Pirates Need Move To Another Re-Build Phase?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-t74ng-12b8c75

From angst over who made the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame to dropping OPS numbers throughout the lineup, Pirates fans are annoyed this week. It may be an indication that this phase of the rebuild has gone on long enough. We make a case for long-term free agent additions this offseason and discuss how the Pirates Hall should expland in the coming years in “30 Minutes of Bucs!”

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

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

9-5-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Good afternoon and Happy Labor Day to everyone out there.

The Pirates are a bad team, playing an extra tough portion of their schedule. That would be hard enough, but lets add in mismanagement and a total lack of awareness and you have a recipe for a whole bunch of gross.

1. Goals Matter

The Pirates have 29 games left.

Out of those games the Pirates can only lose 15 more if they are to avoid 100 losses. Now, don’t get me wrong, they stink one way or another, but if I’m this coach, and this management team, I gather everyone around and I challenge the team to go out and get those 14 more wins, hell I challenge them to get 15 for good measure.

I’d love to see Ben Cherington sit down with Shelton, and ask who’s helping and who’s not. Coaching, players, everyone.

Make the requested changes, and in exchange, tell him to go get those 15 wins. If he doesn’t he’s done. If he does, he avoids lame duck status by popping an extra year on his deal.

Put some damn stakes on this thing. More than anything, tell him you and your entire management group is going to be out of his ear. No more at bat requirements. No more needing to see so and so get this many innings. Every decision is Shelton’s and Shelton’s alone.

And don’t come crying later that your hitting coach or pitching coach were a problem. If you chose to keep them for this 29 game stretch, tough. If you chose to move on and you succeed, you get to pick the next completely on your own.

Challenge the players. Shelton will be playing who he sees fit, not who the team told him to. Performance matters, results matter, not some predetermined number of at bats you get regardless of how you do.

I’m not asking for a Rachel Phelps style countdown, but I do think there must be a reason to finish this thing out strong. Something must be at some point on the line. Maybe I’ve taken it too far here, maybe, but I just don’t care.

The time for fairness is over. The time for patience is over. It’s time for something that all good baseball players, or minimally people who play this game the right way thrive under. Pressure.

Kids. Show us something or understand that the next wave is coming. Coaches. Show us something or your replacements will be interviewed. Enough is enough, time for the pressure and hopefully scraping this season off the floor.

After all, most of this roster is returning, if he can’t manage them down the stretch, why should he manage them next year?

2. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

All three of these things live in one player, Oneil Cruz. Oneil struggles with off speed pitches, consistently throwing the baseball to first base, especially when he has time, and even with all of that, he has 12 homeruns in 225 at bats. Struck out 91 times too of course, but I don’t need to tell you, that kind of homerun production adds up to 36 or so in a full slate of playing time.

Yeah, he’s batting .200 ish. Yeah he has a long way to go yet. Know what though, he has some tremendous talent, and that’s why it’s worth getting excited over him.

That’s why the exit velocity is important too. Yes it’s added up to that batting average so far, but when you hit the ball hard, good things happen.

I know, I know, you still don’t care.

Listen, it matters. And so do the results that he’s not yet getting, yet.

There is a whole list of things to hate about this team, an even bigger list of things to be irritated by, if the way Oneil Cruz has played as a rookie in his 62 games this year is among either of those lists for you, I don’t blame you, I blame the Pirates. Since Barry friggin’ Bonds the Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a player with this many tools. No, not even Andrew. Not Polanco, not Marte, nobody since Barry Lamar Bonds.

That is a track record of ineptitude beyond measure. Especially considering in the first 20 years of this decade nobody, and I mean NOBODY spent as much on the draft and scouting.

I’m telling you the Pirates have never put someone like this in front of you, no wonder you don’t know what it looks like. When you see other players come up on other teams you largely get to miss this part. You see them pop up, know the name, realize they’re supposed to be decent, maybe see them hit a ball hard and then they’re out of your way for a couple more months. Suddenly they just appear looking super great and your jealous ass says why can’t my team develop like that? Me too for that matter.

Baseball is hard. Cruz may never get to the point where his tools all reach their peak. I’m certainly not saying Cruz is as good as Bonds or that he ever will be. I’m saying you know special when you see it, you just maybe can’t recognize it until matures a bit more.

Don’t be discouraged, the talent is very real, and if you’re worried about who’s coaching him, you should be.

3. This Club Has No Choice but to Get 2 Starters

This team has needs, but starters are chief among them. JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, and Roansy Contreras will be the only starters we’ll be able to write in pen next to starter on the roster. They have other options but the Pirates must show improvement next year and that’s going to require an investment right here.

They have Johan Oviedo, and he’ll get a shot. They have Mike Burrows and Cody Bolton, but neither of them can be expected to start immediately. Maybe Quinn Priester will make his way to Pittsburgh next year, but it won’t be immediate either.

Even if they were considered ready, the Pirates need to build in resistance for their arrival. Create a wall, ask the to climb over it or wait for an injury to create opportunity. From here on out, that’s the way this team needs to think. Kids need to play, but kids need to find their way to the league on their own. No more propping the door open, instead, give them the ability to unlock the door themselves with milestones and goals baked in. Building with kids is a must, but relying on them, well that isn’t going to be a winning strategy.

4. Arms are Currency, But They Need to Be Pitchers

The Pirates have spent 3 years buying arms. Their main goal has been innings, but at some point they need to be quality innings. The pitching depth will improve as the farm system gets closer to MLB but until that time, waiting for whomever happens to appear on the waiver wire isn’t enough.

Sign those two starters up there I mentioned, but then do more. Get more options in AAA to fill the top end of the system with as many pitchers as you can sign. Baseball isn’t a forgiving game, even the Dodgers are short on pitching, but when they call someone up, someone they had in their system, they tend to be worth the trouble.

I personally like guys like Cam Vieaux and Cal Aldred, but if the Pirates don’t, perhaps they shouldn’t be in their system any longer.

Increase the quality of your depth pool and increase the chances that when you inevitably have to dip into that pool you might actually want them to do well and stick around.

5. Endy Has to Have a Chance Next Spring

I’m not crazy, of course they’ll want to manipulate his time, even if that BS has long since run it’s course, but Endy Rodriguez is a player hitting better than anyone in the system, and at a position of need.

He can handle being the catcher, and he can add offense from a position that has provided little. They should still sign a veteran, but Rodriguez has simply been rising so quickly I’m not sure even this team can truly keep him from winning the job outright.

This doesn’t need to be a Henry vs Endy thing, there is room for both to be on this team, and the bats matter much more than where they play.

Pirates Pride & Shame Share the Stage

9-4-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a historical franchise in North American sports.

No, really. If you study the history of this game or any game for that matter, the Pittsburgh Pirates were there at the beginning. They have a rich and storied history that we all should rightly appreciate, but in celebrating 19 members of that historic lineage, it’s impossible to ignore the man currently overseeing it’s stewardship.

Bob Nutting saw protests yesterday as he presided over the inaugural class of the Pirates Hall of Fame. Relatively small really, but vocal enough to garner some attention. Misguided in some ways, short sighted in others, frustrated on all fronts.

The first part of this whole thing was of course the hall itself, it’s long overdue. The players who were inducted, well, it was a healthy mix of players who everyone would consider no brainers, Negro League stars finally getting the appreciation they richly deserved, and some who haven’t been recognized adequately by the MLB Hall of Fame yet.

