s full of questions both internally and for the league itself. In other words, we won’t be taking much of a break.
  • Next on the agenda is figuring out the 40-man, I’m going to take my time and do this right. Crucial decisions are coming and I don’t want to just make assumptions so I’ll be working with Craig to develop what we think will happen here, rest assured, someone we want protected from Rule 5, won’t be.
  • That’s 101 losses on the season and the Pirates officially finish the year without a sweep. That’s the 9th time this franchise has lost 100 games, but I should note even though most of you know this, baseball hasn’t always had 162 games.
  • Oneil Cruz hit his first homerun in the bottom of the 9th, a 2 run shot.

Tucker, Crowe Fuel 9-2 Victory Over Reds

10-2-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The score doesn’t do a game justice sometimes and this is no exception. 9-2 if you’re just waking up today simply won’t tell you what transpired here in Pittsburgh last night.

In fact, this was a 1-0 nail biter through 7 innings of this ballgame. Cole Tucker led off the game with a triple and scored on a sacrifice, and that was it.

Wil Crowe was simply dealing, 6 innings, 9 Ks, 2 BBs and he honestly could have and I believe would have gone another inning but for an excessively long bottom of the 6th that netted no runs but sure took it’s sweet time getting there while the Reds and David Bell played dirty with the rule book and a delayed challenge.

Oh, there was action and it was defensive. Check out Cole Tucker as he followed his Triple to keep that one run strong enough.

This is a catch that would typically be the highlight of the game…

But Cole instead went ahead and, pardon the pun here, doubled it up.

Wow. And if you’re a regular listener to the broadcast you know Greg Brown overuses that word, this was worthy in every way. That’s special my freinds.

Still the Pirates have that bullpen and they had to use it. Anthony Banda was called upon in the 7th and he would give up the tying run, really taking the air out of the room because the Pirates simply hadn’t gotten anything going with the sticks all game.

That would change in the 8th.

Kevin Newman with the bases loaded and the club already back up by one…

The Reds were kind enough to load the bases again and this time Cole Tucker was hunting an exclamation point.

Oh man, that is one hell of a game.

David Bednar would close it out albeit not the way he’d like giving up one more to the Reds to make it 9-2 but as I think you can see, the score wasn’t the story.

Cole Tucker was, Wil Crowe was.

Those are two names that most of us pundits and most of you fans have all but moved on from. I’ve probably written 30 times that Cole Tucker probably won’t survive the 40-man crunch, and I’ll be blunt here, one game doesn’t change that in and of itself, but it just might be enough to have the team not ready to let him go for free.

He’s never done anything with the bat to show he had what it takes, but in the past month his swing change has finally taken hold and it’s leading to more hard contact. I’m still 50/50 but if I had to guess, the Pirates aren’t, I think he’ll garner a spot on the 40 to say the least. Hard to sit here and say Hoy Park is better ya dig?

A nice moment for Cole Tucker last night as he received a standing ovation from the hardy souls who were in attendance taking the field in the 9th, and I’d just like you to think of how special someone had to look to get that the day after his team clinched a 100 loss season.

News & Notes

  • Shea Spitzbarth was recalled from AAA and Miguel Yajure was sent back down prior to the game
  • News broke late that the Pirates will call up Oneil Cruz for the last two games of the season. Don’t know the corresponding moves but it could easily be a pitcher that won’t go again like Crowe or Contreras
  • Exciting as this was, Cole Tucker is still a -0.6 WAR player. I don’t say this to crap on the kid, only to say he’s still got work to do, but he may have done enough to buy another shot.
  • Kevin Newman has had a much better second half than his first, he and Cole are both going to make the Bucs think.
  • Bryan Reynolds had much of the night off before entering the contest in the 8th.

Pirates Put An Exclamation Point On Their 100 Loss Season

10-1-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

Last night versus a dismantled Chicago Cubs lineup-one without Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant-the Pittsburgh Pirates lost their 100th game in the 2021 season; the 9th of its kind in their 140 year franchise history, and the first since 2010. Now, it’s not like we as Pirates Fans didn’t see this coming, at least the possibility of it; even if we didn’t actually predict it.