There was no chance the celebration was going to happen while ignoring the current state of the baseball team. In fact, there was little chance it was going to happen without fans realizing they’ve maybe had one player past 1994 who’ll earn his way on that wall one day.

I mean here we are celebrating someone like the Cobra, Dave Parker, you know, the guy who said when the leaves turn brown I’ll be wearing the batting crown? We’re doing that under the shadow of the current team that hasn’t scored more than 2 runs 54 times so far. And I have to say so far, because watching them play, how could you assume that’s turning around?

It all had the feel of attending a graduation party for a kid you know has to go to Summer school to finish up. Know what I mean? It feels somehow hollow.

It’s not like I lack respect for anyone who was enshrined. It’s not like I think they should have put it off even longer waiting for a winning team. It’s not as though you could do something like this and not involve Bob Nutting.

Now, the protests. One was a relatively quiet protest, several people held up signs that simply said #SellTheTeam and they were largely ignored. The other, more disruptive, was a gentlemen on a bullhorn screaming at Bob Nutting “What are you doing for the black community?”. Now, of all the things Bob has done wrong, Pirates Charities and their community outreach efforts have not been one of them in my eyes, but ok.

Both accomplished nothing, just like the team they trotted out last night.

Several members of the Media tried to get Bob Nutting to speak to the on field product yesterday. Here’s one and he has a nice write up in the PG.

Now, a smart PR unit, probably has him prepared to follow that statement, which is totally fair given the event by the way, with something like, ok I’ll sit down with all of you next week.

Again, he was right, last night should have been about these amazing men, but they had to be prepared to face questions. After all Bob hasn’t spoken to the media without restrictions on the topics since Spring and even then it was limited.

Funny thing is, I can’t think of anything Bob could say that would truly improve the state of fans and their attitude toward ownership or management.

Really though, that’s beside the point. You still have to do it. You still owe fans hearing answers to specific questions, and if those answers are evasive as they tend to be, expect fans to demand them asked again, this time with more oomph.

I don’t expect Bob to have an opinion on Andy Haines, because none of that is where he has input really. If a question as general as “how do you feel about the current state of the team?” is too invasive though, we’ve got issues. Again, I’d expect the answer to be underwhelming doubletalk, but no comment doesn’t cut it.

‘Obviously we expect to keep getting better’ doesn’t work either. First of all, in order to “keep” getting better, one has to start getting better.

If an owner is spending money, and you know what I mean, like league average money, fans probably have their ire targeted at the GM. If the GM has provided good players and the team isn’t winning, the fans’ ire is likely targeted at the coach.

When the owner is not spending money, the GM continues to field or roster players that don’t even meet replacement level standards and the coach misuses the little talent he does have, don’t expect fans to just smile their way through a beautiful hall of fame ceremony.

None of this even acknowledges that Toronto Blue Jays fans outnumbered Pirates fans 3 to 1 easily. I mean, Toronto is always going to travel when they play here, but for this game to be that lopsided, and not a sellout with the HOF ceremony, a drone show on a nice Summer night, yeah, I might come to realize I have to talk to the fans.

Look, I feel bad even writing this piece. None of the 19 men being enshrined or their families deserve to have it tainted by how the franchise has trended since any of them wore the uniform. It’s not on them that they’re being honored at a time when the team is actively dishonoring their legacies.

All of the inductees and their families were gracious, if not generous with their comments and interviews, but none of them could possibly be pleased with what has happened to the team they earned their honors.

Fans deserve more. I don’t mean some pie in the sky goal to never be below .500 again, or something silly like that, but they deserve answers, even if they’re bad ones. They deserve hearing from people in charge. They deserve more than a nice night out. They deserve not having their stadium taken over by opposition fans on a near nightly basis.

Nothing against Blue Jays fans, they were actually great. I was at both games of this series and both times felt like I was rooting for the visitor. The Mets will bring the same when they arrive.

When the Cardinals come to town, there will be more people rooting for Albert Pujols to hit number 700 than fans rooting for Oneil Cruz to hit one in the river.

This environment is a reflection of the Nutting stewardship of this once proud franchise.

He’ll never be a beloved character in Pittsburgh. Even if somehow Ben Cherington pulls off the impossible and wins it all here. In that case it will be the story of how Cherington overcame the limitations of his ownership to deliver a championship to Pittsburgh, not a partnership that netted the victory. All that said, he has to start facing the fans much more, especially when he plans on being very publicly involved with something meant to call on the legends that used to patrol the diamond here in Pittsburgh.

This year is lost, and worse than that, it was clear they didn’t plan for it to be anything but a poor season. Unless they tell us how they plan to change that in 2023 why would fans expect anything else? They’ll return a very similar roster, and while kids get better, that responsibility is a lot to put on a group that right now can’t muster 5 hits per game with any regularity. Sure would be nice to hear from management that they planned to invest at least enough to ensure we could look forward to a respectable team.

Next year will be year 4 of this rebuild. It’ll also be year 4 of journalists and fake media like me trying like hell to read tea leaves and help you know what to expect.

All I’m saying is, that shouldn’t be our job.

Unfortunately those who should wear that responsibility would rather not say. They’d rather keep us looking backward at the greatness that was, in the hopes we’ll ignore the ineptness that it has become.

Bittersweet pretty much says it all.

One day when Andrew McCutchen makes the wall, it’ll serve as a reminder that this team hasn’t been playing the same game as most of the league for the best part of 4 decades. It should be a celebration of his accomplishments, what he meant to this franchise and all that stuff will surely be sold, but in the back of your mind, you’ll know.

Make time to talk to fans Bob. Not just season ticket holders either. Make time to talk to the fans that firmly believe you don’t care. Make time to talk to the fans who believe you want payroll to compete for the bottom spot year over year for your bottom line as opposed to your GM’s plan.

Put yourself out there. Take the egg on your face for a while. Answer tough questions with tougher answers. Maybe try actually accepting publicly that you haven’t done a good job with your responsibility to oversee the lasting tradition of this historic franchise.

We may never like you, but maybe we could come to respect the effort. Here’s another thing too, if you do manage to get better next year, maybe refrain from I told you so’s.

Let’s Spend Bob’s Money!

8-31-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Since 2007 Bob Nutting has principally owned the Pittsburgh Pirates. Way back then the Pirates payroll was 38.5 Million and the top spenders in the game sat at 189.6 Million from the New York Yankees.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t even the lowest payroll in baseball that year, that honor goes to the Rays at 24.1 Million.

Throughout the years the disparity has increased as baseball left payroll caps and floors completely unchecked. By 2013, a good year if you’ll recall, the Pirates had the 20th ranked payroll in baseball at 79.5 Million, while the Yankees rested at 228.8.

None of this is meant to be a defense of Bob Nutting, simply to illustrate how long this has been a problem both in baseball and locally. If anything, you should take from this a realization that the league’s top end spending has gone up far faster than the rock bottom has. That’s on Bob Nutting and owners like him, they could and should do more.

We’ve pissed and moaned about money and payroll for so long and it really hasn’t mattered, hell it doesn’t matter now either. The bottom spenders tend to stay bottom spenders, except when they creep out of their ditch for a stretch they affectionately call a window.

So he did what all owners like him do, they hire a GM who promises if they are allowed to tear everything down and start over, they’ll provide a team that doesn’t require 200 million to win. Sure it’ll take time. Sure the fans will get pissed. Sure the players won’t enjoy playing here, but one day, after all that is over you’ll look up and have a young, cheap, dynamic team that requires little more than a few vet patches. Think about it, that’s the sales job. You can win, I can get it done if you’re willing to give me time, and when I ask for money, it’s not going to be a number that scares you because I’m so smart you just won’t need much.

Man is it harder to do than it sounds first of all. And, at some point you likely must spend, and spend real dollars. The Rays aren’t a model most cities can pull off, and I’m not even getting into organizational excellence, I’m simply talking about how likely fans are to accept never winning it all and never keeping stars.

Oh I know Wander Franco!!!! Shut up Gary you don’t know what…. Chill, and at least be smart enough to know he isn’t going to finish that contract out in Tampa.

Pirates fans can still get fooled into thinking that’s an attractive path because they watch a team that neither wins consistently or keeps their stars, so settling for one sounds super sweet.

I keep hearing that the Pirates should spend 100 million next year and that it’ll magically make them look much better.

First thing to realize is all the numbers you’ll see for payroll posted by sources will likely be in the mid 30’s, but reality is by the end of the year in the Forbes report, it’ll likely be close to 60 million. Give or take of course. You can complain that it’s not a true number, but then you also have to say the same for the Dodgers too right? Shave 30 mil off all the numbers if it makes you more comfortable, but I’m going to go with what is publicly accepted and verified. The only one of those is Forbes and until December I’ll have to rely on a best guess.

So let’s say next year they have to get it up around 100, the first thing you get to do is add up the difference and that of course gets you to 40 million. Next, take the guys who won’t be back or are already sold off and you get to closer to 55 million or so.

OK, so we know what we have to play with now. 55 million. OH I almost forgot, we’ll have arbitration awards and whatnot. Probably looking at about 13-15 there, so lets backtrack to that 40 million dollar figure.

We’ve identified some spots they have need and no prospects close. That’s Pitching, catcher, and first base.

For 40 million you should really get a chance to improve those spots drastically.

A couple starters would help tremendously. A solid vet lefty for the pen too. Have to get a catcher again. First base is tough, if only because there aren’t a ton available but make no mistake they need one.

That sounds like 40 million easy to me and it leaves plenty of breathing room for the positions they’re poised to fill internally, at least at this stage.

So, let’s do it. Spending time…

First up is Catcher.

Christian Vazquez – C – 2022 salary $7 Million – 32 years old
I believe the Pirates could get this done if they offered 2 years and were willing to go 10 Million per. I think this is a bit of an overpay, I also think the Pirates simply will have to do that at this stage. This provides a veteran to provide an easy on boarding process for whichever prospect you think will eventually take the role.

That leaves us with 30-ish million to spend.

Next we have to hit First Base.

Before I get too deep here, what’s available via free agency isn’t deep. Brandon Belt, Jose Abreu, Josh Bell, Carlos Santana. I can’t even guarantee 3 of those won’t retire, and Josh Bell isn’t going to take less than 15 million per, not with his agent, not without some length.

You could look at Yulieski Gurriel, but he’s 38 years old, and man, I don’t know what he has left in the tank.

After those, total drop off. Like Colin Moran is near the top of that list.

This one I think I’d have to take a different approach.

Swing a deal with Boston for Eric Hosmer. I know he’s not been great and he comes with 3 consecutive years of player options. Each worth 13 million and bluntly, he won’t get that on the open market, so he’d be foolish to exercise any of them. I can’t imagine Boston would require much return to get this done either, might even eat some of his 2023 salary to swing it.

So here it is…

Eric Hosmer – 1B – 2022 salary $20 Million – 33 years old
This would be equivalent to a 3 year 39 million dollar contract if it’s fully realized. It’s also important to note that he has a limited no trade clause, so he could easily say no to Pittsburgh, but a player who won’t exercise his option and still wants to play is eventually going to have to accept that his best bet is with a team that needs him, even as a diminished asset.

If he bets on himself, a season in Pittsburgh with the short porch in right he could potentially bet on himself and opt out after 2023, which would be fine by the Pirates I’m sure. Either way, this looks like the most attractive option to me.

And it takes our running total down to like 17-ish left to spend.

Have to go with Starting Pitching here right?

Listen, I’m going to dig in quick and go right after it.

Tyler Anderson – SP – 2022 salary $8 Million – 33 years old
I’m going after someone who performed well here, knows the staff, did really well after being traded to Seattle. Did even better after signing with the Dodgers. He’s earned a significant raise, and he’s for sure earned more than a one year deal.

I’d offer him 3 years, 15 Million per. I think that’ll get it done, and I think they could even get away with the 3rd year being a mutual option.

That leaves us 2 million more or so.

Have to get another pitcher here, and if we stick to 100 million as a pseudo budget Jose Quintana will have himself priced out. OK, I’m taking a stab.

Chad Kuhl – SP – 2022 salary $3 Million – 30 years old
Chad went to Colorado and put up a slightly over 5 ERA which there isn’t the end of the world. Estimating what he’ll get paid in free agency is tough to say the least. I don’t think he’d take 2 but let’s face it, the entire premise of this is fake so F it let’s exceed it. I’d offer Chad 4 million and an opportunity to start.

OK, so we probably build out about a $102 Million dollar payroll.

Now, do I think this is realistic? No.

Even if I think it should be. Unlike many I still remain confident that enough is coming internally that the team is going to get better through nothing more than waiting, but if you can spend a bit of money and eliminate the waiting and give the kids that are here and coming a better shot as tasting success, I say do it.

If Michael Burrows or Quinn Priester wind up showing they’re better than what you have, OK, trade someone. If Mason Martin jumps up and makes you look the fool for grabbing Hosmer, so what, we have a DH position. If Henry Davis or Endy Rodriguez outplay Vazquez, so what? You need a good backup too right?

Spend money, do it wisely and this team takes a jump. Spend money, do it with a weak wrist and nothing changes, maybe you even take a step backward.

As this entire process has unfolded, I’ve always maintained there is a difference between what I think they’ll do and what I think they should do. They can go several directions to get this done, the one I’m proposing today is entirely doable, yes even for this team, even in this market. Even with this owner.

Next Spring when they show up with much less than I’m asking for here, do remember they could have done more, and while I’ll move on and deal with what is, I never forget what could have been. At the end of the day, just because I have an idea of how I’d do it, I’m open to being proven wrong.

Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers

8-31-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

Monday night I coached my oldest son’s first Little League game of the Fall; and let me tell you, there’s nothing like it.

Kids showing up in their crisp clean new uniforms, warming up with their friend(s) in the outfield and taking grounders beside the third base line; making sure all their teammates know it is bad luck to step on the fresh chalk.

As the game balls are unwrapped-to replace the practice balls that have been beaten up over the last week-they all want to be the first to hold it in their hands; rhythmically popping it in pulling it out of the webbing of their glove, just to hear the sound.

Then in an almost hypnotic like state, they all take a seat on the bench; waiting in anxious anticipation, to find out what position they will be playing to start the game, and where they fall in the batting order.

To them, the scorebook I hold in my hands is almost magical. More than once I caught several of them peaking over my shoulder to check out their stats, the score of the game, the position(s) for the upcoming half inning, and of course who I had lined up to toe the rubber the next time we took the field.

Unfortunately the game ended abruptly as the storm clouds rolled in, with the good guys trailing 10 to 14 in the top of the 5th. Nevertheless, each kid has a smile on his face as the gathered up their helmet, bat and glove(s); all while I thought to myself:

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

Week of 8/23-8/28

1) Endy Rodriguez-C/2B/LF (Altoona)

The Endy Train-or bandwagon as @JV_PITT described it in yesterday’s blog post-has quickly been pick up steam, and passengers.