Prior to the start of the season I wrote down 63-99 as my record prediction for your Pittsburgh Pirates, but only because I didn’t want to see the number 100 in black and white. There was always a chance that this was going to happen. With the departure of Joe Musgrove, Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon in the off-season, and the almost certain trade of Adam Frazier during the season-which obviously came to fruition-this season alway had the potential of putting another stamp in the history books.

What Pirates Fans didn’t see coming was a Ke’Bryan Hayes stint on the IL from the beginning of April-only two games into the season-until June 3rd; or Colin Moran missing two full months of the season as well with a groin injury, followed by a broken pisiform bone after being hit on the hand.

Compound that with injuries to Travis Swaggerty, Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz and last night’s starter Miguel Yajure, and you have no real chance of providing prospective support to the Major League Roster. Hence, the continual waiver wire watch by Ben Cherington and Company.

It has been a bad season, and overall this is a very bad team. There is absolutely no denying this. However, just remember that the ones that were predicting 120 losses, will be just a close to actual number of wins and losses as the optimistic Pirates Fans that were hopeful in their anticipation of a 75 win season. And, in all honesty do any of us really come out on top in this scenario? In between arguments of real fans and fanboys? The answer is no. We are all Pittsburgh Pirates Fans, and honestly it totally sucks that our team just lost 100 games. Let’s just focus on that.

News and Notes

  • Miguel Yajure wasn’t himself last night. He was missing about 4 to 5 mph on most of his pitches, which ultimately and unfortunately led to batting practice for the Cubs during he first two innings. Still, as I mentioned earlier, I would point more towards the two and half months on the IL with right forearm and elbow discomfort, than the assertions by some on Pirates Social Media that he just plain sucks, or in a couple cases calling for a DFA; which is a term that I am now convinced, most don’t truly understand. However, once again there is no denying that Yajure’s line of 2IP/7H/7ER/2BB/1K/2HR sucked.
  • Former Pirates Draft Pick, Tanner Anderson was called up in the long relief role, and pitched 5 innings for only the second time this entire season. The Cubs got to Anderson in the top of the 5th for two more runs, with the game already way out of reach by that point.
  • Cole Tucker’s road trip hot streak has cooled off significantly. He is 3 for his last 19, and is hitting .238 for the month of September.
  • Anthony Alford is back to striking out 50% of the time over his last 7 games, but is still holding strong at .265 over his last 24. And, Yoshi Tsutsugo is now on a 4 for 26 streak, with only one home run over his last 21 games. He struck out 3 times in 4 at bats last night.
  • Bryan Reynolds is currently batting .298 with a .902 OPS and 24 homers. Please Baseball Gods can you just give Pirates Fans something this year? .300+, .900+ and 25 home runs is all we are asking for.

The Pirates begin their final series of the year against the Cincinnati Reds tonight, with Wil Crowe (4-8, 5.77 ERA) on the mound and yours truly in attendance.

For Cincinnati, Luis Castillo (8-16, 4.05 ERA) will toe the rubber.

Welcome to Buctober!

Local Boy Trey McGough Makes Every Inning Count In Altoona

9-30-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

The Bradenton Marauders captured the Low-A Southeast League Championship with a sweep of the Tampa Tarpons nearly a week ago. After the rain held off the long enough, the Greensboro Grasshoppers fell to the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the deciding game five of the High-A East League Championship Series. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Indians have four games remaining in their season thanks to the new “Final Stretch”; introduced just this year to give all Triple-A teams a couple extra weeks full of games. Now as far as the Altoona Curve and the majority of their players are concerned, their season officially ended almost two weeks ago at this point.

Obviously, this doesn’t account for the eight Curve players that received end of the season promotions to the Indians; along with Roansy Contreras, who made his much anticipated Major League Debut for the Pirates just yesterday, However, for all intents and purposes, when the lights went out at People’s Natural Gas Field, about 25 young men were sent packing; with the possibilities of the Fall Instructional League, numerous Foreign Winter Leagues or the Arizona Fall League on the horizon. None of which are guaranteed.