Since being promoted to Double-A Altoona, Endy has gotten at least one hit in all but one game of his first 15 games with the Curve, is slashing .373/.448/.746 and has 12 extra base hits; including 5 long balls.

He has also gotten comfortable behind the dish; throwing out 5 of 14 would be base stealers, which brings his yearly tally to 24; with 60 reaching safely-or approximately a 29% success rate Clearly this isn’t elite, but it isn’t too shabby either.

On top of all of this is his desire to be a leader, which is something Mike Persak and myself talked about during the latest episode of Bucs In The Basement .

Mike also shared what he learned about Endy while interviewing him for one of his latest articles.

2) Luis Ortiz-RHP (Altoona)

Having just made the Top 5 list for the first time a couple of weeks ago, Ortiz has continued to pile on to his season strikeout total; adding 18 over his last two starts, across 11 innings of work.

During this time he has also only issued one free pass; although the 4 earned runs and 12 hits-including his 19th homer allowed-could be seen as a little concerning.

3) Cristian Charle-RHP (Greensboro)

Charle originally emerged on my radar during the final weeks of June, when he was still donning the black and gold of the Bradenton Marauders; where he had struck out 36 batters in 29.1 innings, not allowed a homer and posses a 1.84 ERA with an 1.023 WHIP.

After continuing to dominate at the Low-A Level to the tune of a 1.93 ERA and a .75 WHIP for another 2 weeks, Charle was eventually promoted to the Greensboro Grasshoppers on July 12th.

From this point on he hasn’t had the same level of success in facing batters; striking out only 12 and walking 6 in 16 innings. However, he has managed to keep a solid ERA (2.25) and WHIP 1.13, which is very promising.

4) Tahnaj Thomas-RHP (Altoona)

Thomas has made it a habit of appearing on this list every other month during the season; landing on it for the third time this year.

Obviously, prior to the season the hope was for Thomas to regain the form he had exhibited as a starter in the now defunct Advanced Rookie Appalachian League for the Bristol Pirates in 2019. During that season he posted a 3.17 ERA and an 1.117 WHIP in 12 starts.

Following what was arguably his best season as a professional, everything just kind of fell apart for Thomas. His ERA ballooned up to 5.10, his WHIP rose to 1.582 and his walk rate followed along with them to 5.19 per 9. He was still throwing his fastball in the upper 90’s, touching 100 mph at times; he just seemed to have no clue where it was going.

Over the off-season the Pirates Developmental Staff worked on trying to hone Thomas’ elite potential, and focused on transitioning him into a reliever.

Thus far this plan has worked.

On the season Thomas has a 2.87 ERA, an 1.255 OPS and 49 strikeouts in 47 innings; while continuing to display improvements throughout the season. For instance, since making the list on July 12th, he has posted a 1.29 ERA, an 1.14 OPS and 18 strikeouts across 14 innings.

5) Tsung-Che Cheng-SS/2B/3B (Bradenton)

Prior to the season Cheng was mentioned by Greg Rosenthal as one of his Top 50 Pirates Prospects that he could see rising from his then 35th/Tier 4 Ranking during his appearance on the Bucs In The Basement Podcast back on January 18th.

For the first month of the season Cheng lived up to the hype-at least somewhat-by slashing .276/.356/.434 with 7 extra base hits-two of them for homers-and a 123 wRC+. However, over the next two months-and 7 more games, thanks to a multiple week stint on the IL-Cheng would bat only .233 with .695 OPS and with a slight below average 99 wRC+ and 11 extra base hits; including a single homer.

Fortunately as the calendar turned to July, he would heat up again; reaching base safely in all but six games during the next 47 games, through this past Sunday. During this stretch he has slashed .305/.431/.461 with 17 extra base hits, a 158 wRC+ and a very respectable 16.7% BB to 17.6% K-rate.

Bonus: On The Cusp (And One That Returned)

As I was prepping to write this post, Jack Suwinski was recalled as a replacement-at least the OF part-for Bligh Madris. Prior to being send down Madris was batting just .102, with a .345 OPS over the last month. Although it’s not like Suwinski was really setting the word on fire in Triple-A. Since his mid-July demotion, the Taft High School Product has been slashing .214/.285/.410 with 6 homers and 5 doubles; but, he’s also brought along 37.7% K-rate.

For my money I thought Cal Mitchell may have gotten the quick turnaround call after registering a hit in 14 out of 15 games; all while batting .352 with 3 doubles, 2 triples and 3 bombs.

It could have also been possible to maybe even give Travis Swaggerty a real shot, after his one week 9 at bat appearance in the Majors back in June. On the season-with the Indians-he is batting .255 with a .758 OPS and 8 home runs.

And, if you were looking for the infielders that can play outfield-one much better than the other-route, Ji-Hwan Bae and Diego Castillo.

Even with being injured for a short period of time, Bae has produced all season. On the year he is batting .299 with an .814 OPS, 8 home runs, 18 doubles and 5 triples. He also has a very sustainable BABIP of .353; which is almost exactly the same as the one he had all of last year. Did I also mention that he plays a better than average Shortstop, Second Base, Center and Left Field(s)?

Castillo has also been hitting fairly well; coming in at .258, with a .695 OPS, 4 homers and 2 doubles. Although the case is not nearly as convincing as it would be with Mitchell and Bae.

However, Cherington had other ideas.

This isn’t about me not liking Jack Suwinski; or, another player better. I actually really like Suwinski as a ball player. I guess I just don’t get the whole send him down after an 0 for 28 streak; and then, bring him back up when he is obviously still struggling.

There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the 21st week of 2022; with a little bit of a bonus!

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

What Have The Pirates Learned?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-a8xnr-12b01ab

Mike Persak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shares what he has learned about several prospects and likely core pieces while hanging around the Pirates organization this year. He also discusses questions that have been answered for the fanbase and GM Ben Cherington during this season. Join us for “30 Minutes of Bucs!”

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

Top 15 Plus 5 More Update

8-30-22 – By Justin Verno – @JV_PITT on Twitter

Another week down, and another week with results to get excited by!

1Henry Davis-

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
CPX.000/.250/.000.250.000.200160%25%
Week.333/.364/.6671.030.333.4371720%18.2%
A.364/.467/.7271.194.362.51021913.3%6.7%
A+.341/.450/.5851.035.244.4591788%18%
AA.177/.320/.355.675.196.312909.3%18.7%

2-Temarr Johnson-super small sample size alert

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%k%
FCL.130/.310/.217.528.087.2876720.7%27.6%
A.083/.077/.083.160.00.027-630%15.4%

3-Liover Peguero

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
Week.150/.190/.150.340.000.163-74.8%23.8%
AA.257/.295/.380.675.124.298824.4%21.8%
MLB.333/.500/.333.838.000.39515525%50%

4-Quinn Priester-

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBB%K%
A30.003.834.740.000%10%
A+2.216.887.522.652.636.7%20%
Week8.12.163.051.684.8%21.4%
AA58.12.453.173.911.236.9%24.8%

5-Nick Gonzales-

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBA+wRC+BB%K%
CPX.429/.429/.8571.286.262.5722350%14.3%
A.000/.250/.000.250.000.183925%50%
Week.143/.357/.333.690.190.32810225%17.9%
AA.247/.376/.384.760.136.34811614.5%30.6%

6-Endy Rodriguez

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
A+.302/.392/.544.936.242.41214811.4%20.8%
week.375/.444/.8751.319.500.54524511.1%18.5%
AA.373/.448/.7461.194.386.50321810.4%14.9%

7-Matt Fraizer

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
Week.167/.333/.167.500.00.2635920%20%
Season.219/.288/.344.633.126.284737.7%23.6%

8-Jared Jones

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBB%K%
week8.20.004.131.3812.8%17.9%
season114.24.634.924.341.359.6%26.5%

9-Bubba Chandler 

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBB%K%
CPX150.002.333.090.8516.945.8%
Week50.002.700.4012.5%31.3%
A21.23.324.424.301.2915.4%29.7%
BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
CPX.231/444/.6541.098.423.49018725%16.7%
Weeks.182/.308/.455.762.273.35211715.4%38.5%
A.184/.284/.289.574.105.2776912.5%39.8%

10-Ji-hwan Bae

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwWRC+BB%K%
week.286/.389/.357.746.071.34410611.1%22.2%
season.299/.368/.452.820.152.3641199.6%18.2%

11-Michael Burrows

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBB%K%
AA522.942.733.991.108.9%32.4%
Week20.003.000.5014.3%28.6%
AAA41.24.103.594.181.226.4%24.4%

12-Travis Swaggerty

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
week(AAA).067/.286/.067.352.000.2162323.8%28.6%
AAA.265/.350/.408.758.153.34110412.8%26%
MLB.111/.111/.111.222.000.099-420%44.4%

13-Anthony Solometo-

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPPBB%K%
Week42.252.750.7512.5%37.5%
Season38.13.052.693.551.078.4%26.6%

14-Kyle Nicolas

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBB%K%
week53.605.011.2013.6%9.1%
season79.13.864.404.721.2711.9%26.1%

15-Luiz Ortiz-

IPERAFIPxFIPBB%K%
Week53.602.010%47.6%
AA114.14.644.443.927.3%26.9%

MY FIVE

16-Po-Yu Chen-

IPERAFIPxFIPWHIPBB%K%
WEEK50.003.700.8010%20%
A95.14.443.703.851.239%24.6%

17-Dariel Lopez-

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
week.250/.250/.250.500.000.231340%50%
season.285/.327/.478.805.193.3581145.1%25.5%

18-Hudson Head-

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
week.200/.400/.400.800.200.37612625%35%
season.235/.344/.393.736.158.34110410.9%33.6%

19-Connor Scott-

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
week.125/.118/.125.243.000.106-440%58.8%
season.245/.308/.377.686.132.305877.9%22.7%

20-Lonnie White Jr-NO STATS THIS WEEK-

BA/OBP/SLGOPSISOwOBAwRC+BB%K%
Week
CPX.286/.286/.8571.143.571.4921080%42.9%

A Few quick thoughts-

All in all this was another strong week for the system, maybe not as hot as last week but as a whole the system looks to be finishing strong.

‘sup with that?

I know what you’re thinking, “Hudson Head hit .200 and struck out 35% of the time”. You’re not wrong, and I am really hoping the K rate is way down next week (has been headed in a positive direction for weeks) But one thing I do love here: the OBP and walk rate were fantastic. If Head is to continue to develop he HAS to continue to shrink that zone and show pitchers a better approach, a 25% walk rate is higher then it needs to be but if they aren’t giving you something to drive, take your bag. Hopefully a good sign moving forward.

Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester both appeared headed for good starts on Sunday and both pulled extremely early. Quinn after 3 IP(50 pitches) and Burrows after 2 IP(32 pitches). While neither start was perfect I’m not sure why the early hook? Are we looking at an innings/control type situation? Or is something afoot?

Keep on keeping on…

Since I opened my big mouth a few weeks ago Luis Ortiz has looked pretty, pretty good. Maybe I should spout off more often?

Solemeto and his funky cool delivery continue to be fun and effective! This kid develops the city of Pittsburgh, is gonna love him!

Hey Bubba! He continues to be better off the mound, and he seems to get better every outing.

Jared Jones. Did you know Jones is one of the youngest players in A+? He turned 21 less than a month ago. I know his numbers don’t look phenomenal, but he’s one of the better young pitchers in A+(statistically) And is on a bit of a run. Get ‘er done Jared!

What’s left to say?

Endy. Am I right? If you’re new to these updates may I suggest getting used to seeing his name. Not because I love the dude, ok…I love the dude, but he just continues to get better. Every week I continue to be wowed as I get to and update his table.

And it’s not that he has jaw dropping numbers. He isn’t hitting 30+ HR. He isn’t hitting 40 doubles. He’s just so damn consistent in everything he does, that he does it well is almost a given . On the road. LH or RH. At home. 2 strikes against, no strikes against. He stays and plays within himself.

P.S.-There are only so many seats left on the Endy bandwagon, get em while they last!

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

8-29-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

This space has been a dark place for a few weeks now. Near constant losing will do that, near constant losing while being seemingly out of it by the third night after night will do that from all directions.

Let’s see where this week goes.

1. Young Players Who’ve Cemented Spots in 2023

We still have a month to go in this season. I can hardly believe we’re at the end of August already, but here we are, and believe it or not there has been progress made in some important areas. Mainly youngsters who found a foothold and likely a job in the Bigs as we head into next season. As much scrap as we’ve watched this season, I think as we sit here and really lay out what they’ve found, it might actually not feel like what you watched.

Rodolfo Castro – Rudy didn’t make his debut this year, but 2022 is when it clicked for him. The switch hitter came up here swinging for the fences last year and did little else, beside make some terrible decisions in the field. This season he’s still struggled in the field a bit but he’s shown the ability to handled 2B and 3B capably. The switch hitter has a natural stroke and really effective approach. He will be on this team next year and I think he’ll start more often than he doesn’t.

Roansy Contreras – It’s arguably the most important thing that happened during 2022. Contreras is at this stage a Porsche that can only use 3 gears, but you know a simple tune up will open up the other two. This kid is the real deal, and his stuff is only going to get further polished. I don’t care about numbering the starters, he’s one of the five, and that’s all that matters.

Michael Chavis – Michael may not be a long term starter, but he’s proven he’s a major league baseball player. He has some power, he mashes left handed pitching, plays all out every play no matter where they stick him and in general has shown the Red Sox probably moved on a bit early.

Yerry De Los Santos – Now, I wish we’d have gotten to see more of him, but Yerry showed enough that I can’t possibly see a world where he isn’t plugged right back in toward the back of the pen in 2023. He’s confident, and he should be, his stuff is just filthy. I won’t sit here and tell you he came out of nowhere, Craig and I were beside ourselves he was left off the 40-man list that wound up not mattering at all because the Rule 5 draft was cancelled, but he sure did maximize his opportunity.

Oneil Cruz – Nowhere near what he could be. I suspect that will sum up what Oneil put on tape this year. The power is very real, the athleticism is not a mirage, his arm is an absolute cannon. Tons of room to grow, tons of need to grow, but Cruz will be a starter in 2023, and even performing at roughly 20% he’s easily one of the most dangerous bats in the lineup. It’s ok, be excited, he’ll keep climbing.

Chase De Jong – This isn’t just some prospect, this is a two time minor league free agent who has finally found his footing. Chase has become arguably the most consistent bullpen arm the Pirates have. He does nothing spectacularly but he is consistent as hell. A spot in the bullpen is easily a given.