One such player was the Curve’s Pitcher of the Year, Trey McGough. Yes, the local boy from Johnstown, Pennsylvania; who I am guessing many Pirates Fans didn’t know about before this year, and maybe some still don’t.

Originally drafted in the 24th Round of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft from the less famous Mountaineers of West Virginia-Mount St. Mary’s University-McGough began his professional career with the Advanced Rookie Level Bristol Pirates before returning to the land of John Denver in order to join the Short Season Low-A Black Bears to close out the season. And, while his first taste of the Minors was not necessarily ideal as he saw his ERA jump from 1.04 to 7.04 with the promotion, there were still some positive signs-like his 41 strikeouts to 9 walk ratio-that he could potentially build upon; which is exactly what this young man did.

To begin the 2021 season, McGough found himself in a not so friendly pitching environment, with assignment to the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers; yet he did let this bother him in the slightest. In 6 appearances, including one 5 inning start, and across 18 innings of work he earned a 2.00 ERA and a .889 WHIP before being promoted to Altoona; ultimately settling right into the regular rotation; as well as getting his own shersey, with $5 from each one sold going to his charity of choice-Buddy’s Christmas Wish List. They sold out pretty quickly if you were wondering.

For McGough it was a welcomed homecoming from the get-go as his hometown is only about a 50 minute drive from the ballpark; allowing family and friends to attend his nine starts at PNG Field.

On the season, McGough would make a total of 18 starts for the Curve; posting a 3.41 ERA and a 1.158 WHIP by mixing his low 90’s fastball seamlessly with a deceptive changeup, as well as a nice healthy curve.

Even so, after all this success, McGough didn’t get the call for his second promotion of the season; granted I would attribute this more to the 113 innings he already pitched this year than anything else. Which would also more than likely play into a full off-season to recoup and getting ready for 2022; hopefully, in an Indianapolis Indians jersey, even though it is a little bit further of a commute for his mom and dad.

Pitching, The Pirates, and Why We Just Can’t Get on the Same Page

9-30-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Man, I’ll tell you something that has constantly been a theme this entire season is the pitching usage. Between the Pirates aggressive limitations placed on some arms to the overt lack of good options, we really need to just sit here and understand what we’re seeing.

If you want to start thinking about the Pirates pitching this season and come out of it with a scapegoat, it’s gonna be a tough conversation because the truth is, it’s pretty evenly spread around.

I’m going to first outline the plan, who formulated it, why it’s been done and then we’ll dig in on some individual arguments.

The Plan

If I told you there is buried treasure next to the north facing wall of Fort Pitt with a giant Gold X on it and everyone chose to ignore it, it’s kinda not on me nobody found the treasure is it?

Well, when Steve Sanders, Ben Cherington, Derek Shelton and Oscar Marin all told us in Spring the team planned to use upwards of 30 pitchers to get through 2021 following the shortened and or non existent 2020 most arms went through, I’m guessing most of you took it as hyperbole.

Turns out, they were serious. Very in fact. They’ve used 34 and that’s if you don’t count the position players who’ve toed the rubber.

The Pirates set aggressive pitch counts and innings caps for every arm on the roster, even did it for guys they brought in after Spring.

Of course it has flexibility, but not much. For instance, the club let JT Brubaker blow through his preordained cap before he landed on the IL. Why? Well, when they laid the plan out, Steven Brault was supposed to handle X amount of innings, Trevor Cahill was expected to deliver X amount. So on and so forth.

Now, I don’t think this plan really helped as much as they hoped, worse I think it prevented some players from truly growing too, but we’ll get into all that as we go through this.

Point is, what we’re seeing is the plan, and the scrap at the end here is due to trying to maintain those limits the team self imposed. It’s not Derek Shelton being afraid, it’s not pitchers collectively not being capable, it’s not Ben Cherington calling in the 5th screaming to get a guy out of there or that he wants to see so and so in this situation, it’s a long term plan that the team from trainers on up thought would keep guys healthy and set them up for healthy off seasons and strong 2022.