Wil Crowe – In 2021 he fought through a season and delivered more innings than any other Pirate in a starting role. In 2022 he was asked to take a shot at the bullpen and he took it on with attitude. Completely remaking himself and embracing the role, Wil worked his way into at this point being the closer in the absence of Yerry and David Bednar. He still has a starter’s repertoire, but he changes that mix every single night and it keeps hitters off balance because he’s incredibly tough to scout. Next to nobody saw this coming this year, not even me who wanted him in the pen. I saw him as a long man.

Jack Suwinski – Jack still leads the majors in homeruns for rookies, and he hasn’t been here for the best part of two months. I don’t think it’s fair to pretend we know what he is yet, I don’t even think it’s fair to pretend we know he is a locked on starter, but I am sure he’s a locked on MLB player in 2023. The power is just intoxicating, the defense is above average and the flair for the dramatic showed up multiple times. Expect a healthy dose of Jack next year and if I know him and his meticulous note taking, expect him to find a path to improving what the Pirates identify as a deficiency, the strikeouts.

Tucupita Marcano – Energy, contact, speed, sneaky pop and a hell of a defender wherever they play him. Tuc has shown why Ben Cherington was so hell bent on getting him back from San Diego. After trying to have him included in the Joe Musgrove deal he was turned into the sticking point to get the Adam Frazier deal done. Adam Frazier, huh, not a bad comp right? Maybe with a bit more upside and diversity in the field but Marcano is a little spark plug and keeping him off the field is going to be hard next year.

Diego Castillo – He hit for power and held his own wherever he played in the field, but much like Jack he struggled with the strikeout. Diego though tinkered with his swing and led to wild swings in performance. The thing you can’t ignore is the power and he’ll have the inside track at making the club this Spring.

Mitch Keller – Finally. It took longer than anyone wanted to see, but Mitch Keller is finally one of the better starters the Pirates have. He’ll enter arb 1 next year and yes he’s a no brainer to be here in the rotation next year. As we sit here I’d be shocked if he wasn’t the opening day starter in 2023.

I’ve complained all year about not answering questions, but here we are, and know what, this is a bunch of answers. Every one of these players was nothing more than a question mark heading into 2022, and while they all still have room to grow, each and every one of them has done enough to not just be counted on to stick around, but to improve and stick.

Maybe not as bad as I thought, despite the lightning rods of pooh we watched surround them and suck away playing time.

2. Big Changes Might be Coming for MiLB

So far this is just a statement, but it’s been in the works for quite some time. The Advocates for Minor Leaguers has been an organization working hard to improve the lives of MiLB players for years, and with this announcement every executive from that group has resigned and taken a position with MLBPA.

It’s important to note, the CBA that was just signed will not expire until 2027, so how this effects MLB teams before then is at least grey. All of this is good for those of us who have been proponents of a salary cap and floor system, because eventually all forms of manipulation and potentially even the option system will have to change. They are collectively bargained right now, but those bargains are struck with all MLB players.

Introduce an entire (and much larger group I should note) group of players and suddenly that top 1% that stands in the way of financial structure, well let’s just say that number becomes .5%.

I’m not ready to predict how this will shake out, but I will say this is a ball that’s been rolling for several years and this is huge for minor league players.

Another aspect here that could be important, MLB is and has been long understood to be the single hardest path to the Bigs of any of the big 4 sports entities. This could make that trip a bit more attractive, and maybe wrestle some young talent back from the other leagues.

I think this has potential to make teams that saw low MLB payroll as a profitable endeavor (uh hmm) rethink things a bit, because even a modest raise for MiLB players and fielding a poor MLB team is suddenly not profitable. So many angles here and this offseason I’m sure Craig (who’s much more qualified than I in this department) and myself will dig in and really start to examine where this heads.

3. Captain Jack is Back in Black & Gold

If it hasn’t been announced by the time this drops Jack Suwinski will be called back up to the Pirates, and yes, Josh VanMeter will survive again. I’ve been told Bligh Madris will be the option for this move.

What’s really funny, I don’t think he really did anything in AAA that screamed I’m ready. Now on the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have sent him down in the first place. His issue has been striking out, and again that didn’t really improve, in fact it may have actually gotten worse.

One thing I’ll stress, he was sent down to work on things with his approach (and yes to manipulate time if you must), point being, we don’t know what he was working on. Sometimes in breaking down a swing and approach it’s going to look worse before it looks better. You may for instance tell him he is to focus on taking everything on the outer third of the plate to the opposite field, and that swing might just be so foreign to a kid you could see strikeouts actually increase for a bit.

The Pirates need that left handed power back in the majors, since moving Daniel Vogelbach to New York they’ve been pretty much left with Reynolds and Cruz to provide that and injecting him back into the lineup should provide another bat to be careful with, and that can only help.

Ben Gamel and Greg Allen getting a bunch of playing time might be coming to a close here.

4. The Defensive Nose Dive

The 2021 Pirates ended the season with the second fewest errors in the league with 70. The 2022 Pirates with a month left are dead last with 92.

Considering improving defensively was a priority stated by this coaching staff back before the 2020 season it’s alarming to say the least to watch such a stark regression in this area.

While many people were very happy to see Joey Cora relieved of his duties, few saw that much of that defensive improvement came under his tutelage. Those duties have been split up between other coaches, Don Kelly taking the bulk.

It’s hard to blame the coaching though. The Pirates haven’t played anyone at first base all year who had any real success there previously and they’re fortunate beyond words that Michael Chavis has taken to it like he has.

Ke’Bryan Hayes has struggled in between the spectacular. Cruz making some throwing errors wasn’t a shock but he’s been better than most of us expected. Bottom line is they set themselves up for this by playing guys out of position, or training guys to move positions at the MLB level.

This isn’t a team with boatloads of strikeout pitchers and that means contact, well, you can’t afford to play shoddy defense behind pitchers like that and it’s something they have to figure out next year.

Funny thing is, I can legitimately tell you they got VERY lucky this year that it wasn’t worse. Catching has been a mess all year after the Roberto Perez injury, but they’ve managed to find guys who capably filled in back there.

We listed a bunch of kids who put their foot down this year in the first point, defensively many of those players are key to this metric improving too. Consistency of position will only help, and it’s time to help players by being more prudent with this dream of position flexibility.

5. Let’s Take a Fresh Crack at a Good Everyday Lineup

I think the Pirates have offensive potential, but much like defensively, I think a bit of consistency is key. Yes, I know Derek Shelton is still the coach and this won’t happen, but here’s what I’d do.

  1. Tucupita Marcano – RF
  2. Bryan Reynolds – CF
  3. Rodolfo Castro – DH
  4. Oneil Cruz – SS
  5. Michael Chavis – 1B
  6. Jack Suwinski – LF
  7. Ke’Bryan Hayes – 3B
  8. Kevin Newman 2B
  9. Tyler Heineman – C

I like Castro in the field too, but as DH and a switch hitter he can consistently focus on hitting and swap for others you want to get breaks for.

The flow of a lineup like this would prevent matching up to attach Chavis with right handers and Cruz with Left handers. Nobody wants to see Chavis face a lefty and nobody wants to see Cruz face a righty. Stacking the bats like this creates a lineup that’s really tough to navigate with a bullpen, let alone a starter.

I’ve moved Hayes down to 7. It’s time to start putting him in the lineup where his bat currently says he should be, not where his 2020 bat said he should be.

Personally, I’d run this out there almost every day. Regardless of the starter. Let’s see what these guys can do when they know who’s behind them, lets see if they can start to trust the next guy will get it done if I just do my job.

You can say you’d like to see Bae or Swaggerty up here, but based on who’s here right now, this is what I’d do.