Problem is, I think it prevented us and the organization from getting answers on guys. Some of those guys like Wil Crowe probably wouldn’t see the over on five innings regardless of organizational limitations, others certainly would have, so please don’t mistake this for a defense that every pitcher here could or even would do more, we simply didn’t get to see in most cases.

If They Were Trying to Prevent Injury, it Sure Hasn’t Worked

Well, sort of. See the first thing we need to do is acknowledge, many of these “injuries” are simply not injuries. Many of these guys have hit their cap and the team wants to keep them right there so you get “arm fatigue” or “lower back soreness” which translates to We don’t want or need to see them throw one more pitch this season.

I hate to keep going back to the same example, but JT Brubaker is a great example again, he exceeded his cap this season, and blew his personal top line for innings pitched out of the water in 2021. Fatigue set in right around the All Star Break, and it was evidenced by his drop in velocity and spin rate. And no, he’s not a sticky stuff guy, he’s just a guy who’s had injuries, and has thrown far more than he ever has. It’s dead arm.

Mitch Keller on the other hand has handled a load like that before and his limit is set higher, so even though he hasn’t performed well (or perhaps because of it, meaning he didn’t use as many innings as prescribed) he still has innings to give.

There is no sure fire method to prevent injuries, and if anyone finds one it’ll spread like COVID did across the league. Until then, this is largely the process every team engages in to some degree, the Pirates were just more aggressive with it.

For instance, when they had Tyler Anderson the Pirates set a cap for him, but knew beyond a shadow of doubt he’d only be a Pirate until the trade deadline, so if they turned him over to Seattle with like 30 left, so be it. If Seattle thought their limit was BS and used him far beyond that, again, that’s on them.

Believe it or not, players want this kind of protection, despite your Nolan Ryan quotes at the ready. Protecting arms, or even just the mere appearance of trying to can make a team more desirable to free agents. Clay Holmes made this very point in the off season, after being non tendered he decided to resign with the Bucs because he liked the instruction he was receiving and believed in the process, he also directly mentioned the protection of his health as a selling point.

Look I get it, Holmes isn’t exactly Kershaw, but those things matter, so while I personally think they took it too far, it’s not that uncommon league wide.

It’s Kinda Like a Household Budget

At the beginning of the season every team knows roughly how many innings they have to absorb on the mound. 1,458, now this is rough because sometimes the road team doesn’t have to throw the bottom of the ninth, sometimes there are extra innings, we have the 7 inning double headers to contend with as well, but that number will be in the ballpark.

If that’s your budget you have to figure out how you’ll spend them and again the Pirates planned on it taking about 30 arms which they weren’t all that far off from. Just like you when your Dryer breaks down, you have to scramble to find the budget to fix it, so the Pirates (also having no savings account in AAA really) go and get Kyle Keller types and Conner Overton’s to fit the bill.

If they are in striking distance of a playoff perhaps they try to go get a Maytag, but in a season like this, they go to a yard sale and get a 1987 Whirlpool.

Why Aren’t Any of Them Getting Better?

How do I say this delicately?

Eh, why bother, I’m just not sold on Oscar Marin or his pitching plan. I see far too many guys quickly get to 0-2 and then nibble their way into loading the bases. Yes, that’s on the pitcher, but it’s also on the staff. When you have a entire stable of pitchers who simply don’t trust they have a pitch that can turn that 0-2 into an out without convincing a guy to chase you have a problem.

Watch where the catcher sets up and watch how much differently they pitch once they get the count in their advantage. This would be like negotiating with the car dealer to knock five grand off the price of the car you’re looking at then begging them to let you pay 4 grand more. It’s silly and needless.

Far too often they let this situation play out until the inevitable happens and at some point that’s not on the pitcher, that’s on the coaching. Doesn’t have to be a strikeout there, but 0-2 more often than not needs to equal an out. You have earned the advantage of throwing something too close to take, but not something that the hitter can put a good swing on, so don’t piss it away nibbling yourself into having to go back over the heart.