Of all the things you could consider controversial, moving Hayes is likely to get the most scrutiny, but folks, it’s time, and it doesn’t even mean I think he’s a bad player. Should he start to hit like a middle of the order player again, ok, make a change, but as we sit here I’m not seeing it, in fact I’d go so far as to say he retards the offense by being there. And yes, you could say the same about Cruz but that’s part of why I built it this way, I think it builds in some protection for him. Bring in a lefty to get him out and pay the price by having Chavis get a swing at one.

Bring in a lefty to face Marcano and face two switch hitters who can damage you from the right side before you get to Cruz. Bring in a righty to face Chavis and face Suwinski from the right side. It creates land mines for bullpen usage and an uncomfortable trip through the lineup for starters.

We’ve seen some talent establish themselves a bit, now lets establish an environment to see if we can help them even more.

The Definition of Insanity is Going to be a Theme

8-28-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. This quote is often misattributed to Albert Einstein, just like the entirety of this problem is often attributed almost solely to the coaches, or Nutting, you pick your favorite scapegoat.

I’m not here to defend them, I mean I just wrote about the need to change something from this management group, and I certainly wasn’t nice on the Pirates Fan Forum this week either. But there’s something else.

The target HAS to be the coaching for those that want to still hold out hope heading into 2023, because they know damn well, most of what you see on the field is probably returning. In other words, it sure as hell better be coaching.

This is a really cynical view I get that, I’m sure most of our opinions on the coaching staff are well informed and well thought out, probably even right, but we’re also masking things that are real issues.

If Ke’Bryan Hayes is going to produce a .248 batting average with an OPS of .674 and 35 RBI in 2023, he’s still going to be the starting Third Baseman. You can say “he’s still a 4 WAR player just because of his glove!” and that’s certainly true, but he also at that level is not a player who should be anywhere near the heart of a batting order. That’s a guy who should probably be hitting 7th, even on this team. Ke’Bryan needs to show real improvement next year, sure hope it’s coaching and not just that this is what he is, right?

Bryan Reynolds has struggled through 2021, that’s no secret. His version of struggle still has him pop 20+ homeruns and hit around .250 but this isn’t peak Bryan Reynolds either. Of all his issues this year, hitting with runners in scoring position has probably been the biggest. Even with these numbers, he’s unquestionably the best hitter in the lineup, and folks those numbers can’t have you still say that, at least not if you’re going to have a good offense. Do I have to tell you he’ll be back? Probably since most of you are dead on sure he’s getting traded. That counts too though, if Bryan is traded or plays like this next season the team isn’t getting better.

Want to go on? I think we have to because the Pirates are going to return the vast majority of this team, so the one way this team is going to get better is getting better performances from at least some of the players that do.

Roansy Contreras will be back too, maybe they’ll even let him pitch.

I think you get the point.

That’s why what this team is doing is so damn alarming. We’ll be seeing more of most everyone here.

It’s not as simple as just screaming to spend money either, they certainly need to, but there must be improvement from some of these guys too.

Think about reality for a minute. They’ve gotten very little out of second base all year, so if you think spending is the path forward, that position makes sense, but don’t you kinda want to see more of Rodolfo Castro, Tucupita Marcano, Diego Castillo? I’m not even mentioning Kevin Newman, Nick Gonzales, Ji-hwan Bae, point is they have options internally. They need to improve, but they need to train and opportunity their way out of this one.

They’ve got positions like that all over the field.

This team can and should spend money on pitching, first base and catcher, just like they did this year, and just like this year I’ll again recommend they spend more money on those positions. I’ll also AGAIN recommend that they think beyond buying rentals, these positions aren’t in danger of being filled internally, at least not in the near term.

It’s a whole lot easier to just point to the coaching, and I certainly do believe it to be a huge part of the problem, but we also have to look to the players. Especially those who this team is simply going to count on, even if they shouldn’t.

When you break down a roster, eventually you’re going to get to this point taking this path. It’s why I wanted them to spend money heading into 2021, because if they were going to buy some landmarks that was the time to do it. As we head into 2023 the team is largely too vested into on boarding the prospects they acquired or already had, to block them now would only retard the process further, whereas back in 2021 it could have created a nice bridge.

Point is, real improvement next year is probably going to have to come from players who had a poopy season having a better one. It’s going to have to come from a prospect breaking through. And yes, it’s going to have to come from signing better free agents or making trades that send out prospects for veterans.

They’ve decided to do it this way, and it’s the hardest possible way they could have gone. Frustrating barely begins to cover it, more than that though, it’s scary.

It’s scary because if 2023 doesn’t show real improvement then suddenly they aren’t anywhere near turning it around. If they do, most of us were just doubting Thomas types.

Either way, as poor as I personally believe the coaching to be, we mustn’t allow the players themselves off the hook. Players need to play better, regardless of their opportunity, where they are in the lineup, how many innings they’re allowed to throw, whatever factor you want to discuss really. Bottom line, lost in all this season’s garbage has been that Bryan Reynolds, and Ke’Bryan Hayes weren’t very good for large swaths of the season.

For every Keller type improvement, there were easily 3 or 4 players who never showed a damn thing or fell off a cliff from something they showed the previous year.

Look at this roster, and I mean really look at this roster. On the current 26-man roster 24 players began this year with less than 2 years of service time.

That is NEVER going to lead to a team that looks good, performs well, let alone wins.

If you’re looking for a positive spin, it’s hope they bring in some better players form those target positions, and these are quite literally a bunch of kids. Kids get better, and they get worse too, but better is on the table too. Wrapped up in that number is both the pain and hope of youth.

Again, they didn’t have to do it this way, but at this point, they’re too far into the tunnel to turn around.

If negative is more your thing, well, it’s like asking where the bathroom is on a camping trip, it’s all around you, and gets worse just about every game.

The Pirates Can’t Return This Staff in 2023 Intact

8-25-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have a bad season in progress. You all don’t need me to tell you that. 100 losses is still in the balance, but it’s also well within their reach.

I don’t see a way this club can return with the same staff in 2023, despite what the Pirates have said publicly.

And I’m not talking about replacing a fringe coach like Mike Rabelo, I mean I can’t see them returning with the big three, Derek Shelton, Oscar Marin, and Andy Haines. I might even throw John Baker the Director of Coaching and Player Development into the mix.

Even in a rebuild you can’t lose what could add up to 3 consecutive 100 loss seasons if you aggregate up what 2020 would have been if stretched out, and just return the management group that presided over it. Not if you want to be taken seriously anyway, which in and of itself is in question isn’t it?

One thing I’ve never liked is the absolute lopsided propensity to hire guys to fill roles they’ve never filled professionally. I’m not saying they need to hire all crusty old dudes to fill every role, but when almost none of your players have experience, it stands to reason you’d want your coaches to have some. It’s not as though the players being green was a surprise.

John Baker was a Mental Skills Coordinator with the Cubs in 2019 and he started his career in 2015 as a special assistant. When he was brought in by the Pirates to be the Director of Player Development in 2020 it was a big title for a relatively inexperienced administrator. When he had Coaching added to his responsibilities last season it became even more so.

I don’t know how you judge what Mr. Baker has done here if I’m honest. The actual coaches in the minors by in large are more highly touted than the Major League club, but results matter, and the system isn’t getting many good ones anyway.

Replacing the guy who has built the entire architecture of your system 3 years into a long range reconstruction plan seems a bit premature on the surface, but the list of players this system is producing that look to have BIG impact is pretty small. To be clear, I don’t think it’s fair to blame him for the players that have been brought in, but where are the guys who were largely under the radar who suddenly look like every other team was stupid for passing on them? Matt Gorski? Man that might be it so far and he’s not exactly a finished product either.

I’m also not sure firing Baker would count to many fans. He’s not a face they see every day, he’s not one of the guys who’ve been calling what you’ve watched progress for 3 years.

What about Oscar Marin? First thing I can say is, last year, I’m all aboard. This year, I’ve actually started to see some improvement, even if in many cases it’s been from getting out of the way when a player takes it upon himself to make some changes.

I can honestly say I’ve seen Mitch Keller improve, largely by adding a 2-seam fastball and reintroducing his curveball instead of exclusively using his slider. JT Brubaker has been a bit more capable of providing length and he doesn’t look like his arm is falling off as we get to the stretch run in 2022. He has always thrown a 2-seamer, but this year he’s using it to backdoor freeze right handed pitching and it’s been really effective.

Chase De Jong, Wil Crowe, Tyler Beede, I could go on. Point is if I had to pick pitching or hitting, I’d identify hitting as the biggest issue 10 times out of 10 and entering this season I honestly can’t say I saw it going that way.

Still, it’s been 3 years, and most of the improvements have been driven by independent instruction, hell, Keller admitted he has talked to Clay Holmes, currently with the Yankees, when adopting the sinker into his quiver. I also don’t know how much we should attribute to the hire of Dewey Robinson from the Rays organization to improvement.

Last thing I’ll say about the pitching, one thing you’d like to see from a pitching coach is some kind of ability to help stop the bleeding. The Pirates have now lost seven double-digit games this year and have allowed 10 or more in 11 contests. Some of that is having bad pitchers, some of it is position players pitching late in out of reach games, some of that is a pitching coach who isn’t getting through to his guys about how much better it is to get 3 outs while surrendering 3 runs in a tough situation than it is to give up 6 trying to prevent any.

All that being said, our next category doesn’t help with that lesson. How can you tell pitchers it’s ok to give up a couple when your team is highly unlikely to score 3 runs in a game?

Low hanging fruit time folks, Andy Haines.

The Pirates finished last in 2021 scoring 3.76 runs per game, under Andy Haines in 2022 the Bucs are sitting at 3.58. They struck out 8.20 times per game in 2021, in 2022 they are currently striking out at a 9.26 clip.

The Pirates finished dead last in homeruns last year with 124, this year they’re already hit 121 so they’ll clear that stat by a country mile. Problem is it has come at the expense of getting guys on base, in 2022 the Pirates have an OBP of .287 and a team AVG of .220, last year those figures were .309/.236.

Fact is, outside the home run stat, you’d be hard pressed to find an offensive stat in which the Pirates have improved, in fact most have overtly regressed. Not something you want to excuse when you’ve brought up offensive talents from your “highly touted” system all year and retained your two “stars” in Hayes and Reynolds.

No, it’s not fair to judge him based on the overall stats alone. Those stats include Yu Chang, Josh VanMeter, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Tyler Heineman, Michael Perez, Greg Allen, Anthony Alford, I mean, do you want me to keep going? It is fair though to expect Bryan Reynolds to not struggle for two months to get his swing together. It’s fair to expect newly extended “face of the franchise” Ke’Bryan Hayes to not look like someone most fans would be screaming about had he been brought in from the waiver wire.

Assistants are, fair or unfair, judged by how the stars do. So, in my mind the same thing that saves Marin, damns Haines. Add in rookies that look far better before he has a chance to “coach them up” than after and this is an easy decision for me.

It’d be even easier if Derek Shelton himself wasn’t such a question mark.

I’m not going to go through Shelton’s history here, we’ve all heard enough of that noise. the only history that matters now is what he’s laid down here in Pittsburgh since 2020.

In that time, we’ve watched him not use the same lineup more than a few times. We’ve seen him lack the feel for when to and when not to pull a pitcher. He’s made rookie mistakes, but 3 years in he continues to make more.

Derek steps in to hitting instruction periodically with mixed results, and while the players on his roster aren’t his doing, there doesn’t seem to be an effort to start his best 9 often enough, even at home.

He’s signed for next year but even for Nutting moving on would be peanuts. Thing is, one thing you can’t get past when going after Shelton is how many of his decisions and choices aren’t his alone. Ben Cherington and the analytics department might as well be little guys with red and white suits on either shoulder telling him what to do.

That leads us to Ben Cherington. I see zero chance he’s fired, and while I didn’t expect this season to be good, I do think it’s fair to say fans had every right to expect better than this. They aren’t just losing, they’re losing big. They aren’t just losing because they have bad players, they’re losing because they have bad players they refuse to replace with younger players who have already shown an ability to at least do something well at the Big League level.

I’ll say again, zero chance he gets fired, but if he doesn’t feel flames at least touching his backside a bit then Bob Nutting isn’t doing his job, again. Thing is, Nutting already stepped in once and forced this GM to correct a misstep when he refused to accept Bryan Reynolds had to go through the arbitration process. Maybe stepping in again and explaining to this former World Series Champion GM that in 2023 this team HAS to show marked improvement is in order.

As an organization, they put forward a face of complacence, if not overt denial. That needs to change because while fans understand what this process looks like, and some even fully accept the problems are more about the league than the team alone, 3 years of it and the fact other teams in similar spots are actually making some progress conspire to at least require some audible and visual urgency.

No matter how this process has gone, should they produce a competitive team fans will remember the destination more than the journey to be sure, but let me ask you this, if you leave on Saturday to start a vacation stay on Sunday and don’t wind up arriving until Tuesday, you’d still have fun, but wouldn’t you still be a bit ticked off you lost 3 days of your stay just getting there?

The funny thing is, Boston or Toronto fans aren’t more patient than Pittsburgh fans, so you can’t give him a pass like it’s caught him off guard that fans are irritated. Maybe that’s why it’s so impossible to accept words like “progress” from him. We all know what progress looks like, and we all know it’s not this. Worse, we know he knows it’s not this.

Bottom line, the Pirates have to fire someone minimally, and while it’s not typical to remove an assistant you just hired a year ago, Haines is the easy choice to me, but I’d be tempted to pull the trigger on Shelton too. He’s a former hitting coach himself and he’s presided over 3 of the worst offensive seasons we’ve seen here in Pittsburgh, and I don’t need to tell you that’s saying something.

To change nothing would be the same as saying to every fan, we are happy with what this team did in 2022. I can’t see a path to that being acceptable, then again, acceptable hasn’t exactly been a qualification for talent acquisition so maybe we’re asking for more than they care to give. If so, trust me, this won’t work, with or without Nutting spending money.

Fans being unreasonable is kinda their job, that’s not what this is though. This is a franchise that has openly decided that those who don’t see the vision are simply not seeing things the right way. You can tell this is the case when you see quotes start with “what you have to understand”, or “that’s not how we measure…”.

Nothing could be more disingenuous than trying to blame fans for not getting it. First, 90% of fans don’t feel the need to care beyond Wins and Losses. If you want to sell to them, you better start talking to when that singular stat will improve, and they don’t even care about how, just when. The 10% who will accept marginal improvement to individuals, well they don’t want to hear those platitudes either, even they eventually want to see W/L improve and would love to hear when that’s a reality?

Urgency is missing, and until they have it and show it, I’m not sure how they can expect players to have or show it.

Weird element to lack, it’s the only one ALL fans share.