Some of that’s youth, most of it is teaching kids to hunt the strikeout when soft contact would do the job. They stressed defense this year and to much acclaim as they have the 6th best defense in the league, so teach the pitchers to use it to their advantage.

The limits have created an environment where getting through innings economically doesn’t matter. If I can nibble my way through a scoreless inning throwing 33 pitches, well it only matters if you expected to see 6 out of me. If I knew 4 or 5 was my cap, who cares, scoreless is scoreless right?

Point is, we just don’t know what some of these guys have because they simply aren’t asked to show us.

Tyler Anderson was a great example of this, say a guy got to third with one out, well he pitched to the play, knowing the batter was trying to hit a fly ball, sometimes he’d send his low 90’s fastball up in the zone knowing he’d get a swing, if the hitter did his job it’s a sac fly, if he didn’t it’ was a pop up or maybe even a swing and miss.

Now look at most of the other pitchers, runner at third with less than 2 outs and they exclusively hunt a strikeout, which more often than not turns into a walk and an even messier situation. The value of 1 run being less than 2 or 3 has simply not reached many of these kids. Again, that’s on coaching.

How Can They Preach Saving Arms Then Use 7 in a Game?

Again, go back to the budget concept, it’s not about how many it takes, it’s about how many they go. The Pirates have also done something I personally dislike on this front, not every bullpen arm is capable of giving you 2 innings, but the Pirates desperately want all of them to show the capability.

Sam Howard has no business seeing two innings, and it’s so apparent just from the evidence we’ve seen this year I’m dumbfounded they keep trying it. He’s deceptive, but not if you’ve seen him twice. He’s capable of getting guys out, but not if he ramps back to try for 2 innings. After 35 pitches he’s gassed, and visibly so, yet for the best part of the year, the Pirates just keep trying to make it so.

I say this loud for those in the back refusing to hear it, just because I understand the plan, doesn’t mean I endorse it.

This method works fine for plenty of teams, none better than the Brewers and Rays but the Pirates are trying to win a horse race with a donkey here and what an appropriate animal reference that is especially when you factor in the stubbornness with which they employ it.

Will This Still be Happening in 2022?

To some degree yes, but the limits should increase now that almost everyone has more under their belt in recent history. The overriding theory is that going from 0-60 was a bad idea, so instead they used 2021 (knowing full well they weren’t competing) to go 0-30.

In theory I get it, in practice I feel like now we have to spend time learning things in 2022 they should have learned in 2021. Not a blanket statement, for instance, I think we’ve learned that in my opinion Wil Crowe isn’t a starter, at least not without pinpoint fastball command. They haven’t really held him back because again he’s reaching pitch limits in the 4th, and universal limits, not just Pirates self imposed suggested caps.

Someone like Bryse Wilson has a bulldog mentality (most of the ones cultivated elsewhere seem to) and I’d like to think he can handle giving you 7 a decent amount of the time, but we’ll never know because only Atlanta let him.

In short, I believe it will be less restrictive and pitchers won’t be as interchangeable but I don’t see them completely getting away from this train of thought which in my humble opinion will also make 2022 Oscar Marin’s last in a Pirates uniform.

In Conclusion

I really hope everyone understands the difference between getting what they’re doing and supporting it. I cover this team with an eye toward explaining what’s happening and give my thoughts on how it could be improved on. So when you complain that Derek Shelton needs to grow a pair because he pulled a guy after 4 scoreless and 74 pitches, I’m here to tell you you’re aiming at the wrong target in most cases. Doesn’t mean I think Shelton is doing everything right or that I even believe he’s the right guy for the job, but he’s executing a plan that was largely built and presented to him.

I’m not sure ‘better’ will be enough next year, so I truly hope they see this too and prepare to adjust, if they don’t they run the risk of wasting some of the talent they worked so hard to acquire, and quite simply the Pittsburgh Pirates can’t afford it.